Podcast: LGBTQ+ Pride Month – He/She/They
On today’s episode, Trevor recalls a particularly difficult time when outside circumstances forced a good friend to come out to her parents.
Then Lauren Wadsworth, PhD, (12:15), a post-doctoral fellow at McLean, talks with Trevor about nonbinary gender pronouns and why they matter.
Lauren urges folks to become more flexible when thinking about gender and to be OK with making mistakes when trying to use these pronouns properly. She also discusses the importance of incorporating these pronouns into everyday use.
Learn more about Dr. Wadsworth.
Trevor: Welcome to Mindful Things. Mindful Things, the show that has things that we’re mindful about. On today’s episode, I interview Dr. Lauren P. Wadsworth. She’s a post-doctoral fellow here at McLean Hospital in the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute and the College Mental Health Program. We talk about mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community with stats, and it’s some very alarming stuff. We also talk about use of proper pronouns, identity issues for individuals from that community coming into the hospital, a lot of really great information, and I personally learned a lot. Hopefully, you will too.
A few quick updates, I haven’t talked about my cat in a while. I know a lot of you are concerned. I know I complained about her for all those months, not having her, and now I have her. She’s doing great. She’s happy now at the new place. She’s marked it all up, it all smells of her scent, so she’s cool. She sleeps everywhere, everything’s great. I’m really happy to have her back. She’s always sleeping at the end of the bed when I wake up, and when I do wake up she gives me this look as if to say, “Go to work so I can go back to sleep.” It kind of hurts, I’m not going to lie, but I love her to pieces anyways.
Believe it or not, the narcissist is not going to talk about himself. I’m actually going to talk about somebody else in this intro. I know, I know, as Samuel L. Jackson says in “Jurassic Park,” “Hold onto your butts. Here we go.”
In college, my senior year, I lived with a woman. We’re still very good friends to this day. She was my roommate, and she identifies as a lesbian. Now, at the time, her parents did not know, she had not come out to her parents. It was funny, her parents are great, they’re lovely, and every time her parents would visit it was so obvious that they wanted their daughter and I to get together. They really laid it on thick, it was pretty funny, and we always got a big kick out of it.
Something happened. My friend went to a party, not an orgy, she went to a party. From what I understand, from what I remember, it was mostly members of the LGBTQ+ community and mostly people that identify as women, female. I’m not going to say the location or what city it was in, but the police showed up, and it got very violent. A lot of the party-goers were hurt. One officer broke a woman’s nose, and one other person, I believe, was roughed up pretty badly. Little did the police know that the person that they roughed up was a very, very top-notch, well-respected attorney who had connections with newspapers and everything.
What happened was is that in a few days USA Today was about to print a story about it, about how there was police brutality, and they came down too hard and stuff like that, and my roommate was terrified because her name was going to be in the article. My friend didn’t get arrested, didn’t get hurt, but names of people were going to be in the article, and she knew that somehow somebody was going to read it, and it was going to get back to her parents. We had a long talk, and she decided, “You know what? I need to tell them. I can’t wait for them to find out from the newspaper. They’ll be really upset.”
I was home, and she called them, and she told them. Now, I didn’t listen in. I was in my bedroom but with the doors closed, but I could hear everything. This is what I heard. I’m not going to say specific words, but I’m going to tell you the feelings behind the words that I heard. I talked to my friend recently on the phone, and I asked her if I could talk about this, and she said absolutely. She now is married, she lives up in Canada. They have a beautiful baby boy, they’re doing great. Back to the story, I was sitting there, and this is what I heard.
I heard really intense screaming, and I heard really, really painful crying. I heard desperation, I heard fear, real palpable fear, like it gave me chills. This person, my friend, not the over-dramatic “sing it for the back of the bleachers” kind of person like me. That’s just not her. I heard my good friend, who I care for and love very much, I heard all of her insides spill out. The one thing I do remember was her screaming through a cry like, why, why, and I could only imagine that it was a “Why are you disappointed in me mom and dad?”
I know there are a lot of people, maybe they’re listening to this podcast, I don’t know. I know there are a lot of people that are just not down with that community and what they do, and I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. To those people, I want to tell you what I really heard in that conversation, screaming match, she had with her parents, and everything turned out fine, by the way. Her parents within days, everything was fine, and they worked things out, and my friend brought them into her world, and they brought their daughter into their world. Everything’s worked out, and they’ve been very, very supportive, and they’re very happy grandparents now.
What I heard is something that I know is universal among all of us. What I heard is I heard love that was on the line. Now, half of you just threw up your hands and like, “Trevor, are serious? Love you? Well, you’re going to use that word?” Yeah, I know, it’s tough for me to say it, too, but that’s what I heard. I heard love that was on the line. Ever had a fight with somebody that has been a part of your life for so long, a disagreement, and you can feel the love between you stretch? You guys are pulling away from each other. You know something, like you take a piece of taffy, and you stretch it out really wide, it’s going to break, and you know what I’m talking about. You’re at that point where, is the love between us going to break, or are we going to be able to bring this back together again?
That’s what I heard, and it was terrifying, it really was. I was scared, I was scared for my friend, because there was true terror in her voice that it wasn’t just a possibility that her parents might not accept her, it was the possibility that the love between them, and she’s an only child, the love between her and her parents might break apart or might be fractured. If you still got that connective tissue there, it’s a lot easier to save that love between family or friends than it is when it completely breaks in half, and that’s what I heard.
Everybody, no matter what they believe in, has experienced this once in their life. The most alpha of males have experienced this, everybody has experienced this. This is one situation that we all have in common. It might be with a spouse, it might be with a child, it might be with a brother, sister, an uncle, somebody, a best friend. Some of them do break apart, and some of them you’re able to rescue, but everybody knows that moment, that moment when you just don’t know which way it’s going to go, and it creates desperation and fear, and that’s what I heard.
The scary thing is that if it did break apart, if my friend and her parents went their own separate ways, and I’ve known people where they’ve come out to their parents, this happened to a cousin of mine, and the parents and my cousin went in different directions. As far as I know, I still think that’s the case. If that ever happens, can you imagine? Maybe you can because it’s happened to you. Can you imagine the pain, the sadness, the emptiness, of not having that relationship anymore? Can you understand how that might lead to depression, anxiety? There’s a lot of differences between us, and it’s up to you to accept those differences or not. I wish everybody could accept everybody, but that’s not how it works. A lot of us are going to try and find a way to make that work, to make it better.
If you’re not willing to understand where somebody’s coming from and how they want to live their life, maybe you can understand that there was a moment where the both of you shared a real intense painful moment, not the two of you together but the two of you in your own lives. You have that in common. We all know what it’s like, that desperate moment when love was on the line. If you can connect to somebody on that level, maybe you can connect with them and who they are, and maybe they’ll connect with you. We all have that pain in common. Each and every one of us have that pain in common.
Okay, then, now it’s time for Dr. Lauren P. Wadsworth. She’s a lot of fun. This is one of those interviews that really make me happy that I do this podcast, and I was scared too. I was terrified of using the wrong words, and she walked me through the entire process. I learned a lot and hopefully you will, too. Okay, here we go.
What was your wedding like?
