#MeToo: Being a survivor in psychology

Psygentra Director, Jemma Tosh, talks about her new chapter in the edited collection #MeToo: Counsellors and Psychotherapists Speak about Sexual Violence and Abuse.

[*Content Warning* - mention of sexual abuse and homophobia]

Video Transcript:

Psygentra: psychology done differently

#MeToo Book Launch

What is the chapter about?

[Jemma Tosh] The chapter is about the topics that I usually research about, so sexual abuse, gender, and sexuality, and how they all kind of interconnect in complicated and nuanced ways. What makes this one different is, it includes summaries or kind of overviews of academic work in that area but it intertwines that with my own personal experiences and reflection on that lived experience. So, the beginning of the chapter focuses on growing up and growing up in Northern Ireland as queer and genderfluid, and how that impacted on my experiences as being a survivor of sexual abuse as well. So how the, kind of, messages that I received about what sexual abuse is, what it is to be a survivor, and what it is kind of all intertwined with messages that I was receiving around sex and sexuality in general, and gender as well - because all the messages around sex and sexuality are also highly gendered. So, that it’s kind of what I argue in my academic work, but really showing through personal examples how you can’t separate those topics. You can’t talk about sexual abuse without talking about gender, without talking about sexuality, and for me it kind of highlights the problems with approaches that have a very binary way of thinking - both in terms of gender and assuming that there is only male and female and doesn’t really include trans voices or nonbinary or intersex perspectives, and also the binary of perpetrators, of assuming that women are victims and men are perpetrators. That when you assume everything is heteronormative, the voices that you’re silencing in that process as well, not only continues silencing queer voices but also queer survivors.

So, when I saw the call for chapters for this book I was like looking for an opportunity to do this for a while and this just seemed like the perfect one because I would be able to ‘academically come out’ as everything.

Why talk about your own experiences?

[JT] It’s interesting because when you start training in psychology you tend to learn statistics first and approaches that encourage you to be very objective, and not talk about yourself and to not use ‘I’ statements, but to y'know be factual and objective, and distant or as detached as possible really. And then I got my training in qualitative methods which was very different, it was about being transparent, it was about being reflective, and seeing how you interpreted that information, and what you were bringing to that, like a co-construction of knowledge and meaning and all that part of it. It was interesting because it took so long still to talk about my own personal experiences. I did that in my PhD but I kept it very private, it was discussions with examiners but it wasn’t something that I published about. So, there was this kind of conscious awareness for - later on in my research and publishing - that I was keeping a part of myself back. That, y'know, I would be writing about sexual abuse but as a survivor but not kind of stating that I was a survivor. And also, y'know, academically analysing texts regarding specific forms of sexual abuse that I had personally experienced and not drawing on that knowledge as well, became very, or just became more obvious over time and the other aspect was that I wasn’t ‘out’ - I wasn’t out as bisexual, I wasn’t out as nonbinary, so I was also writing about issues around gender, about transgender, about nonbinary, and again keeping that part back because of all the complexities and issues and risks around coming out on those things, both personally and professionally. So, when I saw the call for chapters for this book I was like looking for an opportunity to do this for a while and this just seemed like the perfect one because I would be able to ‘academically come out’ as everything.

How sympathetic and supportive are people going to be when they find out that some of my abusers were women? Will I be blamed for that because being queer is seen as ‘bad’ in this context?

What’s the key message?

[JT] I would say the key message in the chapter is complexity regarding sexual abuse - the importance of specifics in each individual case, that you can’t ge