(This article first appeared in the June edition of Thistle and Spire’s blog.)
Photography by @jma__photography
Pride Month is here! In honor of the occasion we connected with queer-identified sex therapist Casey Tanner (she/they), learned more about their work, and discovered that they’re as much a fan of Thistle and Spire as we are of them. As expected, we found some overlap and loads of mutual love.
Casey has quite the resume and it continues to grow. Here are a few of their current titles:
- AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
- Founder and owner of The Expansive Group: LGBTQ counseling and gender therapy
- Business consultant helping companies with queer alignment and inclusion
- Co-host of the Safeword podcast
- Thought leader and influencer
Since coming to terms with their sexual identity and realizing their life calling to counsel others in a queer-affirming, sex-positive way—a stark departure from their conservative religious upbringing—Casey hasn’t wasted any time maximizing it to be of service to their community.
For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you explain what a sex therapist does?
Sex therapists are trained in the same way as any other therapist, but with extra training to get their sex therapy certification. I focus specifically on sexual health, function, intimacy-related concerns and gender. I work with clients 18 and older—individuals, couples, and groups of people seeking my help. We’re not talking about sex 100 percent of the time, but I approach issues through a queer lens. Sex is not siloed off from life, but interconnected with every other facet of it. At the heart of my work is helping people who grew up feeling unseen or who struggle with loneliness—I think we can all relate to that.
How did you find your way to this line of work?
I think we all try to become the adults, perhaps the parents or therapists, we needed when we were younger but didn’t have. For queer folks, what is unique about this experience—compared to race or ethnic identity—is that queer eldership is not built in. Most people aren’t raised by queer parents, and we have to work hard to seek that out.
I was raised in an Evangelical family and was very bought into it. I attended a Christian college and was a church youth leader who taught that being gay was a sin. I was struggling with my mental health because I was so at odds with my authenticity at that time. So, I started talking to a therapist, and had no idea she was a queer therapist. It’s hilarious looking back, because the logo of the practice was a rainbow, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Four years in, we started addressing my sexuality, and it saved my life to have happened to be in the hands of someone who could talk about these things and provide such a safe environment. I knew I wanted to be a therapist during that process, but it was when I started working more with queer and trans folks that I realized what I was meant to do with my life.
In addition to your role as a queer-affirming sex therapist, are there other components of your career that you’d like to discuss?
I’m going through some exciting shifts at the moment! They primarily involve moving away from being a therapist and more toward an author, thought leader, and business owner managing 20 employees and 5 contracted educators. I’m moving more into the headspace of a CEO—keeping the therapist piece, but giving myself permission to step into more of a leadership role.
What takeaways can you share from the shift thus far?
I’m learning a lot during this process, including that my public persona can make others angry. Luckily, I have a great staff that shield me from that. I got some great advice from a more experienced influencer who said that you can’t take in the good parts and leave behind the bad. If you do that, you’re still giving strangers power over how you see yourself. I also took a note from Brené Brown, who says to make a short list people whose opinions you actually care about and focus on that. That has been so helpful.
You have gone from therapist to entrepreneur with a team of 30 people and 180k online followers in a brief period of time. How did that happen so quickly?
We don’t advertise, so I think it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and the right situation—which feels weird to say, because that situation was COVID. Three years ago, the fact that the Instagram handle @queersextherapy was available says so much about what was missing in the space. There was stuff available for queerness, sexuality, and therapy, but nothing that existed at that intersection. I was the one who happened to fill that niche at that time when there was a deep need for it. When COVID hit, so many people were having existential crises around identity and sex, and a lot more time to think about that. Online is where most of us were going to seek connection. For me, it was a natural outgrowth from those circumstances. I was not setting out to do what I’m doing. If this were a job description of a position I came across three years ago, I never would have applied for it, but it has evolved over time as I have been ready for it.
Since lingerie is our life blood, of course we want to know how its role fits into your work.
In my work, especially with queer and trans clients, we talk a lot about gender dysphoria and things that ground you in your gender identity. So, lingerie comes up in that conversation—not just in sex, but in everyday life. For example, if I’m working with someone who is a trans woman, they may not be in a position to dress in alignment with their gender identity, but they can wear that one piece of lingerie under their suit. That can be very powerful and used as a mental-health tool for some people. Someone may have to dress in a particular way for their safety, but they can dress differently underneath. Lingerie companies used to market their products as being very much for the observer, and some do even now. But a shift that we’re seeing, which Thistle and Spire really embodies, is that this can be for you, and you can spend money on something that no one else may ever see. And you are worth that much!
What’s next for you?
This is a very exciting time and we put a lot into Pride Month. I wear many hats, and right now I’m working on several projects, including a book proposal about how the sex education most of us received was traumatic, and how recovery from that can occur with the help of a queer-affirming, sex-positive lens. My team is also rebranding for The Expansive Group website and launching another Instagram account in June. We’re opening a Chicago-based brick-and-mortar location, and I’ve been going to LA periodically to film and help companies integrate more learning into high-quality productions.
You can learn more about Casey and their work at The Expansive Group and on the Safeword podcast, which streams on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.