With thanks to NCPS Member, Andi Lee Smart for this blog post.
Andi has 15 years’ experience as a health and social care/mental health practitioner on the wards, within the community and through his own private practice Smart’s Solution: Counselling, Education, Training, Development.
Andi has specialised in supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+ community for 10 years. This has led to him developing an established amount of experience working with a wide range of gender expressions (transgender, nonbinary, omnigenderand) as well as sexual and relationship diversities (BDSM, kink, polyamory). Andi is sex worker friendly and can support with chemsex concerns.
The results from a study by Ditch The Label (2017) identified that half of young people (13-26 year olds) in the UK and US said that “they don’t identify as exclusively straight”. Unsurprisingly, then, the terms used to define sexuality orientation and gender identity are evolving. It is important, then, for counsellors to keep up to date with relevant terms to ensure good practice. This blog explores LGBTQ terms and pronouns. As there are many different terms, many have not been mentioned in this short blog but I have included a useful link to a glossary of terms at end for your CPD.
What are (some of) the preferred terms?
Before assuming any term, we should be asking our clients what their preferred terms are. I have found that some clients will make this clear from the onset, others will be unsure – but what is important is that the individual is given the opportunity to define that part of their identity themselves.
Nonetheless, through my experiences in working with LGBTQ clients, I have seen how the term sexual orientation is (generally) preferred over sexual preference as the latter seems to suggest a lifestyle choice. In addition lesbian and gay male are preferred to the word homosexual.
The power in reclaiming LGBTQ terms
The term queer, which was originally used with negative connotations, is currently being reclaimed by the LGBTQ community. I have seen how this term is used as an umbrella term for those who identify as non‐heterosexual. However, a word of caution, younger LGBTQ people tend to feel (more) at ease in identifying as queer whereas those who were born in the 80s and before to still see this word as a reminder of their lived experiences of oppression.
The term transvestite, which is used to define a person who enjoys cross-dressing, is sometimes confused with the term transgender, which is when an individual has been born an incorrect gender and, thus, in taking steps to live as their authentic self.
The term bisexuality does not always suggest having equal sexual experience (and sexual attraction) with individuals of different genders. I have seen how some individuals who identify as bisexual have not had any sexual experience at all.
A bit about pronouns
Pronouns are becoming more and more common in, and outside of, the LGBTQ community. There are several types of pronouns which include (but are not exclusive to):
Gender Specific Pronouns – SHE/HER and HE/HIM
Gender Neutral Pronouns – THEY/THEM and ZE/ZIR
To ensure that the individual is given the power to identify as their pronouns of choice I would use the ‘Just Ask’ perspective which involves politely and, importantly, privately asking the person what their preferred pronouns are. Or, if this is not possible, default to THEY/THEM).
LGBTQ terms are constantly evolving meaning mistakes happen. LGBTQ people are (generally) understanding and, as such, will appreciate your attempts to learn and, thus, correct any mistakes made. Nonetheless, with practice you will become more and more comfortable with the terminology being used which will, undoubtedly, help to build stronger alliances/therapeutic relationships with those who identify as LGBTQ.
Read around this comprehensive glossary of terms to develop your knowledge and understanding further, see https://myworkplacehealth.com/lgbtq-terminology/
*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer