by Anthony Cavuoti, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Torrance, California
Tech, Neurodiversity, and Gender Identity: Analogies and Applications for Therapists
Therapists should assist our sane clients through lingering social insanity. Our clients each have an innate inheritance, unique biology, and the epigenetic forces that translate it. Experientially, they bring whatever experiences formed them in their transformative Bardo encounters. Our role as therapists is to be a releasing and integrating agent in body-mind integration and augmentation, in deference to the client’s authentic needs. We are to be humanly instrumental as a catalyst to release the fire in the flint, to actively assist in freeing the client from whatever limitations, unfinished development, and barriers hold them back from experiencing the full range of their attributes, powers, and resources. To do this, we must have done enough of the work ourselves; if we have not, then, as Frederick Nietzsche and Irvin Yalom have written, we therapists must accept our limitations and reckon with whether we have adequate tools and competence to free our clients from their chains, even if we individually have not freed ourselves in this regard. Therapists need to exercise and freely utilize creative intersubjectivity and professional spontaneity, which presupposes attunement and requires listening nonjudgmentally.
Building the Analogy: Tech and People
I do not know that much about software development or computer hardware, but what I know is that some platforms are more flexible than others; some platforms can do a broader range of functions than others. Hardware circuits are fixed, software is flexible, you can design any type of program you desire. A particular platform is made for a particular hardware, and it connects the hardware to the software, acting as an interface between the two.
As technology advances, there is greater flexibility on all levels of computing, hardware, software, and platform. As we come to a deeper understanding of our human nature as a society and culture, we realize that we are a lot more flexible than we ever imagined. We are capable of a lot more, which extends in the realm of diversity of human experiences. It is no longer adaptive, beneficial, or even necessary to be hedged in by one platform, such as Linux, Windows, or iOS, especially if the one that you are socialized to be is not congruent with who you are in part or as a whole. There are many possibilities available when it comes to what you could do and who you may be. You can also be more than one thing at once; indeed, now you are freer than ever to explore yourself and your identities. Our society is gradually becoming more accepting and accommodating to deeper, wider, more diverse ranges of human experience.
Growing Acceptance of Diversity
Our society is growing more willing and able to embrace diversity. We are collectively learning to self-correct as a culture, to eradicate its built-in biases and distortions. We see this happening in numerous ways — the rejection of biased assumptions, a decrease in taking ways of perceiving and interacting as fact, the removal of the ubiquitous prisms of misinformation that stalk us from cradle to grave.
These changing tides free all of us, but they particularly give minority populations more ease and delight in everyday life. We’re seeing a profound shift with the elimination of barriers and the opening up of more opportunities for people to experience themselves through a clear mirror that reflects their wonderful attributes and unique strengths, instead of the funhouse mirror that was historically the only option offered to them. For far too long, most of our society itself was the funhouse mirror that caricatured them. Too often, certain groups were not taken seriously, disregarded because they did not fit in the boxes of cultural convention. Their strengths and attributes were not appreciated. They were defined, minimized, and marginalized by how they did not fit in those conventional boxes. Society is now attempting to extend its understanding of its blind spots and make corrections to other groups that were victims of its ungrounded, overconfident assumptions to the realms of neurodiversity and gender diversity.
Neurodiversity and Gender Applications
Being very dyslexic, among other things, I can speak about neurodiversity from firsthand experience. Dyslexia is not a disability; it is not a learning disability; it is simply a different platform. Certain computer platforms are good for certain functions, while others have a wider range of functioning. They are better at a more visual, right-brain functioning and a creative, unique combination of both. Similarly, some people are born with an innate platform capable of accommodating a broader range of human experiences. On such platforms, one can be more immersed in a wider array of experiences, not limited to certain functional roles. Although they can adequately function in these roles if necessary, their perceptions, personality, interactions, and personas are not limited to them or by them. One may be a competent engineer and at the same time find fulfillment being a photographer, artist, postmodern architect, or creative writer. We can apply the same line of thought when we consider gender identity. Certain people have more fluidity, a broader scope not just of sexual or gender expression, but of human experience.
