Dr. Sand Chang (they/them/their) is a Chinese American nonbinary clinical psychologist, DEI consultant, and somatic psychotherapist with more than 20 years of experience providing training and mental health services in a variety of settings, including the corporate sphere, startups, community mental health, university counseling, public schools, nonprofits, and medical centers. As a DEI trainer/educator and consultant, Dr. Sand strives to bring an intersectional, trauma-informed perspective to help workplaces create inclusive and psychologically safe(r) environments.
This episode we discuss
🌈Understanding the value of lived experience
🌈Trans-masc and non-binary body image and acceptance barriers
🌈Misgendering and other sources of minority stress
Episode edited and produced by Unapologetic Amplified
This transcript was generated with the help of AI. Becoming a supporting member helps us improve accessibility and pay equitable wages for things like human transcription.
Have you ever wondered why almost all the health and wellness information you see out there is so white, cis able-bodied and het? I know I have. And as a queer black registered dietitian, I gotta tell you, I'm not into it. I believe health and happiness should be accessible to everyone. That is precisely why I wrote Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation and why I host Body Liberation for All.
The road to health and happiness has a couple of extra steps for chronically stressed people, like queer folks and folks of color. But don't worry, my guests and I have got you covered. If you're ready to live the most fierce, liberated, and joyful version of your life, you are in the right place.
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Dalia: I'm so happy to have you here. I am always looking for people who are focusing on serving LGBTQIA plus people, preferably BIPOC but it's sometimes really hard to find, I don't know if this happens as much for other folks of color, but among Black folks, the homophobia is next level and the transphobia is like - it just makes you wanna gouge your eyes out. And so, you may struggle just to find a BIPOC person who offers the healing services that you need, but then finding one that's not gonna be transphobic intentionally or unintentionally, cuz that's just not their focus, it's not their interest, it really is a whole nother layer.
It's so exciting to see that you're out here leading with your marginalized identities. How did you get to this point? Because I know for me it wasn't overnight. How do you feel like being a Chinese American person and a non-binary person influenced your worldview?
Dr. Sand: Oh gosh. I mean, that's a big question. I kind of wanna go back cuz what you, something you just said was so real. Like just, you know, within our own communities facing these different aspects of white supremacy, colonialism, oppression, and yeah, you don't have to be white to enact white supremacy. You don't have to, you know, it's like all this stuff is in the air and we're indoctrinated into these systems.
And so, it's sometimes so hard to find like a truly intersectional liberation space and you know, to go to your question, I don't know that I, like ever thought to myself, oh, I wanna do this kind of work. I, I think I just like, as a young person, was really interested in people and trying to understand people and trying to understand dysfunction, to be honest.
you know, the dysfunction that was around me. And I don't even wanna use that language, you know, I kind of feel like that's, in some ways amidst language, but like, let's say like the chaos that that, that I witnessed and wanted to understand. And in coming into these like professionalized spaces, people would come to me and say like, oh, like you, you're Asian.
Like, tell me about Asian people. Or, oh, you're queer. Tell me about queer people.
Dalia: Like all of the Asian people??
Dr. Sand: be the spokesperson, right? And so that's like that burden of representation and the burden of needing to, to, I don't know, somehow be an expert, even if I'm not an expert. I mean, how could I possibly be an expert on all things Asian?
Dalia: How could one person know all the things about the global majority? Yeah. Like at this point, I don't understand how anybody's., when you really think about it from a global majority perspective, I feel like the response should be, I don't know, get a book like these are really old cultures, it's beyond one person's ability to kind of summarize something so vast, and why should one person have to school people on what the global majority is up to?
Dr. Sand: Right, right. So, there's these expectations. There are a gazillion invitations to be on everyone's diversity committee and all the trauma of those experiences. And there's just the ways that my lived experience shaped me to not be an expert on any kind of population, but to kind of know how to navigate or know what to expect when I'm interacting with these really fucked up systems, right? And so, like, sometimes I say like,I'm not expert on trans people, you know, being a non-binary trans person.
I wouldn't ever say I'm an expert on this, but I do think, like I do have a lot of expertise navigating systems of transphobia and especially working within trans health and working in systems that really enact all these colonialists and white supremacist, you know expectations around gender and gender expression and bodies.
So anyway, I don't know if that's exactly answering the question, but yeah, I didn't, you know, wake up one day and think like, I wanna be a DEI consultant, you know, like, it's actually not really easy work. And sometimes I think it's impossible work. And then I have another part of me that's like, oh no, like there's this hope and there's this vision there for a different kind of world, and how could I contribute to co-creating that in whatever small ways that I can.
But yeah, a lot of days it's, it's hard.
Dalia: It's helpful to hear that from somebody who's been doing this work for so long, because I know, I see all the time things that I want to help maybe individual clients with over time it becomes obvious that it can't be solved on an individual level, it can only be coped with and so, then you feel drawn to try and push against the systems. And so, things like DEI consulting,it feels like a natural step, but then once you actually get into these spaces you don’t find it as positive as you’d hoped.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about like, what is the trauma you experience in these oppressive contexts that don't even.
what they're doing. And then what is the trauma or the pain of being in performative DEI spaces, like situations where people or organizations try to use white supremacy to solve white supremacy. So, like that's just kind of like encapsulates 2020 up to today.
