In the therapeutic and coaching communities, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of nonbinary and trans inclusivity when working with individuals of diverse gender identities. At the same time, there has also been a strong social and political backlash against transgender and nonbinary folks. Hundreds of laws have recently been written to restrict their access to essential medical care, the use of gender-affirming bathrooms, and competition in sporting events.
In this climate, it is more important than ever to create a safe space for trans and nonbinary clients in your therapy and coaching practice. We show you what you need to consider.
How to Work with Transgender & Nonbinary Clients in Therapy
If you want to be nonbinary and trans-inclusive in your practice, it is essential to remember that, whether they are in the room with you or not:
- Trans men are men and should always be referred to as men, unless they ask to be referred to in some other way.
- Trans women are women and should always be referred to as women, unless they’ve asked to be referred to in some other way.
- Nonbinary folks do not relate to a particular gender. Make sure you are aware of using the pronouns they’ve asked you to use, and always refer to them with those pronouns.
The following are some key strategies and considerations for building a nonbinary and trans-inclusive coaching space. They can be used to fostering an environment where everyone feels respected, heard, and understood.
1. Understand Trans Inclusivity and Nonbinary Inclusion
Sometimes people struggle with the transgender definition. So before we delve into creating an inclusive coaching space, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what trans inclusivity and nonbinary inclusion mean.
- Trans inclusivity refers to the practice of embracing and supporting individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone assigned female at birth who is actually a man, or someone assigned male at birth who is actually a woman.
- Nonbinary inclusion, on the other hand, acknowledges and respects those whose gender identity falls outside the binary categories of male and female. This may be a bit more complex to understand since the idea that there are only two genders – male and female – is very entrenched in our society. The truth, however, is that gender is actually a set of societal expectations about how you are supposed to look, dress, and behave (amongst other things), based on the gender assigned to you.
Gender binary norms have left countless individuals feeling estranged. They find themselves disconnected from the traditional notion of aligning solely with one gender or the other. Instead, they identify with a multifaceted blend of genders or perceive themselves along a dynamic gender spectrum, unconfined by the rigid confines of either/or categorizations. Transgender and nonbinary individuals, in particular, often experience a profound sense of alienation in a society that struggles to embrace and honor their identities fully. This stark reality underscores the critical significance of actively promoting trans and nonbinary inclusion.
2. Educate Yourself
Many transgender or nonbinary clients report feeling exhausted and frustrated that they have to educate mental health practitioners about the most basic aspects of what it means to be transgender or nonbinary.
It’s therefore critical to educate yourself and gain a foundational understanding of the terminology, experiences, and challenges that trans and nonbinary folks commonly have.
There are some excellent books out there and you also many want to look into trainings that are trans and nonbinary inclusive and that have a gender inclusion policy.
- Life Isn’t Binary : a book that helps you escape from thinking in binary terms in general and in the gender binary specifically
- Gender Euphoria : so much writing on transgender lives focuses on tragedy, whereas Gender Euphoria is full of stories of the joys and successes of being transgender.
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask) : a guide that takes you through the most basic definitions to more complex transgender issues. It will help to answer the question you may have about trans lives, dating, relationships, etc.
- Redefining Realness : a memoir by Janet Mock about her experience growing up a trans, multi-racial and poor in America.
- Trans Sex : especially if you are coaching folks around sexuality, a book that covers the sexual lives and erotic embodiments of trans folks is essential reading.
3. Adopt Gender-Affirming Language
The language you use in your coaching sessions plays a significant role in creating an inclusive space. Respect your clients’ gender identities by using their preferred names and pronouns at all times, but especially in their presence.
As a general guideline, it should be standard practice to ask all of your clients about their pronouns when you first meet them. Inquiring about pronouns may end up creating an opening for deeper conversations around gender, even with those who identify as cis. (Note: cis refers to anyone whose gender presentation matches their gender assigned at birth, and does not identify as trans or nonbinary).
Overall, it’s best to avoid making assumptions about a client’s gender identity, as this can lead to discomfort and undermine the trust within the coaching relationship.
4. Create a Safe Space
Your coaching room should be a sanctuary for clients, where they feel free to explore their feelings and thoughts without fear of discrimination or invalidation. Ensure your physical space is welcoming to all genders, and be attentive to the emotional safety of your clients during sessions.
