Carolina House – Addressing Eating Disorders with a Special Outreach to the LGBTQ Community

Blog author Stan Kimer (at right) with Beth Howard (left) and Rachel Porter (middle) on the grounds of “The Estate.”

For my 2018 LGBT Pride Month blog this year, I want to focus on an enterprise that has a wonderful outreach to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) community. Our community is now moving from tolerance and acceptance to now having organizations that understand and focus specifically on our needs.

One such organization located in North Carolina (but serving clients up and down the east coast) is Carolina House. Recently I visited and toured their six-bed facility (called “The Estate” ) with Rachel Porter, Clinical Care Advocate and Lead Therapist at the Estate, and Beth Howard, Director of Clinical Outreach. I also interviewed Rachel over lunch.


Stan: What is Carolina House?

Rachel: Carolina House is an eating disorder program, which provides two residential houses in Durham, NC and partial and intensive outpatient programming in Raleigh. We provide a safe and inclusive space for individuals to engage in the work of healing from an eating disorder and associated struggles. We provide an experiential approach to prepare people to return to their full lives. Our original 16-bed facility is called “The Homestead” and exclusively serves women, and our newer 6-bed you are visiting today is called “The Estate.”


Stan: What makes “The Estate” unique?

Rachel: The Estate is Carolina House’s first all gender inclusive residence that opened in September 2017 in Durham, NC. Our clinical and medical team is dedicated to competently and compassionately serving the LGBTQ population who are facing challenges with eating disorders. The Estate is a six bed colonial home that allows for tranquil healing situated on more than 10 acres.


Stan: So are there particular unique challenges that LGBTQ individuals with eating disorders may face?
Rachel: Because the LGBTQ community are so often dramatically underserved and poorly served, very often by the time they get to Carolina House, they have heightened difficulty and are sometimes in a more severe state. Sometimes incompetent and callus care has caused them to not reach out for help. And the gender dysphoria that the transgender community faces may make it even more difficult for trans folks to find peace for their bodies – something that the vast majority of people with an eating disorder can relate to.


Stan: There certainly has been much more focus and discussion lately about the transgender community and many more transgender individuals feel safer with coming about who they are undergoing gender transition. Can you elaborate more on the impact being transgender may have on eating disorders?

Rachel: For many transgender people, they only way they found for their body to match their gender was to starve, binge on food, and use other disordered eating behaviors. Sometimes it is more deeply engrained, further compounding these issues. Getting to a point of recovery can be difficult as they find acceptance for their bodies. The fear of fatness that so much of our society fears is heighten in those with eating disorders and is sometimes even more heightened in the trans and gender fluid community. The gender fluid individuals I have worked with want their bodies to appear in a more ambiguous way, and they don’t have many role models of larger bodied individuals.


Stan: Is there anything else you would like to share, including your own personal philosophy about your work?

Rachel: My philosophy is to believe people for who they say they are, to accept people as they are, and to believe in their lived experience.

Stan: Rachel, thank you so much for your outstanding work with our often underserved and misunderstood community.


For more information about the Carolina House, check out their website, https://www.carolinaeatingdisorders.com/ or call (919) 864-1004.

An introduction to “Gender Fluidity” including a parent’s story

In by last blog, “A Diversity and Inclusion Case Study – Getting it Right” I shared the story of a Men’s Clothing Chain whose customer service representative and store manager did a wonderful job of addressing the concerns of a mother wanting to find a nice suit for her gender fluid child to wear to primary school graduation. I promised to share a little more about what gender fluidity is and more of Innes’ (the mother) and Carolyn’s (the child) story.

The “Gender Diversity Education and Services” website had about the best description of what gender fluidity is. They provide this definition, “Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid people do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of women and men. For some people, gender fluidity extends beyond behavior and interests, and actually serves to specifically define their gender identity. In other words, a person may feel they are more female on some days and more male on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately. Their identity is seen as being gender fluid.”

Now read the story of mother Innes Clodd telling us about her gender fluid child Carolyn:

“It’s hard to know where to begin, as this really has been more of a journey than a one-time event. She came to me when she was much younger, maybe 9, and said she thinks maybe she was transgender. I really had no idea how to react, what to think, how to feel; it was confusing at best for me, never mind her.

I accepted what she had told me and made some calls, set up some meetings and helped her get in touch with some resources that could help her make sense of what she was feeling. One of the groups had a parental unit, so I attended that group; it was quite helpful, but at the same time, added to my confusion.
As time went on, I decided it was best to let Carolyn set the pace, and I would follow her lead. She had changed her name to August, and the school was very supportive with her decision. He decided he didn’t really like that name, so changed again to Kryss. Again, there was a fairly supportive environment. There are 2 older brothers in the family, who tried to be supportive, but most of the time it came off as making fun, although they did apologize, in a way that boys do, for hurting his feelings.

Again, time goes on, things seem to be going ok, then my partner at the time, who is not the biological father, started to call him names, like “thing, it, whatever.” This spurred many arguments, since I will go to the ends of the earth for my children. Finally it is over, he is gone, the energy calms. Kryss then reverts back to Carolyn, but cannot decide which pronoun to use, neither one feels 100% right. At that point she states that she is gender fluid. Honestly, I had no idea what that even was, I had to look it up.

We moved away from that town, as my ex was stalking us, to a whole new place. The only downfall, it was Carolyn’s last year of her primary school. She was very sad to leave her friends behind, and really had a hard time making friends this past year, as she knew that we would be moving again this summer, so she would again be in an environment as a complete new comer.

Regardless if she expresses herself as a girl or a boy, Carolyn’s joy of life shines through a beautiful smile.

During the past school year, she talked to me a lot about how she was feeling, the struggles she was having, and also the times when she was accepted for being who she was. On any given day she could identify as either male, female, or sometimes flip flop over the course of the day. Her main struggle seemed to be which category she fit in to. I told her not to put herself in a box, not to label herself, and that she did not have to fit in to any category as long as she was happy, being true to herself, her identity would come in time. There were many conversations, and many tears shed. My heart was breaking for her, but all I could do was listen and be supportive.

Finally!! Success!! She began just being Carolyn, sometimes boy Carolyn, sometimes girl Carolyn, hence the nick name “Baby They”. I even got her a birthday cake that said “Happy Birthday Baby They”, she loved it.

Then came time to talk about primary school graduation, something I was secretly not looking forward to. Then the words came out of her mouth, as I knew they would “I want to wear a suit to grad Mum”….

… and you will have to read my previous blog to see how the story of the graduation outfit turns out!