Explore Your Gender(s) with Tarot and Art Therapy: New Workshop Idea

(This blog  post should be about the Idea, not a lot of other related topics.) I haven’t done a workshop in a while at a professional conference or elsewhere; I had done Altered Books several times and was out of ideas so I thought, maybe there are no other workshops I can do right now.

Today, while pondering work with non binary gendered clients, I thought of connecting the Tarot cards with exploring gender. Specifically The Wild Unknown Tarot deck.

I got this deck a month or two ago, inspired by a client brining in  photos of a Tarot reading.

Before this deck, I used the Ryder deck, which is the most common one. It’s got great imagery, but I was ready for something new and more aesthetically pleasing and inspiring. The Wild Unknown Tarot deck is beautiful and made by an artist. As soon as you see the cards, you get an itch to make a drawing! It’s powerful.

Also, this deck, instead of using Page, Knight, Queen and King for the Minor Arcana, uses Daughter, Son, Mother and Father, which is very useful for art therapy and using symbols and archetypes; the Ryder deck images can get crowded and thus complicated with a lot in one card, whereas Kim Krans, the Wild Tarot artist, has made simpler drawings that help me to focus on the Central Image of the card. Plus, she uses lines and mark making for the “background” that makes it evocative. With Tarot, you don’t just look at the central images of the card, you look at the card as a whole. In her deck, each card has a strong tone or environment, which adds to how one can imaginatively use Tarot.

Tarot is for me a road to open the imagination, and art therapy is in a big part, about the imagination, and as the art therapist, knowing how to use my imagination to further whatever my client is focused on or working through at the moment.

Tarot in Art Therapy: In art therapy, the cards are not about fortune telling and big spreads. I use the cards in a very specific way, as with any art “material”, depending on the client. Most of the time I don’t use them. Sometimes someone is talking about something and a Tarot image connected to their words comes to mind. I might not even show the client the card. I might describe it or not. First it helps me to crystalize what is going on in the session through an image. I have a few clients who know the deck and bring cards up directly in the session. Examples of using Tarot would be another blog post.

Tarot and Gender: I have said that you can treat your relationship with your own gender and with gender as you might with a dream you have and wake up from. Imagine you are everyone and everything in the dream. Some characters in your dream may be people with specific genders. There may be animals or other creatures in the dream that have no gender or have a feminine or masculine energy. The environment of the dream can be considered the environment of your psyche at this point in your life or this moment. Even if you don’t think the other people in the dream are you, you can still imagine that they are, to see how it is for you to inhabit other genders than the one you identify as. Some people find this to be a useful tool as a conduit to exploring their relationship to gender and with their own gender(s) or non gender.

The workshop will be aimed at therapists and other healers who are working with clients with a diversity of gender and gender identity. It needs to first be established that when a client tells you about their gender, they are alone the expert on it. They are only confused if they tell you they are. If they have discovered something new, you need to honor their discovery, whatever it may be. You have to look at whether you yourself are confused by your client’s identity and learn how to unconfused yourself, especially if your own confusion or judgments are getting in the way of working with your client. For example, the pronouns client prefers are what they prefer and are extremely important. If you’re having trouble switching to “they” or from “she” to “he” or “ze”, that’s yours to examine. It may be that if the client is introducing new information about their gender identity, you got used to one pronoun and have to now get used to a different one, as you may also be required to get used to the client’s new name, if it has changed during this process. Or you may be getting in your own way, distracted by your own ideas/point of view/judgments, and the pronoun can help steer you back in the client’s direction.

You as therapist function as a witness to the client’s process about their gender identity. Each person has a unique process, so staying in the learning more zone is the place to be for quite a long time. When a client switches from a “NOT ME” gender to a “YES ME” gender, it is a rebirth you are witnessing. It is a big switch from a cruel invalidating environment that kept this person in the wrong gender to being born again as they know they really are and can now more fully be who they are, not who they are told to be, not who they have to be to keep themselves safe from real dangers in the outside environment, but who they really are. It is very important the your client have a lot of validating support from others, and they may built themselves a wonderfully tolerant accepting and non judgment environment already. You as their therapist need to be part of this, so you need to notice when you’re going into the judgment and invalidating ideas in your mind.

Speaking of learning more, we as therapists need to examine our own relationship to gender before even examining our “YES ME” gender. What kinds of messages based on the rigid Binary construct of gender have you gotten in your life about the male/female genders? Have you felt limited by your gender? Are you able to imagine yourself as the “opposite” gender if you identify as cisfemale or cismale? What associations do you have with the concepts of masculine, masculinity, feminine, femininity?

In the workshop, participants will write down answers to these questions and bring up any other questions that arise in the process.

Then the magic of Tarot! We will use the cards to further our knowledge of our own gender identity or identities through using the cards and the images on the cards. If the workshop is 5-10 people, we can use one or two decks, if bigger each table will need a deck.

