For my 2018 LGBT Pride Month observance this year, I wanted to focus on an enterprise that has a wonderful outreach to the LGBTQ community. Our community is 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, N.C. and partial and intensive outpatient programming in Raleigh, N.C. 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 six-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, N.C. 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 is 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 out about who they are while undergoing gender transition. Can you elaborate more on the impact being transgender may have on eating disorders?
Rachel: For many transgender people, the 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, call 919-864-1004 and check out their website at carolinaeatingdisorders.com.