Belonging to or identifying with an LGBTIQAP+ community can mean having a different experience of life which can seem quite disparate in comparison to the heterosexual and/or cis-gendered experience. Whether we like it or not, we live in a heteronormative and cis-normative world which has a particular approach to almost all areas of life that doesn’t always apply to LGBTIQAP+ identifying people. When it comes to counselling, sometimes it can be an extra burden having to educate your practitioner on every detail of your life and such seeing an LGBTIQAP+ identifying counselling can make a huge difference in supporting you to feel comfortable.
Martin Gladman has worked in LGBTIQAP+ communities since he was 16 years old, first in a voluntary capacity establishing an award-winning youth support model that combined advocacy with social support in regional Victoria, to being the director of PRIDE festivals, to providing sexual health information in sex on premiss venues and working in specialist counselling roles providing one-on-one, couples and group supportin both regional Victoria and Melbourne. Martin is also currently completing his PhD exploring genderqueer expressions of gender within religious, spiritual, and philosophical spaces, a topic which is quite close to his hearts as the possibilities it holds to enrich all our experiences of gender regardless of identity is something which is unfolding as he undergoes his research.
There is a reality that each of the letters in LGBTIQAP+ mean something different. Some relate to gender, some relate to sexuality, some relate to biology and others find themselves somewhere inside, outside, in-between or crossing over Each of the people that those letters represent can all have different experiences of life, with different needs and sometimes require different approaches in counselling. Having worked with and in the various communities, Martin is aware of many of the nuances that can be experienced by people in these spaces making him a perfect fit for those seeking LGBTIQAP+ counselling support either in Melbourne, Woodend or online.
What is LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counselling?
LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counselling is a type of counselling that not only affirms the identify of a person who identifies within/under the LGBTIQAP+ umbrella, but also provides a safe space which honours one's experiences, understanding of the world and the differences that this can present when being part of these communities. An LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counsellor is usually aware of things such as heteronormativity, cis-normativity, mononormativity, minority stress, identity politics and the history of the LGBTIQAP+ movement to name but a few topics. Part of providing an LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counselling service is also being aware of the many developments which happen within communities and such approaching a client not necessarily from a knowing position but a position of being open to working with and being informed by the client and their experiences.
LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counsellors aim to provide a safe space for people from LGBTIQAP+ communities to come and explore matters that may or may not relate to their sex, gender or sexuality where that part of their life either does not need to be discussed or will not be judged or psychoanalysed as being part of the problem. Martin provides an LGBTIQAP+ affirmative service, assuring that his clients feel safe, supported, and enriched by their counselling experience no matter what community they identify with.
What is queer affirmative counselling?
Queer affirmative counselling is similar to LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counselling, with many arguing that it is the same, however the term queer does not always apply to sex, gender or sexuality, albeit being grounded in this, and such has its own unique history. Although queer has its origins first in the gay and lesbian movements of the 70’s, 80’s and 90's and arguably before, since then queer has expanded itself out well beyond these origins and been adopted in various spaces and disciplines. On the street, queer as a term has often been used interchangeably for LGBTIQAP+, but for others it has a specific and unique meaning making it highly personal and difficult to define. A queer affirmative counsellor for the most part is an LGBTIQAP+ affirmative counsellor however they also have awareness of queer history, queer politics, queer sex and queer identities which adds another level of specialisation.
Martin provides an queer affirmative service and is currently completing his PhD focussing his studies on genderqueer expressions and such has a strong and broad awareness of queer affirmative counselling whilst never holding himself as an expert.
What is gender counselling?
Many when they think of gender counselling, they instantly think that it only applies to transgender or gender diverse communities. Although this can be the case, gender itself does not just belong to those who subvert, transition or challenge gender, but applies to all of us equally so. All of us have a relationship to our own and also collective notions of gender and such gender counselling can be accessed and explored by anyone.
Exploring one’s gender can be beautifully enriching and confirming, as well as at times challenging. There are many narratives that relate to gender that can be so ingrained that we don’t even notice they are there. “Men can only behave this way”. “Women can only do this”. “There is only two genders that are possible”. “I have to be this way or else I’m not truly part of the community”. Gender counselling supports one to explore and begin to understand or let go some of what has been imposed on us when it comes to gender, allowing one to find strength and power from within despite what might be happening outside or around them.
What is gender affirmative counselling?
Most practitioners who identify as gender affirmative counsellors are doing so to advertise that they are affirmative and supportive of those who are exploring and/or are transgender or gender diverse. Most gender affirmative counsellors are also LGBTIQAP+ affirmative and queer affirmative in their approach, but it’s always good to check in with your counsellor before booking in. When seeing a gender affirmative counsellor, you should be able to expect that the practitioner is knowledgeable, aware, and experienced in working with the issues and joys of being trans and/or gender diverse and such will be respectful and embracing of you and your identity, no matter what this may be. Martin provides a gender affirmative service to his clients and has extensive experience working with trans and gender diverse communities as a counsellor whilst never claiming himself as an expert.
Can gender dysphoria be treated with counselling?
Depending on the meaning we prescribed to the word, ‘treated’ in this question, the answer to this can be complex and often harmful when it comes to gender dysphoria. Some use this word in the context of wanting themselves, their child or their partner not to be or to explore what might be their natural gender expression which may not fit within dominant perceptions of gender in the world, for others it may mean simply reducing the distress associated with what's happening for them in regard to their gender (assigned or felt) and the body they are born in. To ‘treat’ something, often means to return it to something that is considered to be ‘normal’ which is highly problematic if the so-called ‘normal’ is either not true, supportive or healthy for the individual or all of us as a community.
Normal refers to something that has been replicated over and over and over and such it becomes the majority of its kind not because it is inherent or synonymous but simply because it has been replicated, making it 'normal'. When it comes to concepts of normal, we need to be highly aware that it does not mean what we think it means. Just because we call something normal does not mean that it is true, healthy, or supportive, in fact, what’s normal can be destructive, harmful, and abusive, it is only 'normal' because it has been repeated over and over and over, so we must always be discerning.
Can the distress associated with gender dysphoria be reduced or managed with the support of counselling?
The answer to this is yes, absolutely. For some people they can get to a place where gender dysphoria no longer plays a substantial part of their lives, for others it is something that needs to be managed ongoing, where for some they find value in their gender dysphoria as it can also be affirming as to who they are, so it’s important to work with your own unique experiences, wants and needs when it comes to gender dysphoria.
It’s important to establish with your practitioner exactly what you are looking for when you are seeking treatment for gender dysphoria and if you’re not clear, then this is something you can explore with your practitioner further. It is important to remember that conversation therapy is illegal in Victoria and is not something that Martin believes in or supports. Martin is more interested is supporting a client to find what is true, supportive, and healthy for them in a way that is respectful and spacious so that they can find settlement within themselves and their own bodies.