Episode 5

Published on:

10th Feb 2021

Katy Lees - Everybody deserves respect, so I deserve respect - 016

This week, I’m joined by Katy Lees (they/them), a queer writer and psychotherapist from the North East of England. They can be found writing therapy tips, poetry, anti-oppression rants, short stories, and more. They are currently writing a good mental health guide for trans and non-binary people, to be published soon by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Join us as we talk about the oppression different sized fat folx experience, trans and non-binary mental health and self-care, Katy’s experience navigating and recovering from burnout, stepping away from the constant pressure to ‘level up’ in life, the challenges of dressing as a fat, trans, non-binary person and lots more.

If you haven't already, be sure to join our Facebook community to connect with other like-minded queer folks and allies.

Find out more about Gem Kennedy and Queers & Co. 

Podcast Artwork by Gemma D’Souza


Find out more about Katy’s work on their website.

Support Katy’s work on their Patreon

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Full Transcription

Gem: Welcome to Queers & Co., the podcast on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism for queer folx and allies. I'm your host, Gem Kennedy. My pronouns are they/them and I'm a transformational practitioner and coach living in the UK.

Gem:  Hey folx! Welcome to Episode 4. I hope you were able to get some relaxing time during integration week. I know that it was really helpful for me to practice some of what I talk to my clients about around working sustainably and actually give myself some space to not be furiously editing and producing all the time. So with that in mind, I'm very excited and energised to be back for Episode 4. And this one is a short and sweet episode. They're an incredible guest and they also happen to be an incredible client of mine. And I'm just really happy that they agreed to record an episode with me. We had quite a few technical difficulties unfortunately during the recording, which meant that we tried two different platforms and then by the time we'd had that all sorted, then time was up. So we have just over half an hour together. And I hope that you'll find it as interesting as I did. And just to introduce my guest... They are a queer writer and psychotherapist from the northeast of England. They can be found writing therapy tips, poetry, anti-oppression rants, short stories, and more on their website iamkatylees.com, and that will be in the show notes. They're currently writing a good mental health guide for trans and non-binary people, which is going to be published hopefully this year (I'm keeping my fingers crossed) by Jessica Kingsley publishers, and I'll share all of the relevant links so you can go and follow their work after the episode today. I've already asked them about recording another episode together so look out for that, hopefully around the same time as the book launches. And so without further ado, allow me to introduce my wonderful guest, Katy Lees.

Gem: Hi Katy! Thanks so much for joining me.

Katy: Hi Gem. It's really nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Gem: I'm so excitred. No worries. So I always start often start with asking people just to introduce themselves and their various intersections. Would you be happy to do that?

Katy: Absolutely, I would. So my name is Katy Lees. I use they/them pronouns. I am a white mid-fat, trans and non-binary queer person from the northeast of England. And I am a writer and a psychotherapist.

Gem: Great, thank you. So there's lots to unpack there. And I think the first thing that comes to mind is that you used mid-fat, which for some people listening if they're not kind of familiar with the terms of how people identify, I guess, yeah, if they're not used to how people identify within fatness, how would you describe the different levels?

Katy: Sure. Um, so generally speaking, at least in the circles of fat activism, that I tend to roll in there tends to be the idea that different levels, I guess, different types of fatness are subject to different kinds of oppression and different kinds of pressure from society. So generally speaking, there's the idea that there are small-fat people who might find trouble finding clothes, and probably have a difficult time getting medical care, but can otherwise expect to be able to do up their seat belt in a car, be able to fit into chairs when they go out into the world. And then kind of going up from there, you've got mid-fat people like me, who experience more difficulty finding clothes, fitting into the world, maybe more difficulty accessing appropriate medical care, and then you've got large-fat people. And then you've got the death fatties, who are generally people who are considered (huge air quotes here) "morbidly obese". And then up from there, you've got infinifat people who face the most oppression from society.

Gem: Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. And as I said it, I realised levels sounds really problematic. But yeah, I wonder... I should think about a better word to use for that.

Katy: I understood what you meant. It's quite fun to think myself like that I've levelled up to a mid-fat.

Gem: Like a computer game.

Katy: Yeah!

Gem: Okay, so other parts of your identity that you mentioned are around being trans and non-binary and you're doing some really interesting work around trans and non-binary mental health. I wondered if you could just tell us a bit more about that.

Katy: Sure. So in my psychotherapy work, I mostly work with trans and non-binary people, and also other people in the LGBTQ+ community. And as a writer, I'm currently writing a book for Jessica Kingsley publishers, which is a trans and non-binary guide to good mental health. So as a trans therapist who I mean, I've worked in mental health for basically my whole adult life and also, I've had wonky mental health we'll say for longer than that. Yeah, it felt really important to be doing that kind of work for my community.

Gem: Yeah. And also, I think it's important to mention that you're in the process of writing the book.

