RH is a wonderful psychosocial club set in a 5-story building in Brooklyn. The clientele are primarily transgender individuals who have been diagnosed with one or several qualifying mental disorders. Most of the members are between the ages of 25 and 50, and live in homes provided by government services.
I have now been going to RH every Thursday from 1.30 to 5.30 PM for nearly 3 months. Thursdays at RH usually consist of lots of socialization time in the community room, sometimes a speaker who comes in to speak to the members, and usually there is a LGBTQ-relevant (or otherwise politically-inspired) film being turned on just as I am preparing to leave.
In the short period of time I have been going to RH to observe the members and activities, I have met many wonderful people who have a lot to offer and teach me. In return, I believe I have offered them an outlet and an ally to whom they can express their thoughts, feelings, and intimate concerns.
Being there has also given me the opportunity to utilize several of the tools with which my training at The Center has provided me. Just a few of these include: transference, countertransference, contact function, and object-oriented questioning. Each of these has given me order to my clinical attempts, as well as guided my actions and words in order to be the most effective in my interactions with RH's members.
Although I have been fortunate enough to meet and talk with quite a few RH members, the two with whom I have bonded most closely are D and H. Both of these individuals made contact with me from day one and continue to teach me about themselves and their lives each week. I feel both of these members have shared the most and made me experience countertransference to a surprising and very informative point.
When I first met D, she was seated in the corner of the community room. She was quietly reading, and did not seem interested in talking to me or anyone. However, when another member commented that she could not make D laugh, I became interested. Since my greatest interest in the mental health field is using humour to talk and heal, I became intrigued by D’s resistance to the primitive and pleasurable act of laughing. Although I had no plan, nor desire to initiate contact D first, I did make the bold choice to sit at the table at which she was seated. At first, this made no difference, and she continued to ignore my presence. Finally, she put her book down and began to ask me about my studies. This is when my relationship with D began to take off.
Following this first interaction, D became increasingly interested in talking to me and sharing her thoughts on politics, psychology, and the world. What she would tell me about her past was limited, but she did let me know that she had a fairly happy childhood in Trinidad. Her father was abusive towards her mother, but for the most part, everyone had what they wanted and needed. It was not until she chose to leave and come to America that she felt traumatized and possessed. As her diagnosis of schizophrenia became more of a part of her life, she delved further into her studies on mental health and various psychological theorists. She also attended college to study these ideas further. She claims that she is still studying, but has stated several times that she has been removed from the class or chose to leave. She has strong feelings about her professors, classmates, and schooling as a whole. When she talks about these topics, I feel an anger, as well as a fear. There seems to be a fear that this academic setting will eat her alive. The professors and her peers, as she describes them, sound judgmental, intrusive, and dangerous. D says they try to use her as a patient to study, so she must fight back by scaring them away and letting them know that they may not do this to her, as she did not sign anything to permit this experimentation on her. Her only safety net is what she calls the ISIP. The ISIP is the group that is trying to remove her from this dangerous setting. They speak to her psychically in her mind and through her eye cameras from various countries around the world. When she talks about the ISIP, I hope she has found someone or something that helps her escape her fears; that she has an escape from these scary thoughts and experiences.
D has made it clear that she both enjoys company, but certainly does not need it. She expressed this the other day before I left the club. Although we had not determined a precise time to meet, we had touched upon the idea of meeting at 3 PM when I was there and talking. When I did not approach her at 3 PM, she did not express any concern or interest. By the time I was heading out, she then let me know that she did not want to become emotional about the issue, but she expressed annoyance that I did not approach her. She asked if I was afraid to approach her. I responded by asking if there was any reason I should be afraid to approach her. She did not feel that there was, and therefore, she requested that in the future I come to her to talk. She then said something about the day I die, how my grave will say I was always cleaning. I thought this was interesting because she had only seen me cleaning the room twice before, and it was for a fairly short period of time. Still, this gave me an excuse for my absence at 3 PM. I feel she may have been protecting me and herself from feeling hurt or upset when I did not come talk to her. When I apologized, her affect became calmer, she smiled and forgave me.
Also before I left, she mentioned that she wanted to talk so she could get into my head. However, she could not because my defenses are so strong. I responded by thanking her, and she smiled. I asked if hers were also strong, and she said they were. I told her we will have to see who will get into the other’s head first. She laughed and nodded.
The other individual who made contact with me my first day at RH was H. H is on the younger end of the spectrum of members, even though she is likely in her late 20s or early 30s. Although born male and given a male name, H prefers to be referred to in her female form and title. Most days she wears more male-centric clothing, however. She explains that this is what her housing expects, and prevents discomfort when walking around outside. She likes that she can wear pantyhose under her pants, and likes changing and wearing women’s clothing at RH when she can.
On my first day, H would come talk to me, repeat herself a lot, and then walk away. If not walking away, she would make bird noises (“Caw!”) to interrupt conversation and offer her an escape. At first I took this to be a tic, but she explained soon after that these noises reminded her of her deceased mother. Her mother did not approve of her lifestyle, but she did cook well, and taught H how to cook Spanish food. Spanish food is very important to H, and she is very focused on cooking with RH members. She cannot bear the idea of not being allowed to cook with heart and soul with members who love and accept her, whether she is a son or daughter.
H very quickly experienced narcissistic transference with me, and I began to experience countertransference, as well. Although we are very different and come from very different backgrounds, we connect on an emotional level. H seems to hope that I will become her, or the biologically female version of her. She gave me a list of clothing I should purchase, all items that would be “drop dead gorgeous”, but all in her size, rather than in mine.
There are many times where H will be anxious to have my attention and show me all the things relating to her love for House music and cooking that she plans to buy. Once she has shown me and I’ve “approved” of what she does and wants, she will seem satisfied and no longer mention these things. She also has shared that she likes when people, including me, repeat her “caw” noises. When I do this, she laughs or smiles, and I feel a great sense of relief and joy along with her.
I found out this week that other staff at RH refer to H by her male name and call her “him”. She does not comment or seem bothered by this. However, when I accidentally called H “him” in weeks past, she corrected me and requested that I never make the mistake again. It is important to her that I recognize her femininity. Fortunately, this comes with the benefit of her trusting me, and she will tell me things in private that she says she would not tell the rest of the staff. My opinion means a lot to H, and she feels she can safely express herself with me, even when she is upset; an emotion she feels I “do not want to see.” Rather than sharing what this “upset” emotion looks like, she consistently lets me know that I do not want to see her upset. What is important to her is "heart and soul", as well as knowing that I take her seriously and am concerned about her. When I ask if she is concerned about herself, she seems hesitant to express this. She prefers to be reassured that I am concerned about her and her situations. When these feelings present themselves, I do feel a genuine concern for the both of us. As someone who is equally terrified of my own negative emotions, and does whatever necessary to deny such feelings, I can relate to this concern. My understanding would be that any sign of anger or distress could harm us… or those about whom we care.
It is much too early in my interventions with D and H to really understand or know where our session will take our relationships. However, as of now, the tools that The Center has provided me appear to be beneficial and useful. Understanding certain defenses and feelings has allowed for self-care and protection, as well as better interpretations of what is going on around me.