Lauren: Well, okay, so we—
Lauren: No, we decided to go super traditional, because we did it really publicly in my small town, and as one of the first people—
Trevor: You got married up in New York?—
Lauren: Yeah, to come out in that town very publicly, we wanted to make it seem as “normal” as possible, so we did the whole church wedding even though we’re really not religious.
Trevor: What does that mean, your—
Lauren: The church does have some special significance to my family, so that’s why.
Lauren: I’m more spiritual than having religious beliefs at this point, but I was raised Episcopal, so we did the whole white dress, my wife Christa was in a suit. We had the wedding party, we did the typical big white tent, it was really awesome. It was actually the first event that my dad was running a venue, so it was like a little family project, which was nice—
Trevor: Oh, that’s cool—
Lauren: My favorite part was we cut the cake with a sword, normal, but it was really awesome. It was the best day of my life, one of the best days of my life, and I never want to do it again. It’s like, this is too much work.
Trevor: Yeah. Was there any pushback, anybody boycott?
Lauren: No boycotting. My aunt, one of my aunts, did say she had a shotgun in the back of her car just in case there was any trouble, so that’s how you know you’re in Western New York.
Trevor: Do you have gun?
Lauren: I do have a gun. I used to do historical reenacting, and I would beat all the—
Trevor: Oh, my God, you are so fascinating.
Lauren: I beat all the boys in tomahawk and knife throwing and with survival skills and black powder shooting. Because of that, the reward was a handmade black powder gun.
Trevor: Did you guys already buy a house up there or something?
Lauren: We did, a rundown farmhouse, basically.
Trevor: Oh, my God.
Lauren: It’s got a lot of work to do, but it’s going to be a little haven of privacy and horses, and I want to have a greenhouse within the dream—
Trevor: Oh, that all sounds horrible to me—
Lauren: Sounds like my ultimate fantasy.
Trevor: Sounds awful.
Lauren: It’s what’s gotten me through the last 14 years.
Trevor: I’m 100% against fresh air. Trees? Hate them. Grass? Nature? 100%. I want it to be preserved.
Trevor: Yeah, I don’t want to be a part of it.
Lauren: Oh, I just want to be in it all the time—
Trevor: Uh-uh (negative), nope. Enjoy your Lyme disease, that’s all I’m going to say.
Lauren: Well, I am afraid of ticks.
Trevor: They’re everywhere now.
Lauren: I know.
Trevor: My sister has Lyme disease, and it’s not—
Lauren: Oh, it’s really, really bad.
Trevor: Yeah, it’s really bad.
Lauren: My wife’s been looking up things to reduce tick populations, so we’re going to plant lots of lavender, have some bats.
Trevor: Yeah, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Now you’re controlling the environment. Shouldn’t you let the environment be?
Lauren: Just wanting it both ways.
Trevor: Yeah, I guess so, bending the environment to your will.
Trevor: Let’s start with your history. Where did you grow up?
Lauren: Grew up in Western New York, Genesee of New York, with 50 kids in my graduating class. Fun fact, I have a vivid memory. The first time I remember hearing that some people are gay or trans, I was in an assembly.
Trevor: Hold on, that word “trans,” that is acceptable?
Lauren: It’s an umbrella term to capture anyone that identifies that way outside of the gender binary or as trans.
Lauren: The first time I remember hearing about it was at an assembly where a speaker came to our tiny little rural farm town and said, “You know, about 5% of people are either gay or trans.” “Transgender,” I think, at the time was probably what they said. I look around, and I was like, who’s it going to be? My eyes went to this feminist in my class, self-proclaimed feminist. I was like, definitely going to be her.
Lauren: Oh, yeah, I was like, it’s her 100%.
Trevor: You assumed, yup, were you right?
Lauren: No, it was me. So far, I think—
Trevor: Wait a minute, yeah, you had a small class, so 5%. Yeah, there would just be one of you, right?
Lauren: It was like one or two, yeah.
Trevor: Mine was, in college, in my senior year, I believe the nationwide stat hopped from two out of four to three out of four women will be sexually assaulted. That was ‘99, and I remember, not obviously, I think every person in the class did that. You just scanned all the women in the class, did a little counting, a little division, and you were like—
Trevor: Yeah, that’s a rough one. Where did you end up going to college?
Lauren: Smith College.
Trevor: Smith. For somebody who loves the farm and nature so much, why did you leave?
Lauren: Well, I knew I had to leave.
Lauren: Well, just at the time I knew that this was a very similar group of people, and there’s a big world out there, and I need to be exposed to it to actually get an education that I’d be able to apply more generally.
Trevor: Now, do you think that that was your thought process, or do you think, because you had not come out yet, you weren’t aware. Do you think that it was more instinct pushing you out?
Lauren: Maybe. I think my dad also said a lot, “You got to leave,” because he grew up in the same town. He’s like, “You got to leave. I hope you guys leave for at least five years.”
Trevor: Oh, you have siblings?
Lauren: Yeah, one sister.
Trevor: Older or younger?
Lauren: Younger. “I really hope you’ll leave for at least five years, come back, make this place better if you want to. If not, enjoy the world.” I really took that to heart and, you’re right, it was really good I left because I found out a lot more about myself day two of college.
Trevor: It sounds like you have really loving parents.
Lauren: Yeah, they’re great, they’re amazing.
Trevor: I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but you do understand how rare that is, don’t you?
Lauren: Super rare, yeah, they’re amazing. Everyone says that.
Trevor: That, when you told them, when you came out to them, is that okay?
Trevor: Yeah? Were they not surprised? Were they immediately supportive? Were they “kind of knew”?
Lauren: They were surprised and later said they weren’t surprised, which I think is very common—
Trevor: They weren’t surprised.
Lauren: Just based on how they saw me at the orientation, the tour at Smith, and seeing people that looked non-binary—
Trevor: What is that?
Lauren: People that were outside of that gender binary, people that didn’t appear male or female in that historic way.
Trevor: Isn’t that “gender binary,” aren’t those just social norms that have been assigned to specific gender? You’re not talking about something biological, you’re talking about, “This is how men look, this is how women look, and this group right here, they’re forging their own look.”
Lauren: They’re pushing against the social pressure to be one or the other, right? I saw people that appeared “androgynous” was probably the word I would’ve used back then.
Trevor: Is that not an acceptable word anymore?
Lauren: I think it probably is.
Lauren: What I was seeing was something that looked like androgyny. I wasn’t sure how they identified. They seemed to have some feminine traits and some masculine traits, and I’d just never seen someone walking around holding both of those. My dad said my eyes lit up.
Trevor: He saw that.
Lauren: He said at that point he thought, “Hmm, we might hear some news in a while.” They’re both Republican, so they were surprised. They had said things like, “This is going to take some time to reset what our dreams for you were or our visions or expectations of what your future would be like.” We’ve talked a lot about all of that. For them to then just become accepting and be open, introducing my now wife to people in town, I think, was really brave.
Trevor: Did they like your wife?
Lauren: They love her, probably more than they love me.
Trevor: Oh, stop, you’re starting to sound —
Lauren: She’s so lovable.
Trevor: You’re starting to sound like me. That was such a “me” thing that I would say.
Lauren: We’ve spent too much time together—
Trevor: Yeah, spending too much time together. I just want to say to the audience, Lauren sent over her ridiculously long resume.
