What is a Gender Specialist: Professional Advocacy on Behalf of Queer Communities

(Note: This article was originally written for the website GLBTWorld.net . It appeared in its Premier Edition. Unfortunately, the wonderful website folded prematurely when the founder pasted away unexpectedly. The message and information still remains pertinent though and is offered here as a memorial statement to the short lived website for which it was written. )

By: Stephen L. Braveman, LMFT, DST
January 2006

Ever wonder exactly what a Gender Specialist does besides see “patients” in their office? Well some of us do a considerable amount of advocacy on behalf of the various GLBTQQI communities.

Before we look at some much needed successful advocacy stories, let’s make sure we are clear on what the initials “GLBTQQI” mean.

Most people know by now that the “GLB” stands for “Gay, Lesbian and Bi-Sexual” and some folks understand that the “T” stands for “Transgendered.” However, few who are not transgendered realize that the word “transgendered” is actually an umbrella term under which we find a wide variety of “transgendered sub-populations.” The most commonly known “sub-population” under “transgendered” is “transsexual” and describes those whose body does not match up with their self-perceived gender identity; especially when it comes to their genitals. In other words, these are people commonly referred to as FtM’s (Female to Male) and MtF’s (Male to Female). In addition to transsexuals, people who seek help changing their bodies to match their gender identification, “transgendered” includes many other presentations such as CD’s (Cross Dressers), TV’s (Transvestites), Drag Kings, Drag Queers, and Gender Benders.

The “I” at the end of the initials above stands for “Intersex.” Despite popular belief, most people who are “Intersex” are not born with genitals of both male and female. They are typically either males born with very small penises or females born with very large clitorises. While rarely understood and talked about, it is estimated that as many as one in two thousand children are born with such genital variations. Too young to make a choice, and usually born to parents who do not have knowledge of such things, it has historically been up to the medical doctors to decide what to do with such children and, unfortunately, these doctors have historically made poorchoices which have resulted in a life time of confusion, emotional pain and deformed genitals for the child.

One of the “Q”s at the end of the initials stands for “Queer” as in “Gender Queer.” This term is relatively new and represents people who’s gender identity and/or presentation do not fit into any of the other established categories, or in other words, are “outside the box” when it comes to gender.
The final “Q” stands for “Questioning” and is a catch all for those who just aren’t sure as to what their gender, or gender presentation, or sexual orientation is or will become. They are searching for answers both within and without themselves.
So what is a “Gender Specialist?” Such a person is typically a psychotherapist and/or a sexologist who specializes in researching and/or treating those who are GLBTQQI..  I, for example, am a Gender Specialist as I am both a psychotherapist and a sexologist. In addition, large percentage of  my work is devoted to queer populations.

Some very significant advocacy has led to recent accomplishments by Gender Specialists on behalf of the queer communities. Let’s take a look at two such successes.

When California ’s 2004 Proposition 68 was passed by voters it mandated that an extra tax be levied upon the three percent of the wealthiest residents in that state. All of this extra money was specifically meant to be spent on increasing mental health services to California residents who are in need of such services and can either not afford it and/or can not find it because it does not exist. I was approached by representatives of the Monterey County ’s Behavioral Health Department, as the county’s main and almost solo mental health provider for the GBLTQQI populations, to assist in ascertaining the needs of the queer communities in this county. With my assistance, we drew in representatives from the various queer communities and had them attend “Focus Group” meetings where they were able to speak up and educate the county representatives regarding the needs and missing/lacking services for them here in this county. The county representatives listened and came back with a proposition of their own. They have now offered us a quarter of a million dollars per year, for the perceivable future, to spend on developing and running a very much needed County Diversity Center . Some of the money is also earmarked for trainings for all county departments (including mental health, police, hospitals, and the like) on how to identify and properly treat queer residents who chose or are forced into utilizing services and how and when to properly refer. Money is also aimed specifically to educate the county residents, from Kindergarten to seniors, on queer issues and resources. We will start to implement this new program on January 1, 2006. Now that’s advocacy at its best!

Another successful advocacy endeavor involves educating the country’s leading sexologists on Transsexualism with a strong focus on training more expert specialists to serve the needs of this community. We are doing this by once again offering a “Gender Track” of workshops at the upcoming Annual Conference for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) in St. Louis , Missouri , in June 2006. This will help in the efforts to directly provide ethical, professional, proper care to the country’s Transsexual population.

Sure we have a long way to go in education the world about queer issues and removing discrimination and roadblocks GLBTQQI people still face each and every day. But we are making progress and will continue to do so one lecture, one article, one training, one advocacy at a time!

Stephen L. Braveman, LMFT., DST is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, AASECT Certified Diplomate of Sex Therapy and Gender Specialist with a full-time private practice in Monterey, California. He specializes in serving the GLBTQQI communities, including running unique and rare support groups for Transsexuals You may contact him directly with questions or comments via his website at www.bravemantherapy.com.