It Is NOT OKAY To Call Yourself A Helping Professional and Have Your Head Up Your Ass When It Comes To Diversity

I am angry. Again. I am angry because I have heard numerous stories in the last couple of weeks about people serving in the helping professions (therapists, doctors, health coaches etc…) who have no idea what it means to be queer* or marginalized and are HARMING their clients because of this ignorance.

The first rule of therapy is “Do no harm.” Rule #1 is not “help others,” precisely because one person’s idea of helping could actually harm the object of the help.

Example: I see an elderly person crossing the street and I assume they are not super mobile and decide I am going to be a hero and help them. I dash to their side, grab their elbow, and support them as we both cross the street. I do not hear the elder person’s quiet protests because I am so focused on getting them to the other side. Once we have “safely” landed on the opposite curb, I release their elbow and feel proud of myself for serving my elders. Only at this point do I make eye contact and truly connect with the person. I see fear and confusion in their eyes. They say something to me in another language and hug their arm to their side, tears in their eyes. How can I know that this person is the survivor of a war and terrified of strangers? Did I ever consider the fact that my spiky hair and tattoos, which are benign enough in my social circle, scream “thug” to this elder? The elder person did not think I was helping them, they thought I was after their wallet! Now they are terrified and confused and worried I am going to harm them further.

Get it?

I could give more examples about therapists who question the validity of a queer* teenager’s identity; supporting the parents in thinking it might be a phase or the result of a trauma. Or leaders of a therapeutic organization who discriminate against a trans* employee then act contrite, claiming they could never discriminate against anyone because, after all, they are part of a helping profession.

WAKE UP PEOPLE!

I can forgive this extreme ignorance in people who are not helping professionals. I am happy to support the education of the human race and speak out again and again about the queer* experience and queer* rights. But I cannot forgive those of us who have advanced training in psychology, who are supposed to be offering support and healing to others. We are supposed to educate ourselves on a regular basis, for crying out loud! We have to pay attention to current research and take continuing education credits supposedly so we do not harm the people with whom we work. We should be seeking out the voices of marginalized groups and not just listening to cisgender, heterosexual, white people. There is no excuse for trained professionals to allow an unlicensed, unregistered “therapist” to work with young girls, touching them unnecessarily and showing blatant favoritism for the slender white girls.

It is NOT OK to hire a queer* employee then tell them that even though they identify as third gender, the company will need to refer to them as “woman” because they only have two gender boxes. It is even more NOT OK to ask the queer* employee to solve this problem! SOLVE IT YOURSELVES! This is why you have a human resources department… or do they have their heads up their asses too? Judging from the situation, I can make an educated guess that the answer is yes.

My heart is racing, my muscles are tense, and tears threaten to spill from my eyes. If I could turn this post into a “howler” so that it shrieked at everyone on the internet, I would do it. I am so sick of people refusing to do their work. We all have to examine our biases and blind spots or else we are doomed to repeat the same stupid mistakes for all eternity.

I am no exception. In an effort to be transparent and walk the talk, I will show you mine.

What are my biases?

I struggle with finding compassion for people who insist that anyone’s personal expression of identity is wrong. I am biased towards freedom of choice and independence in young people. I tend to feel overwhelming and disproportionate compassion and benevolence towards people of color (I am rather ashamed of this one and try to bring awareness to my unconscious actions when possible). I am prone to racial biases and recently caught myself wondering if the only black man in a group was a thief (the group was discussing stolen property). I am not proud of this, but I look at it. I take the ugly parts of myself out of the shadow bag that I carry around with me and I shine a light on them. Through this process, I learn where I need to grow and I learn that I need to ask lots of questions and not operate under assumptions.

I remember that first and foremost, I do no harm.

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