Lauren: I don’t think I sent this—
Trevor: Whatever, somebody sent this thing over. I actually got into a fight with somebody about this resume last night. I was like, “Oh, I interviewed somebody today that had a 17-page resume,” and she’s like, “No, that’s not possible.” I’m like, “I’m telling you, it is, and she told me that’s normal for her field.” She’s like, “Absolutely not. She’s never going to get hired.” I’m like, “She kind of has the ability to go everywhere she wants to go.”
Now, a lot of the resume is everything you’ve written, right? There’s your jobs and then there’s publications—
Trevor: How many pages does the publications take up?
Lauren: Well, publications is probably a couple pages, but the presentations is probably a couple more, so I’d say all together that’s probably half of it, if not more. It takes up a lot of space, so it’s cheating a little bit.
Trevor: 11-point font, though, so you got away with that. Lauren’s resume is really impressive, and usually I don’t like that. Usually that tells me, and I think this is an unfair judgment, but to me that looks like the makings of a doctor that’s just going to treat their patients like a footnote in their next presentation or their paper. I’ll tell you what, I don’t get that feeling from Lauren at all. I told her after the first time we had a pre-interview that I think she genuinely cares. A lot of people around here genuinely care, and it’s just really nice to see, especially somebody so young, so hopefully it stays that way for a long time. No pressure or anything.
Then you went to, what, you got 12 master’s degrees or something like that?
Lauren: No, I was really lucky to get into UMass Boston. I didn’t know how lucky at the time, but when I interviewed I noticed that not only did they seem like amazing scientists, but they were an extremely diverse set of scientists in training. They had this diversity panel midday where they just talked about their socio-cultural identities like their race, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, and how all of that interacts with their clinical training. I just had this feeling that if I went there I’d not only become an amazing scientist but become a much better person. Kind of like the feeling after summer camp or after some big transformative experience, it seemed like it would be five years of that, and it was.
That program is a scientist/practitioner activist model. Every single class and interaction is supposed to be couched in identities and talking about marginalization and privilege and learning about your own positionality. How do you affect people when you walk into the room? For me, as someone that appears female and is white and maybe appear straight, how does that impact who I’m talking to? That was just an incredible training.
Trevor: Let me step back. You said it was when you went to Smith that you did realize your, okay, so “orientation” is not an acceptable word anymore, right?
Lauren: I like using “sexual orientation.”
Trevor: “Sexual orientation.”
Lauren: I don’t like “sexual preference” so much.
Trevor: Okay, why not?
Lauren: It just hearkens back to the “this was a choice, why did you make this choice, why are you making our lives harder,” etc., etc.
Trevor: Right. That’s when you realized was in college, and you said that you met your wife in college.
Trevor: Yeah, you said that she was already with somebody—
Lauren: You’re calling me out?
Trevor: You didn’t even look at it as a fence to get over.
Lauren: I just thought if she gets to know me maybe she’d change her mind.
Trevor: Yeah, mm-hmm. Did you really have to earn it?
Lauren: I really had to earn it.
Lauren: Probably to a level of, it would be concerning if you saw it in a movie, like texting her when I knew she was going to be coming back from the weekend, and she didn’t respond so I went to where I thought she’d be parking. That’s pretty creepy.
Trevor: I don’t know, I can’t judge. Had you ever had that level of, you told me that you dated in high school, and you dated men.
Trevor: Did you ever have that level of ... No? Never?
Trevor: That was the first one?
Lauren: Yeah, which is probably a good thing. I just knew.
Trevor: She’s the only person you’ve been with since?
Trevor: You’ve never been on a dating app?
Lauren: Well, actually, I was on Match.com in the first year of college.
Trevor: Oh, you were?
Lauren: It was a disaster.
Trevor: Oh, yeah, it was terrible. The funny thing is, you said earlier, you said, “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual,” which 99% of when I used to do the apps and stuff they all say that, and I was just like, no, don’t—
Lauren: “Spiritual, not religious”?
Trevor: Yeah, oh, my God—
Lauren: I think that was probably the box I clicked.
Trevor: Yeah, I want to jump out of a window. I’m just praying for the one that says, “I don’t believe in anything.” It’s like, yup, swipe right, thank you, somebody else. Who believes that nothing exists here? Did you take time to “explore” your sexuality? Is that acceptable?
Lauren: I don’t know, yeah.
Trevor: Did you take time for you to explore this, or did you also immediately become an activist as well?
Lauren: Coming into my own identity and then becoming an activist?
Lauren: That second piece didn’t come until the grad school era—
Trevor: Yeah? What brought that on?
Lauren: I started, actually, my first job at McLean. Well, I’ll back up a little bit. My second year in grad school is when we start clinical work, so we started the counseling center at UMass Boston, and the same thing happened here that has happened in every single clinical setting I’ve worked, so it applies to all of the above. I’d start out, not come out. I tend to be a pretty open person, but if I think something might affect how someone perceives my work, I’ll probably keep that on the down low for a while and prove myself otherwise and then share it if I think it’s appropriate.
A couple weeks or probably months in, came out to one of my supervisors and shortly after noticed that I was getting a lot of intakes with “clients” is what we called them at that center, clients that were identifying as trans or might be trans or queer or gay. I thought, that’s interesting—
Trevor: Hold on, wait. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you just used the Q-word, which how I was raised is that it’s not as inflammatory as the other F-word, but it is, or it was. Is that not the case anymore?
Lauren: Yeah, “queer” was, it’s really interesting, was reclaimed by the community as a new way of identifying—
Trevor: Is that across the board?
Lauren: It’s not across the board. I have a lot of friends that are older than me that find it quite offensive, still, and really don’t want to be called a member of the “queer” community. The cool thing about the term “queer” is that it was one of the first identities in terms of sexual orientation that could allow you to be outside of the binary.
If you think about “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” all of those are implying there are two genders, “bi” meaning “two,” attracted to both. “Queer” was used to say, “I’m attracted to people regardless of gender,” so it’s whether you’re a man, a woman, neither, both. “I’m more into the person.” Now it’s grown to be just an umbrella term for anyone in the sexual or gender minority space. Maybe they’re in both, but some members of the community do find it offensive.
Trevor: It’s a term, correct me if I’m wrong, that only people in your community can use. It’s not acceptable if I use it, right?
Lauren: Well, I think it is fine. I hear a lot of people describe me as “queer,” so for you to say, “I met Lauren, she identifies as queer,” that’s totally fine, of course, not using it as an insult.
Trevor: If I was like, “I met this girl Lauren, she’s effing Q,” that would—
Lauren: Yeah, that would be a different use of the word.
Trevor: We had this conversation. I still can’t say it, I just can’t.
Lauren: Right, right.
Lauren: I probably wouldn’t, either, even though I’m in the community. I haven’t really heard people in the community using it as a fun insult the way that some reclaimed words can be used or like a pet name, more of just as an identity.
Trevor: Okay, I’m sorry, I interrupted you while you were saying—
Lauren: Oh, I got assigned all these sexual and gender minority clients and was a little shocked. I thought it was chance at first, but in retrospect it’s happened everywhere I work. I will come out a few months in, and then suddenly I’ll start getting all the cases. I think—
Trevor: Does that bother you?