You can create emotional safety by making sure you only ask questions that are actually useful to understanding your clients feelings, needs, and experiences. They will feel seen and supported, instead of objectified. Do not seek information to satisfy your own curiosity about what it is like to be transgender or nonbinary.
5. Listen Empathetically
While you may have a very different life experience, it is important to do your best to step outside of your assumptions about dating, gender, sex, bodies/body parts, and any of your gender-based assumptions. Really listen to the experience of the person sitting in front of you. As you listen, see if you can do your best to put yourself in their shoes and imagine their experiences.
If you are cis, here are some questions you can ask yourself to start this empathetic process flowing:
- What would it feel like for you to come out to your parents as another gender?
- Have you ever felt like something you do, or the way you are on the inside doesn’t conform to the expectations of your gender? Have you ever been shamed for acting in a way that doesn’t align with the gender you were assigned?
- What if you realized you were not the gender you were assigned at birth, but had trouble accessing the resources you needed to remedy this issue?
Make sure you let your clients share their stories at their own pace. When they do, empathize with their feelings and experiences. A nonjudgmental approach will foster a strong coaching or therapeutic alliance.
6. Recognize Intersectionality
Transgender and nonbinary clients, like anyone else, may have intersecting identities – including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status.
Recognize and be sensitive to these intersections as they can be vital in shaping a person’s experiences and challenges. Don’t assume everything they talk about has to do with their identity or experience of being transgender or nonbinary.
7. Advocate for Your Clients
As a coach, you have the power to be an ally and advocate for your transgender and nonbinary clients. Support their goals and aspirations, and be ready to challenge any discriminatory attitudes they might encounter outside the coaching space.
One way to be an ally is to put your pronouns on your email signature and all of your social media accounts. This shows that you support people being able to name their own pronouns and are willing to stand up publicly and do so yourself.
What is Transgender Coaching?
In thinking about creating a trans and nonbinary inclusive coaching practice, it is imperative to understand the whole field.
For example, some mental health professionals specialize explicitly in transgender coaching. This niche of the profession focuses on providing support, guidance, and empowerment to transgender individuals. It also helps them navigate various aspects of their lives, particularly related to gender identity, transition, relationship issues, etc.
Here are some key aspects of transgender coaching:
- Identity Exploration: Assisting individuals in exploring and understanding their gender identity. This may involve discussions about gender dysphoria, self-discovery, and personal reflection.
- Transition Support: Providing guidance and support throughout the transition process, which can include medical, social, and legal aspects. It helps transgender individuals set goals, cope with challenges, and celebrate achievements during their journey.
- Self-Acceptance and Confidence Building: Helping the client build self-acceptance and confidence, and embracing their true selves. It also assists in navigating the challenges of living authentically in a world that may not always be accepting.
- Dating and Relationships: Teaching transgender individuals to communicate with family, friends, partners, and colleagues about their gender identity and transition. Helping them feel safe and empowered when they go out into the dating world.
- Advocacy and Empowerment: Empowering individuals to become advocates for their own rights and needs, which can include suggesting resources and strategies for dealing with discrimination and prejudice.
- Self-Care and Coping with Challenges: Transitioning can be accompanied by challenges such as emotional struggles, social isolation, or medical concerns. A transgender coach can offer tools and self-care approaches to overcome these.
- Goal Setting and Life Planning: Working with transgender individuals to set personal and professional goals and develop action plans to achieve them.
Authentically Embrace Your Transgender and Nonbinary Clients
Creating a nonbinary and trans-inclusive coaching space is not just about checking boxes; it’s about fostering an environment of genuine support and understanding.
By educating yourself, using gender-affirming language, and empathetically listening to your clients, you can build a coaching practice that is truly inclusive. Together, the therapeutic and coaching communities can work towards a future where transgender and nonbinary individuals can thrive in all aspects of life, with the support they need to navigate their journeys successfully.
If you’re a relationship or life coach, therapist, or mental health professional wanting to work with nonbinary and transgender clients, join us at the Somatica Training. One of the objectives of our gender and sexuality-inclusive curriculum is to give you the tools to successfully be able to navigate all the challenges and issues with your transgender or nonbinary clients.