Katherine Rachlin, PhD, visited the University of Minnesota campus on March 26, 2010, to deliver a key note address and an informal talk at PHS. Rachlin presented "Challenging Assumptions About Identity Expression" at the Beyond the Boxes: Emerging Trends in LGBTQ Mental Health conference hosted by the U of M GLBTA Programs Office, Queer Student Cultural Center, and the Minnesota LGBT Therapists Network.
Rachlin is a gender specialist and sex therapist in private practice in New York, NY. In her address to mental health care providers, heath care professionals, educators, and the public, Rachlin discussed the assumptions regarding gender identity and gender expression that providers and educators make about the transgender individuals that they serve. She explored the many ways that mental health providers can be helpful to individuals seeing support for gender-related issues. Rachlin said,
Beyond the boxes - we do not think only in terms of people who transition or people who don't transition. We think in terms of self expression and choices--whatever that expression is. Gender queer people often have gender presentations that challenge gender norms just as transsexual people may strive to achieve an expression that conforms to gender norms. The common theme is expression. Often we assume that choices of expression are exclusively driven by internal identity. But that is not the case. Choices regarding expression are highly complicated and driven by many factors other than identity. In therapy, it is important to acknowledge that identity and choices are separate. Embrace identity and be practical about choices. It is traumatic for a transman told that he is not truly male because he does not want surgery or the transwoman told that she is not really a woman because she does not want to come out at work and risk losing her job. The connection between identity and transition choices pervades traditional thinking about transgender mental health and is reflected in our laws which often state that people will not be recognized as another gender until they change their bodies. Gender queer people may be forced to choose an expression that does not reflect the complexity of their internal identity because living outside the binary may be too difficult. . . . I believe that we don't give enough weight to personality variables in determining transition choice. Variables such as the tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty, tolerance for risk, tolerance for discomfort, need for affiliation, need for approval, extroversion and introversion, inclination towards conformity, dependency or independence, values regarding self-sacrifice, religious obligations, family obligations, feelings about medicine, doctors, and surgery . . . all of these may affect the decisions one makes regarding their gender expression, though they are not about gender at all!
During her visit to PHS Rachlin shared with faculty and staff that as a therapist she enjoys helping individuals, couples, and families become more comfortable with themselves and their own sexuality and said, "I am inspired by seeing people do the thing that seemed impossible to do when the started therapy." In addition to her gender work, Rachlin specializes in multiple partner relationships and strives to help families negotiate ways to make it work.
Rachlin is a member of the Board of Directors for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and expressed excitement about the direction of that organization and its contributions toward supporting transgender health care world wide. Rachlin has presented her work at national and international conferences. Most recently, she delivered a speech titled "A Fresh Look at The WPATH Standards of Care" at the IFGE conference in Washington DC. One of her recent articles pending publication is "Challenging Cases for Experienced Therapists - A Clinical Dialogue," written with Arlene Istar Lev, LCSW-R, CASAC after a presentation they gave at GLAP's conference in New York City. Another article pending publication is "Hysterectomy Experiences of Female-to-Male Transgender Individuals," written with Griffin Hansbury, MSW, and Seth Pardo, MA.
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