This week I talked with a member who joined us in lockdown – and has yet to meet any of us face to face! They come to one of our online support groups. We talked a lot about their experience of joining in lockdown and having only been to online groups. They were also super chatty so I didn’t have to say much to get reams of notes to work from! This one will be far more them than me, but I feel that they speak well for themself and are clear in their points about our groups.
“I remember being terrified, I think I’d looked at the website quite a few times, I looked at the blogs a few times then closed the website … it took me a long time to contact you, it got a bit intense during lockdown, being on my own … I thought I need to do a thing so I emailed and I got a reply and had a nice phone call with Dawn, she was really kind and I felt really nervous and nothing felt solid and I remember being a bit worried talking about they/them pronouns because some people are a bit funny about it but she wasn’t, she was really nice and it wasn’t an issue and even though it was over the phone I felt put at ease, like it was okay I didn’t know anything”
“I remember looking at the website and I saw there was stuff going on online and I was like ‘OMG this is amazing’ then Max called me and said he had found me a space at group … I was terrified starting group and really anxious, but now it’s okay, now it’s strange that I haven’t met any of them in a real space but I kinda feel that I know them and it doesn’t change that it’s a really supportive space and we all support each other.”
One of the things I always love about groups is how sharing experiences helps everyone to feel less alone and more heard: “One thing that really sticks in my head, I remember speaking in my first or second group and I was sort of explaining how I felt about things and stuff and I had this moment when I thought ‘oh no, I just spoke about all this stuff that’s only ever gone around in my head’ and the facilitator noticed and said hands up anyone who has ever thought or felt any of that and every single hand went up and I thought ‘oh, okay, this isn’t awful, this isn’t only me, a group of people felt these things’ and it was one of those moments where I thought everything had changed in my mind, and it’s nice, and it’s nice hearing other people speak about things and think ‘I’ve felt that too,’ I thought that everyone would feel really self assured and I’d be the nervous new person but it was clear to me that it’s really okay and everyone is at their place in things and that was really helpful.”
I asked them how easy it was to engage in group, being online and new, and I was quite thankful to hear how good an experience it had been: “I surprise myself with how much I talk about it all because everything seemed so big and too hard and it was really big in my head and I thought there were those things that would never come up in group then they did and I just naturally started talking about them and I was surprised at how easy it was and how it felt much better … it feels better now because I know that I can bring it somewhere when it feels too much and be like ‘this is happening’ – it stops just spinning around in my head and once it’s out there and you’ve said it to someone it’s not as big and it’s really affirming to speak to other people who know some of what you feel and they’re really supportive and empathic”
Lastly, we talked about the effect of attending group on their life: “I think it’s made a massive impact in how I feel, no in how I am, I don’t really know, it’s hard to put into words because it’s just kinda different now, it’s still a lot of stuff that’s confusing but it’s a bit easier to deal with now, well, a lot easier, more manageable now. I have had some health stuff going on and I had nowhere to put it, I couldn’t place it, couldn’t put it down and then I sort of realised I had a place that was supporting me where I could go for support and I find it hard to ask for support but I thought this is what they’re there for so I emailed [my facilitator] and we set up a time to chat about it and I’m [long pause, getting emotional] it was really overwhelmingly supportive, [the facilitator] offered to get permission to come with me as it was gendered stuff and I thought ‘you don’t need to do that, that’s so nice’ and it was overwhelming but I didn’t need them to because I knew they cared and that was enough that I could just go and do it myself. … I think it’s this theme of self worth I have come up a lot and I think it’s hard sometimes when you get a lot of negative things happening around you and people saying negative things about things you know that you feel or that resonate with you, I find it hard to value myself because people around me devalue people because of gender identity and having someone give you support in a way that feels so big I think just gives that message of you’re worth having someone with you or having support and you’re worthy of feeling okay about yourself and making your own decisions and making decisions that align with who you are and how you want to be in the world and how you fit in with the world and you’re worth the support to get there. … I think it would have gone completely different without that, I don’t know that I would have talked to them about [the gendered part of the appointment], I don’t know if I could have said anything, I had a pattern of not bringing it up, I don’t think I felt like I could, I don’t know why. Knowing [my facilitator] had my back shifted the whole conversation, I just felt okay to talk to [the doctor] about it.”
I came away from this discussion feeling overwhelmingly positive about all the hard work we have all put into supporting those who come to us and glad of the extra input our volunteers offer. I am so proud of all our volunteers and everyone single person who has reached out to us for support – there is so much support and genuine caring for all of the things group members are working through.
Cheeky end note? If you’re looking to volunteer with us, get in touch! Our volunteers make genuine differences in people’s lives, and don’t have to know all about trans+ experiences to sign up with us and be allies to trans+ people.