Lauren: It did for a little while, because I was annoyed that they were, A, assuming that I wanted to specialize in my own population or, B, that I had some expertise that I wasn’t even trained to have specifically.
Trevor: Do you think it was about you? Do you think that maybe this decision was made because it might be best for the client if they are working, a client or patient, if they are working with somebody that empathizes more? Not “empathizes” but—
Lauren: Is safe?
Trevor: Not even that, just, there’s representation, there’s—
Trevor: I still think it’s, I don’t know if it’s inherently wrong. I think by sending clients from your community just to you robs other people of the learning experience, but then at the same time the client or patient may feel more comfortable working with someone—
Lauren: In this case, I think it’s so powerful. This is something that Behavioral Health Partial at McLean is working on right now, so powerful to just ask people in the intake process, “What are your identities? How relevant are these to your treatment or what you’re here to work on, and are there any types of identities you would like to be matched with a therapist on?”
Trevor: We ask that?
Lauren: We are starting to. We’re working on a form right now. Well, I’m not. My colleague, actually, Felicia, is working on it at the Behavioral Health Partial, Felicia Jackson.
Trevor: Yeah, how many lawyers are involved with this at this point?
Lauren: They don’t know yet. Don’t tell them, don’t tell anyone—
Trevor: Don’t tell anyone, podcast listeners—
Lauren: No, it’s been a project that’s been going on at the BHP for a few years now to increase the cultural competency of our work, but I think asking is powerful. I think the other thing is, there’s a weird mix where they might send me a lot of patients that identify similarly to me but also tell me at the same time, “You shouldn’t be coming out to your patients,” so it’s complicated.
Trevor: What? You’ve actually been told that?
Lauren: Yes, that’s a whole, whole big dilemma in the field of psychology is how much disclosure is too much. Usually it depends on the orientation, but a lot of people have this misconception that if I come out, that’s me talking about my sex life at work, and that’s inappropriate. It’s kind of wild.
Lauren: Fun times. That’s where the specialty came from. I eventually just said, you know what, I do feel like after a few years of it I did have an expertise. Why don’t I just lean into it and do better by the community?
Trevor: I don’t know how I feel about that.
Lauren: It’s kind of a sad story, but it’s true, and it happens all the time to folks on the topic of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nation of origin.
Trevor: With regards to pronouns, should we get into this now?
Lauren: Yeah, let’s do it.
Lauren: This is the biggest question people ask me these days, pronouns, question mark.
Trevor: Yeah, I thought I was on the ball, woke and an ally, and in the past year or two I’ve realized that that is not the case at all. It’s not that I don’t support, it’s that I’m not aware of the proper terms. What I’m learning statistically, you actually brought some stats with you, is that not using the proper pronouns can cause identity confusion, which can lead to mental illnesses. It does have an effect.
I know a lot of people say this is too hard. Digging a hole outside while it’s 105° out is hard. 16-hour manual labor shifts is hard. People who work in those iPhone factories in China, that’s hard. Maybe it’s annoying, maybe it’s inconvenient, maybe it’s frustrating. We talked about it the other day, and you were correcting me as I went along, and it’s frustrating. I’m upset at myself, and I’m upset if I offended you. I’m not telling anybody what you have, you can do whatever you want. Just know that whatever you do there’s consequences to it in this regard, and you can either, well, I hope you respect it. That’s all I’m going to say. Yeah, let’s get into this.
Lauren: Yeah, just building off of that, we know that socio-cultural identities, whether it’s race, sexual orientation, or gender, come with marginalization. Marginalization might be political, it might be not being able to marry the partner that you love. It might be not being able to serve in the military, trans ban. It might be having a microaggression used against you. “Wow, you’re so blank for a blank person.” “Wow, you’re so feminine for a gay person,” is something that has been said to me. That sends these messages that might not—
Trevor: Wait, what?
Lauren: Yeah, let’s not spend too much time on it, but those little slights, those—
Trevor: I don’t even understand. I know, we’re going to move on. I’m just saying I don’t even understand that.
Lauren: It’s weird.
Trevor: That’s two plus two equals five. I’m sorry.
Lauren: Yeah, it is reviving those old images and stereotypes. All of those things, whether it’s a big policy or a little statement, we know that marginalization leads to an increased allostatic load, having more cortisol—
Trevor: An increased what?
Lauren: Allostatic load, having body changes, higher stress response, more cortisol pumping through our bodies. They have done some studies with people of color, I believe African Americans for this one I’m thinking of, where the cortisol levels aren’t only higher during the day, they’re actually higher throughout the whole night when your body’s supposed to be restoring, getting ready for the next day. Being hit on these multiple angles is also leading to higher levels of anxiety, depression, suicide rates, etc.
We know that in Massachusetts, which is a state that’s supposed to be so accepting, for a state with legalized gay marriage, we have extremely—
Trevor: We got to go to that straight pride parade? Come on.
Lauren: Yeah, that’s the home of the straight pride parade in Massachusetts.
Trevor: This place is nuts, I swear to God it’s nuts.
Lauren: Yeah, in Massachusetts, folks that are in the sexual or gender minority spectrum, 40% are diagnosed with anxiety or depression throughout their life. Trans folks, trans teens, this gets my heart the most, are five times more likely to attempt suicide. 20% of trans youth in Massachusetts were homeless in 2015. All of the impacts are undeniable.
Trevor: They aren’t accepted by family? Friends?
Lauren: Yeah, rejection by family. The homelessness piece, or all of it—
Trevor: Yeah, the homelessness piece specifically.
Lauren: Rejection from family is one of the biggest risks for homelessness. Coming out to family and being put on the street.
Trevor: Do you find that class structure has a lot to do with it, if a trans teen came from an upper-class family? Is there a class thing involved, or do we not have metrics on that?
Lauren: I don’t know if there are stats on that. There probably are some out there. I haven’t seen them. Anecdotally, I hear more of an interaction with the identity of religion.
Trevor: Oh, yeah, okay. That’ll do it.
Lauren: Religious, some religions being less accepting, and then parents having this awful decision of choosing their faith in their faith community or choosing their kid.
Trevor: You do understand why that happens, right?—
Lauren: Yes, absolutely—
Trevor: I feel like, no offense, it’s not that I agree with it, I absolutely do not agree with it, but I do feel like that there is a lack of empathy for somebody who is religious. I’m not religious at all, but I grew up in a religious school where memorizing your Bible verses was more important, just as or more important than math or your ABCs. When God is placed front and center, and you spend your whole life that way, what do you expect? I’m not—
Lauren: Yeah, it’s an impossible choice—
Trevor: I’m not at all, I don’t agree with it, but this whole thing of, I hear this a lot. “How can these people be so stupid?” I don’t know, I feel like we’re losing context everywhere.
Lauren: I hear that—
Trevor: I’m not saying, again, for the 20 billionth time, I don’t agree with it, but how can you compete with somebody who’s lived every minute of every day with God front and center?
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. If there was space to accept trans kids in a community where everyone is saying, no, that’s not okay, that would mean changing the religious community. That’s the one thing that’s probably being resisted the most, to maintain that culture, so I get it—
Lauren: I also don’t agree with it, obviously, but to pronouns, question mark—
Trevor: To pronouns. Is it obvious that I’m trying to push this off as much as possible?