Limits and Expectations from Self and Society
We all are more than we realize. Our subjectivity and intersubjectivity is limitless. Part of the self is a social construct, and while many social constructs may be temporarily useful, too many have outlived their purpose and become obsolete. We no longer need to glorify obsolescence, nor do we have to tolerate being hedged in by others’ expectations, too often formed from fear and ignorance.
Sadly, many people limit themselves. Take, for instance, attention deficit. Current research suggests that children experience many environments that are overstimulating or full of emotional tension and anxiety during early development. In response, a child may turn off parts of their brain to avoid overstimulation. This has long-lasting effects; once this tendency develops, it is difficult to undo — it becomes part of our neural development. However, with emotional attunement and a holding environment, one can reclaim their ability to let more sensory data in in a coherent manner and integrate hitherto unknown or vaguely glimpsed aspects of their functioning and personality. Metaphorically, the same is true for our identity and sexuality; the conditions of our early environments may not have tolerated our nature, and as a result, it may take time for it to emerge or even to be acknowledged.
How Therapists Can Help
It is always possible to reclaim that which has been denied. We can activate our clients’ psychological stem cells and re-invigorate that which was dormant. Activate and facilitate that growth, and clients will experience growth and personal development. Equip them to find the identity within them, whatever that looks like, and become themselves as fully as possible.
As therapists, part of our role is to facilitate releasing the dormant attributes and growth potentials within each individual. We are agents of transformation; we facilitate the releasing or re-releasing of what has been stunted. As Karen Horney wrote, an acorn has to be in an environment with the right nutrition to reach its maximum potential in the full-grown, flourishing oak tree. Part of our role is to provide the conditions that our clients need, that they likely have been actively deprived of, so they can reach their desired individuality, human potential, uniqueness, and state of integration.
If we really listen to our clients, they will tell and give us what they need so we can give it back to them in the way they can best absorb it. We all do this. It’s part of our personal growth and transformation as unique human individuals. Babies teach their parents what they want and need. Too often, parents are not able to attune to their infant, and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, caretakers frequently do not listen to their child’s preferences, likes, and dislikes, instead force-feeding and force-dressing them. Even worse, caretakers may intimidate or coerce a child to live out their own unfulfilled life dreams or their projections of what they “need” the child to be. Thus, children’s growth can be limited by the boxes their caregivers try to make them fit in. Our job is to undo those limits, to give clients the space, acceptance, feedback, and resources they need to grow.
Therapists, we need to be aware and sensitive to each client’s uniqueness in ways that might challenge our own self-understanding and awareness. At the very least, whether a client has dyslexia, ADD, or ADHD, or identifies as transgender, gender fluid, genderqueer or non-binary, or any other gender identity, we must provide a haven away from the relentless drip, drip, drip, of misunderstandings and aggressions they receive from those who shamelessly operate out of their unquestioned biases and assumptions. People with these identities may be subject to this kind of frustrating, at times dehumanizing behavior from parents, police officers, judges, teachers, bankers, landlords, doctors, nurses, social workers, mechanics, clergy. It does not have to be this way. It’s intolerable that we, therapists, would be on such a list.
Chang, S. C., Singh, A. A., & Dickey, L. M. (2018). A clinician’s guide to gender-affirming care: Working with transgender and gender-nonconforming clients. In A clinician’s guide to gender-affirming care: Working with transgender and gender-nonconforming clients. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Horney, K. (2014). Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization. London, UK: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Lester, C. N. (2019). Trans like me: A journey for all of us. London, UK: Virago.
Siegel, D. J. (2020). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (Third Edition ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Stryker, S. (2017). Transgender History, Second Edition: The Roots of Today’s Revolution. Boulder, CO: Seal Press.
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