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Session 203: Exploring Gender

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

Today I’m joined by Dr. g for an important conversation to help us dig a little deeper into gender and gender expression. Dr. g and I chatted about the differences between sex and gender identity, destigmatizing gender expression in the Black community, some of the common misconceptions about non-binary people, and strategies for supporting kids in their gender expression.


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The Genderbread Person

Human Rights Campaign

National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network


Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective

Where to Find Dr. g

Twitter: @fearlesscrg

Instagram: @garudagrin

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Read Full Transcript

Session 203: Exploring Gender

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 203 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get into the episode right after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: Today, I'm joined by Dr. g for an important conversation to help us dig a little deeper into gender and gender expression. Dr. g is a non-binary, queer, first generation Afro Caribbean, and serves as a licensed psychologist, writer, Buddhist chaplain, death doula, yoga nidra teacher, spiritual creative, and public speaker. Dr. g's healing work centers on liberation within intersectional identities of black, indigenous and people of color, and their living or transitioned ancestors.

Doc engages the intersections of topics such as grief, death and dying, liminal spaces, race, gender, identity, meditation, trauma and somatic healing. Dr. g and I chatted about the differences between sex and gender identity, destigmatizing gender expression in the black community, some of the common misconceptions about non-binary people, and strategies for supporting kids in their gender expression. If there's something that resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. g.

Dr. g: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be in conversation with you.

Dr. Joy: Yes, it is. I'm so glad that you were able to squeeze us into your schedule. I would love for you to start by just telling us a little bit about yourself as well as your practice and what brought you into the field of psychology.

Dr. g: Sure, I would delight to. I'm a first-generation Afro Caribbean gender queer being and I am a writer, I'm a psychologist, I'm a public speaker, I'm a Buddhist chaplain. I always tell people if it's something to do with liminal space, if it's about liberation, then that's what I center and that's what I do. My clinical practice focuses much on the liberation of BIPOC and LGBTQ minds and so that will look like somatic work, existential work, Afro centric work. I do a lot of trauma-informed work and I've been doing that for the last over 15 years at this point (we just stopped counting after 10). A lot of people who find their way to me seem to be changemakers, activists and people who really appreciate the process of growth and transformation, not just within their own lives, but intergenerationally.

Dr. Joy: You know, I'm always just so inspired by how people in psychology kind of just make their own spaces and figure out how to use what we've been taught but then transform it for communities that are not typically what we're trained on. So I would love to hear how you've been able to kind of do continuing education or other work that has allowed you to expand your practice in this way.

Dr. g: Mm hmm. I feel like I was really blessed for the school that I went to. I went to the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago and they were so community based. And so I, from there, learned to just go to the community to learn about whomever and what wasn't covered in school. I always say 50% of my grad school learning was outside, just going to conferences, going to meetings, sometimes just even going to religious institutions and just meeting people. I learned a lot just by hearing people's stories and that was to fill out what wasn't covered, I feel like, in traditional doctoral level programs, and I found that that was where the difference was.

I would often go to continuing education events that were held by counselors and social workers. Because they were more community based, I found that they had more interest in intersections of people's identities than the traditional doctoral program. So going to those conferences was really how I fleshed out a lot of my learning. And I create my own path. I'm just a person who doesn't follow necessarily where APA may be following because I realize that they're way behind the times and so I just create my own path. I'm like: these people don't have a voice at the table, I want to learn about them, I'm going to find out.

Dr. Joy: I love that. And do you do any kind of supervision or like helping younger people in the profession to kind of follow that path or a similar path?

Dr. g: You know, that is a place of transition that's starting to happen right now, these last couple of years. You know, becoming middle career and really sitting and thinking about that there isn't that available for us. And particularly, I can't handle all of the clients that I see who are black or BIPOC, and especially BIPOC and queer at that intersection. And so a lot of people all over the country will contact me, especially now that things have opened up with regard to these COVID pandemic times, and so I said I can't service all y'all the way that I want to. I've been thinking about what would this path that I'm doing (and have done) look like as a model for other people, so that's in the works.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I'm sure that there is a huge need for it because of these reasons. Because, like we’ve talked about, you don't get these kinds of trainings often in grad school.