Dalia: Yeah. Like this, the racial reckoning that was, it was so frustrating while we were in, it was people acting like no one had ever tried to bring these issues to light.
And I'm like, oh, I'm sorry. What? You missed the entire 1960s.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. Yeah.
Dalia: And for people to say they wanted people to express their frustration and heartbreak in a particular way and kept propping up MLK, as this is the proper way for marginalized people to say, stop killing us. And when I refresh people's memory, I'm like, okay and he said it politely the way you wanted him to and what happened to him? How did that end?
There's no way to tell people who are deeply invested in white supremacy the reality of what it does to people, and it be palatable. Like it just isn't if you're attached to it and deeply invested in it.
There’s no way we can say it that would make it easy to swallow. Yeah. And it was just interesting to me how quickly people. Put everything aside. And I don't think I ever noticed, and it could have just been me not paying enough attention, how frequently people will pick up on a social justice movement that's existed for decades and will have to continue to exist because true change has not happened.
But how corporations, businesses, people who aren't directly affected by the problem will act as though they can only focus on one issue at a time. So, when people had BLM on their mind, they were like, oh, anti-Asian violence I can't, I can't understand. I, I, I don't understand how all these issues are connected, and we're only gonna put up, we support Asian folks on these days, and then the other days, we'll pretend we don't hate Black people, and then we'll just rotate.
Dr. Sand: We all just get a month, you know?
Dalia: Yeah. And, and what, how, how do you deal with that as a DEI practitioner.
Dr. Sand:I mean, I really, I really make it clear that I'm interested in having conversations about collective liberation. And so, people are always surprised because oftentimes companies or organizations might latch onto one aspect of my identity, and that's why they've reached out.
They're like, we're looking for an Asian person, or we're looking for a trans person. And then when I come in and I wanna talk about something else, I wanna talk about neurodivergence, or I wanna talk about anti-blackness, they're like, whoa, you know, they like. So, it's just the limitations, you know, the ways that folks are trained.
And I think it is white supremacy like this, like singularity single-minded and, and you know, and intolerance for multiplicity or that kind of complexity, which is human experience.
So yeah my mind is just swirling as I'm thinking about what you said about like, there have been movements for decades longer, there's ancestors, there's no expert that can be hired to come in and, and solve a problem and be like the savior for any organization.
And I think that's oftentimes the expectation is like, can you come and fix this? Except for, we don't wanna tell you about all the shady things that we've been doing and all the things that our employees have already been telling us, because those folks are the experts. Right?
And so, I'm always interested in, okay, well what do people who have these identities here have to say about it?
Cuz that's more than my discovery call could tell me about your organization. So yeah, just like all these histories, and not even histories, but like current lived experiences that get erased because of like very classist, elitist systems of professionalizing and exporting.
So yeah, I go in, I do this work and I'm also like really aware of how challenging it is sometimes to hold that.
Like how do I hold this with care, with respect, in a way that's aligned with my values.
Dalia: And you mentioned earlier that it can be traumatic to be in performative DEI spaces, how do you explain what trauma is?
Because I've heard some people, especially lately who feel like all millennials, even us old elder millennials, that they continually, I don't know when people will stop thinking millennial means young person, but anyway, but people who accuse millennials, Gen Z, people on the cusp, of being snowflakes and being hypersensitive, have had a lot to say about how much people are wanting to explore what trauma really means.
So how could you possibly experience trauma in a professional business setting? You know, you're sitting there with fluorescent lighting and what does trauma really mean?
Dr. Sand: What is trauma? I mean, oh, there's so many different ways to look at it in definitions.
I know what I don't believe, I don't believe that trauma is how it's defined in our current psychiatric and medical systems that say, oh, it was a discreet event. It was life-threatening, you know, these extremes that then serve to deny all the other forms of trauma or other gradations of trauma that people experience.
I think a lot about what was so overwhelming to our systems, whether it's our, how we think about like our internal parts systems or our nervous systems, so overwhelming that it could not be processed at the time. And that there are things that are still held in our psyches, in our, in our bodies, in how we move through the world how we see ourselves.
So, I think about it broadly, as a spectrum.
We don't just heal trauma quickly. There is no thing that can happen. There is no acronym that can fix trauma right there. It's about slowing down. It's about listening. It is about that attunement and having the space. And some of this is challenging because healing spaces or healing practices can be really hard to access.
And so, there's access issues. There's also, when we're looking for spaces where we want to heal trauma, we get re-traumatized. So, these even models that are really effective at healing trauma, they're coming from people who are enacting harmful ideas.
Sometimes it's through cultural appropriations, sometimes it's through just denying that there's a cultural context and that we are just organisms with a nervous system.
So that's something that I feel really passionate about is how do we look towards ways to make healing more accessible and also to challenge systems that really kind of continue to perpetuate under the guise of trauma healing.
