Change! Some people love it, others loathe it. If you're in the latter category, take a look at these 14 ideas on overcoming your fear. My contribution? #7.
When it comes to social advocacy for my transgender clients, I can get to feeling powerless to affect much change on a big scale. Although there is greater awareness in popular media about trans folk, there’s still a vast amount of work to be done. Some of my transgender clients talk about being on the receiving end of discrimination, job loss, others’ ignorance and spite, and worse. I feel that it’s my job as a therapist not only to help all of my clients acknowledge feelings and find solutions to better cope with issues in their lives, but to be, in my small way, an agent of affirmative change.
This brings me to the “one little step:” shining a light on how gender-binary most everyday forms are. Have you ever noticed (if you’re trans, you probably have!) that when you go to fill out a new intake form at a doctor’s office, counseling center, even a gym class, you’ll be asked to check a box to identify your gender. Male or female. Those are your two choices. But what do you do when you don’t identify neatly into one of these two rigid boxes? What if your internal sense of your gender doesn’t match the sex assigned to you at birth? What if you perceive gender as much more fluid a concept and don’t find yourself on either far end of the spectrum? In a 2011 survey of over 1000 transgender people, Forge (forge-forward.org) found that having trans-friendly intake forms was “extremely or very important” factor to 59% of respondents in whether or not to seek services at an anti-violence agency. This factor was second only to the reputation of the agency. This data indicates that gender-binary forms may not be so “little” a thing to people who identify as transgender or genderqueer, their allies and loved ones.
With this in mind, I’ve taken the opportunity to advocate whenever I’m asked to fill out a form and I see only those two boxes for male or female. Instead of mindlessly checking “female” as I had done in the past, I check neither and write something along these lines on the form: “This gender-binary form excludes those who identify as gender non-conforming and transgender. Please consider changing it to a more inclusive model.” Often, the comments go unnoticed or unmentioned (at least in front of me). However, there are times when they spark a discussion, like when my opthalmologist asked me about my comments and I had the opportunity to explain gender diversity in more detail.
Okay, I realize that this only scratches the surface of the issues that our society faces when it comes to embracing gender diversity. But, this is one little thing that I do, and if you like the idea, you can do it, too.
Marnee Reiley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with couples and adults in Irvine, Orange County, California.