Words are powerful indicators of belief and knowledge. You can show your clients that your space, your practice, and your therapeutic care is knowledgeable of LGBTQ+ identities and affirming of their diverse experiences. LGBTQ+Terminology is constantly evolving and it can feel hard to keep up-to-date. Additionally, people have a variety of relationships with and opinions of these words. What feels affirming for one person, could feel oppressive for another. Here are some strategies to keep yourself open to new words and empower your clients to self-name.
Read articles and essays by LGBTQ+ people and notice the language they use to describe their experiences. Learn about microaggressions. Consider how, even without intending to, people can reinforce stereotypes or negative beliefs through words. Receive training about unconscious bias. When it’s necessary and you’re in doubt, just ask the person which word(s) feels best to describe their gender or sexuality. Include LGBTQ+ related training in for your CEU’s. See Fenway’s free webinars on issues impacting LGBTQ+ people and a list of New Mexico-based trainers.
If you’re not sure what words to use, start by describing “a person who…” to place the individual and their humanity as the subject of the sentence. It’s not acceptable to say a “colored person,” instead we say, “a person of color” to describe someone with a darker skin tone. This tactic can be used for other oppressed groups. One could say, “a person who experiences attraction to men and women” is a way of describing the experience a person has without labeling them. The person might self-identify as bisexual, pansexual, or queer. Wait until they have given a label to themselves.
Many people grapple to find the words that fit their self-identity and experiences. It is complex and personal. Individuals navigate unique contexts and associations with words that inform the words they choose for themselves. Some people chose not to use a label at all. Providers can support this process by encouraging that exploration and the time needed to decide. Believe your clients, and accept that they might change the words they use to describe themselves.
Perhaps the vocabulary is new to you, and it doesn’t flow easily when you talk. That’s ok, as long as you graciously accept corrections and make a concerted effort to affirm the language your client uses. Perfection is not expected, but the responsibility of learning and correcting should not fall on the client. Do not complain about the work it takes to relearn someone’s pronoun or name. That is not the responsibility of the LGBTQ+ person. It is completely reasonable to expect providers to get the language right. It can take time and practice to retrain language patterns. Practice makes perfect, and it will mean a lot to your clients.