Lauren: Maybe. No, pronouns, yes, this is such a big conversation across every clinic that I’ve talked to someone at McLean, every social setting, coming up in my own family and friends right now, where some folks are identifying with different pronouns, and they’ve been called their whole life, saying, “I really would like you to use ‘he/him’ pronouns for me now.” That can be super complicated, because families feel like they’re almost mourning the loss of the other kid that they had.
In clinical settings, someone’s coming in for treatment at maybe one of the worst points in their life and being mis-gendered by their treatment providers. What does that feel like? Then this new onset of “they/them” pronouns is something that I’ve heard a lot of people struggling with, so where should we start?
Trevor: Let’s go with “they/them.”
Lauren: Okay, “they/them” is the most popular gender-neutral pronoun, meaning one that’s not male or female. You can use “they/them” for anyone, so I could just stop using “he/him,” “she/her,” for the rest of my life and use “they/them” exclusively. It’s a nice way to refer to someone if you don’t know their gender pronouns, and it’s something that some people take on for the rest of their life to say, “Call me ‘they/them’ please from now on.”
Trevor: The cynic in me, the always negative person in me, says that that just sounds like a catch-all solution.
Lauren: Yeah, I think before “they/them” there was “ze/zim,” a few other different subtypes, and I think it’s very hard to change the world. I think if there’s one that can catch more people, and we can practice and get used to it and have a third option for pronouns, we’re more likely to get traction. It’s more likely to be easier for that trans teen in a rural area. Parents are more likely to have other people they can practice with or clinicians or people in general.
Yeah, I think just like “queer” can be a catch-all, “they/them,” you could argue, could be a catch-all, but there is definitely a large group of people who say, “I am not male or female. I want to be referred to ‘they/them,’” or maybe they’re transitioning, and they want to use that in the interim, or they might use some in different spaces based on safety.
Trevor: Okay, now correct me on my grammar. I thought that “they/them” was a plural.
Lauren: Such a good question.
Lauren: This is the number one question that was popping up on the Internet when “they/them” first popped up.
Trevor: Oh, the Internets.
Lauren: The Internets.
Trevor: It’s a real healthy place.
Lauren: A lot of people said, “I just can’t get behind not having something that’s proper grammar.”
Trevor: Oh, I love those people, they are the best—
Lauren: “It’s just not going to happen. I’ll never do it.”
Trevor: The grammar freaks, oh, they’re my favorite.
Lauren: The best thing in the world, which I’m not a literary historian, and that might not have even been the right grammar but whatever, is that “they” was actually used as a pronoun to describe one person historically in the English language. It’s only recently that it wasn’t used that way. An example that one of the members of the leadership in development at McLean often gives is, if we were sitting here, and a lecture just got out, and there was this sweater sitting on the table, you might say, “Hey, look, someone left their sweater here. We should pick it up and give it back to them.” We just use “they/them” pronouns, we do it all the time.
It’s really more about adding it in, and it’s hard at first, but with a little bit of practice you could say, “For this hour today, I’m not going to use ‘she/hers’ or ‘he/him,’ I’m just going to use ‘they/them.’” It can become second nature.
Trevor: What about people that want to continue that binary language just for themselves?
Lauren: That’s fine. I think as long as we’re just practicing enough so that if someone introduces themselves that way, they don’t have the burden of another person who’s like, “Uh-ooh-ah, I don’t even know what to call you ... it,” which is something we should never say again.
Trevor: Could you do that voice again? I don’t know what that was.
Trevor: It was ridiculous, it was great.
Lauren: It’s my impression of most people trying “they/them” pronouns for the most time, including myself.
Trevor: It was oddly accurate. What other direction can we go in? We’ve covered “they/them.”
Lauren: With pronouns, I think one thing is that a lot of people are advocating for people that identify as cisgender, which means you were assigned to the gender at birth that you currently identify with—
Trevor: That’s me.
Lauren: And me, yup.
Trevor: That’s you.
Lauren: Both of us.
Trevor: Okay, you identify as female.
Lauren: Yup, I was assigned female. I identify as a woman, and I was assigned “woman” at birth.
Trevor: Okay, wait, is “female” no longer acceptable?
Lauren: I guess just being specific about gender, better to use “woman” because female is more associated with chromosomes and biological blah-blah-blah.
Lauren: Cisgender was populated as this thing to say, okay, we’re all something. It’s not just that trans people are this “other,” they have this identity that no one else has. If we say “I am cis” then it’s creating space within that category. Everyone is something. There’s a push for cis people to start sharing their pronouns, putting them in their email signature line, you’ll probably see it in mine at the bottom, just saying pronouns “she/her/hers.”
Trevor: Yeah, that gave me a mild panic attack when I got that.
Trevor: Because I was like, oh, she’s for real.
Lauren: You knew to say “she.” You’re welcome -
Trevor: Yeah, I was like, this is serious. Now, that just naturally came out, now I feel bad. Even though I was correct, I feel bad. Yeah, no, somebody on my team sends me research materials for who I’m interviewing, and that was definitely highlighted, her pronouns, and I was like, okay, good to know.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s basically this effort to normalize that you might not guess someone’s pronouns right. If we just all introduce ourselves, “Hi, I’m Lauren. I use ‘she/her’ as pronouns,” takes two seconds out of your life, less time than a stoplight by far. It creates space for someone else to say, “Oh, mine are ‘they/them,’” without being the “weird one” or the “different one” or the “not normal one” in quotes, right?
Trevor: Your wife, is she cisgender?
Trevor: Okay, let me back up. Was “your wife” incorrect?
Lauren: I think that’s accurate. Well, that’s how I call her.
Trevor: Okay, what does she call you? You’re her wife?
Trevor: Okay, “wife” is okay, or would you prefer if I said “partner.”—
Lauren: That’s pre-gender. I like wife, it’s interesting, because a lot of people pushed in the ally space to say “partner” when there wasn’t equality with marriage, so that it wasn’t like, “There are husbands and wives and then there are ‘partners,’ and those are the people that are gay or lesbian or whatever.” I like saying “wife” because it breaks people’s expectations, it’s creating a new normal. It always surprises people the first time I say it, and I think that’s good to enhance people’s flexibility of what they expect.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me what my husband does, because they see my ring. To say, “Oh, well, my wife,” obviously that’s going to elicit some shame, some embarrassment, some guilt, but hopefully if I keep up the rapport, and we can continue on, it’s a good learning experience, it’s memorable.
Trevor: Did you notice anybody that treated you differently after you corrected them and said, “oh my wife”?
Lauren: Definitely. It’s like any kind of marginalization where it’s so hard to pin down exactly what they did if it’s subtle, but you feel the distancing, you feel that it takes a while to get back to where you were before.
Trevor: Do those that treat you differently, the majority of them wouldn’t be cis-men, would they? Wait, does “cis-men” even make sense?
Lauren: “Cis-men.” “Cis-men,” “cis-women,” they also happen to be straight, usually, people outside of the community. Maybe I’m the first woman married to a woman that they’ve ever met. Maybe they just need a little time to reset what they expected and find out they still like me anyways.