Dalia: Yeah,I mean, I know that's one of the things that should set a therapist apart is that a therapist typically, well I'm saying this is a layperson, would have the ability to minimize any damage that could occur when you're re-experiencing or retelling something that was overwhelming for you at the time.
And that's usually something that other people wouldn't have the ability to do. That's my understanding that that's one of the hallmarks of the difference between going to someone who has the ability to hold your hand while you're experiencing things from the past versus maybe some different kind of healer that maybe could help you with things from the present and moving forward, but wouldn't have the capacity to stop you from being farther harmed when you go backwards and look at things that traumatized you, is that one of the distinctions for you when you think about the difference between what a therapist has the power to do versus others?
Dr. Sand: Well, a couple things. One is that, that the word trauma can be so loaded and so pathologized, right? Just the way that I was taught, you know, 20 years ago when I was going through school, like the word trauma was, it always kind of came with this assumption that it was a person's fault, that they were traumatized.
Dalia: like they couldn't handle it well. Yeah. Like, oh, they have trauma, you know, like, and you know, I can think of so many experiences like that where it was just like the, its very victim blaming, right? And so, there's that, and a lot of therapists or healers, I wouldn't say healers, like, like I would say mainstream trained therapists who say, oh, I don't work with trauma.
I'm like, oh, wow, what is that?
Dalia: Oh, I didn't know you avoid it.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. Like, how do you interact with a client. I don't understand, you know? Like, are you working with just real privileged people that have never experienced trauma? So, I was always just like, oh, that's so weird to me.
Like, oh, I don't work with trauma. And then there's the other piece of it is that, most mainstream education for therapists actually teaches a lot of harm, harmful stuff, and I have spent much of my career on learning the things that I learned. And, and so either person are taught harmful things are, they don't actually unlearn the harmful things that they've grown to believe are true.
And then within the context of, let's say, a psychotherapy, harm happens because therapy is a microcosm of the bigger world. However, there's a power dynamic. And there's a way in which like that kind of harm really sticks with someone, right? Because they're going to someone who's supposed to know and I'm not really interested in therapists as the expert on someone else's lived experience, but that's how oftentimes people approach it, right? And for lots of reasons, like I notice that certain folks come to me because culturally they have been told that a doctor is supposed to know things.
And, and you're supposed to, you know, be really like, really defer to anything that that person says or that they must know the truth when in fact most their, all therapists are human. And most of us struggle with our own stuff. Everyone has their own biases. So that kind of harm happens. And I can list off a gazillion examples.
I won't do that, but yeah, that I've heard either from friends or clients, or that I've experienced myself.
Dalia: Hmm. Now, how do you navigate the unlearning? Because one thing that I know is true across the board in all kinds of fields, none of us were taught during our training how to make space for people like us and certainly not for neurodivergent people, other marginalized folks that are still so overlooked, just never centered in education and in the media in general. And people just forget, like, this person could be your client too, and what worked for this neurotypical person maybe wouldn't be appropriate for this person.
And what do you do when the information was not available to you, when you were trained? But we live in a world where lived experience is so devalued. If you learn it on your own, sometimes it feels like it's not real or it's not good enough. Or you maybe worry, I'm projecting, I worry sometimes that someone's gonna ask me to prove like, how do you actually know this when I definitely know it from, you know, 40 plus years of being on the planet, but maybe can't point to a study to validate it.
How do you navigate that? How do you pull in your lived experience and find a way to pull information together that no one has laid out for you?
Dr. Sand: Hmm. There's so many things. There's so many things. Everything. There's so many. Okay. So let me just pause and just say like, just even that lens of like, I need to know the things.
I need to give you a study that usually, like I have to give you a research study that tells us the things that we already know, but now it justifies it. I really am trying to step and move away, from that, which I was very much socialized to, to operate in that kind of system of, you have to sound smart, you have to know all the things, you have to, to prove yourself all that, and to go to what is lived experience and what is the wisdom of our bodies.
I don't believe that my body lies to me. Sometimes I get some information that I'm like is that totally, you know, like, so, so yeah, I gotta check it out and listen, but, you know, like getting away from this way that we pedestal, academia and pedestal having to know things or kind of operate in ways that support subjugating the body.
Like the mind is everything. Rationality is everything. Reason is everything. So just trying to move away from that. And a lot of times when I am providing trainings, I'm aware that I'm offering some knowledge and people are very kind of hungry and thirsty for that knowledge. And then in the Q and A, what happens is people want more of the tell me what to do, the right or wrong kind of stuff.
Like there's this pull towards, if I memorize the things, then I'll get the right answer on the test and that's not how life works and that's not how relationship works.
I often say this, don't memorize me, don't memorize that my pronouns are they/them. I want you to have the flexibility in how you're seeing things or knowing that you might, your perspective might not be a hundred percent true.
It might be a little true. It might be a lot true. It might be, but it's not a hundred percent true. And so, what I'm most interested in is like capacity to pause, reflect, have some kind of critical awareness or understanding capacity to have humility. Those are the things that I'm really interested in.
And not here, let me just tell you a bunch of facts that you memorize so that you can be a good white person or a good cis person, or a good straight person, or whatever the case is.