People will have an opportunity to pick three cards, one representing masculinity inside you, one femininity inside you or yin yang energy if that expresses it more accurately. The third card is kind of the Synthesis of the Thesis and Antithesis in your gender identity process. Art and images are inherently transformative, so these Tarot cards will be markers for you personally and will aid in your own transformation in terms of your attitudes towards gender and your gender identity.

Lastly, people will get to spend some amount of time in pairs, one as therapist, one as client, and then switch places. In this example, as a client you choose any gender that does not match your own and imagine you are that gender as the client. The therapist role means you stay with what you are. Then you switch places. During this part of the workshop, the client may choose to look for a card they like in the deck or to choose randomly. Then therapist facilitates client’s exploration of the cards imagery in connection to their own gender identity or relationship to gender.

Thus, the Main Goal of this workshop is to aid therapists to work more non judgmentally with their client’s expression of and gender identity, and also to get more acquainted with their judgments and attitudes that could become counter transference if not brought to the therapist’s awareness. It also aims to expand participant’s ideas about and concepts of gender and to demonstrate how art and imagination and images can help us to learn more about gender identity and move away from any rigid old ideas or attitudes that invalidate the client and could get in the way of the therapeutic process.

Karen Pence and Art Therapy

Karen Pence has “chosen” promoting Art Therapy Awareness as her cause du jour in her role as spouse of vice president.

This is not a good fit for Art Therapy for many reasons. IT IS A BAD FIT FOR US.

Number 1: You are doing this as the vice president’s spouse, Second Lady, the sexist antiquated term. (FYI, Why don’t you start with getting rid of the First Lady Second Lady insulting labels?) Thus, we cannot separate you from the Vice President or the Administration and its policies. You as Second Lady, are representing people who want to build more barriers to all kinds of rights for minorities of every kind. As a Gender Non Conforming art therapist who works with people personally negatively affected by your administration’s racism, sexism, anti LGBTQ policies, I vote that you pick a different cause involving the healing power of art,.

Number 2: You don’t know enough or maybe you know nothing about current 2018 trends in art therapy and needs of art therapists. You haven’t even lobbied for a License for Art Therapists in the state you were Governor’s Wife Lady of. You haven’t mentioned the License Issue. You don’t seem aware that we need to have the same kind of licenses as LCSW in terms of EVERY STATE should have an “LCAT”. Make that happen and then at least you’ve actually done something very extremely important for us. And Medicaid should include us as providers.

Number 3: Put your money where your mouth is: Picking Causes to Raise Awareness equals the cause, what ever it is, needs more money. Art Therapists are not paid what they’re worth. Why don’t you spend time investigating pay discrimination at hospitals, schools and agencies towards art therapists? Do something to change that. That’s what Art Therapy Awareness is a lot about.

Number 4: Population. Yes, you’ve picked worthy but safe populations to promote the wonderful things art therapy has done specifically for such people. The wrong populations to FOCUS on. Read 2015 National Geographic that had art therapy with military personnel on their cover, AROUND 3 YEARS AGO. You have not done your homework and you have not CAUGHT UP. You are pointing your focus to the wrong issues and the wrong populations. You are not fit to promote art therapy with LGBTQQI and Alternate Lifestyle Choices, for example.

In sum that last sentence says it all for all four points.

KAREN PENCE HAS NOT DONE HER HOMEWORK ON ART THERAPY IN 2018 AND WHAT TO RAISE AWARENESS OF. SHE HAS NOT CAUGHT UP. SHE IS NOT IN 2018. KAREN: Go pick a different art related cause and don’t forget to raise money for whatever it is while yapping about its benefits.

And I stand with Art Therapists BOYCOTTING the American Art Therapy Association’s acceptance and linkage with Pence. After 20 years of membership, I refuse to pay membership dues and will not be a member of AATA until something is done about the above.

Phew. Done!


Here are the topics I came up with for posts, based on the overwritten drafts of the week:

Karen Pence and Art Therapy

Gender Identity and Invalidating Environments

Symptoms Caused by Invalidating Environments vs other Symptoms

Russian Language reBOOT after 30 years

Being Jewish

Neuro diversity

Mental Illness as Disability?

Short Posts, for Real!

In the past week, I’ve written several unfinished blog posts. I unpublished the one about Karen Pence and Art Therapy.

Since my ADHD really gets in the way of me writing coherent brief and well written posts, I’m making a rule to make very short posts.

This one is just to say that maybe it will help me focus and feel confident people understand my writing, as it is often too disorganized and wordy.

The Magic of Tidying Up: Between the Lines

I started a post about the “irrelevant” part of this very “trendy” trend setting book and ended up a few lines in talking about death. This happened with another draft that was a kind of new artist’s statement. I think it’s more to do with the act of writing than any real experience of death. Writing goes with memory. Writing for someone like me, with a very bad short and long term memory, or a very random memory of the irrelevant, is permission to remember whatever I want and make up the rest.