Dr. g: 100%.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. I appreciate that much of your work is really helping people to kind of figure out identity and so I'd love for you to just maybe start... A lot of your work focuses on gender identity and helping people to really kind of express themselves in the fullness of who they are, but I think a lot of times we can get really caught up in like the definitions. And a lot of people really get stuck here and I think it gets really confusing for a lot of people when we're trying to have these conversations. So can you kind of just start us at the like basic levels in terms of the definition between sex and gender identity?

Dr. g: Sure, I would delight in that. I will say that, just as an umbrella, anyone who is working with me or conversing with me knows that I will define something and dismantle it all in the same conversation. So I will try to as best as possible stick to the definition as a grounding point for people, but I think in the spirit of understanding even just identity, knowing that our identities change–sometimes moment to moment, day to day–is really important to who I am and how I understand the work. So I just want to make that statement before we go into definitions.

First, when we talk about someone's sex, we're speaking about what genitalia and chromosomes they were born with at the time of birth. And when we speak about someone's gender identity, we're really speaking about someone's internal sense of their gender, like who they feel that they are, and that falls on a spectrum. Oftentimes, when we think about just gender in its entirety, we are often just thinking about male or female and oftentimes it's referring to someone sex. But we're beginning to really learn that gender is a multi-pronged definition, it is far beyond just what our sex is at birth.

Dr. Joy: I want to go back to your comment around identity changing from moment to moment because I don't know that that is something I've heard discussed in that way, though I totally get it when I hear you say it. And I wonder if you can kind of just expound on that because I think we tend to think about identity as relatively fixed but you're saying that can change. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Dr. g: Yeah. One of our earliest constructs... And this will kind of lead into how we speak about different gender identities when I start to talk about transgender identity, and particularly non-binary gender identity. One of our earliest constructs, the ways that we define ourselves as a people, is gender. You think about when someone comes into the world, the first thing we're like, oh, is it a boy or a girl? And it gives... I feel like constructs give us reference points and reference points (for whatever reason, I only have this American society to kind of go by) become very solidified and they become the markers of how we learn what we can do, what our roles might be.

And so from very early on, think about it, from the moment you are born, you are being put in an identity box. And that box has roles and those roles define how you might move in society. And how you move in society depends on what mobility you might have and where you have access. And so, for whatever reason, we have become very stuck on this binary as a people and it has not allowed a lot of room for innately what is existent in nature. We know it exists in plants, it exists in animals, a sense of a spectrum–that we're never 100% male and 100% female or 100% adhering to the roles that we have constructed for those sex identities.

Dr. Joy: What do you think is so threatening for people, especially since you're giving examples of how this exists in multiple areas of life? What do you think is so threatening for people to really be able to appreciate that things are not 100% anyway?

Dr. g: I feel like... This is just my opinion, I think people really like certainty. And our brain in and of itself is functioning in a sense of efficiency where we can kind of have a sense of what something is. Like I could look at something that has four legs and a flat top and say that's a table and we can generalize that so that every day when I'm moving through my home, I don't have to like stop and look at this thing and renegotiate what it is. Like really just being questioning like, “Huh, it has four legs, look at that. It's got a flat top, I wonder what it could be.” That process actually takes time.

And American society is about efficiency and our minds are also about efficiency and so I don't think anybody really likes uncertainty or not knowing. It causes just a little bit of anxiety which I think is normal for just our human existence, because we don't know everything. But the more that we can make known or that we think are known, the less anxiety that we experience, both on an existential level and maybe more for other people so we extend that to people.

So I know Dr. Joy, you look like this, you sound like this, then I can just keep that fixed in my mind and I don't have to guess anymore who you might be the next time you call me up. But what that does is it leaves out that we inherently change as a people. We're not still in diapers and eating baby food. We change, we grow, we learn, we get exposed to things, we are influenced, we learn about ourselves. All of that indicates that we are changing beings but for whatever reason, perhaps just to minimize that existential anxiety of not knowing, we ascribe things to very fixed conditions.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I appreciate you putting it in the context of efficiency because I do think that that is how we often move through life. Like, okay, I want to quickly know this answer and move on. But it does prevent us, I think, from actually getting to know people, which is of course a lot of what I'm sure your work is about. Like actually taking the time to get to know people as opposed to thinking about who or what they might be based on something that you are likely incorrect about.

Dr. g: Mm hmm, yes.

