LGBTQ+ & Mental Health: Two Voices
In honor of Pride Month, we have reached out to MMW volunteers who are also part of the LGBTQ+ community to share their perspectives and spread their voices regarding the intersectionality between being queer and advocating for their rights and mental health.
And this is what they have shared.
Pride month is here and queerness is acutely celebrated. But the cohort of LGBTQIAP+ needs more than a celebration. Awareness is certainly on the rise, but how much of that turns into action? We are far from the heteronormative-patriarchal privilege.
As a 30-year-old queer cis-gendered man, my queerness is integral to my identity, while at the same time, I do not want to wear it on my sleeve. I want to be treated as unique and not different. That’s because our needs are unique and in the recognition of that lies true affirmation of being there for us.
During my formative years, I had no means of belonging in a binary world during my formative years. Home, school, and all circles were largely prescriptive of what I should be and do as a man. At times that lack of belonging would push me to the edge, but I found my way back home through the support I had. Because I was able to reach out, and I knew where to look. For many queer individuals, that is not an option.
Even today, society presents with inadequacies when it comes to the LGBTQIAP+ community, which puts mental health on a pedestal with ill consequences. Where I live today, same-sex marriage is not recognized. And the label of marriage certainly brings with it multiple benefits. For instance, when you look for housing, the mere mention of your queerness puts you on a blacklist. We have no legal rights to experience parenthood, which begs us to consider how we approach the spectrum? Is it enough to take pride in who we are when there is a lack of equality in everyday things? Doctors tolerate us, but do they reaffirm through a non-binary stance? Workplace diversity works, but does it take care of the micro-level aggressions we face for being queer?
Change has to happen both from a bottom-up approach; we need to start from everyday small things that affirm an individual and a top-down one, where explicit policy-making is on the go. On the brighter side, social media came as a blessing. Where immediate people could not take me into their world, Instagram support groups welcomed me. The ease of access on Instagram and other such apps has removed the lack of belonging to a certain extent. Laws are changing, but real change happens between two individuals.
A good starting point is redefining and reliving allyship where an ally not just tolerates people on the spectrum but advocates for them. A simple example would be standing up for someone in need. The journey of a queer individual is a continuum, just like everyone else. Hence, consistent visibility (as opposed to pseudo-allyship) and recognition keeping in mind the autonomy of the person, is another opportunity for change. Rigorous training and education starting at a level where individuals start forming concepts gives them a healthy and flexible template to navigate the non-dichotomous nature of the world we live in and the life we are living. Our future generations model and supersede what we already know.
I have always considered myself very privileged for the freedom to present myself and come out freely without judgment or pressure. I pretty much always felt supported by my closer environment, and, at the end of the day, I was born in a European country whose society has evolved significantly through the past decades.
However, how do we get to feel empowered and happy with our decisions when society and the main institutions that accompany us throughout our learning process and growth are not encouraging and educating us accordingly?
As a bisexual woman whose sexual preferences have been overly sexualized by society over the past years, I certainly also had very confusing moments throughout my teenage years about this very same question. Being an adolescent is already a challenging and confusing period in so many ways, and finding yourself caught up in an environment that doesn’t want to see diversity and doesn’t embrace or respect it can definitely make things even more arduous. Unfortunately, this is still the case for so many queer folks around the world today.
Here is where mental health and pride come in.
Something I personally always missed, and I guess back then did not even notice it was so necessary, was the take and the responsibility of educational institutions in sex education and mental health even though I was fortunate enough to have sex-ed at school. The generations
before Millenials did not even get to enjoy some necessary safe sex talk. But for other LGBTQIA+ folks and me, we still missed half or more of the so much-needed content regardless of what we got offered back then.
Yet the conversation would always be about how not to catch STDs, the use of condoms and other female-only contraceptive methods, and how to not find yourself in a nonplanned
pregnancy. But we never got told about pleasure, personal sexual preferences, sex with someone of your own sex, and other forms of sexual intimacy and relationships such as polyamory as well as gender identity, empathy, understanding, and consent in intimate interpersonal relationships. And we need these topics to be addressed by professionals in the matter.
I think it’s important to understand that all these concepts go hand in hand, even if you consider yourself straight. Not identifying yourself as part of the LGBTQIA+ community does not eliminate the responsibility we have as a society to see, hear, and embrace diversity and its visibility in the world. And I believe that starts from the early stages of our lives and particularly in common cultural spaces where labels should not be the main protagonist.
As we grow up, the school environment becomes workspaces, our day jobs. If we haven’t integrated these learnings correctly before, doing so later in our lives can become even more challenging, and we can find ourselves in a position of vulnerability not only socially and mentally but also economically. Not to mention if you are also in a racialized position or are part of other minorities. We must offer private as well as common and nonjudgmental spaces to debate these matters and make sure everyone feels seen, validated, and respected.
Many years have passed since Millenials graduated from high school, and all I hope for the new and current generations is to find a safe space to speak up, be respected, and feel their diversity embraced. We are here for the people that still feel they do not have the freedom to speak up, live their lives, love freely, hold hands on the street with whomever they want to, and feel proud about who they are today without feeling shame or fear.
If you are one of those people: you matter, you are heard, and you are loved.