Writing is kind of its own version of memory. It’s like the title “In Search of Lost Time” or maybe it means a specific “time lost”. The only time capsule I have is to use writing to get to that time period. It’s a time machine that doesn’t really go anywhere but your think you just jumped into 1985.

Painting can be like that but not so specifically. It’s more like an archeological dig and involves the finding of weird rare artifacts, using them in some piece of art, digging something else up, putting back what you thought was rare and was not important, digging down and up at the same time, or just hiding all the artifacts and adding more layers to the dig, which I guess could be digging upwards- the opposite of digging up. Making layers on a painting or using old drawings in collage, all that is much more fun than writing. When I thought I had to choose between being an artist or a writer, I chose artist partly because it was much more unfamiliar. There is not much mystery to writing. The process may be weird, but basically writer’s write. Being an artist is much more like being in a fun house because it’s way more fun, at least for me. Being away from words is a huge relief. I also chose art because of something else, maybe judgment and fear of judgment or freedom. Being an artist means making stuff that is very hard to pin down and judge, figure out what’s wrong or insincere or boring, have to edit out and shape. you just get some materials and play and worry about whether it’s good or not another day. When others see my art, they usually just have interest and aren’t sure why one piece may seem more compelling than another. As an artis, I am aware of competing with myself, whereas as a writer, you’re competing with a high standard and it’s easy to get crushed by judgment. At least for me. Someone can pick up your pages, and read them and tell you they didn’t even read more than the first page. You can’t just see a corner of a painting, but you can read two sentences and decide to put down the book or piece of writing on paper.

Writing is not archeological for me. It feels like playing in the sand box, jumping in excitedly, feeling like everything in there is new and fun, building a weird clumsy looking bizarre sandcastle and enjoying it, then having to leave it and go home to dinner. I come back the next day and sometimes the sandcastle just disappeared; more often I look at it and need to step on it and destroy it; then I get fed up immediately with the sand castle and forget what it even looked like. Then I’ve got sand on me and in my socks and shoes and just want to wash it off as quickly as possible and go find something else to do.

Then maybe the loss part is, you kind of remember the sand castle but it’s hazy, you suddenly remember that particular sand box and that sand, you miss it and try to find it but it’s gone, so you make another sandbox that you’re trying to make it like the lost dead one; the whole thing just doesn’t work out and you’re left with a feeling of Fuck it so you just  sit in the sandbox you made that doesn’t look like the really great one you lost, throw sand around and cover yourself up in sand or dig a huge hole.

Writing in one probably cliche metaphor. Doing that repeatedly can be downright torturous and exhausting.

I can clearly remember the writer’s notebook I found during my first Kondo “Tidying Up” frenzy two years ago. It was a regular Meade notebook with a green cover, spiral bound. There was a short poem or paragraph in there somewhere written on the left side of the page as I wrote on both sides, where I’m comparing writing to something and the teacher has written something like yes, interesting or some encouraging phrase. I was in 11th grade in a writing class.

Unfortunately soon after the excitement of finding that notebook in the late fall of 2016, I had the brilliant idea to bring it to my therapist, which worked out fine, kind of a show and tell session. I did hear an outside person say to me, “what possessed you to bring that to therapy anyway?” clearly not a let’s play show and tell in therapy kind of person, which a lot of people are. Not everyone is still in first grade or 7 in the session. Of course I had very good reasons as a writer to want to bring it to therapy. I was coming out of yet another weird writer identity “closet”. It seems that coming out of the writer closet is a bizarre thing for me of going into other closets and weird rooms and thinking I’ve come out only to see another door  to open. It’s like a fifth dimension closet.

The notebook also had my best photo taken in high school, black and white of course and developed in the dark room my sister made at our house, of my kitchen clock which was backwards in the photo. Stupidly I left it in there. Then I went to Home Depot, got some paint and heavy stuff and left the bag with the notebook and my special Zojirushi coffee thermos in the bag. I tried desperately to retrace steps and do all the stuff you do, call the MTA Lost and Found, run to the next station. Both it and the thermos and the Tote Bag had vanished. I hope a housless person sleeping on the subway had an enjoyable read and now has very hot coffee that stays hot for 7 hours at least.

Writing and coffee go together. How fitting to lose both. Over a few cans of paint.

I wouldn’t have cared if it was just a diary type of journal, but it was a time capsule specifically giving me a window into my teenage self as a developing writer with the comments of my English and writing teacher sprinkled throughout. Your reader is always important but really super Important if you’re really young and just discovering your voice or writing as a process. She was encouraging throughout and also stepped into therapist territory when I wrote some more real stuff that probably disturbed her.

I remember a bunch of stuff I wrote in there, but I want to remember the poem I wrote about writing as a process because writing is such a strange monster haunted house torture chamber process for me and because, as a writer I like to read about what writing is like for other writers. This 1984/85 me was a different writer from me now but connected to it. I think I wrote a poem repeating the phrase “Writing is like…” over and over and putting something in it but I can’t remember what. It may have had something to do with leaves and raining. Something very different from a sandbox.