Is it time for older transgender people to come out of the closet?
In October 2017 the BACP, along with 12 other leading organisations, issued a memorandum of understanding (MoU) committing to end the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK. Conversion therapy for sexual orientation has been deemed bad practice for several years but the new MoU extends this to gender identity. It states that “the practice of conversion therapy, whether in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, is unethical and potentially harmful” and that “neither sexual orientation nor gender identity in themselves are indicators of a mental disorder”.
The essence of the MoU is the acceptance of the validity of non-binary and gender fluid identities and the ending of therapy that seeks to influence clients towards the traditional binary (male or female) model of gender identity.
Many younger people growing up these days are quite used to fluidity of gender identity and gender expression, however older people grew up in a less tolerant environment and there are many people who have kept their gender fluidity hidden for fear of condemnation and yet acknowledge it is a very real part of their personalities.
Organisations signing up to the MoU are committed to training and educating counsellors and therapists to work with transgender people in a non-judgemental way to help them deal with issues arising as a result of their transgender identities alongside any other life difficulties that may bring them to counselling. For example, as suggested in the MoU, working with clients “to help them live more comfortably with their [non-binary or fluid gender identity], reduce their distress and reach a greater degree of self-acceptance. Others may “benefit from the challenge of psychotherapy and counselling to help them manage dysphoria and to clarify their sense of themselves. Clients make healthy choices when they understand themselves better.”
There has never been a better time for those of a previous generation to begin to explore their gender identity. Of course many people, if not most, are entirely happy within their fully male or female gender identity, but for those who have always felt outside this ‘norm’ the door is open to explore this in the safe space of the counselling room. Counselling and psychotherapy have always been about acknowledging the uniqueness of each person and working to resolve difficulties, increase self-acceptance and enhance self-expression. In this brave new world we can safely include gender identity into this mixing pot of opportunity.
Reference: “Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK” Version 2 October 2017 published by the BACP.
About the author
Mike is a counsellor in private practice with a particular focus on working with transgender people, particularly those in the middle-space between the traditional gender polarities. He sees the therapeutic task as firstly to acknowledge and accept who we are and then, to choose how to express ourselves in the context of our environment.
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