Dalia: That is such an intense desire that I see in almost everybody that you don't feel safe being wrong, and I don't know if that comes from at some point, apparently in everyone's childhood, people got humiliated or criticized for being wrong and they just don't ever wanna feel that way again.
And it's so hard to get it out of your system, you know it's not productive. You hear all this stuff about a growth mindset and how great it is to have it, but here you are as an adult trying to change something that's so deeply ingrained in you, you don't remember when you learned it. Why is it so hard to let go of things we learned so early in life. We don't recall.
Dr. Sand:Yeah. Oh, okay. I just laughed when you said growth mindset cuz that's such a corporatized way that like people are like, teach us the growth mindset, you know, give it to us. It's a commodity.
And I think, how I wanna answer the question kind of ties into my approach to doing trauma work and mental health work, which is parts work. And the specific school of parts work that I practice is called Internal Family Systems or IFS and I could go on and say a lot about it, but I'll just tell you a little bit about just the way that we see, like how sometimes different parts of us get formed to protect us as a result of experiencing trauma.
So, when we see in a person this like, need to be, right, and I have that part, by the way, I absolutely have that part because I grew up in a family where that was valued. And you win, you win if you're right. A lot of times those parts are protecting us because of ways that we've been harmed, ways that we've been hurt.
Like there was a consequence to not knowing. There was being teased or being not taken seriously, you know, whatever the case. And sometimes much more serious consequences to not knowing or just being someone who doesn't always like show up or present themselves in the world as like, I got it all together.
So, I think a lot of people are moving around with parts that are like, not allowing them to just say, I don't know. Let me think about that. You might be right.
Dalia: Oh, that's really helpful. I see featured on your website that you use, a mix of modalities to help your clients. What draws you toward doing things that way versus maybe just having one, there seems to be limitless modalities people can pull on.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. Oh, I, well, I have a whole take on this, which is, you know, higher education or like graduate training and all these letters and licenses and certifications are already so inaccessible for most people. And then even if you're able to access this kind of education or status, there's still the not good enough that operates.
So people just start collecting more and more methods, trainings, certificates. And I see this in my field in the mental health field, like, just like I got a lot of acronyms on my website, so I must be a really good therapist. And it's like a collection. And I was in that, right? I was like, oh, I'm gonna do EMDR now I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that.
And thinking that like I was missing something. I don't really feel like I'm missing something anymore. I have kind of more trust in who I am beyond any therapy approach or anything that a white person stole from a Black, Indigenous person, or person of color, and then repackaged and sold to me.
Dalia: Oh, the facts. Oh, the facts. It's so interesting because this year, I've said, my goal is I'm keeping 2023 scam free, because I can't even count how many times, because I didn't fully trust myself. I put out maybe more money than I even had to spend on a training that in the end, turned out to be things I already knew but because it had come from a source that's always devalued, I didn't think it was good enough. Unconsciously I didn't think it was good enough.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. And oftentimes, like, I don't know about you, but like I have taken so many courses and trainings that I thought like, this is where I will learn.
But I am so inundated with microaggressions and traumatic material and really harmful behavior from instructors that like it. I'm paying and I'm also being traumatized and I'm also not learning. So, there's Yes. Tease too.
Dalia: 100%. I remember posting during undergrad that I can't believe that I am paying to be insulted every fucking day, paying to be insulted. And can't even get people to understand when I have the energy to point it out - or it was just so egregious that I couldn't not say something. That no one could see the problem or hear the problem and at the same time, in my personal life, still be being asked, you know, around the same period of time, have you ever experienced racism?
Dr. Sand: Oh my God. people thinking that. Yeah. So yeah. So, I, I think, oh damn, it's so intense. Yeah, like there's, there's that, right? There's the, you know, I'm not someone who believes there is like, one right way, or this is gonna save us all. And so, like, I've always thought about, about myself as integrative.That being said, I do find more of a home in certain places and approaches that feel more aligned with my values. And so, for me, parts work and specifically doing IFS, I feel like it has the most capacity to center marginalized folks. Does it always? No, but there is like active conversation people who are doing the work, and it's so, there's so many values that I assign or like are connected to this model that feel like, okay, this feels right to me.
Right? There's it's about compassion. It's not about pathologizing. It recognizes that survival, we have to prioritize survival. So, some of the things that may not look, you know they may look unhelpful in according to other people or whatever people think is objective from like a mainstream mental health point of view.
That's pathologized. Right. So, I know you, you, and I both, you know, kind of. Move around in body liberation eating disorder type spaces. And a lot of approaches to eating disorders, as you probably know, are very pathologizing around. I've been joking with people actually just this month about like, you know, in the nineties and the early two thousand we were all trying to kill ed, the eating disorder and like just, I hear things like my disease is out to kill me or out to get me.
These really pathologizing ways and like kind of demonizing parts of us that are really just trying to help us to survive. So, no matter how harmful a behavior or a coping strategy might end up being, I always am interested in what is that positive intention and what is that intention towards survival that's behind that.
