(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.