As I reflect on the current state of the world and the many social and political crises that have overtaken our lives, I feel a wave of shame for humanity as I see that we are living in a time where we tolerate hateful behavior. Even with education and an abundance of information, we still experience and perpetrate continuous acts of discrimination, racism, prejudice, and oppression. These can take the form of hate speech, violence, and intimidation. There is also systemic silencing of unique and independent voices that stray from the norm. We respond to these voices with stereotypical narratives to protect the status quo and to validate our own identities.
As a solution-focused practitioner and trainer, my core belief is that we all have the same brilliance and openness we possessed as children. We have the ability and insight to embrace all human beings, regardless of race, color, culture, religion, gender or sexuality. We have the presence of mind to find better, different ways in which to engage with each other. I know this to be true, especially when meeting with captivating human beings who emerge as examples of what we can accomplish honestly and respectfully, for our own betterment and that of humanity. Even in the face of adversity, such individuals are hopeful, inspired and compassionate. They teach us that beyond our conceptual understanding of the world, there are other, equally valuable ways of thinking. These inspired souls challenge us to look beyond, and to be kinder to ourselves and to others.
Gaia is one such beacon of light and hope. Even in the midst of evolving as a transgender woman over the past couple of years, and confronting the harsh realities of discrimination and oppression, she is making a difference by actively serving and supporting Trans people and the LGBTQ+ community. In December, Tara Gretton and I had the pleasure of interviewing Gaia on our podcast – A Call Across the Pond; Transforming Relationships at School, at Home and Beyond. She shares her story with us, as a way in which to empower others and to invite the broader community to deepen their understanding of Trans and LGBTQ+ communities. Gaia is a diversity activist based in Bristol, England. She works as an LGBTQ+ Team Coordinator for The Diversity Trust, a UK based community interest company that works internationally to provide equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility training and consultancy.
Gaia’s offers training for organizations seeking to increase their knowledge and understanding of the LGBTQ+ experience. In these judgment-free, safe spaces, people can ask difficult questions and explore how to develop and sustain inclusive environments. Gaia also leads LGBTQ+ youth and adult groups where she shares her own experience and where participants can feely disclose their own struggles, their strengths and hopes. Gaia understands that through knowledge and support, the next generation will be empowered to be true to themselves and to self-actualize in a safer world, where the broader community can be true allies and where the pattern of abuse toward LGBTQ+ and Trans individuals can be extinguished. In Gaia’s own words:
“There is a western idea of two genders, but if you look across the world and throughout history, Trans people have actively existed and continue to exist across many cultures. If I had been given the space to explore my Transness in my youth, I would have been here sooner. We’re at a point where the next generation of people need to challenge stereotypical societal perceptions of LGBTQ+ and Transgender. We are all not so different from one another. We just look different from different angles.”
At the age of 21 and on a wonderful journey of self-discovery, Gaia is bravely stepping out, caring for herself, engaging in mindfulness and establishing healthy boundaries. She has an extremely positive mindset, yet she also openly expresses despairing at times, especially as she is subject to abuse on a regular basis. Even upon leaving her front door, it isn’t uncommon to be spat at, and called names. She needs to think twice before using a public washroom where she is always at risk. Gaia speaks to having a strong exterior demeanor but remembers emotionally beating herself up for her Transness. In those moments and in the absence of support, she struggled with self-affirmation. She reflects,
“I have no choice but to be who I am. My only choice is how to respond to others. Do I put the power in their hands, and let them scare me into hiding back into my shell, or do I reclaim that power and continue growing and taking the space that I deserve to take up? That space is nothing more than what the average Joe gets to take up.”
During emotionally challenging moments, Gaia looks back and celebratews all the progress she has made. She grounds herself in the LGBTQ+ community, where she finds the strength and support to continue moving forward.
Advocating for a multilayered approach to supporting Trans and LGBTQ+ youth, Gaia believes schools and families can proactively support diversity and create a climate of inclusion. For example, schools can demonstrate allyship by providing dedicated, safe spaces where students can be comfortable as themselves, and know that they matter. In Gaia’s high school, she was able to talk about her personal experience during solution-focused conversations and groups. My friend and colleague Tara Gretton held these groups, in her capacity as school social worker. In these safe spaces, Gaia could voice her truth. She could speak openly for the first time and respond to what she really wanted in life. Prior to that, she had never thought it possible to share her own true hopes. Today, she uses solution-focused practices in her own work. Gaia’s transition was difficult for her family. She talks about parents experiencing their own form of ‘coming out’ when their children come out. Parents need support as their relationship with their Trans children evolves. They also need direction as to how to be allies so that their children can express their authentic selves.
As Gaia engages with the world as a Transgender woman, she is happy and fulfilled. While her experience and mere existence may threaten some people, she is not harming anybody. She is only being true to herself and helping others to understand that they can do so as well. As a society, it is incumbent upon us to be true allies by openly listening and suspending our judgment, learning from and supporting Trans people and the LGBTQ+ community, and encouraging diversity awareness. We also need to establish laws and norms that protect and celebrate marginalized communities, and that deter senseless acts of violence. Gaia’s parting message:
“I am here. I’m not a problem. I’m not here to prey on children, I’m not here to burn things up, with horrible thoughts of attacking people. I’m here because I’m pursuing joy in my life. I’m here because I’m liberated and feeling free. It’s hard when this freedom is reframed as something harmful to other people. We’re not so different from you. We go through the same things – making dinner, refueling our car. Yet we’re so attacked. If you know a Trans person, just look out for them. Say you’re there for them. Be that voice and that person for them.”
Find the full PODCAST episode HERE.
Thank you for reading this newsletter. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. As well, let me know if you have any particular topics of interest, regarding relationships in general, with children, in families and in schools. You can also subscribe to this newsletter on LinkedIn.