So that's a really big part of, and what guides my work regardless of what approach that I'm using. There's a lot of other pieces that I really love around recognizing ancestral and cultural traumas and burdens and the things that we've been carrying that aren't even ours to carry. Acknowledging multiplicity like I've mentioned earlier, and then a lot of it's really like hugely consent based which is not going past the point of where someone is ready and really respecting the protective system that they have.
We're not gonna get to healing if we're in a rush and we're overriding systems that say no.
So that is one of the reasons why I really, really love doing work in this way. That being said, I don't believe any model is perfect. So, I, I believe, and I've said this before, but like I don't really believe that you can have a culturally responsive therapy if you're only, if you only have one tool.
You can't use the same thing on everyone, every issue. And so it makes it so that I have to be flexible and be willing to do what works with each person that I work with.
Dalia: That makes so much sense. When it comes to the intergenerational trauma, are you finding that people have these patterns or maybe like these inherited fears because it just became part of how the family socializes children or is it a combination of, apparently something must have changed in how their body manages this particular type of event, or maybe stress in general. Is it a clear mix of the two? Or how, how do you even help somebody with that?
Dr. Sand: Yeah. I don't know that it's possible to know, right?
We can even, we can even ask people, and sometimes I will ask people like, what percentage of this feels like yours? What percentage of this feels based on your own lived experience? But I don't, I don't know that it, that we can ever truly know, but I, I typically think that it's a combination and few things are really just about an in individual experience.
So, if we think about examples like, maybe if I have a hard time finding a sense of home, it's because I have moved around all my life and been shuffled around all my life, right? That could be just like based on my lived experience. But then if we dig deeper, we could look at, okay, well what happened?
What were the migration patterns of my ancestors? Were these choices? Was this forced migration? So that's something I've been chewing on a lot actually recently, is just like, what is home?
What is the relationship to place to land to land that's not where my ancestors are from? And what does it mean to like, experienced something that I've never experienced in my kind of chronological life from birth to today?
But like in my case, in my examples, like what does it mean that my dad like migrated on foot with his whole village right when there was the Japanese invasion during World War II so, you know, across China. So, what does that mean, like, right? How could, how could that not affect me?
So just kind of holding that, there's a lot of times, histories that people don't even know that are impacting them. There's the story we go in to tell in therapy, and it's not that I don't believe the story is important, but there's so much more that we're carrying that's beyond a story that our, like conscious awareness of the story.
There's so much that's already happened that we will never know.
Dalia: That makes so much sense. I mean, it immediately feels like I can feel it in my gut when you say, you know, what does it mean to feel at home and coming from, I'm the child of an immigrant and a Black American person whose family had been in the States for about the expected amount of time.
And everyone I can think of has that, that sense of is there anywhere I belong or is that something we can never have? Because if you spend time in West Africa where presumably, you know, you're pretty sure you came from, you've been gone too long, you don't fit there anymore, everybody can tell you are not really at home.
And then when you're in the states, even the way that people refer to anyone and everyone who is not majority European in their ancestry tells you, no one thinks we are at home. Even if we were born here. And people don't ever if someone says American, they don't picture either one of us and any time I travel. It's always a thing. People assume, well, you must have your family moved to the US.
People can't comprehend that you're really born there and maybe your parents were too.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. Where are you really from?
Dalia: Exactly. So, you're being told all the time you're not at home. But then the more I even think about my family that started out in Jamaica, then went to Cuba, then went back to Jamaica, then went to Haiti.
Even when you talk to cousins and not far-removed cousins, everybody thinks they are something different. Even though we all feel like family and talk to each other, like family, we don't have the same first languages. And so, it's like, what does it mean? Like, yeah, I feel American. I call myself American because I know having been raised here, so much of my biases are really influenced by.
Being from here, but at the same time, am I really like, what are, what are we, what is anybody? What does nationality even mean? Like, who are we? It just feels like there's no way to feel really grounded when you're constantly being told you don't belong anywhere.
Dr. Sand: Oh yeah. All of that. What does it mean to really feel like you can inhabit a space, not just safely, but like, feel like a sense of like, connection with the people around you know, like oftentimes I think about like, now I'm just getting like really kind of like, maybe a little heady, but just like how there's this idea that we're like at a fixed point and then we transition, we get to another fixed point, and then we transition to another thing. You know, like transition broadly, you know, like just change happens.
We're going from one thing to the next and I just feel like, well I don't know that that's my experience. I feel like the norm is the transition, the norm is the in between space. And that just feels like, yeah, obviously this is something that I'm like grappling with and struggling with in my own way.
And so, yeah. And there was something else I forgot.
I'm just gonna take a pause, okay. I'm trying to remember what's happening. Something about home and oh yeah. Okay. The other thing that was coming up for me that I've also been kinda like chewing on a lot is, you know, in, in DEI spaces and I honestly just don't even, I often put DEI in air quotes cuz it's so like, corporatized.
