What is a Queer-Affirming Provider?
What does Queer mean?
The word “queer” used to be an insult towards people who are not heterosexual, and was most often used against gay men. The first definition listed in most dictionaries for the word “queer” is “strange, odd, or unusual”; so it was often used as a derogatory slur. At first it was used most often towards effeminate gay men, to imply that their non-conformity with masculine gender norms made them deviant, or undesirable social company.
However, the use of this word began to change when people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender started reclaiming the term queer as a positive label for themselves. This happened gradually, paralleling the LGBT civil rights movements within the United States. Around the 1980’s, the word was more commonly and confidently used by LGBT people as a positive label, and familiarity with the new definition started to spread to the heterosexual majority. Because the reclaiming of this word happened through social revolution, it gathered around itself a fluid quality and a flock of emotional meanings. Today you may hear it used slightly differently in conversation, depending on context.
I usually hear the word queer used in two different ways:
- As an umbrella term, referring to the broad spectrum of sexual, gender, and relational orientations outside of the few that are most recognized by American society as a norm or standard (i.e. heterosexuality, cisgenderism, and traditional lifelong monogamy). For example, “the Queer community has come out in large crowds to celebrate the Pride festival today”.
- As a personal identity- and often one that intentionally resists being put in a box! There’s a lot of ground to cover in defining a person’s sexuality. Even though there are a lot of labels out there now to do that, sometimes people identify more with the space between labels. The experience of not being easily defined is a lovable part of using queer as a personal identifier. When someone calls themselves Queer, it’s generally safe to assume that they see their identity as more complicated than picking a single label such as lesbian, straight, trans, etc. (Or, that they simply don’t want to explain all the nuances of their identity to you at the moment.)
How does this relate to mental health?
If someone is queer in any way- whether as a personal identity, or as a cultural label connecting them to the LGBTQ+ community- it will influence their sense of self, and their relationships. It’s near impossible to think deeply about your sexuality, your gender, and your relationship choices without influencing the way you connect with yourself and others. They encompass some of the ways we most directly experience intimacy with other people. And simply put, the quality of our connections are two major factors that affect our happiness and mental wellbeing.
What does “affirming” mean, and why is it important?
You might have heard mental health providers refer to themselves as “LGBT-friendly” or “kink-knowledgeable” or other similar labels. I use the term affirming because it goes beyond being willing to make a little space on my therapy couch for people who aren’t straight. I believe that to affirm someone’s identity, you must be aware of what it is; accepting of what it means to them; willing to avoid ignorance about their experiences; and agreeable to that person having rights that fit their identity. An affirming provider takes an active role in working to bridge cultural differences, so that clients can experience more than just being welcome in a foreign space. I want my clients to experience a sense of belonging and shared understanding in the therapy process.
What being a Queer-affirming provider means to me:
More than anything, I think that being a Queer-affirming provider is about setting standards for myself about what clients can expect from me…
- You can expect that I will be open-minded and accepting.
- You can expect that I won’t assume all of your problems are related to your sexuality or gender.
- You can expect that I will respect your beliefs about religion and spirituality; and I will not ask, nor pressure you to conform to my perspectives.
- You can expect that when I’m not working in therapy sessions, I use some of my time to educate myself about different identities, orientations, and lifestyles that fall under the queer umbrella (including ones that don’t apply to myself personally).
- You can expect that I have been involved in queer communities and events.
- You can expect that I will respect your confidentiality, and will not out you without permission, in both queer and non-queer spaces.
- You can expect that I support research and academic projects that promote knowledge and wellbeing for queer people.
- You can expect that I will support your rights to have a healthy, contented life; a safe, secure family; educational and work opportunities without discrimination or harassment; and caring, functional relationships.
And most of all, you can expect me to embrace and accept your humanity. You are welcome and loved in my office, no matter who you are or where life has taken you.