Following on last years groundbreaking Sexworks! Conference I was excited to head to London again this March for the Pink Therapy conference on intersectionality. Intersectionality is a concept coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, which attempted to explain how black women were disadvantaged by being on the intersection of both racial and gender oppression. As Olukemi Amala explained in her spellbinding keynote, intersectionality is not about having multiple oppressions (as it is sometimes mis-explained) but about understanding the structural systems which lead to oppression.
”intersectionality is fundamentally about structures” it’s not about people having multiple oppressions even though it’s used like that.
It’s about how certain structures and certain identities are privileged at a particular time.— starlight therapy (@Starl_Therapy) March 30, 2019
Olukemi then went on to explain how without understanding the historical framework which designated some identities as positive, and some as negative, it was not possible to deconstruct these binaries. I was forcibly struck by how this understanding of the historical narrative as a prelude to deconstructing its negative impacts reflects so much what happens in the therapeutic space.
The historical narrative is the foundation on which we construct reality. Important that we realise this as what has been constructed can be deconstructed #pinkspring #intersectingidentities— Karen Pollock MBACP (@CounsellingKaz) March 30, 2019
To understand how the historical narrative denotes some as lesser and others as superior, is to understand that many of those things we call facts are anything but. Reality is built upon beliefs, that this race is inferior, or this gender superior, that disability is a sign of sinfulness, or that faith and certain sexualities are mutually exclusive. So often beliefs are given the status of facts, and only by understanding the origins of these beliefs can we create a new, more inclusive reality. Within therapy this deconstruction can be liberating, as someone realises that their own personal narrative may be built upon beliefs that they had considered to be facts. Moving from “I deserved it” or “I was asking for it” to “I deserved better” and “it was not my fault” brings growth and healing. I find myself asking how much more necessary this reframing is for entire sections of society who have faced structural violence and oppression.
The keynote speech was followed by four panels; on faith and spirituality, disability and wellness, race and ethnicity, and gender. As Sabah Choudrey pointed out, it at first seemed contradictory to have these artificial splits into discrete categories across the day. However the panelists in their own lived experience represented multiple identities. As Leah Davidson said in the panel on gender, we can move through different spaces, different identities, with a fluidity that defies attempts to lock us into neat boxes.
Perhaps this is the at the core of the learning for any therapist when trying to meet with a client and establish a relationship. Not just understanding that we should attempt to hold a non judgemental attitude, but that we should be aware of all that a person may be, has been, and can be. As a part of this awareness we need to let go of the idea that only one aspect of identity will matter, or, as was discussed in the panel on Faith, that someone will choose between aspects, happily letting go of one. I have written before of the importance of being able to sit with contradictions .
It is impossible to explore here everything which was covered, happily Online Events recorded the day and are adding it to their library. One theme which struck me in many of the discussions though, and which seemed to permeate the day, was that of voicing the unvoiced, saying that which usually remains unsaid, naming that which we can be afraid to name.
In therapeutic practice a sense of belonging must be established -.This will often mean disclosure, showing our difference, voicing what we are and what we are not #pinkspring #intersectingidentities— Karen Pollock MBACP (@CounsellingKaz) March 30, 2019
If we are to practice anti-oppressive therapy, and decolonise the psychotheraputic world we must be willing to name those things which so often remain unsaid, as well as perhaps being far more radical in disclosing our own intersectional identities. As Rich Knight said in the panel on disability, by admitting our vulnerabilities we bring an authenticity which says to the client I too am broken. How many of us have the strength and the courage to do that?
The conference was both inspriing and a challenge. How we meet that challenge remains to be seen but unless we have these conversations, ask these hard questions of both ourselves and the structures around us, the historical narrative will remain embedded and unchallenged.