And you know, diversity isn't enough. Inclusion is like, hmm, do I wanna see it at your table? Equity. Hmm. Like can we, can we solve equity with conversations? Is it about hurt feelings often? So now a lot of people are adding the B, the belonging piece. And I'm like, yeah, I like belonging conceptually feeling like you belong feels good, you know, but then it also assumes like that maybe someone who isn't typically welcomed into a space. Wants to belong with yes t hat I'm like, do, but do I wanna belong,
Dalia: When you look at these turnover turnover rates, you realize people maybe get in and realize yeah, there's no situation in which this would feel like a place I wanna be.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. Yeah. So, my like I'm kinda, I, yeah. I have a part of me that's just a little critical or maybe a lot critical of like all the language that we use in these spaces, cuz belonging. Well, it feels so good, you know, it's and, but it's also a cell and I'm interested in like, well, what good is a sense of belonging if you're not being paid as much as other people, or you can't access the benefits you need, or there's unequal hiring practices or just fucked up shit that happens and no one does anything about it.
Like and yeah, but just all like the ways that within DEI space, clearly, I'm working something out around my DEI work
Dalia: When did you start to incorporate that into your work?
Dr. Sand: I mean, it's always been, it's always been there. Like I've, like, since pretty much, I mean even when I was in grad school, I was being asked to do, you know, as, as you are when you're like different and interesting. And you have a unique identity, you know, like you're in, you're asked to educate people. So, I've been asked to educate people, you know, before I was even like licensed or graduated. And I think, yeah, that experience, you know, I've always been asked to, to do training and, and to be clear, I do really love facilitating learning, and that's like my number one passion is, is that in workspace, my number one passion outside of work is, is dogs and food and puns.
But yeah, so I mean, I feel like it's just always been part of my work and I never really called myself a DEI consultant, but it's like, it kind of happened in that people were looking for that. It's like there's a lot of languaging that I don't, especially like, and but it's a language and a way for people to locate, right?
And like for example, in trans health, I detest the term gender specialist, yet it's oftentimes like these systems that have power say, okay, well in order to access hormones or surgery, you must go find a gender specialist to write a letter for you. Which I also think, is not the way I want the world to be for trans folks accessing medical care.
Don't think that people should have to access letters. But I digress. That's a whole nother thing that I could really, really go on about. But yeah, sometimes there's that languaging and that code switching that happens.
And then I, you know, I'm always sort of trying to interrogate, you know, how much do I wanna actually perpetuate using certain languaging that doesn't feel right for me?
Dalia: Yeah, and that feels like it applies in so many ways. You have to accept the reality of what is, what are people actually looking for? Well, most people are probably not at the point that you're at because you think about this all of the time, and language in general is so constricting and limiting. I had this conversation with my brother just this week.
I feel like he and I both have probably always been pretty flexible or fluid about our understanding of gender since childhood. But I really gravitated toward the new language in English anyway, trying to explain to the world how I feel about gender or how I experience it in my body. But at the end of the day, I still don't really think the words are enough.
And so, from an outside perspective, if later on there's new terminology in the zeitgeist that resonates more, maybe I'll make a shift. Other people will think this is you, typical trans person, flip flopping. Y'all don't know who you are. When maybe the words that were available before were never quite it, but we didn't have anything else.
Dr. Sand: And I see this all as creativity, resilience, and empowerment is when words don't fit for you, you create ones that do. And I mean like there's lots of terms that I use all the time for myself that don't actually, resonate so much for me. Like gender queers, you know, I came out as gender queer, what, you know, early two thousands and that did resonate for me. But like the idea that my gender was queer would not exist unless there was a world that thought there was a normal way to have a gender. Right? Or like non-binary wouldn't have to be used if we didn't live in a binary world, right? Where that's a default or the expectation and so, I say non-binary, it's shorthand. People kind of get it.
Do I feel tied deeply to that word? No. Do I feel tied deeply to they them? Yes. In some ways, cuz I want my pronouns respected, but no, in the sense that, you know, it's mostly because he and she don't work for me. There's not an easy, you know, other pronoun that actually fits, they is not neutral for me, you know?
And so anyway, there's a lot I could say about pronouns, shmonouns.
Dalia: Well, that's where I got to the point that I felt like the only thing that felt right to me was no pronouns at all. And then, and you mentioned this in one of your interviews, how the stress of being misgendered can impact your mental health.
And I talk a lot and think a lot about minority stress, and that's one area where I feel like I even undermine myself and how stressful it is for me because I know before I took a stance on, oh no, just name only, then when somebody would apply, they them or she heard to me, I didn't feel that gut punch.
But now that I've said that's what I want, every time somebody misgenders me, I feel sick. And then I get in my own head and I'm like, did I do this to myself? And why am I so attached to it? Did I create this situation? What's going on when we have that kind of experience?
Dr. Sand: Yeah. I'm just thinking about so many people.
I know clients, other folks who just like, feel scared or hesitant to ask for their pronouns. Like to, to be respected or to ask for different pronouns because of the risk of the disappointment or the backlash from people who don't get it and don't wanna get it and won't try to get it. So, there's that.
There's just like, what does it mean to ask to be respected? And is asking for respect inherently violent towards those who are fragile?