Trevor: Yeah, also at the same time, I don’t want to demonize naïveté or even ignorance. Willful ignorance, that deserves all the demonizing we can give it, in my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me, but some people just don’t know. Their reaction can be extreme, but, you’re right, maybe they’ve never encountered this before, and they don’t ... Haven’t you ever had a first encounter with something where it was a lot for you to handle?
Lauren: Yeah, of course. Maybe they don’t ask me about my weekend for a few weeks because they don’t know if it would make me uncomfortable to ask about my wife, or maybe it makes them uncomfortable. I can’t know which one it is, but I think that’s such a—
Trevor: Because you guys have some crazy weekends, totally based on your orientation. I’m kidding, clearly.
Lauren: We do love having parties.
Trevor: Oh, you do?
Lauren: Yes, especially glitter scene.
Trevor: Oh, God, do not invite me.
Lauren: No, I think that’s such a thing that happens for all folks who hold one or more marginalized identities where something happens, and you have that. Part of marginalization is just that, was that because I shared that I’m queer, or, was that because of my race, or, was that because of my mental health diagnosis that that person’s doing that or said that thing? That question is a burden in itself. Whether or not it’s intentional or not even the reason, that question can really wear on you.
Trevor: I was driving cross-country after college with a friend of mine, got into all sorts of shenanigans. We got robbed, all sorts of things. We had to stop somewhere, we had to actually get jobs for a while to get some money so we could come back home, and I did construction for a day. It was hard, but it was good. Met a few guys and then afterwards we went into one of their cars, and we smoked cigarettes and a little bit of weed, and one of the guys turned to me, and he didn’t know that I was half First Nation. He didn’t know that my mom is a full-blooded First Nation woman. He turned to me, and he said, “Listen,” he goes, “if you’re going to be in here for a long time,” he goes, “never, never lend an Indian a cigarette, because they’re just going to keep bumming them off of you all day.” At the time, I was smoking and buying cigarettes.
I didn’t say anything, I was like, okay, and for a long time I held resentment for blatant racism. I still don’t excuse it, but at the same time that was, A, he didn’t know. He didn’t know that I was half, and I can’t blame him. I’m white as hell. My name is Trevor, I have the whitest name. It’s not that I feel bad for him, but I hope there’s a situation, this was almost 20 years ago, I hope there’s a situation that comes to him that he can learn from, and he’s open to learn from it, but I don’t know. The older I’ve gotten, the more confusing. It used to be black and white, and now it’s just gotten more confusing, how I feel about certain things, because I’ve come across as ignorant and naïve about things solely because I just did not know.
Lauren: Yeah, I don’t mean this to sound permission giving, but I feel, for me, it’s helpful to think about, okay, those statements that person said to me that were really hurtful, that wasn’t really them. That person, they didn’t make that up, that was socialized into them.
Trevor: That’s what I’m saying—
Lauren: The issue is society. The issue isn’t that there are bad people out there. The way I was taught about what racism is, every white person is racist because we’re very subtly and explicitly taught to be racist, and that’s how power gets maintained, right?
Trevor: You also do understand, by that comment alone, just made a lot of people angry.
Lauren: Oh, yeah, totally. It’s important to state that you need to know what definition of racism we’re talking about, right? It’s not saying something racist, it’s that, plus or only subtle things like having thoughts that someone looks dangerous because they’re black or all of those things that we’re taught to believe by the media. It’s not the person’s bad, it’s society has been messed up for a really long time, and we have a lot of work to do to keep making it better.
I hear you, my perspective does shift. It feels less personal over time because it’s so clearly societal, and it still hurts.
Trevor: Well, it feels less personal until it is—
Lauren: Right, it still hurts, and that’s why we have to stop it because of that, just down to the allostatic load, the cortisol levels, depression, suicide rates. It is personal, and it’s societal.
Trevor: When somebody is going through the process of trying to figure out their identity, having the wrong pronouns or identifying words lobbed at them, not even just mistakenly, but even if they say, “Hey, I’m trying to figure this out. In the meantime, could you call me this?” People are like, no.
Lauren: “It’s too hard.”
Trevor: “You’re this, that’s how you were born. That’s who you are. It’s not my issue, it’s your issue. You’re not accepting who you are.” That is what leads to some of your patients who come here struggling with their identity but, I’m taking a shot in the dark here, but probably wound tight like a coil because who do you trust?
Lauren: Yeah, I think the saddest thing that I’ve seen recently is patients saying, “I use ‘he/him’ pronouns,” and the clinicians saying, “I’m going to try my hardest. I might make a mistake. I hope you’ll indicate to me if I do. If not, I’ll catch it,” and the patient saying, “Well, it’s really okay, it happens all the time,” that learned helplessness piece. That caretaking of your caretaker, taking on that role of, “I’m the broken thing, the different thing, the thing that’s stressful for other people. How can I mute that as much as possible so that I can get good care?”
Trevor: I’m not going to give names, but I’ve been following the #MeToo movement regularly. What’s interesting is that unfortunately the movement, from what I know, and I could be wrong, is that it’s really stayed contained within pop culture and the arts and famous people and stuff like that. It really hasn’t had the spreading power that a lot of people hoped it would.
The interesting thing is that I hear interviews with people, specifically women, and, depending on the age, I find that the ones that are younger have a very, very thick well-defined line in the sand. People that are older who’ve had certain abuse normalized for them, the light abuse, the abuse that’s like, “Oh, I just got to deal with this every day,” it’s not as well—
Lauren: The “hey sweetie” by your boss or whatever—
Trevor: Yeah, that’s just what I have to deal with, and that’s easier than having my backside slapped. I’d rather have that than my backside slapped. Well, in a perfect world, which will never happen, but we’re all trying to aspire to, in a perfect world you wouldn’t experience both.
Trevor: Okay, what’s next for me to learn?
Lauren: I think just some little tips on language. Just one thing I’m hearing a lot around McLean is people trying to do the right thing and talk about trans patients but saying “transgendered.” This is more of a medical word, “transgendered.”
Trevor: Well, doesn’t that imply the past—
Lauren: It’s almost like something’s happening to them, yeah. It’s the term used when it was a mental illness, right? Instead, we’re getting away from that and saying more—
Trevor: Wait, “transgendered” was used as a term for mental illness?
Lauren: Well, the whole ... that DSM included, at one time or another, folks identified as sexual minorities and trans.
Trevor: By the way, let’s continue this, but before I forget, what was that website, that resource you told me that had all the pronouns? Because, trust me, you want to learn from the site and not from me, I’m a mess with this stuff.
Lauren: There are two resources that I highly recommend. People are trying to keep their vocab up to date. It’s the HRC.org, “HRC” standing for “Human Rights Campaign” dot org, glossary of terms, so you could just Google “HRC glossary,” and it includes updated definitions by people in the community for words across sexual orientation and gender. It’s a really wonderful resource, and it’s a good go-to if you need a basic education, and then “How To Be a Trans Ally” is a pamphlet that’s Googleable online, free PDF, and it’s for anyone that’s interested in being better around trans folks.
Trevor: What were those websites again, one more time?
Lauren: HRC.org and Googling the pamphlet, “How To Be a Trans Ally.”
Trevor: Which I want to stress, yesterday, Googling anything, you may get some weird returns, so just be careful, okay? Make sure your spelling’s correct, but “HRC.org”?
