Some of you may recall my recent shout out for people to be mentored by SMT or to offer reverse mentoring to SMT especially in the areas we felt less knowledgeable, such as Judaism and Trans and Non-binary identities. I am delighted to say that Finn Dobson, who is a peer support worker within Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, answered the call.
Finn told me they had really started to understand that they were non-binary (a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine - identities that are outside the gender binary) about 7 years ago. As with most people finding something out about themselves for the first time, Finn spent a lot of time “deep diving” the internet looking for information as role models were non-existent, at that time.
Finn talks about discovering a world that was “technicolour” through raising their own awareness of being non-binary. Whilst text books often refer to people finding/questioning their identity as “gender dysphoria”, Finn experienced “gender euphoria” at becoming themselves.
In the beginning, Finn feels they spent a lot of time trying to educate others about their identity which was exhausting and often intrusive. Finn doesn’t feel like they have to justify their existence anymore and says “everyone is entitled to their ignorance” which I have to say, I find quite a liberating concept.
For those of you who – like me – wish to embrace the “technicolour” of knowledge, non-binary or genderqueer people may identify as having two or more genders, having no gender, moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity, or being third gender or other-gendered, a category that includes those who do not place a name to their gender. Touchstone’s mandatory gender identity training is a great place to explore this more.
Finn “came out” at university where the overall experience was positive with many of their peers saying they didn’t care. Finn’s friends didn’t say this in a way that lacked compassion or humanity, but in a way that said we live in a world where difference is ok and we’re ok with your difference – that place sounds like paradise to me!
Being a parent, I was interested in Finn’s parents’ reaction to their non-binary identity. They had been confused and questioning at first, as many people would be I suppose, but Finn now has a loving and positive relationship with their parents, which is as it should be.
I asked Finn about their experience of work and whether they had felt able to be themselves in the workplace. Finn described not being invested in other workplaces and how they had created mental barriers to the constant mis-gendering they encountered. Finn doesn’t feel like this at Touchstone and says they can finally be themselves, giving all their skills and talent because energy is not being wasted pretending to be someone they are not.
I wanted to understand what we could do differently at Touchstone to be more inclusive of non-binary people. The biggest issue for Finn was visibility, because though there are more non-binary role models around, these are still few and far between. One of the things I offered to do was write about our reverse mentoring session in Touch and for IDAHOBIT on 17th May, which Finn agreed was a good first start.
Touchstone already runs gender identity training in partnership with TransLeeds and we have recently approached Non-Binary Leeds to share the training delivery so that we can get a wider understanding of what gender identity means. For more information, here is a YEP news article Non-Binary Leeds were featured in last year, https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/lifestyle/meet-yorkshire-non-binary-gender-community-fighting-back-against-rising-tide-stigma-and-hate-1752098 and their website is https://www.nonbinaryleeds.org.uk/
It is International Non Binary people’s Day on 14th July every year, and we talked about Touchstone asking staff to celebrate this event with a collection of poems, books, stories and testimonies to form a good practice repository of information and role models so other people don’t have to feel that they were alone on this journey, as many pioneers, like Finn, must experience.
On a more practical level, Finn would like Touchstone to include the option of sharing our pronouns more, on our job/volunteer application forms, training paperwork and on name badges. These are all brilliant suggestions that I will be taking back to Pink Pals and DAG so we can include these and other ideas too.
I really enjoyed talking to Finn and I feel energised by the opportunity to be even more inclusive of our trans and non-binary colleagues and service users. I will work with Finn and others to implement their suggestions and I ask all staff to have a think about how we can all be better at inclusion today than we were yesterday; learning is fun!
By Alison Lowe