So, I mean, I know the answer is no, but that's how it's received, right? It's received as an attack. And then people go on the defense. So yeah, being misgendered is hugely stressful.
It's not about ouch, you hurt my feelings. It's about do you see me and respect me for the person that I am versus the person that you are projecting onto me. Am I only an object of your perception or am I someone who has autonomy and sovereignty and the right to self-determination?
A lot of times there's backlash people who say like, you're too sensitive, or people who, you know, will come up with all sorts of reasons why excuses rationalizations and blaming anything to bypass accountability and true change. And then in the end there's like oftentimes just so much emotional labor.
And then yeah, the recovery that happens behind the scenes, there's like what this interaction was for a split second for that person. They're going on living their life. They're probably not even thinking about it, they've forgotten it by then, but for the person who's experienced it, which is, you know, often me, you know, right.
Like, oh, that's a lot, that's a lot of extra energy. Right. And that, and I wouldn't say that's me because of this one thing. It is anyone who has a marginalized or minoritized identity that has to do all that trauma recovery, emotional labor and you know, any kind of recovery in order to then show up in spaces where other people can just take for granted that they're safe.
Dalia: Yes. Yes. Oof. Yeah. One of the things that you feature in the services that you offer or the things that you treat is helping people manage the damage that systemic oppression has done to their mental health. What does that look like?
Is that teaching coping mechanisms? Because it's something that's not over, it just keeps on and on and on.
Dr. Sand: I feel like coping is helpful, but it's never enough. Like sometimes when we, and I think a lot of therapies do this. Like, oh, you're experiencing a shitty experience in the world. Let's help you cope. You know, let's help you assimilate or acclimate in some way. That is oppressive, that is putting all the responsibility on the individual.
It's not helpful. I think it sets things up so that therapists or providers feel this great responsibility to like, as if we can fix the, all the things that are happening in the outside world and that clients feel like there's something wrong with them cuz they're not coping as well as the next person.
Like, wow, that trans person looks okay, that Black person looks okay, that Asian person looks okay so, you know, like, oh, what's wrong with me? Right. So, I, I think coping is never enough and you know, there's really no individual therapy that can erase systemic oppression.
I just think about often think about this like, I don't know 10, 15 years ago, I took this non-violent communication course, and it was called Transforming Oppression. And I just find it kind of so hilarious now because it was like transforming oppression in 10 weeks through NVC. And, you know, I, I think NVC has some helpful things to it. I have other critiques of it for sure.
And, but the course itself was like pretty traumatizing for those of us who are like QTBIPOC, and I just think about like how these this is so common for people who kind of own or found certain approaches that are then like copyrighted or like, there's like ownership of something that a lot of times developmentally in the course of, oh, this could help a person, then gets to this grandiose place of, if everyone did this, we would solve war and like poverty and all these things.
And I just don't really believe that to be true. I don't believe that, oh, you can teach an acronym, and everyone will get it and all of the sudden, the world will be a utopian place.
So, I think obviously I do what I do because I believe it is helpful and valuable in some way. But my hope is that people being able to access a sense of self access like connection to who they are and to their own power and agency, that also connects to being empowered to, you know, work within to change well, not, not within, outside of systems, you know, creating new systems a lot of the time. And yeah, like that, that larger systems change and advocacy, that's the stuff that needs, that, that needs to happen, right? Like, there's no amount of therapy leads to financial redistribution.
So, yes and just I think a lot about like the impossibility of, of all of it. Yeah. Wow.
Dalia: Well man, there's so, so, so much I would love to go into, but I don't wanna keep you here all day. One of the main things that stood out to me was with all of the other training you already have, you also decided to study Body Trust, and I'd like to know, why that was something you felt like you wanted to dig into and why it's something that you knew would be of service to your target population that you're already serving.
Dr. Sand: Yeah. I talk about this a lot in my, in my writing and other podcasts or other trainings and platforms that I've spoken into. And you know, I'm very out as someone who has a lived experience with an eating disorder, long-term recovery, many, many layers, and stages of recovery and for me, I was, I was really kind of misled around what it meant to have an eating disorder, first of all, and what does a recovery look like? And very indoctrinated into like healthism and, you know you know, all the ways that like our wellness culture can really focus more on like, this is an individual issue, you know, like the choices you make are going to, you know, create this health landscape for you. And yes, it has an impact, but as we know, social determinants of health have a much greater impact than individual choices and behaviors.
So, any case I kind of came into after a pretty severe restrictive relapse for, you know, a year or two came into this place of, oh my gosh, I have not been in recovery. The way that like, I have not been in full recovery, you know? And so, for me it was finding HAES, anti-diet approaches.
I think I learned about Body Trust through hearing Hillary and Dana on Christie Harrison's Food Psych podcast which had a really big impact on me. And so yeah, I was just interested. I really, body trust appealed to me because I just really connected with the idea that there's something that I've lost, like the, a relationship I have lost to myself and the like lesson capacity to listen to myself because of all this really loud noise out there that tells me who I am and what I should do and even what I should eat and how I should move my body and all that stuff.