Katy: Yeah. I mean, it's been a really interesting experience. Yeah, I feel like, I mean, writing a book is pretty difficult with my therapy practice being pretty full, it's been difficult to find the time, but also I've really loved writing it. I've really loved, I don't know, making, making that kind of space and I guess making something that I don't think exists much, or at all in the world right now. Just kind of making making space where I don't know, that's about mental health from trans people, for trans people and catered to them. Because I think a lot of mental health books that I've found, tend to be about trans and non-binary people for the assumed cisgender people who work with them, often written by cis people. And yeah, it feels like really good, important work, to be hopefully giving trans people good care that helps them to feel better and that is relatively accessible. Yeah, feels good. Also feels kind of terrifying, but it feels good. I think that's just my anxiety speaking.

Gem: Yeah, I like this idea of being terricited. I don't know if you've heard of it before, but like feeling terrified, but excited at the same time.

Katy: That's the that's the one. I feel terricited.

Gem: So thinking about writing a book, what would you say, what has the process been like for you? Have you learnt more things about your own sort of self-care and mental health as a trans or non-binary person?

Katy: Hmm, yeah, I mean, I definitely have going through the process, because I've had to... as I've been doing some things that are so difficult, I've had to be looking after myself, which I haven't historically always been very good at. So it's been a good way to find different ways to care for myself, to explore different meanings of self-care, which I'm already pretty keen on anyway. I think that the idea of self-care has become very commodified and kind of twisted around by capitalism. So I'm already pretty keen on exploring different avenues of self-care that aren't spending money on a bubble bath. But yeah, I think that writing this book has really made me focus on lots of different ways to look after myself, sometimes including having a bubble bath. Yeah, and looking at how much of that I can offer to other people as well. It's been good to revisit ideas that I find very easy to apply to other people as well and maybe less easy to apply to myself. Something about the act of writing something down and sending it into the world as a global truth means that I definitely have to accept that it's gonna be okay, if I'm telling everybody else that it's gonna be okay. It's been a nice reminder.

Gem: Yeah, that's great. And do you think you'll read the book once it's out?

Katy: That's an excellent question. Usually, I try to avoid re-rereading things that I've done, or watching videos I've done or listening to podcasts I've done mostly just kind of through embarrassment. But I think this I might read. Yeah, hopefully, I'll be able to provide some good advice to my future self.

Gem: Yeah. The reason I'm asking is because I run a course called Making Waves and on that course, one of the units is radical self-care and I find every time I return to the unit, I'm like, "Oh yeah, those are the things that help me or those are the things I should be doing" and not should, but I know that they help me feel better. And I'm just wondering, if I was to read a book that I'd written about self-care, how there's something interesting in sort of taking your own advice and that idea of quite often when we work with people the things we're supporting them to do, it can be sometimes stuff that we're also working on ourselves and maybe we're a couple of steps ahead, we've had a bit more practice, but they're still definitely things that we need to hear. I don't know if that resonates with you.

Katy: Yeah, absolutely resonates with me. Yeah, and I think you're right, I think that even to be honest now, as I kind of go through and edit, I'm like, oh yeah this is definitely something that's helpful. I should probably do this.

Gem: I'm really wise. That's really great. And do you know when the books expected to be out yet?

Katy: Well, my, my deadline to hand it in is the end of April so I'm guessing that the book will be out at the end of next year so the end of 2021, or the beginning of 2022.

Gem: This is where the first part of the audio came to an end. And we were then trying to find another way to make the conversation happen. It's also a good opportunity though, to take a few deep breaths, maybe have a stretch, you might want to look at the sky if you can see it from where you are, and grab a drink of water. And while you do that, I just wanted to let you know that I currently am operating a waiting list. So if you think that you might be interested in having one to one coaching sessions with me from March, then head to my website gemkennedy.com where you'll be able to leave your email address and be added to my waiting list. And I'll get in touch with you when I have space available again. And now back to the episode with Katy.

Gem: So one of the things that I quite often like to ask people about is their experience of navigating burnout, because I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to sort of finding out the different ways that people navigate it, because I don't think it can be entirely eradicated when you do this kind of work or avoided. And I know that we've talked in the past about your experience of burnout, and it'd be great if you're happy just to share a bit about that, and what things have helped you to cope with that and maybe to navigate it moving forward.

Katy: Yeah, absolutely. So I have a really, really long history of burnout, basically because of the environment that I was raised in and also because I'm a pretty anxious person, I spent the first 20 years of my life, basically just working and working and working and eventually hit a point where I couldn't do that anymore in my early to mid 20s. And just completely burned out, it was a really bad time. It was like I wasn't just burned out on work, I was burned out on people I was burned out on... I had really bad problems with executive dysfunction so I basically would go to work, talk as little as possible, not feel very much, come home, lie on my bed, and then kind of stare at the wall until it was time to go to work again. Really, really horrible times, which I basically managed to get through with a combination of medication and therapy. So it's something that I'm really, really mindful about now in my 30s, because I hope to never be in that place again. So I'm still pretty... I still work pretty hard, but I'm much more mindful with things like taking breaks, making sure that I'm really doing that kind of base self-care stuff, which I think is surprisingly easy to ignore if you come from a culture of working yourself into the ground, basically. So making sure that I'm well fed, well rested, I'm in a safe place, I feel supported, dealing with any kind of chronic pain issues, things like that have been really, really important to me.

