TLDR: There are many reasons to disclose or not disclose. I do not disclose identities or labels unless it would help a client.
As a sexuality counselor and educator, I have been conflicted about disclosing to clients, and the public in general, my personal sexuality identifiers.
I am not a mental health practitioner, but within that realm from my understanding, professionals typically have a ‘don’t disclose’ policy. This helps maintain professional boundaries by focusing on the client, avoiding transference/counter transference, etc. Essentially, mental health practitioners don’t disclose their identities or personal experiences for ethical reasons.
There are other reasons that sexuality professionals, outside of the mental health field, may choose to not disclose their own identifiers and labels – the communities in which they work may not be safe if their identifiers are marginalized; marginalization may also lead to public dismissal of a professional secondary to lack of acceptance or understanding of their identifiers; the public may accuse them of not having a valid identity or may accuse them of tokenism or commodification of an identity (ie flaunting a fringe identity for attention for ex or to be a authority of the identity or for profit). Additionally, labels are open to interpretation with various meanings, as our culture struggles to keep up with terminology and the nuanced thinking and individual significance of that label, even across those that use that label. If an identifier is put out into the world while associated with a professional, the professional loses some autonomy over the meaning of that label for them.
Despite the above reasons for non-disclosure, sexuality professionals might be open about their identities. They might do this because they practice in a safe, supportive community. They might do this because they have time and financial flexibility where, if they are professionally dismissed in their local community, they have enough reach, bandwidth, and financial security to find clients and supportive environments elsewhere. Sexuality professionals might disclose their own marginalized identities to normalize those identities and create community. By acknowledging their labels, a sexuality professional offers up a sense of safety to similarly identified folks – their own lived experience with said identity can benefit others in “need”.
Importantly, sexuality professionals, and helping professionals at large, might disclose their own marginalized identities as a way to challenge systems of oppression, such as cis/hetero patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonization. These systems of oppression have silenced the “Other” identities out of respectability and acceptability politics by creating hierarchies around bodies and identities. This is a form of terrorism, internalized and externalized, and it is on all of us to stop these oppressions regardless of identity. BUT, how an individual does that work is on them, based off of where and who they are, their reach, their skill set, and their safety. I’d like to think most of us are all doing the best we can, where we are, at any given time.
As fitness and wellness advocate, I do not have the nondisclosure requirement. However, I often do not disclose my labels and experiences to keep the focus on my client. Also, I am a deeply private person (perhaps my Cancer rising, those with an astrology lean would note), and many in my community would verify this – I don’t post names or photos of my kids online or discuss my family, hobbies, vacation. Sexuality labels are some of the most private self-concepts and experiences we have; if I am not sharing my vacation stories with the public, the chance of me sharing something even more deeply personal, and sharing it openly, is slim to none. Some of my identities are marginalized and the community I live and work in is fairly conservative; here, just outing myself as a sexuality professional has stigmatized me in some ways. Further, I would never want to be thought of as profiting off of my labels – some might choose this, and good for them for working in a way that aligns with them, but my private nature makes this conflation of identify with profit squirm-inducing. I also do not want to use labels as for attention-seeking or to center myself. The work, what I do as a sexuality professional and, big picture, what we all do as growing humans to dismantle toxic systems, is not about me.
And that is an overarching intention for the work I do as a sexuality professional – to dismantle toxic systems, and I do this without sharing labels. How? By normalizing conversations about sex to undo the cultural silencing and shame, which empowers others to find their voice around sexuality; to reclaim the right to personal pleasure, including sexual pleasure, in a culture where many of us are taught to serve the pleasure of a few and/or taught that pleasure and body are sin; to teach consent which slaps down the outstretched hands of privilege, take, and entitlement; to normalize and promote diversity of bodies and practices and labels in the name of sex positivity; by making my services accessible to those with challenging financial backgrounds (an intersecting identity to other marginalized labels, including those around sexuality); to speak to these intersections in systems of oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, sizeism, etc) – how combinations of identities produce additional inequities and harm that impact well-being, including sexual well-being.
If clients asks, and if my labels are helpful to them, then yes, we can discuss how I identify and how those identities inform my practice. Otherwise, my labels are mine alone for privacy and autonomy – I don’t owe them to partner/s, friends, family, or clients, only myself, but I do not intend for that privacy to reinforce systems of harm. As a nod to those who choose differently than me, I don’t claim to have the right answer to disclosing or not, as a professional; I only have the right answer for me, in this moment.
If you are sexuality professional, how have you come to terms with your own labels and disclosing them or not? If you are a sexual health client, do labels of the professionals you work with matter to you? If so, how do you go about learning the professional’s labels? – assume, directly ask, or only work with someone that openly discloses?
Thanks for reading and learning a bit more about how I work. I hope this piece on disclosure also taught you something about yourself.
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch (she/her/they) wellness practitioner working to awaken and re-center joy and pleasure through Ignite Well-being. PT (DPT), CHEK practitioner, RYT500, sexuality counselor and educator; copyright protected, please cite accordingly.
The image is from Pexels.
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