Dr. Joy: I'd love for you to go more into talking about the binary. We do know that people will sometimes identify as transgender and then other people will identify as non-binary. Can you talk about the differences?

Dr. g: Sure, of course. I would love to just also make a reference. I'm a very visual person and for those out there who are visual learners, there's a reference called the Genderbread Person. And this is a visual that talks about gender as a spectrum but it also includes gender identity, gender expression (which is one's assigned gender roles), mannerisms, and their interests and behaviors that tend to align along the spectrum of male or female. And also attraction and sexual orientation. And I just really think that when we're new to these words and terminologies, it's really helpful to have a visual representation of what these definitions look like so I just want to make that note.

When we speak about transgender, transgender and non-binary are often used synonymously but they are different and so I want to distinguish between the two. Transgender people are people whose gender identity (their internal sense of who they are) differs from the sex assigned at birth. It's nothing to do with a person's sexual orientation as being heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual or asexual, but has to do with how they feel about themselves, who they know themselves to be and the body that they were assigned with at birth. Oftentimes, those who identify as transgender do identify as being male or female. So that's transgender.

Non-binary now, I would distinguish as its own gender identity. And this identity, I think, causes the most dissonance for people because they have a lot of prejudices around people and identities being fluid. These are people who are neither male or female and don't fit into either box. They may flow or they may not identify with any gender at all or their gender changes over time. So you might hear a non-binary used synonymously with words like gender queer, bigender, agender, but that's what the difference is there. And again, it has nothing to do with who they're attracted to sexually. That can still be a person who is non-binary, it can still be heterosexual, lesbian, gay and so on.

Dr. Joy: And is gender non-conforming another term for non-binary or is that something different?

Dr. g: Something different. Slight nuance. Gender non-conforming, when I was speaking about gender roles in the beginning, it speaks to not conforming specifically to a certain gender role or the gender stereotypes or how they may express oneself. You might hear tomboys or maybe a female body being liking to wear suits–that doesn't adhere to how we've defined the gender normative as only male body peoples wear suits. So it's about the stereotypes, bending stereotypes in expression.

Dr. Joy: Okay, so it is more closely related to like a gender expression.

Dr. g: Mm hmm.

Dr. Joy: Got it. Okay, yeah. More from my conversation with Dr. g right after the break.


Dr. Joy: And I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about that. Like about gender expression, specifically in the black community. I think that at times, not all the time, but I think at times there has been a little bit more leeway for people to kind of show up however they want to look, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about like the gender expression in the black community and any stigma that you feel like we still need to work towards getting rid of.

Dr. g: I find that now, like working backwards, that now where black people as a whole are becoming more connected with their African identities and their lineage and understanding where we came from, there's an understanding that gender expression and the fluidity of that expression has existed for millennia. And so when we talk about indigenous cultures, in Nigeria yan daudu–they were maybe assigned male at birth but they dressed in traditionally female garb and they're accepted. Even a lot of spiritual paths will allow for different gender expressions, same sex relationships are condoned. South Africa right now in general is leading the way as far as black culture is concerned and accepting and allowing and legalizing same sex relations and adoptions. So it's really to show like this has been how we have moved for quite some time.

And I think that when we speak about our history here in America–how these constructs have gotten hardened, how that history has been separated from us and our identity or is not as visible in us as identities–it’s because much of what we experience here in America is crafted along a white construct. White construct has eliminated a lot of our history and has defined us in the way that they want to define us. We see this in our institutions and so on so that's what we're seeing and what's visible all the time. And so it's very easy, I think, for our people to forget that, oh no, we do express ourselves in different ways.

When I think about the arts, when I think about music and other spaces, and especially when we start to speak about religion, I find that that is usually the space where there's much more rigidity around acceptance of gender expression in the black community. And it's all a work in progress. Some communities, spiritual communities, are more accepting or beginning to understand the harm that can be caused in rejecting our black brothers and sisters and beings and so there's more inclusion and more discussion about how to be more inclusive.

Dr. Joy: And I'd love to hear your thoughts, Dr. g, about how we can continue to push that. Like what suggestions do you have for how we can move beyond the binary?

