Last week, we had an interesting case of how our freedom of speech can be unsettling and aggressive, but uniting and reassuring at the same time. The case I’m referring to is a polemic piece in one of our national newspapers written by one of those people we love to hate here in Norway, Nina Karin Monsen, an extraordinarily conservative writer, and philosopher. This piece is especially antagonizing the LGBT community, ridiculing different forms of sexuality and expressing an overall attitude of disgust and disrespect for those who identify themselves as LGBT.
The piece got a lot of attention and thankfully a lot of people have taken the opportunity to respond, both from the LGBT community and otherwise, showing that dignity, respect and the right to love whoever you want and to express your sexual identity whatever it might be is what we generally do believe in. And I say thankfully because I am relieved to see that expressions of hate like that do not pass without comment, so as to silently agree with what is said, and it also gives the voices expressing positive values an opportunity to bring forward their message. So, even though I would rather have people using their freedom of speech to express positive messages, at least Monsen gave a lot of people the opportunity to state clearly that this was unacceptable, strengthening the feeling of standing united against dark forces and enhancing positive values in society.
I am grateful for this on behalf of my friends and family in the LGBT community, for my kids, who only time will tell what kind of sexuality or gender they’ll eventually identify with, and for my sometimes rather androgynous self.
But it is worrying when attitudes like this come to the surface because we have to assume that this kind of thinking applies to other people who don’t find it as natural and easy as Monsen to express it, but who still live by it. And we meet them and interact with them in the interface between individual and structure, context – in our careers. Working, studying, or in any case participating in the structured activities in our society, brings with it a lot of do’s and don’ts that feel like both possibilities and limitations for everyone, regardless of expression of sexual identity, but obviously being or feeling different makes some challenges even more challenging.
I did a really quick literature search on the topic of homosexuality and career and found some articles looking into this, showing that this is an area of interest and concern. One article stressed that coming out takes energy from career development (Russon & Schmidt, 2014). From the abstract of Schneider and Dimito (2010), I read: “Respondents who reported that their sexual orientation influenced their choices a great deal indicated that the influences were both positive and negative. This group was most likely to have experienced anti-LGBT discrimination in the past. In comparing lesbian, bisexual people, and gay males, gay males and respondents from visible minorities were the most likely to feel a negative impact, while bisexual respondents were the least likely. There were too few transgender respondents to include in these statistical comparisons; however, frequencies suggest that transgender people may be the most vulnerable of all. Results suggest that counselors need to take sexual orientation issues, particularly past experiences of discrimination when working with LGBT clients.” And with the advice: “First, counsellors need to develop sensitive and unobtrusive ways to determine whether LGBT issues are relevant in the lives of their clients. Second, counsellors need to explore past experiences of discrimination with LGBT clients and factor these experiences into the decision-making process around academic and career choices in the context of the clients’ gender. Last, counselors need to develop a realistic sense of the climate in various workplace settings and professions in order to assist clients to make realistic decisions about how their sexual orientation will influence their academic and career options”.
In these papers, a common thread is how to overcome the discrepancy between expectancies about appearance and the ability to meet these expectations, and how career counsellors sometimes are the ones who need to address these issues. And being the one that have to bring up appearance related to career, now that is a complicated role as one would expect, and for issues like weight, make-up, and how to dress, it’s possible to develop some strategies and do this without jeopardizing the integrity of both the counsellor or the counselee (https://adventuresincareerdevelopment.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/you-try-telling-someone-whos-ugly-to-get-a-face-lift/ ).
But counselling on LGBT-issues and career, that ventures into a whole new territory of sensitivity, pride and prejudice, because the issues are so diverse and integrated as one casebook illustrate (Dworkin & Pope, 2014). So it seems to me, that even though one might as a careers worker feel equipped to address issues of appearance, perhaps going into the LGBT issues takes a bit more courage. There are ways of thinking about what we actually want to achieve with our work that might give more courage, ways of thinking that even though they might not give the exact words to say, can help to be brave in difficult situations. For instance, over the recent years, the discussion about social justice in careers work have highlighted a more socially conscious career counselling practice and research agenda. Some ideas and approaches focus on how to heighten counsellees’ consciousness about their role as members of society, but could also be the basis of careers worker’s reflexive practice. In one of these approaches, the emancipatory career education framework (Hooley, 2015), there are 5 key questions to career counselees and learners to build career learning activities on: 1. Who am I? 2. How does the world work? 3. Where do I fit into the world? 4. How can I live with others? 5. How do I go about changing the world? These questions could also be the foundation for careers workers reflexive practice and why we do the things we do.
The framework’s last question, the no. 5, is to me the most important one. The implications of “how do I go about changing the world”, especially when it comes to battling dark forces like the ones that Monsen represent, have practical implications when dealing with people. For instance, being mentally prepared to attempt to meet everyone with respect, now that is a start, and it is thankfully one of any framework’s ethical guidelines for counselling practice. And the careers profession’s helping and people-oriented nature thankfully attract people that are more interested in helping other people develop positively than antagonizing them. But still, discussing social justice in careers work there are some issues that need to be addressed, like awareness of LGBT issues in career counselling and how to address them.
If telling someone ugly to get a facelift is difficult, then being supportive of someone who’s gender incongruent and expressing both male and female gender identity at work as well as at home, can also be a challenge. But regarding the latter of these cases, if we want the world to be a better place, then I guess that is what we need to do.
Dworkin, S. H., & Pope, M. (2014). Casebook for Counseling Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Their Families. Hoboken: Wiley.
Hooley, T. (2015). Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery: self-actualisation, social justice and the politics of career guidance. Retrieved from International Centre for Guidance Studies http://hdl.handle.net/10545/579895
Lyons, H. Z., Brenner, B. R., & Lipman, J. (2010). Patterns of Career and Identity Interference for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(4), 503-524. doi:10.1080/00918361003608699
Russon, J. M., & Schmidt, C. K. (2014). Authenticity and Career Decision-Making Self-Efficacy in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Students. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(2), 207-221. doi:10.1080/10538720.2014.891090
Schneider, M. S., & Dimito, A. (2010). Factors Influencing the Career and Academic Choices of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(10), 1355-1369. doi:10.1080/00918369.2010.517080