Trevor: That’s great.
Lauren: I think just one other thing I would add in is that I try to think of “ally” as a horizon that you’re working towards versus a label that you have accomplished if you do a certain amount of work. As much as I would love to believe that I’m seen as an ally for other marginalized groups, trying to see it more as a thing I’m always working on and working towards, versus, “Here’s your stamp for it.”
Trevor: Well, you know where I stand with this. As long as indigenous people are going to be the absolutely bottom of the barrel and forgotten, no offense, none of you are allies and none of us are. Just because I went to Standing Rock once and protested, that doesn’t make me an ally.
Lauren: Right, totally—
Trevor: I’m sure this will be deleted, but, to be honest, if we were true allies, if we were real allies, what we would be doing, what you and I would be doing and all these people, we would be down at the border right now with chain breakers, and we’d be breaking kids out of cages. That’s what we’d be doing because, I don’t know. Yes, there’s all sorts of humanitarian crises going on in this country, but kids in cages that are dying? I can’t think of anything worse, and we’re just sitting here worried about our paychecks so we can pay for Netflix.
If humanity lives on, I can’t imagine how this is not going to look like the darkest period in history, how we just all turned a blind eye to this and bitched about it on Facebook and that’s about the extent of our—
Lauren: Sharing pictures?
Trevor: If we were true allies, we wouldn’t be sitting here and doing this, and that is on my mind all the time. What’s next?
Lauren: Any other questions, burning questions?
Trevor: A lot, but we don’t have a lot of time left. How about this? What are the questions you don’t want to be asked?
Lauren: I don’t want to be asked how I’m going to have children, if I choose to do that. That’s the most frequently asked question I am asked.
Trevor: How about asking if you plan to have children?
Lauren: That’s fine, yeah.
Trevor: That’s fine?
Lauren: I heard a great go-to recently in Safe Zones training at McLean, which was, “Would you ask a straight person this question?” If the answer is “probably not” then maybe don’t.
Trevor: The question would be, “How do you plan to have children?”
Lauren: Yeah, I want to ask a bunch of straight people this question.
Trevor: Well, here’s the thing. I think it is a fair question to ask, because from what I understand, a lot of my contemporaries and peers, the finances aren’t working the way it was when I was coming up, my parents. It certainly wasn’t the way with their parents. People are either not having kids, or they’re electing to have kids later. Because you can’t fight biology, now there’s a lot of people that need assistance. I mean, a lot. I’m hearing my friends more and more.
Lauren: Absolutely. It’s a thing for everyone, but we only get asked it if we’re gay.
Trevor: Right, right.
Lauren: Yes, it could be an interesting question if everyone was asking everyone, but it gets quickly so personal. “How are you going to pick sperm donors?” It’s so deeply personal so quickly, so, of course, ask your close friends that you have relationships with, but I think when people come out there’s a tendency to just ask these burning questions of someone you don’t know very well, and that can be really uncomfortable, especially in the workplace.
Trevor: What else? What else don’t you like being asked?
Lauren: Well, I don’t love being asked to do diversity trainings all the time for free because of the way I identify. That’s shifting now that it’s something I’ve really taken on as a career thing as part of my professional identity. So often institutions are getting better at doing things because they’re asking the marginalized folks in their community to do the teaching, and that is so risky for someone to tell their peers or their colleagues what they’re doing wrong.
It’s such an emotional burden and tax that I really think institutions need to start putting their money where their values are and paying people to do this work, because that’s showing what your values are. Instead, just saying, “We value this, but do it for free,” someone that’s at a huge risk to do this work within your place of work, that’s something I don’t love being asked.
Trevor: If I was a diversity trainer, I would roll in probably a half an hour late. I would just show them the diversity training episode of “The Office,” and then when it’s done, I’d say, “Everything in that episode, do the opposite. Have a good day.” That’s why I would be a terrible diversity trainer—
Lauren: Yeah, should’ve done that a long time ago.
Trevor: You weren’t paid?
Trevor: You got to get that paper.
Lauren: Usually it’s, “Just do this on top of your regular job.” Not only are you experiencing stress due to marginalization, you have a full-time job, and you’re being asked to work harder and take a risk on your professional well-being. It’s wild.
Trevor: Yeah, you’re a photographer, and you’ve got all—
Lauren: I’ve got other side jobs. I’m busy enough.
Trevor: Then you love nature, right? You said you love—
Trevor: Do you go hiking and stuff?
Lauren: Well, the thing is I don’t love being around people when I’m not at work, so hiking in the Northeast is way too public for me. I like just going into woods without people, no trails.
Trevor: Well, I’ll connect you with my sister so she can recommend all of her Lyme disease regimen for when you inevitably get it. On the weekend, you like to be alone.
Trevor: Alone with your wife or alone?
Lauren: Yeah, she can be around. We have a 600 square-foot cube.
Trevor: Oh, yeah.
Lauren: We’re very used to being in each other’s face, so when we move to the country, we were all joking that us and our two cats will probably just be in the same tiny room the whole time, just moving in a unit.
Trevor: You have your cat, and she has her cat?
Lauren: No, we have two together.
Lauren: We’ll probably just all cluster because we’re so used to it.
Trevor: Do the cats hate each other?
Lauren: They’re okay most of the time.
Trevor: You know not to bring, because I’ll turn this into a cat podcast. Anybody that drops cats, I’m like, “I don’t care what you’re here for, let’s talk about your cat.”—
Lauren: It’s tempting.
Trevor: What are we ultimately supposed to take away from all this? What are the ultimate concerns that you feel we as a people can help you and help your community with?
Lauren: I think when it comes down to it, everyone wants to be a good person or a better person. Well, that’s a generalization. Okay, I’m sure you’re going to argue. I can already see your face.
Trevor: Yeah, did you see my face? I was like, you are so wrong on that one.
Lauren: I think most people want to do right by the community. I think especially when we’re talking about within the McLean culture.
Trevor: Okay, okay.
Lauren: Okay, I’m getting really specific now. You’re right, stats would maybe argue against what I just said, but I think that people don’t want to mess up, they don’t want to be embarrassed.
Trevor: Hold on, I’m sorry, but that’s what makes you such a good person, because I do believe you do believe that. I’ve abandoned that a long time ago, but the fact that you still believe it, I’m grateful. I think that’s important. I think that’s what separates you from somebody who’s just trying to make a career. I’m sorry if you’re just trying to make a career and you’re offended by that. I don’t know what to tell you, I’m sorry. I’d rather take a good person over a career-driven person. Call me crazy, but I think that’s what makes the difference is that you’re pretty sincere and genuine about this stuff.
Lauren: Thank you. I think that most people I’ve talked to want to do it right. Most people are afraid and shut down from even talking, because they don’t want to mess up and offend someone, which I totally understand. I do the same thing when it comes to race and ethnicity. It’s taken a lot of practice to just keep trying to talk. I think what the community needs most is people being willing to dive into this pool, try to practice “they/them” pronouns, try to get to know the lingo and use it, try to just become more flexible cognitively when you think about gender.