Dr. g: One, knowing our roots. As I mentioned, the history is there. Just studying where one comes from is super important in understanding that this is a part of who we are–that we do run, we're fluid beings. That's a part of our human experience to be as such. And then also nature. Sometimes people don't want to be so personal and I've told people look at what nature does. Tomato plants by nature, they could be male, they could be female, they could be neither. Like this way of being is natural as well.

And educating ourselves. I just feel that educating and having conversation with one another is where we find out that we need to come together as a black community. Because regardless of if we are non-binary, transgender, or whether we're heterosexual or cisgender (meaning our sex at birth is aligned with who we feel we are) we're still a black community. And we're at risk for some of the same inequities (especially in this country) that others are and so we need one another. We need to understand each other's stories to know how we can be coconspirators in having liberated, equitable ways of life.

Dr. Joy: We talked a little earlier about why people often feel so threatened by people who exist wherever on the spectrum, but I'd love to hear also any common misconceptions you think people have related to non-binary people.

Dr. g: Mm hmm. There's a feeling that those who identify as non-binary are confused and they just haven't made up their mind. And again, this goes back to the expectation that we have to choose an identity, that things have to be on the binary, an “either/or” kind of way of being. There's, as I've mentioned before in defining transgender and non-binary, some people feel that transgender people are non-binary as well. Or that if you identify as either non-binary or transgender, that automatically means that you identify as being gay or lesbian, so one’s sexual orientation is assumed based on their gender identity–that's often a fallacy.

And then, again along the lines of confusion, most people will confuse non-binary with being intersex. And intersex I haven't defined but intersex is when your anatomy or your genes at birth don't fit the typical definitions of being male or female (while a non-binary person's genes and anatomy are synchronous with either being male or female at birth). So, terminology again–we get wrapped up in terms and assume one is the other. Or when we don't know, we assume everything is in one box and we don't ask questions and so I feel that often leads to the most misconceptions. It’s just saying I don't know what any of that means so they all must be the same thing.

Dr. Joy: As opposed to, “I don't know, let me try to figure it out.”

Dr. g: 100% yes. Ask a question–it's okay to not know.

Dr. Joy: But, you know, I think that brings up another point of like if you don't know, how do you get this information? Because I think some people want to try to directly ask someone and that may be okay, depending on what relationship you have with that person. But we also shouldn't expect that people will just share their personal stories with us just because we ask. So where can people maybe find information to find out more or to have a better understanding?

Dr. g: Well, one, I will say I do want to challenge that. We always ask each other's names. If I don't know you, just like when we met, I say, hey, how would you like to be addressed? What pronouns do you use? I don't want to assume. And so there's no harm in that. You're already creating a very inclusive space and environment by just asking a person and you'll be surprised how much a person is willing to share if you have the intention of just wanting to know. So I don't want to minimize that as a way.

Because personal stories allow our intersectional identities. Many people that I work with, they're both black and non-binary and an immigrant and, you know... So to get those ends in, sometimes a lot of the literature that's out there doesn't cover that so we need each other's stories. I really want to drive home how important that is. But very like popular sites and spaces that you can go are like the National Center for Trans Equality. The Human Rights Center has a plethora of things available for just increasing your knowledge.

And for those who are parents who are wanting to support their youth... And I name this too because sometimes people believe that gender identity is something that is a phase and perhaps kids will grow out of it or figure it out and be on the binary, and that's not the case. We know who we are very young. It is under two years old, I mean, three years old, and we're ready knowing who we are. And I think that that's a construct too, that we're honoring children more. And so really being able to be a citizen and a being who's able to witness and then offer support for our children is really important so HRC also offers supporting services and articles for caring for our transgender children.

And sometimes therapy can be helpful. And again, that's why a lot of people come to me because I'm the 1% of the 5% of the 3%, you know, of identity. And so the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network also offers therapists who can look like them. We have a shared story or some shared experience that can be so resonant and affirming. And that is often the rejection that trans and non-binary peoples experience from their families, from schools, from institutions, from people in their own community. Often, that's what sets off a lot of the predispositions for just poor mental health and poor resiliency and just being affirming can be so helpful in a person's development. Just saying, hey, yes, I hear you. And that's why I don't want to minimize that because that's what makes a world of a difference.

Dr. Joy: I want to stay with the idea of children for just a second, Dr. g, and to hear more of your thoughts about how we can honor a child's expression of themselves, no matter how young they are.

