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What You’re Actually Saying

LGBTQ Considerations in Mental Health Organizations

On  1st, Davis Chadler, Northampton Windhorse clinician and Andi Porter, Operations at Northampton, offered a brief training during an all staff meeting on the topic of using affirming pronouns. Windhorse has been working towards becoming more inclusive and aware of issues facing individuals with gender diversity, particularly those who identify as transgender, gender nonconforming or non-binary; and anyone who feels that they fall outside the standard norms of what it means to be a gendered being in our society. This training was meant to be an extension of this work, specifically incorporating the use of the singular pronoun they. With several people on staff using the personal pronouns they/them/theirs and clients being given this option on the intake form, the moment felt ripe for exploration and learning. Davis explained that using the correct pronouns for people is ultimately about compassion, professionalism and honoring human dignity.

In the first section of the training, Davis and Andi discussed a list of 9 common objections people have to using the singular pronoun they, taken from an article on Everyday Feminism by Adrian Ballou.

  • It’s grammatically incorrect

They/them pronouns have historically always been the pronoun for when you do not know someone’s gender. It is also officially in the dictionary with both definitions

  • It’s plural and you’re just one person

Same as above, it can mean both!

  1. It’s uncommon

Not only is it not uncommon, it is becoming more and more common everyday.

  • It’s not a “real pronoun”

It is easy to internalize this assumption, but it is, in fact, a very real pronoun and one that is gaining popularity. Also, saying it is not real erases someone’s identity, you are also saying the way they identify is not real.

  • But you don’t seem like a “They”

Someone might “seem” masculine or feminine and use gender inclusive pronouns – you cannot tell how someone identifies by what they look or “seem” like.

  • They/them pronouns are just a phase

So what? Phases deserve respect too, right? If someone is questioning that is even more reason to use the correct pronouns! They are just as legitimate as any other pronoun.

  • I like “ze” better

You don’t get to pick someone else’s pronouns or identity, just like you don’t get to pick someone else’s name.

  • “He” or “she” is close enough

The only way to know if something is right for someone is to ask them and listen to what they tell you.

  • It’s too hard

If you feel like this is hard, imagine what it’s like for the person who needs or wants these pronouns to be used, they are probably dealing with this a thousand times a day.

Davis and Andi explained that the only way to get better at using the singular they, as with anything new and unfamiliar, is to practice, practice, practice as much as possible. We hope to create a culture of both correcting other people and being open to being corrected ourselves. For example, it can be scary or hard to correct someone in a position of power over you, but we hope to create an environment at Windhorse where everyone is open to learning and making mistakes. There is a steep learning curve; there is no expectation that anyone wake up one day and magically be able to do it. Lastly, we went through the list of 10 messages you are sending when you don’t affirm someone’s pronouns.

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We want to also highlight others within mental health who are working towards better LGBTQ considerations during admissions and clinical interactions and an overall cultural shift within mental health organizations. Windhorse attended the June 15, Lisa Sarno of Sierra Tucson and Scottie Gage of Mountainside held a panel around these issues. The event was well attended and offered more insight to a wide range of organizations.