If you check out Psychology Today’s long list of counsellors in Calgary, you’ll find just two non-binary therapists, with Gio Dolcecore being one of them. However, Dolcecore was only able to truly find their calling after a disappointing stint at the city’s police academy led them to train as a social worker at the University of Calgary. Now, they help others on their own journeys of self-discovery while encouraging other non-binary individuals to become therapists themselves.
Dolcecore says discovering their own gender “has been kind of like a life-long thing.”
“I don’t think there’s been a single moment in my life where it was like a light switch went off, and it was like ‘Oh! I’m non-binary.’ I think it was a combination and accumulation of a lot of different events.”
One of the earliest such moments happened when Dolcecore was attending Catholic school in Grade 6.
“I was participating in recess with some of my other friends, and I went inside to use the bathroom, and when I went inside, I immediately went to the boy’s bathroom,” Dolcecore said, adding that they didn’t really understand the “social divide between boys and girls.”
Dolcecore didn’t think twice about the possibility of this being inappropriate or wrong but was reprimanded when a teacher found out what happened. The school then called Dolcecore’s parents and they were taken home.
The next day, Dolecore remembers their parents tried to explain to the principal, “I just had to pee really bad. I wasn’t trying to be a bad person.”
“But I saw my parents lying on my behalf to get me out of trouble, trouble that I didn’t know and no one really explained it to me. So, for the longest part of my life after that, I just thought if I lied about how I felt expressing my gender, I could keep myself safe. I thought that was normal; I thought that’s what people did, you lied about what felt good.”
After that moment, Dolcecore didn’t question their gender again until college when they joined a triathlon team and started working out. During that training, Dolecore said they were “trying to get as skinny as possible because that’s what females in the triathlete world do.”
“I remember I thought I was being jealous that the guys were bulking so quickly, and it was taking me so long to see myself put on some body mass,” Dolcecore explains. At the time, Dolcecore thought they were a “bad person” for feeling that way.
However, looking back at that moment, Dolecore believes that jealousy came from wanting to “change my body type or body presentation to be more masculine – as opposed to chasing these social constructs of feminine athletic success.”
Despite these confusing times, Dolcecore enjoyed their time at Mount Royal University and graduated with a bachelor of arts in criminal justice in 2011. They even served as one of that year’s valedictorians. “I was able to do the final speech for the graduating classes in the arts, which was amazing,” they recall.
Starting on a career path
Subsequently, Dolcecore tried to become a police officer with the goal of helping their community.
“Back then, there was this mentality that you moulded yourself into this perfect image that CPS (Calgary Police Service) wanted you to be. I was not that perfect image.”
Dolecore found that they “asked too many questions.”
“You would always hear me say, ‘Okay, so we restrained them but how are we going to help them?” According to Dolcecore, they were usually met with a disappointing answer, “That’s not your job.”
On Dolcecore’s last day at the academy, the class practiced a tackle and restraint drill on each other.
“I was put in a restraint and I remember tapping out for the person to stop,” they said. “I almost blacked out, and I just remember, he finally let go of me.”
That’s when they say their classmate said to shut up. After that incident, Dolcecore says, “I was just like, ‘Fuck this. This is not the place for me.’ And I just quit.”
Dolecore says the CPS has gotten better since then. However, that moment caused them to do some soul searching. They decided they wanted to pursue a master’s degree in clinical social work.
“I wanted to help people be advocates and wanted to help people feel comfortable to be an activist. I knew that those values were morals in my life. So, I wanted to pick a career that helped me encompass those values and those morals,” says Dolcecore. “I looked at social work, and I was like ‘Yes! This is the one. This is what I have to be.’”
Finding passion in support
During this time at the University of Calgary, Dolcecore met a transgender person who had not yet transitioned to a specific gender. Instead, they presented many non-binary characteristics.
This interaction led Dolcecore to the realization that there’s an “in-between” they didn’t know existed, motivating them to do more research and even inspiring their thesis.
That thesis focused primarily on trans identities and figuring out the best practices to support people in deciding to either socially transition, medically transition or both.