Dr. g: I don't know about you. One of the things that I have to make a distinction, like black parenting. Because there is a way that... I don't want to make a broad-based statement but I'll use my own example where you very much belong to your family and they craft you. And so it's almost like you are not your own person. And in that way, I think that already we're starting with a limitation. Because I know even from my own process, my family said “I didn't raise you to be like this...” And that can be hard to view parenting as a path of surrender. That like our role is not to make mini versions of ourselves, but rather to really see fully who these beings are that come into the world and to support them to the fullness of their beings. So very simple.

Again, like I said, it starts early, that we impose this constructs on our children of adhering to certain gender norms. They may come up with a name that they prefer to be called, call them that name. Or any pronouns that they use, use those pronouns always. Always. Just as black peoples, we should understand how our ability to name ourselves has been taken away from us so it's really powerful to be called who you are. And stay positive. If you don't know (as a parent, often we don't know a lot) be okay with not knowing and going in to educate yourself rather than rejecting. Affirm, support, listen.

There's a plethora, I feel like, of books right now that are speaking to the positive legacies that decenter whiteness but really center the narratives of black LGBTQ peoples. And often many of them had been like leaders of our most prominent movements or most prominent writers, like Marsha P. Johnson and Alicia Garza and Angela Davis, James Baldwin... You know, we have positive legacies of what queer, LGBTQ blackness can look like, and so let's read those stories to our children. Let's read about them.

Dr. Joy: The comment around like belonging to your family, I think that is so powerful because I do think that that is what trips a lot of parents up. Because if your child comes to you with a proclamation of who they are that doesn't fit with who you think they are or who they should be, then I think that there's all this work that the parent has to do to like break their own stereotypes in their head before they can even see their child for who they are. So it really feels like you need to start having these conversations. That's why it's so important (I think) kind of broadly to be making space for all identities so that you don't have all of that work to do when your child comes to you and says, “This is the name I prefer.”

Dr. g: Mm hmm, 100%? I mean, because the children are listening. We’re listening and I think an HRC report indicated like 77% of youth have heard their families say something negative about LGBTQ peoples. So if I hear that, myself included, why would I come to them and say, hey, this is who I am. And so just that rejection alone increases the risk of like 90% of kids have sleep disturbance, so you know what that does with development. It doesn't help it. They're depressed, they're more likely later on to experience verbal abuse, physical abuse.

And we've seen that most at risk are like black trans women who get killed because they did not have people who were affirming and they ended up in houseless situations, under-resourced, under- supported. Yeah, it is, I know, a challenge for everyone to work with difference but these are our kids. These are our kids and this is in many ways preventable, based on these stats. That if we can just do this work of redefining what being parents and supportive caregivers means, it's transformative. We are saving lives.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and not just as parents but I think about like the media responsibility. Because even if you don't necessarily hear your parents say things that are derogatory... I remember there was a super cute book, I forget the name now, about a little boy who was a mermaid. Do you know that book?

Dr. g: No, I don’t know that one.

Dr. Joy: I think it came out recently but I think like a teacher tried to teach it in the classroom and there was all this uproar. So you see educators who are trying to like have these conversations and normalize that “yes, of course, boys can be mermaids or whatever” and then there's all this pushback. So even if you don't hear it in your home, sometimes you hear about it on the news, so that's something else to be careful of.

Dr. g: 100%, yeah. And it's everywhere. It’s, I feel like, a very different... I'm glad you mentioned the media. It's just a very different time to when I grew up. I mean, these kids have access and technology is going–24 hours a day, seven days a week. At least we got a break, we went home. But I mean they are inundated and I really feel that the media needs to take more responsibility with the impact that they have on the lives of our beings.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Dr. g right after the break.


Dr. Joy: Do you work a lot with younger people, Dr. g?

Dr. g: Oh, not as much anymore. I feel like in mentorship but not as much in my private practice.

Dr. Joy: Got it. I was gonna ask around... I feel like TikTok is one of those spaces where younger people are sharing their stories. And really being able to kind of find your community in a space like that, I think, is really going to be transformative.