So just the concept of Body Trust really resonated with me and for me, again, like any other model, Body Trust is not perfect. And I will always say that like, yes, I really love Body Trust in many ways and none of these models are perfect. And so, but it is one that just makes sense to me and also really understands that the individual exists in a context, in a cultural context, in an anti-d diet world, in a white supremacist, anti-black world, in a fat phobic world. So, I really love that. Is that unique to Body Trust? No, not at all. You know but it is one that I've, I've really appreciated and so, yeah, it's just a really big part of my practice and, and I think aligns really, really well with my IFS work.
Dalia: When you're helping people who are TGNC who are dealing with how limiting. people are in their view of like, what does a feminine person look like? What does a masculine person look like? And knowing that people feminize fat in general, how do you help people? This is something I struggle to reconcile with because as a person who feels like in my body, gender does not exist in my body.
Even with that sometimes I find myself compelled to do things that will project how I want people to understand what gender is to me. And so sometimes that means maybe dressing even more masculine than I feel like on a particular day because I think it'll reduce the chances of somebody, she/her-ing me.
What do you do when the reality is we're dealing with other people's perceptions and that does affect our behavior sometimes and the truth that gender shouldn't have to look a certain way, that you could be a non-binary person who is in a very large body and having large breasts doesn't mean you're not trans masculine.
How do you help people reconcile with both of those things?
Dr. Sand: I mean, I'm really interested in helping people to kind of deconstruct and challenge these ideas they've internalized about what it means to perform gender correctly, to perform being a man, perform being a woman, perform being trans, perform being non-binary.
Non-binary doesn't mean androgynous. Non-binary doesn't mean whatever like these ideas are that are usually based on very like white, thin ideals. Part of it is for myself and for the people I work with trying to challenge and move past that and take the risks of not having to perform within that system.
And then there's that other reality that we are in that system. So, I think the choice might vary day to day. And what I do today might be different from what I do tomorrow. And that you know, there's this, there's something I wrote about like. is authenticity.
Do we moralize about authenticity when we live in a world that doesn't make it safe to be authentic all the time?
And sometimes I do make choices that I end up feeling some amount of, like, a little bit of like, oh, am I selling out? Like, is there a little bit of shame around making this choice while also knowing that sometimes I do need to do this to take care of myself in a specific place.
So exactly what you said, like there are lots of times where working, even when it within the field of trans health, I had to, you know, masculinize in a way that actually didn't feel right for me as a gender fluid person, as someone who I, I don't have a binary gender.
And even though I think of myself as trans masc, I also consider myself femme. And that is very confusing for a lot of people. To me it makes perfect sense, right? So yeah. That's a reality. And so, like I always just tell my clients and tell anyone else that like,
there should be no shame in making choices that serve you in terms of your safety.
And yeah, sometimes you're just doing what you can do to, to avoid people projecting their stuff onto you and having a really, really uncomfortable yucky interaction. So, I really get that. And that kind of, I don't know, is it code switching? Is it like just making choices to center? What feels most important in the moment?
That doesn't like invalidate an identity. Like no, no shape of clothing I put on myself or hairstyle or whatever is going to tell you who I am and if nothing is going to invalidate who I've already told you I am. So, but yeah, that, that, that's a whole, that's complicated.
Dalia: Yeah. Well, and that feels like that's the takeaway is that life and humanity, it's all more complicated than what the systems most of us live in, want to recognize, or allow. So maybe we're feeling like we're wrong when in reality everything is just a lot more nuanced and individual and complex than other folks are letting on.
If there was one thing that you could leave the listeners with that magically, we would all understand it, internalize it, and carry it with us for the rest of our lives, what would you want us to know?
Dr. Sand: Oh my gosh, these kinds of questions are so hard, I'm like, say something smart.
What's coming into my mind is this idea of like, stop pushing. Stop trying, stop fixing, stop, like just having to jump to a conclusion. A lot of these things that happen because, you know, things that are, that are hurtful or harmful or just not ideal happen because we're moving so fast and we're not checking ourselves and we're not challenging these systems that we've been indoctrinated into.
I feel like a lot of the stuff we've talked about kind of touches upon that theme, and maybe that's just what's on my mind these days. So yeah, I don't, I think that's it.
Dalia: Even that is helpful when somebody who's obviously brilliant can transparently say in this moment, I feel like, I should say something smart,
Dr. Sand: Well, that's there, right? That's a part of me. Say something smart, you know? And like, it's like, I don't know. Sometimes I will say things that have an impact in some way a positive impact or, you know and sometimes I'm just go, I'm sometimes I'm just talking. A lot of times I'm just talking, you know, I talk, I talk, talk a lot, so.
Dalia: And that's okay too. Thank you so much for coming on. Where is the best place for people to keep up with you and read more of your writing, check out the book that you co-authored?
Dr. Sand: Yeah, so you can find me on my website, it's sandchang.com. I'm also on Instagram @heydrsand. I don't do a ton of social media. I have ambivalent relationship with it, but I do sometimes feel like sometimes I have like, oh, I wanna say a thing. So yeah. So sometimes I'm on there.
Dalia: I love that. Thank you so much.