The Last Page is dedicated to individuals who are making a positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay.
This issue, we check in with Healing Village owner, mental health counselor and PFLAG St. Pete President Abbie Rolf from Tampa Bay. Keep an eye on this space to learn more about the movers and shakers of your community.
Hometown: Beardstown, IL
Identifies As: Queer/Pansexual and Transgender/Genderqueer/Genderfluid
Out Year: 2016 as Genderqueer
Profession: Mental health private practice owner; Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
Professional role model: I don’t know that I have one particular professional role model. I strive to be knowledgeable and compassionate. If at the end of the day I can say that’s what I’ve been, then call that a success.
Title of your autobiography: “Well, That Was Entirely Unexpected!”
Hobbies Kayaking, snorkeling, reading action/drama/historical fiction and spending time with my partner and our dogs.
What can you share about your work as the owner of Healing Village?
Healing Village is an intimate mental health private practice in Largo, where I practice as a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern. I specifically serve my transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, and gender diverse siblings, the LGBQIAP+ community, those who are consensually non-monogamous and those who practice BDSM/kink. More information can be found at HealingVillageTherapy.com.
How do you champion for the local LGBTQ community?
Education, advocacy and being a visible part of the local community to show young people and their parents that queer and transgender people can grow up and not only survive, but thrive. I also co-facilitate the parent and youth support group TransParent, Jr. at Metro Inclusive Health. Teaching parents early to affirm their children provides a better, safer future for LGBTQIAP+ youth.
What is your favorite thing to read in Watermark?
Watermark’s Wedding Bells. I always enjoy seeing the love and devotion within our community. The jubilant celebration of our right to marry whomever we love always warms my heart.
What is your favorite local LGBTQ event?
Hands down, St Pete Pride. My first Pride celebration was here in St. Pete and while it was overwhelming, the energy and feeling of community was so powerful.
What is your favorite thing about the local LGBTQ community?
My favorite thing so far is that it seems committed to supporting local businesses, especially queer and transgender owned businesses.
What would you like to see improved in the local LGBTQ community?
One opportunity for growth I’ve observed is the need for greater understanding and inclusion for transgender people in the local community, especially the inherent respect for each individual person’s experience of their identity.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t make yourself smaller or feel the need to be less in order to make yourself less likely to be rejected. Being all of your authentic self is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
What was your coming out process as a member of the LGBTQ community?
I didn’t have a big “coming out” in terms of my sexual identity. I didn’t experience a difference in attraction regardless of gender and around 13 came to realize this wasn’t the consistent experience for everyone. I found the term bisexual in 1999 and pansexual in 2004. I first met another transgender person in 2004, but didn’t come to begin exploring my own gender until 2015. In 2016 I came out as genderqueer and genderfluid and began using they/them pronouns in Nov. 2017. It took a lot of soul searching and filtering through “you’re not trans enough to call yourself transgender” before I was comfortable and confident enough to also say “I am transgender.”
What are some of the rewards and challenges of your work?
My greatest reward as a therapist was the day a former client told me “If it wasn’t for you believing me that day, I wouldn’t be alive today.” As therapists we don’t often hear the depth of our impact. Each session I spend with a client, I’m gifted the chance to witness a moment in their journey. I have the privilege to be present through their struggles and their joys. It is absolutely an honor to be present through a client’s gender transition, whatever that may mean for each individual.
One challenge for me as a therapist is the unknown; what happens with my clients when I’m no longer seeing them. Whether they transfer to another therapist, suddenly stop coming to sessions or terminate services successfully I often think of them and hope they’re well and living their best life. Another, more protective challenge I experience is the struggle to educate and inform therapists who claim competence to serve our community, without additional training, of the harm and trauma they may inadvertently cause. This is especially true for my transgender and gender diverse siblings.
What community organizations do you belong to?
I was recently elected as the president of St. Pete PFLAG. PFLAG was an incredibly important support to me in my young adult years, as my own family is not affirming, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to give back. I’m also a member of a few professional organizations including WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health), TPATH (Transgender Professional Association for Transgender Health), GLMA (Gay & Lesbian Mental Health Association) and ALGBTIC (Association for LGBT Issues in Counseling).
What’s it like working with PFLAG?
Fantastic so far! I was completing my student internship at Metro Inclusive Health and it was brought to my attention that [founders] Nancy and John “Lefty” Desmond were looking to step-back a bit from PFLAG St. Pete. The person who brought this to my attention thought I would make a great candidate for president and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get involved in another capacity. Nancy and Lefty have been incredibly supportive, albeit very large shoes to fill! Nearly the entire Board of Directors is new this year and I’m excited for what’s to come … we always love to see new faces.