Dr. g: Oh my gosh! You know, I wonder if every generation feels like this but I really trust the generations that are coming up. I just feel like I just need to clear the path for them and allow them to just be because they are creating an expansive language and a way of being for us to exist in. And that's the beauty of the human existence, is to be expansive and to not be fixed so I love listening to them. Yes, I'm on all the social medias because I'm learning from them, too. We’re in continuous learning. I'm like, oh, there's another word for this and there’s another word for this, this is wonderful, it's emergent, it's organic. Like that is a humanity to be emergent and organic and to make space for.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I feel like some of the defensiveness kind of kicks in for people when you see younger generations kind of coming up with new terminologies but I think it's important to know that this has happened time and time again. Like it doesn't mean that you're being pushed aside but can you make space? Can you stand together as opposed to like trying to shut their voices up or not make space for them?

Dr. g: Exactly, exactly. And I feel like that that challenges, at least like how I was raised and what I hear about a lot of other black families... I’m used to speaking to black families because that is my reference point but I've heard this with other BIPOC peoples as well, is that our respect for elders comes with a need to almost acquiesce to their ways of being because they're not allowing space. And it becomes very hierarchical and you have to wait for that person to pass for something to open, it shouldn't have to be like that. And so I think that is a challenge to how we have viewed our way of creating family.

We see this in the church as well, like how we create a hierarchy of who do we listen to and that the others are powerless or don't have space at the table to speak. But I really feel like when we allow space... And this is a dialogue across generations and that's what I really tried to foster in my writing, is that this is a continuous dialogue across generation that leads to change and more space opening.

Dr. Joy: You shared a little bit of this earlier, just in terms of how we can be more inclusive even in very small ways so things like asking people their pronouns. Are there other tips that you can share about how we can be more inclusive in our language and in creating spaces?

Dr. g: Yeah. As best as you can (and one can) suspending assumptions. And I often indicate that with youth, with people around bathrooms and spaces, just having gender neutral bathrooms–that causes a lot of anxiety for people. Calling people by their names. Oftentimes, you'll hear people name their dead name or their old names so just ask what their name is now and that is all that should matter. Don't say, hey, what was your name before? None of that. Just leave that be. What's now is what is.

And again, talking to people, advocating, educating yourself. It's really important, just as we've talked about with regard to race, to not put the burden on the person to educate you. You could ask questions and also go and find out stuff for yourself. Go in the support groups, like PFLAG for parents and other peoples who are allies and support–there are spaces for you too. So to also educate and do that for yourself.

Dr. Joy: How do you foster that same sense of inclusion in something like paperwork? Like paperwork you might give a client to complete before a session.

Dr. g: I do all things. I do always leave “and other” blank because I do think that it represents for me the space of what is emergent and I can't keep up. I’m not as young and as hip as I used to be, to be honest. So I think that that allows me to learn like, okay, this is what someone wishes to call themselves. Unicorn, sir... I call myself Doc, people think it's because I'm a doctor. I'm like, no, that's my indigenous healing name. Because he, she, their, there are other pronouns that people have come up with that are used–that doesn't fit me so I create my own. And just allowing space for that on forms is awesome.

I think the more progressive people are around saying male, female, non-binary or genderqueer is including those terms at best. It is really helpful. They is quite safe to use and I feel like many people use they for those who identify as non-binary. And then if “they” doesn't work, you ask. And be humble to be corrected. I think that that's the other piece that's the hardest part for people, is that people are really trying. They may use something and it may not be what fits for a person and so to be humbled and say, “oh, I'm sorry, what do you prefer” is wonderful.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, the being open to correction, I think, is really important.

Dr. g: Yeah. And I just think that we're at a time when I think this is going to be, as I said, a challenge for some peoples. Is that, yeah, we do develop forms but the forms become obsolete very quickly so how can we create space in the forms for things to be malleable always? Is there room for that? And I think that's a very different way of being but I think that that's the gift of especially people who flow in a non-binary identity, is they understand what it means to flow. And they understand that things change so how can we welcome change every day, every moment? I mean, how can we do that in our institutions? How can we do that with identities? How can we allow more space?

Dr. Joy: Yeah. Is there anything we haven't covered, Dr. g, that you feel like, oh, I really want people to know more about this or to think about this?

