Natasha Nelson - LGBTQI+ Champion feature

Natasha, or Tasha as she prefers to be called, is the Trust’s new LGBTQI+ Champion. She originally hails from Salford in Manchester and is a qualified and registered mental health nurse. She currently works for our Gender Identity Development Services in Leeds. When Tasha isn’t busy working she is a keen roller skater, Ariel arts performer and reader. Her favourite book is “Oranges are not the only fruit- Jeanette Winterson”.

Natasha Nelson photo JPEG

Tasha originally trained as a mental health nurse at the age of 18 and qualified when she was just 21. Her first job was in a medium and low secure forensic unit. After that she worked in CAMHS, where she trained in various modalities including dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR). Tasha also worked for a period of time at the Resilience Hub in Manchester, a service set up in response to the Manchester Arena bombing 2017, a role that she describes as very close to her heart.

“It feels weird now, looking back at the old plain version of me as I was when I qualified as a nurse – without tattoos, piercings and brightly coloured hair. That old version of me just did not feel like me. So all of this [she gestures to herself] came with coming out. I’m not suggesting that people have to be alternative to be part of the queer community, but for me that was part of it.”

Tasha re-made herself physically as part of a process of reinventing herself. In a gesture almost towards what French feminists call body writing Tasha explains, “I got into tattoos as a statement against the heteronormative. It all started just after I qualified as a nurse and was figuring out my identity and who I was. I didn’t feel comfortable in the ‘shape’ of the person that I was, it felt like I’d been moulded into this prescribed form of a person; a very gendered version of being that I just didn’t feel I fitted into. So I had to break that apart and figure out who I was.

“So one day I decided – I’m going to dye my hair, and I’m going to have tattoos and I’m going to have piercings! Because that was what I felt much more comfortable doing and being. At the same time, it was also a process of coming out as queer. It was like a re-birth from the person I had been to the person that I felt I was and it gave me a real sense of understanding my own identity.”

Tasha’s preferred tattoo artists are Baby Knowles, who is known for his fantastic portraiture, and she also frequents a feminist tattoo shop Black Coral Collective that is responsible for the black and white flowers that adorn her arms. She only has one colour tattoo and laughing, she says, “I had a rainbow for National Coming Out Day. I’d always wanted a rainbow, but I’d never had colour before and I had an allergic reaction to the red ink. It swelled up and got infected. So as a joke I call it my homophobic left foot. I’m glad that it happened there, because my plan was to get a full-colour left sleeve – can you imagine if I’d started a sleeve and it had all got infected.”

Tasha joined the Tavi in January last year and says, “I came here from mental health trusts that were fast paced, with a lot going on. During the height of the pandemic I was working in the centre of a major UK city in a CAMHS unit that was the blue light trauma service for that city. I was going into A&E and doing face to face assessments most days. It was fast moving and pressured work.

“Moving to GIDS was like moving from one extreme to another. Moving more towards the pandemic experience that everyone else had been having. But the team here has been really lovely and has helped me settle in. I’m really enjoying it. My team is a really kind, reflective and intelligent bunch of people. It was really tough coming into a new job in the middle of a pandemic, but they have made it as easy as it possibly could be, while adjusting to so much change.”

At the same time as working in CAMHS, liaising with A&E departments around young people in emergency situations, Tasha also carved out a niche for herself specialising in working with the LGBTQI+ community. This included being on the LGBTQI+ steering group across all the Trusts in Greater Manchester.

When asked how she came to work at the Tavi Tasha replies, “Gender services has always been a big interest of mine. In most of the CAMHS services where I have worked I have overseen the gender diverse and trans young people that have needed the service. Before the pandemic working in gender didn’t really seem like a realistic option as the bases for gender services were so far from where I lived. The pandemic has changed everything: how accessible things are, given the option for remote working, but also made me reconsider my own priorities and what I want to do. So, when a friend forwarded me the job in Leeds I threw my hat in the ring because it was something that I always wanted to do.”

Although new to the trust Tasha didn’t hesitate to also throw her hat into the ring when the LGBTQI+ Champion role was advertised.

Tasha says, “Part of why I applied for the LGBTQI+ Champion role is to be honest and visible. I’m part of the community, being polyamorous and queer, and that is something that has shaped my interest in working with a diverse population. I feel that it can be quite difficult for people accessing mental health services, when they don’t fit into simple heteronormative roles such as a nuclear family. So for me it felt very important to be a therapist with knowledge and lived experience of this. So I’ve always encouraged open conversation with colleagues in the services I have worked within, colleagues would come to me and ask questions and think really openly and curiously.

“I understand on more levels than one, about the difficulties that the community faces. I don’t just understand it from the position of being a therapist and working with LGBTQI+ young people, I also understand it from a personal perspective. I understand from a lived experience about how difficult it can be in workplaces when you don’t feel that people share or align with your values. I have some quite significant experiences of this in both the workplace and wider.

“One of the things that I feel needs to be highlighted is that the Network is and needs to be intersectional. It is also a platform for people of colour as well. It needs to be a space where we can support each other, an opportunity for networking, sharing resources. It isn’t just LGBT either. The QI+ is really important. Asexuality, gender diverse, questioning people, polyamorous people to name just a few. It needs to be a safe place that promotes dialogue around intersectionality, accountability and positive change.

“Another part of what I want to do is build more of a sense of community within the queer community at the Tavi – so that means social events, networking and creating a space that promotes dialogue. Having community is really important in the workplace.

“I’m quite new to the Tavi and this role, so there is scope for understanding what changes can and need to happen. I want that to be led by the Network as well. So although, as part of the community, I have my own thoughts and feelings about how I want to change and shape the Trust, my role is also to hear what other people have to say and speak on behalf of the Network.

“I think for me this LGBTQI+ Champion role formalises a lot of the things that I’ve done or tried to do in previous roles. In every single job that I have had I’ve always found myself, trying to make changes or contributing to change. Not only in terms of LGTBTQI+. I’m really keen on service development and for me this role formalises a platform to influence actual change and do a lot of the things that are often more difficult to put into action.”