The sounds of the fife and drum pulled me away from what I was doing like the insistent memory it was - one that keeps saying "don't forget where you came from". So, like I first did years ago, I left to follow the sounds of my ancestors.
Long ago, a kindly neighbor, (perhaps sensing my dilemma) took me to see my first St. Patricks Day Parade. I was a quirky 5 year old who sensed, but couldn't know the closet my parents were trapped in. All I knew was that something was off at home, that I adored art, music and dance, and that no one around me looked or acted like me. So I was beside myself to see people whose skin and hair looked like mine. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight red haired men wearing skirts and making music.
Days ago, just like years ago, a marshall at a bandstand said to the crowd: "We need to know our history so it can be told correctly." Years ago when I wanted to know where I came from, I would learn that "in this house we don't discuss those things". The day my mother slapped me for asking where the red hair came from was the day my I resolved to keep asking questions, despite the consequences. Why don't I look like anyone else in the family? What's wrong with dying the slipcovers purple? Why shouldn't men wear skirts?
I would go on to make friends with people who like me, who were not easily categorized: artists, odd balls, queers, trans and other mixed-race kids. It would take years to discover the family secrets, years to put what l discovered to good use.
An accident took me from a career in the arts one in psychotherapy, a career I was reluctant to enter, not for lack of a desire to help, but from a deep discomfort with the privilege it conferred. I cringed at the mainstream cliches of psychotherapy, unable to accept that being gay or kinky were diagnosable conditions requiring treatment. Once I entered the field, without ever asking for it to happen, kinky, quirky, queer, trans bi and other not easily categorized clients found me. Some of my colleagues judged me harshly for my support of sexual minorities.
I found solace and legitimacy in research. Deeply uncomfortable with popular image of the psychotherapist as a distant, judgmental expert and still obsessed with finding my ancestors, I found them in Family Therapy, a discipline separate and distinct from mainstream psychotherapy, its roots in biology and systems theory. Within the lineage of Family Therapy I found Solution Focused Brief Therapy, a way of working that matched who I am and how I think, characterized by curiosity, respect for clients and an unshakeable faith in their ability to discern what works for them. I was relieved to learn that Solution Focused therapists asked useful questions like:
- What really helps clients?
- What do they want?
- What does it look like?
- What differences would it make in their lives if it happened?
Using these question meant I didn't need to be an expert in anything but asking questions. Work got easier. My own history started to make sense, and can be told correctly.
I absolutely love a parade.