Queer theory as a resource for therapists by Julie Tilsen

Julie Tilsen is the author of the book ‘Therapeutic conversations with queer youth: Transcending homonormativity and constructing preferred identities‘. In the first part of this video, Julie discusses queer theory as a theoretical resource for therapeutic practice. Next, Julie talks with Jayson, a transgender young person, about his experience navigating the limitations of the gender binary within a heteronormative and homonormative world. Questions for self-reflection are included and viewers are invited to write reflections to Jayson.


For more information about Julie’s work see her website 

Published May 1, 2015

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Loretta Pederson

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks so much for sharing these ideas, and your conversation with Jayson. I appreciate Jayson speaking about his experience in the world, especially given that even by discussing heteronormativity and homonormativity in a public space, he is being exposed to more judgement by these forces.

    I have had discussions with people who have felt judged or excluded within the LGBTQIA community, and have thought about starting another community. It is scary to speak about your own identity when even people in the LGBTQIA community have expectations of what are okay or normal expressions of identity. More recently, and particularly amongst young people, I have noticed a growing sense of it being acceptable to form a more fluid or non-specified identity. I attended a training day at a queer counselling service, and they were speaking about some people taking a stance against being labelled a particular gender or sexual identity. To me this feels liberating, as I don’t understand why our society boxes people into fixed identities, and polices these so strongly.Why do some people feel threatened by others being different? The counselling service had the line ‘A place to be you’ on their signs and pamphlets, and I really liked this. I’ve been trying to think of ways I can be more supportive or make space available for people expressing themselves differently in the world. I appreciate your video and the questions you asked Jayson, and I think this will help me on my journey as a therapist and a community member.

    After reading Andrew’s comment, I agree that a sense of belonging is important to many people, but perhaps he and I are coming at this from different theoretical perspectives…

    Thanks again Julie and Jayson.


  2. Andrew Tyson

    Hello Julie

    I find your brief video interesting, but I wonder whether the whole premis is flawed? I wonder why there is a need for ‘Queer Theory’; not in the sense that ‘Queers’ as a descriptor claimed by a certain part of the population, or the people whom so selve describe should not exist, but simply because we are all human beings.

    The young person you interveiwed first mentioned that he (I didn’t take note of the prefered socially generated gender term taken by the individual, thus the use of ‘he’) was disappointed in his experience of the ‘trans’ (shorthand for LBGT) community, in that it had not been more accepting of his particular choices of his gender expression; particularly given that much of this community had experienced in the past such descrimination by the heterosexual community. However, I don’t think it is surprising at all; but simply a demonstration of what it is to be a human being – of which, it seems (from my own observations and experiences – and Hollywood makes great use of this characteristic as plot enhancers in many movies) that one of the tendencies is to form coherent (all alike) type groups and communities, and be intolerant of those whom don’t fall within the prescribed ‘expected’ (normative) limits. History is full of such intollerance and persecution of minority groups. Its not surprising that a minority group persecutes the members that form a minority of its majority.

    This is in fact one of the reasons why I think to specialise in ‘Queer’ theory and therapies is to miss the point.

    One of the other issues raised by the young chap was his expectation to be respected; which I interpreted as an expression that he wanted to be loved as he is and for who he is – another aspect of what it appears to me to be a human being. We all want to be loved for who we are (a major generalization, but I suspect true for the majority case anyway).

    A difficulty with such hopes occurs when people want to be loved and accepted for choices and practices that the majority disapprove of. As an extreme example, I have worked with people whom are convicted paedophiles (a somewhat socially constructed term used to generally indicate in our current context an adult that has been convicted for having had sexual interactions with children) in a supported accommodation unit setting. Some of these people just want to be loved and accepted for whom they are, including their sexual tendencies – i.e. their desire to be sexually invovled with children rather than other adults. Society does set standards and norms which reflect the generally culturally accepted practices of the community; and I would personally propose that this is a good thing, in general. The matter of determining what limits there should be, and what barries should be removed is a human issue; not an issue pertaining to a particular group. Will humanity ever reach a point where all standards and norms are right for everybody (a suitable balance that enables sufficient freedom for difference while not throwing away all limitations) – I suspect not. Still, the study of what it is to be a human being, the strengths and the weaknesses, the way to live a life that provides everyone with the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential, is fascinating and worth studying. I don’t think the narrow vision of psychology or psychiatry has any chance; and the expansion into the realm of philosophy is necessary.

    Anyway, just thought I’d throw the above ideas in the mix.


    Andrew Tyson

    1. Charley Lang

      My understanding is that ‘Queer Theory” does not seek to address a particular group within the population, but rather, seeks to challenge the appropriateness of normative thinking. Queer theory to me means the willingness to think audaciously: to be “unrestrained by existing ideas”. Perhaps most helpful if we think in terms of verb-ing the word queer. Anything can be queered: we can queer literature, queer history, queer politics, and most certainly, we can queer the construction of identities.

      Just saying…

    2. Dulwich

      hi Andrew,

      I have only just seen your post as otherwise would have responded earlier. I’m not sure if you know of the long history of paedophilia being raised whenever attempts are made to question heterosexual dominance? This happens so often it gets a bit wearying. In fact, I’d even see this as one of the common ‘tactics/practices’ of heterosexual dominance. The other is to make reference to sexual relations with animals and is equally wearying.

      Can you imagine the opposite happening .. if any time someone mentioned heterosexual couple relations people quickly made mention of non-consensual heterosexual sexual assaults? In a way that made a parallel between heterosexuality and sexual assault?

      In relation to your other point, within narrative practice there is an ethical posture of evaluating the effects of any and all practices. The practice of adult sexual relations with children and other non-consensual sexual acts between adults have profound effects … particularly profound negative effects for those who are subjected to these acts of power/abuse.

      But consensual loving relations between adult people of the same gender have no such negative effects (of course there can also be abuse within same sex relations but this is not due to the same sex relation!).

      So these are completely different ethical realms.

      I don’t see any parallel.

      There is a separate ethical realm of how to respond to those who have been ‘convicted for having had sexual interactions with children’. And there are thoughtful narrative papers and articles about this.

      Within narrative practice we are never just ‘affirming’ people’s identity claims without an awareness of how any identity claim will have effects for that person and for others. That would be extremely fraught … and certainly profoundly fraught in terms of identity claims of ‘paedophilia’.

      I hope these responses make sense.

      David Denborough

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