Dr. g: I think one thing, just going back to destigmatizing gender identity or gender expression in the black community, I really want to drive home that I don't think that we as a black community would fight over the fact that racism exists and racism is a construct that we didn't come up with. And that that condition leads to inequities, leads to many of us dying, and health inequities and so on. I don't think many people in the black community would resist that statement. And so I just want to say that gender is right on par with race. It's the same construct that predisposes us to the same inequities if we don't do something about it, if we don't redefine it.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. I appreciate you going back to that point. That is important to include.

Dr. g: I named that because I think that's a point of resistance for parents as well. I think caregivers, well-meaning beings, don't want us to have like one more marginalized identity and so there's a lot of resistance. Then it's like, oh, you're choosing to be gay or you're choosing to be non-binary and that's just adding one more risk factor for you. And I've heard that before. But realize that if you choose to reject the person because of their identity, then you're just adding to the problem.

Dr. Joy: Yes, yes, thank you for that. So you've already given us quite a few, it sounds like, incredible resources. Are there other resources for people who maybe want to dig deeper into this conversation or need some additional support that you would share?

Dr. g: Those are the starting points, I think, for right now. I think the one place I forgot is BEAM as well. Black Emotional and Mental Health collective. They also work with and they're doing a lot on gender inequities, especially black masculinity and just redefining how we look at how we define our community and how can we be more expansive. Those are what I'm thinking of right now. And I am not most up to date with my children's books, but I also recommend children's books for adults. I say this because there's a way that children's books are simple but simplicity is not just base–it is extremely complex and very direct. And so I find that those are really great portals for discussion. I've used them as discussion points for other people to name like, “okay, how can we talk about this matter” and use this book as a reference point.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I can see that that would be a way to kind of be a bit disarming in a conversation, too, because it's a children's book.

Dr. g: Yes. Yeah, 100%.

Dr. Joy: I like that idea. Where can people find you, Dr. g? What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Dr. g: My website is, I'm on Instagram at @garudagrin or @LiminalG and I'm on Twitter @FearlessCRG.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for sharing that and of course we will include those in the show notes. But I just want, for my own information... You mentioned the word liminal a couple of times, what is that?

Dr. g: Liminal is the space in between. So I am a death doula, I'm a yoga nidra teacher... And so with that, we're working with spaces of transition: the time between when you wake and when you fall asleep, the time when we finish this conversation and there's a gap and then you move to the next thing. There's something about the spaces in between that I feel that we rush through as a people and so I really help people to slow down during those times–gain information, learn what's coming up. It's also the space where we have the greatest opportunity for change. And so even within the context of my meditation teaching, we talk about a gap and the gap is the moment between what you notice and experience with your senses and when you give it labels.

In the same way that we're talking about constructs here: there's a moment you see something, you don't know what it is (there's a gap) and then you fill it in. So I'm like, what are we doing with that in-between space? How can we be more expansive in that in between space, to be in a space of questioning, in wonder, new experience, before we slap on labels and meanings? And that's where I feel like our nation is at, at this moment as well. That we have had a disruption and we are at a gap. Things are kind of forming back-ish and we may be slapping back on the same systems that we were using before, just so that we can feel a sense of less anxiety and uncertainty, but that may not be what we need. So can we hang out in the gap and allow for something else to arise? Be in the discomfort and discuss and talk, that's part of the magic of change, what comes from that space. So that's what I mean by liminal.

Dr. Joy: Oh, I love that. I feel like that is a whole nother episode.

Dr. g: Quite possibly!

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I agree with you. As you were talking, I was thinking about that is where we are now as a country, right? Like this post pandemic (if you will) that is not quite here yet, but the rush to kind of be normal again. And how capitalism really makes it difficult for us to be in that liminal space.

Dr. g: 100%. And so, yeah, I feel that that's a lot of the work that I'm doing with people right now. They want some sense of (I understand) stability but I'm being questioning, like, what do you want to be stable in? What have you learned of yourself in this gap of time where capitalism was kind of suspended, or people came together in a way that you never thought would happen, or you got to build something that you didn't think you'd have time for? Like, do you want to just drop that? So, yeah, I really want to stretch that space out. I could talk about that for hours as well.

Dr. Joy: I feel like we're gonna have to revisit this. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Dr. g. I really appreciate it.

Dr. g: Thank you, Dr. Joy, thank you.

Dr. Joy: I'm so grateful to Dr. g for joining us for this conversation. To check out Doc's work and the resources shared, visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode as well. Don't forget that if you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at

And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here