Katy: And I think something that's really, really helped me to maintain not being too burnt out is I guess, working to have an answer to any critical voices that I have. So I have a pretty strong, loud, critical voice, you know, the kind of voice where I don't know, you accidentally spill your coffee in the morning and your head just kind of yells at you for the rest of the day that you're an awful person. And was surprised that that was taking up like a lot of energy, and a lot of my time. So having having a positive answer to that, being able to spend less time humouring that negative voice has been an absolute lifesaver for me over the last year or so.

Gem: Yeah, and for me I didn't even realise that that critical voice was a critical voice or was a separate part of me. I thought that was just the way that it was supposed to be and that everyone had that. And I'm sure to some extent, you know, people do have some degree of critical inner voice but yeah, it wasn't until I really started doing work on it that I realised that that wasn't something that everyone experienced all the time and that it didn't have to be like that. And parts work, I think has been really great for that like separating out the different parts of myself and looking at what they're there for, and maybe reassigning them to a different job. When you notice that it doesn't have to be that way, how freeing that can be, but also challenging. There's still been a lot of work to actually start to sort of diminish it or get rid of it in some way.

Katy: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That's absolutely been my experience as well. In person-centred therapy, the kind that I do, there's this idea of having configurations of self, so that your core self, I guess, is made up of lots of different kinds of personalities. And I definitely had the experience where I didn't see that as a different configuration of me, I thought it was just me and that I kind of deserved it. So being able to separate that out into something I don't have to take into the core of me has been super helpful.

Gem: And I wonder if people listening to this may be finding this really relatable, too. I wonder if there are any kind of techniques or things that you would say, would be really helpful with just noticing that and maybe quietening it a little?

Katy: I think something that's been really helpful for me over the last couple of years, has been answering that critical voice by taking what I know is global and making it personal. So by that I mean... I personally hold the belief that everybody deserves respect and that's something that I know to be true. So if I think that everybody deserves respect, and I'm part of everyone, that means that I deserve respect.

Gem: Mm hmm.

Katy: So if there's a critical voice in my head that's saying I don't deserve respect, because I'm a bad person then I can say, well, I know that everybody deserves respect so I deserve respect. And that's been particularly helpful for me.

Gem: Yeah, I can imagine. And thinking back to burnout, I wonder if there's... was there any particular sort of thing that you tried or thing that you would tell yourself that you noticed was really helpful in bringing you out of that really intense burnt out phase?

Katy: Hmm. That's a good question. I think something that contributed to me having the big burnout, was that I was trying to do a lot of very important but very difficult things at once. And I think that when you're in that place and you've been in it for a while, it starts to feel like it's gonna be forever, especially when you come from a culture where it's expected that that is forever. That when you finish with those really important things, you go on to the next one straight away. You have to keep climbing the ladder and I think something that helped was promising myself that I wouldn't keep climbing the ladder, that when I was done with these important things I would be done, even if that was just for a little while. But knowing that I wouldn't have to be trapped in the cycle that I was in of just having to do the next big thing, was something that I think gave me a future back and stops me from just being stuck in a really difficult present.

Katy: And I think mostly, I've kept that promise to myself, I am writing a book, which is difficult, but I also know that I was big air quotes "supposed to" do a PhD after I finished my psychotherapy studies. Even though I didn't want to it was the path that was expected of me and so far, I've managed to resist. I could promise myself that there wasn't going to be another rung on the ladder, that I was going to finish these very important things. I was going to do the best that I could do, even if that was just passing, like scraping a pass when it was fully expected that I was going to get full honours or whatever. I just promised myself that if I could scrape a pass at this, I was absolutely going to cut myself a break and I was going to have a rest basically and let myself recover. And so...

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About the Podcast

Queers and Co.
A podcast for queer folks and allies on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism.
Hi, I'm Gem! Join me as I chat to queer folks and allies about self-empowerment, body liberation and activism. My guests are at the forefront of change-making, working in areas like fat activism, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, drag/cabaret, LGBTQ+ activism and children's rights.

I'm a transformational coach, activist and founder of the Queers & Co. zine, podcast and community. Through my work, I support LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.

Find out more about my work: www.gemkennedy.com
Find out more about Queers & Co.: www.gemkennedy.com/queersandco

About your host

Profile picture for Gem Kennedy

Gem Kennedy

I’m Gem. I'm the founder of the Queers & Co. zine, community and podcast, as well as a transformational coach and activist. I’m also queer, fat positive, an intersectional feminist and Mum to two free-range children.

I help LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.