Casey Tanner is a queer-identified, pleasure-positive, intersectional therapist and activist committed to providing support and authenticity as folks with minority identities bravely navigate being human. She combines evidence-based guidance with tenderness and levity to create a therapeutic and educational spaces in which folks feel seen and understood.
Casey specialises in working with individuals and couples in the LGBTQ+ and poly/kink communities on concerns related to sex, gender, transition, relationships, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. She often works with folks with histories of physical, sexual, relational and/or spiritual trauma. She also provides training and education at organisations and universities in the Chicago area and beyond.
Welcome Casey, thank you for coming on board with us, can you introduce yourself to us?
Absolutely! I’m Casey Tanner, a queer gender and sex therapist in Chicago. I’ve recently also begun identifying as a pleasure activist, and mainly express that part of myself via Instagram. My work is mainly with queer, trans, gender non-conforming, poly and kinky folks who are looking for feel more energised and affirmed in their identities. My job also affords me the opportunity to teach about sex therapy, pleasure activism, and queerness at graduate schools around the country.
Can you talk us through the path you have pathed to where you are now as coach and sex therapist?
A surprise to most people, I went to an Evangelical Christian college where I had to sign a statement saying I would not be queer. In fact, my college girlfriend and I were both threatened with expulsion when we publicly dated. I majored in theology for my first two years and shifted to a psychology major in the latter part of college. Due to living out my minority sexual identity in this toxic environment, I struggled with mental health to the point that I sought out a therapist who eventually changed my life. She was also queer and extraordinarily affirming – I wanted to be her when I grew up, which was a major part of my pursuing this career. After graduation, I taught fourth grade through Teach for America and consistently found myself drawn to the socio-emotional part of my job over the academic.
I then went got my masters in counselling, seeking out coursework and internships that centred around sexual/gender diversity and trauma recovery. I trained at Center on Halsted, the largest LGBTQ community centre in the midwest. I then pursued post-graduate training at a private practice specialising in working with the queer, trans and POC folks. Finally, I’m currently at the University of Michigan’s Sexual Health Certificate Program, receiving supervision from some of the greatest names in the Sex Therapy field. I’m extremely fortunate to work at a private practice in which nearly all of my clients are queer, trans, or carry another diverse identity. My career most recently shifted to involve more teaching and training – I recently taught at Northwestern University, and will be teaching at the University of Louisiana next week!
What made you switch your primary focus to specialise within the LGBT and poly/kink community?
I feel that this focus chose me more than I chose it – therapists often joke that this is the case. Because of my identity as a queer person, as well as my openness about this, queer folks tended to be drawn to my profile. Word eventually got out that this was the work I was doing, and then the referrals became increasingly more queer, poly and kinky. I sought out further training to be a better therapist to these clients, and three years later, I feel very comfortable owning it as my specialty.
For those of us who are unsure, what does the poly/kink community cover?
So glad you asked! There are many misconceptions about these communities that are so harmful and stigmatising, and I actually feel there is so much non-poly and non-kinky folks can learn from these communities. Poly, or polyamory, is often defined as consensual non-monogamy – or an open, communicative agreement among partners that they’re open to loving more than one person. Depending on the person, polyamory can view a practice, lifestyle, identity or orientation. Kink is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of sexual and non-sexual fantasies, fetishes and activities. Being a poly and kink aware and knowledgeable therapist means that I am not only affirming of these identities but know enough that my clients will not have to educate me about the basics of their experiences with these identities.
Just like many of us, your clients are suffering in silence and often feel disconnected and overwhelmed. What would your advice be to someone in our readership going through similar situations like those you work with on?
Such a great point – most of us have at least one minority or stigmatised identity that we feel shame about. Whether it’s being a woman in a sexist culture, a person of colour in a racist world, or someone struggling with mental illness, we often feel unseen and misunderstood in one way or another. My encouragement would be to find someone who really sees you.
Even one person can be enough. Whether it’s a therapist, a facebook group, a pen pal, or a friend, identify the person who feels the safest to talk to about this part of yourself. Sometimes folks try to wait until they feel less shame about their identity to talk about it, but this actually can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Talking about it with someone affirming, and seeing their affirmation reflected back, is the thing that helps with shame. Of course, not everyone has the privilege of access to a person like this. Lack of insurance or lack of access to technology are often major barriers, and I want to recognise that.
Can you share with us a particular career highlight so far?
Yes! I’m just finishing up a six-week dance therapy group with a fabulous burlesque dancer named Crocodile Lightning. We have been teaching a group of about 10 transgender and transfemme women about how to be more attuned to their bodies and sensuality through movement. As a dancer myself, being able to make this type of work accessible to trans folks had been a dream of mine for years.
What negative aspects does your role also carry?
The beauty and challenge of being a therapist who shares a community and identities with my clients are that it can be more difficult to separate out my “stuff” from theirs. All therapists have to be thoughtful about walking the line of bringing too much of themselves and their experiences into the room, and this is exacerbated by clients who are similar to us. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t project onto my clients, so I’m seeking pretty constant supervision around navigating that overlap.
How are you working towards your own personal development?
I have been going to therapy for 10 years, and I will continue to seek out therapy throughout my life as needed. My brain, body, and heart are really the only tools I have for my work, so I take care of these parts of myself in an incredibly intentional way. I have many therapist friends who support each other in our personal growth, struggles with imposter syndrome, and desire to always be better for ourselves and our clients. Academically, I’m currently in the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate program working towards becoming an AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist. I have several hours of supervision monthly with experienced sex therapists who hold me accountable for continued growth. Finally, I’ve recently been pushing myself to be more active on a global scale through social media – this feels extremely vulnerable, but has been rewarding thus far!
How are you looking to grow and expand within the next 5 years?
My clients will always be my greatest priority, however, I would love to continue expanding as a teacher and trainer. I am currently working to make myself available to teach about diversity, pleasure, and queerness on a national scale. I am also working on taking on more responsibility at my practice, which means learning how to teach and train other folks to be better, more affirming therapists.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
You are accountable first and foremost to yourself, as the person you have to contend with in the mirror every day. We have some choice in how we develop our relationship to self, so it’s important to approach our bodies, hearts and minds with as much intentionality as we would give anyone else. Wherever you go, there you are.
Where are you looking to expand to next throughout 2019?
2019 is about expanding my vulnerability online. As a therapist, I am aware of the ways in which public vulnerability has the potential to impact my relationships with clients. As a speaker and activist, an online presence is feeling pretty essential to the work that’s important to me. 2019 will be about walking that line, and figuring out best practices/values surrounding my online presence.