Julie Fish: Chair of social work and health inequalities at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Matty Donaldson: Youth work and peer support coordinator at The Proud Trust, a charity that supports LGBT+ young people.
- The definition that we would use for ‘trans’ is a word that someone might use to describe themselves if their gender is in some way different from the gender they were assigned.
- So we know that at the moment when we’re born we’re assigned a sex. Based on that, we’re assigned a gender, and then we’re generally brought up in particular ways so that we kind of stick with that gender or that gender feels right for us.
- And for some people that’s true, that this is right for them. And the word that we would use to describe those people would be ‘cisgender’ or just ‘cis’ for short. But then there’s people like me and other people who grew up and we don’t feel like the gender we were given, and so we would maybe use the word ‘trans’ or ‘transgender’ about ourselves.
I always like to give a bit of a caveat to when we do definitions, because I think much as definitions are really useful to get us all on the same page, a lot of these words will mean different things to different people, and so I think it’s really important that we don’t get too fixated on trying to come up with a perfect definition, but allow a little bit of flexibility.
What does good social work with trans people look like?
- The starting point is inclusive social work education, that case studies include the lives of trans people, that there are inclusive environments in social care settings, that the representation, the approaches, recognise trans people.
- When we’re thinking about models of social work practice or models of assessing parenting or children in need, that we use assessment tools that are relevant to trans people’s lives.
- That if you are a practitioner and you make a mistake that you acknowledge it and learn from it, and that you critically reflect on some of the discourses that you hear in society and that you interrogate the views of others, especially when they’re transphobic but at other times too, rather than accepting them as true.
- I think training’s really important, but I think people have to buy into really good quality training. They need to give themselves a full day and then they also need to give themselves space to go away and reflect on what they’re going to do with what they’ve just learnt in that training, and put some of the things they’ve learnt into action.
- I often say that if you’re good at working with young people you’re probably pretty good at working with trans young people, because a lot of the skills are transferable in terms of listening to them, respecting them, letting them lead conversations, and giving them space to talk about themselves. That’s really important, not to just forget all that when you’re working with a trans young person, because you feel like it’s a completely different set of skills. So asking them what name they want to use, asking them what pronouns they want to use, and respecting that and giving them the space if they want to explore gender to do that. If they’re not interested, they’re not interested.