“That’s probably when I learned the most about my gender, and how my gender is a combination of femininity from my past that I’m proud of,” Dolcecore says. “Those were the beginning days of me finding confidence. And then, if you know me now, I’m very masculine and I’m very proud of that.”
Dolcecore explains that they demonstrate their non-binary identity by playing with the gender spectrum. Using this experience, Dolcecore shares stories with others about how they can find their truth without being impacted by social constructs of how that’s supposed to look.
“Technically, I’m not supposed to look like any social construct that’s actually out there…but that’s what I’m most proud of. I love that I don’t fit the mould.”
Social justice social worker
Today, Dolcecore works at a private practice called Tharseo Counselling. Here, they specialize in sexuality, individuality, self-discovery, milestones, transitions, grief and loss. They also work as a counsellor at student services at the U of C and teach as a sessional instructor with the social work faculty.
With 10 years of experience working in social services and roughly six years working as a counsellor and therapist, Dolcecore has spent a fair amount of time in the industry and has touched many lives.
Alyjah Neil is one of those people. Neil is an Indigenous trans person who identifies as non-binary and two-spirit. They are completing their masters in clinical social work at the University of Calgary.
As part of that degree, Neil attended a lecture Dolcecore gave about being trans and non-binary.
“I went home from class that day and told my partner, ‘I think I’m trans,’” Neil explains. “I then spent the next several months researching everything I could about being non-binary. I slowly came out to my family and friends.”
Neil found support from a friend who was also trans and further along in their gender journey. But, soon after Neil started hormone treatment, their friend died after an overdose.
“I felt very isolated and alone. I went to a transmasculine support group a few months later, and Gio was presenting.”
After the presentation, Neil confided in Dolcecore about everything that had been happening in their life. “We’ve been close ever since. Gio has mentored and taught me so much about being non-binary, being a social worker and being a human that’s healing.”
Together, the two friends started training social workers to operate more effectively and inclusively with Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+ and youth populations.
Dolcecore and Neil have also been involved with Planting Seeds, a training conference to spark dialogue around working with two-spirit youth.
And Neil has been a guest speaker for some of Dolcecore’s lectures at the University of Calgary.
“I’ve learned that friendship and community with fellow non-binary and trans folks are vital to my gender journey. I have learned that no matter how dark it gets or how long it’s been since you called them, if it’s dark in your head – just call. They’ll show up. And vice versa.”
Neil hopes to continue their research and consulting while also having a private practice to work with couples and individuals who are BIPOC or trans/queer.
Support in the 2SLGBTQ+ community
Dolcecore wishes there were more such 2SLGBTQ+ individuals among the mixture of excellent therapists and social workers in Calgary, but the solution is not simple.
“I think the reality of that is when you think about queer individuals growing up, there are so many more things that we have to heal from” – from microaggression and discrimination to oppression and trauma.
“It’s really hard to heal from all of those things and then become a healer yourself. So, I know that the barrier’s there. I just wish that we had more support to guide kids to heal sooner so that they can be supporters and caregivers and healers in their adult life.”
“I wish when I was a kid that I had a butch therapist, or a non-binary therapist, or a trans therapist,” Dolcecore adds. “I wish that were the case because then it wouldn’t have been this like magic, mystic unicorn that I was dreaming about. It would have been real.”
However, Dolcecore believes we are slowly working towards that goal and expresses their appreciation for Calgary agencies working to help the 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
“There are agencies and organizations in the city that are doing the really hard work; for instance, I really truly believe the Centre for Sexuality and their Camp fYrefly program is changing the world and changing the trajectory of a lot of 2SLGBTQ+ kids,” they explain.
“I tell people all the time; I wish when I was a kid that I went to Camp fYrefly, that would have answered everything, like that would have taken 15 years of therapy off the books for me.”
Dolcecore believes the more we uplift and support programs such as the Centre for Sexuality, the more we can start to heal our 2SLGBTQ+ folks.
“They don’t always have to be the kid with mental health [problems], they don’t always have to be the kid who’s not like everyone else, they don’t always have to have a problem, and I think those agencies are teaching kids just that,” they explain.
“Being gay, being trans, being non-binary, being queer, it’s not a problem. It’s actually awesome. It’s something that you get to celebrate; it’s something cool that you get to show the rest of the world.”