Annual Conference

Odyssey’s Jenny Boyle blogs about Joe MacDonald’s keynote address

By August 31, 2016 No Comments

Joe was a naturally humorous and engaging speaker, balancing some heavy and thought-provoking messages about our systems, light hearted fashion advice and a gentle reminder to back up Robin Youngson – just be a decent, emotionally connected human being.

Joe holds three key roles: a facilitator/educator, a ‘fire brand’ and a deal maker.
In their work as rainbow liaison Joe helps people become more knowledgeable in talking about sex, gender, sexuality, and how to engage with the whole person. Joe acknowledges it is a stretch for many in the mental health and addiction sector to understand and become comfortable with “non-binary stuff”. Joe emphasised that we could move to a continuum where people may shift, change and fluidly flow between the “male and female tick boxes”. To help put us all at ease Joe taught us that it’s ok to not know what to say. Instead of being so scared of offending just reach out, build a relationship and create and hold a safe space – let the person talk to you and let you know how they like to identify themselves. Recognise and value the knowledge that person brings to you of their life experience.
Joe reflected on both other keynote presentations from the conference. Dr Evan’s spoke of the ‘black box of treatment’. Can we work outside this box? Are we there yet? Joe feels community development is so key to success, being guided by the community and taking a holistic approach. Joe was also appreciative of the sentiment shared by Dr Youngson, feeling compassion is of course a way forward through the challenges. But also reminded us gently – and with humour – that the bar wasn’t set too high when all that is really being asked is to be an emotionally competent person!

Have we made enough progress?

Joe spoke about de-pathologising sex, gender and sexuality – but asks if we have actually made any gains or have we just shifted things around? Reflecting on the conference theme Joe made a plea to the audience to be authentic to ourselves and question if the medical model is the only way to work. Using a medical lens might not be enough, it often gets in the way of seeing the whole person in their widest sense. Again, relationships and holding a safe space to explore things together are key in understanding the whole picture.

The challenges

Joe shared some challenges of navigating life as a non-binary transgender person – filling in inflexible tick-box forms, choosing which toilets to use (which is often based on other people’s comfort levels more than their own!) and travelling on a passport with an “X” instead of a “M” or “F”. Joe explained most people were not trying to make their life difficult, rather the systems are just not there to support someone who moves along the gender continuum. And we should question if the knowledge is actually all necessary – why do we need to know? Will it change what we need to do or put unnecessary restrictions on things?

What to do today?

Practice gender neutral pronouns. For example Joe provided some tips for talking about their presentation, my personal favourite: “Joe presented on Friday and they said some very cool and interesting things. And they had cool shoes!”
This presentation definitely stretched the audience, challenging us to think differently and offer more possibilities.