Just trying to play with that idea in your head, is it really always one or the other? What would it look like if these constructs didn’t exist? Enjoying that thought problem. From that space, trying to have conversations, being open to getting corrected, being open to messing up and working through it and not just shutting down, because that’s so brave, and that’s exactly what the community needs is people that are willing to mess up and mess up and mess up and keep trying, I mess up all the time, and then be willing to teach others. To say to your colleague that says, “Oh, ‘they/them’ pronouns are just too hard,” to say, “Actually, it’s not that hard. I would love to have lunch with you and just practice it for 30 minutes, and I guarantee it’s going to get easier.”
Trevor: Now, you do understand, no offense, that there are, I don’t have metrics in front of me, but there are a fair amount of members of your community, and I do empathize with this, that think that time is a factor, that people are dying.
“People’s lives are on the line, and we don’t have time for this bullshit. We don’t have time, frankly, for the people that aren’t in our community but are trying to help. We don’t have time for them to process this. We don’t have time for them to figure it out, even if we educate them.” “We don’t have time,” and push that away. What do you do about that?
Lauren: I think it makes sense to have that feeling, and some people in the community, I think, always should. I think we need both. We need sprinters that are worried about the emergencies, and we need marathoners that are focusing on long-term sustainable change. I love that we have both and that people, including me, vacillate between the two.
Trevor: You do?
Lauren: Of course.
Trevor: Where are you now?
Lauren: I’m in the sustainable mode, the long-term, oof, I’ve tried pushing hard on people and see them just barrel down, so I’m in the “how can I keep you coming back and keep talking.”
Trevor: Let me ask you a few questions. We’re going to wrap up. Let’s see, has anybody used slurs or really hurtful terms regarding how you identify directly to your face?
Lauren: Even in Boston.
Trevor: Really? In Boston? Surprise, surprise. Well, you clearly have more faith in this area than I do. Don’t get me wrong, I love this place, but it’s—
Lauren: Oh, it’s messed up.
Trevor: Yeah, it really is. It’s a walking contradiction. Have you been harmed physically because of how you identify?
Lauren: No, a big caveat, I’m white and I’m cisgender, so I think that has a lot to do with it.
Trevor: Okay, have you been sexually assaulted because of how you identify?
Lauren: No, same caveat.
Trevor: Have you experienced any sort of situation where you felt like you are in danger just because of how you identify?
Lauren: Yes, especially when traveling to other countries.
Trevor: Okay, other countries?
Trevor: Okay. Have you ever used offensive terms towards somebody because of how they identify?
Trevor: Have you ever physically assaulted or harmed somebody because of how they identify?
Trevor: Sexually assaulted somebody because of how they identify?
Trevor: Okay, why do people see you as a threat?
Lauren: I would love to know. I think because I’m different.
Trevor: That’s it? Because you’re different?
Lauren: The unknown is terrifying to people, threatens power, threatens beliefs, threatens what bathroom are they going to walk into, right? I don’t know, I’m pretty non-threatening. I feel like I’m just a clear gummy bear.
Trevor: That’s funny, it is, but I don’t know. I could be wrong. This could be my own mental illness talking, but personally speaking I hear it commonly in the news, I hate being labeled as a danger because I’m mentally ill, but I see it all the time. Don’t you hate that?
Lauren: I do. It’s its own unique kind of pain.
Trevor: It really does hurt.
Lauren: It does.
Trevor: It makes you feel not wanted.
Lauren: Yeah, there’s nothing you can do to change it, no matter how amazing you are. There’s always that group, that person, that thought.
Trevor: Do you really believe that?
Lauren: I just mean in that moment, it’s like, oh, I could tell you everything about me, and it wouldn’t change it in this moment—
Trevor: Good, I’m glad you clarified that, because that really hurt that you would believe, I don’t want you to believe something like that—
Lauren: No, remember you just said that—
Trevor: Yeah, I know, that’s why I was like—
Lauren: I’m glad you asked me to clarify. All of a sudden, I changed.
Trevor: Yeah, I was like, that’s something I would say. Don’t be like me, please. Before we wrap up, what do you want people to know?
Lauren: That it’s okay to make mistakes, and you can really work through them.
Trevor: Have you made big mistakes?
Lauren: Probably every day, especially when it comes to using terms around marginalization. I messed up three times yesterday, and I ruminated about it for hours, but I have to be willing to come back despite that discomfort and realize, I can handle that pain. It’s the least I could do. It’s not a fraction of what the other folks are experiencing.
Trevor: I feel kind of bad for you. I mean this, it has nothing to do with your identity, it has to do everything with your job. I feel like you have a lot of pressure.
Lauren: I agree, it’s definitely true—
Trevor: I know you were waiting for me to add something, but I was like, no.
Lauren: I was, I was like, oh, man, this is too real.
Trevor: Yeah, no, I think you have a lot of pressure, but we had a moment yesterday when we were talking, and we both started crying. I asked Lauren, I don’t know why I just looked at your resume for your name, I know your name. I asked Lauren to do me a favor. I asked her in her future endeavors, if she ever encounters an indigenous or First Nation person that is having identity issues to ... I’m not implying to give them better care, that’s not what I’m saying, but to do the best. I asked her if she could do the best that she could, because there’s just not many of us left. Of course, every human being counts, but the numbers are getting freakishly low for us. You took it very seriously, and I really appreciated that.
Lauren has a very, very impressive resume, but it means nothing when you meet her. She’s a good person, and everybody in upstate New York, wherever you’re going, they’re going to be very, very lucky and grateful to have her, so thank you for being here. I really appreciate it, and I know you’re going to do great things.
Lauren: Thank you.
Trevor: You’re very welcome. Is there anything you want to add before we wrap up?
Lauren: Thanks for listening all the way through.
Trevor: I try.
Lauren: You get props for that.
Trevor: Thank you. Okay.
What did you think of that? I had fun. Dr. Wadsworth or “Lauren,” as I refer to my new friend, I have two sisters, one’s older, one’s younger, and we’ve been through a lot together, but I love them very, very much. Well, occasionally I meet somebody who seems like a sister to me, and I have a few friends of mine who identify as female that we’re so close I feel like they’re sisters, and I feel like I met a sister with Lauren.
Her accomplishments are overwhelming, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the goodness in her, and it doesn’t feel fake or smarmy or a put-on just to be professional. It genuinely feels real. For those who know her and those who have had a chance to meet her, they understand what I’m talking about. For those in upstate New York who are going to be lucky enough to get to know her when she moves next month, they’re going to realize the same thing as well. We are going to miss you, dear Dr. Lauren Wadsworth. I’m going to miss you.
Two weeks, two weeks? Yeah, two weeks, we’ll be back in two weeks, and we definitely will be back in two weeks because I’ve already recorded the interview. It’s going to happen, so two weeks. I hope you’re all doing okay. I’m doing somewhere between bad and almost terrible, which, believe it or not, it’s kind of a good day. Anyways, I hope you’re all doing well. If you have any questions or comments, send us feedback through email or through whatever podcast service you use. I’d love to hear it, love to read it. Take care, everybody, and I hope you’re all enjoying your summer wherever you are, and I will be back in two weeks.
Thank you for listening to Mindful Things, the official podcast of McLean Hospital. Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.
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The McLean Hospital podcast Mindful Things is intended to provide general information and to help listeners learn about mental health, educational opportunities and research initiatives. This podcast is not an attempt to practice medicine or to provide specific medical advice.
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