Today is World Mental Health Day. This week is National Coming Out Week.
These two things are not always mutually exclusive…
I have been “out” since 8th grade. I was also diagnosed with depression in 8th grade, only to later have anxiety and borderline personality disorder thrown into that mental health cocktail. The unfortunate reality is that mental health is often affected when one comes out, is in the process of coming out, or feels as though they are unable to come out.
There’s a lot more that goes into this than most people think, and while everyone’s story is different, I would like to start with mine:
I knew I was gay before I had a word for it. In Kindergarten, I had drawn a heart around a girl who I had a massive crush on. Kindergarten. In 6th grade, as I started going through puberty, I felt as though something wasn’t necessarily right. I was always uncomfortable in my body, I didn’t find all the changes natural, and boy, did I hate having to wear a camisole. By 7th grade, I began to find a term for what I was. I spent the entire year trying to feel comfortable with it. In 8th grade, I entered into my first ever relationship. It was with a girl (spoiler alert: they all have been). I lied to my parents about it until the summer before 9th grade. In fact, I lied to a lot of people about it, or just never brought it up. The truth was that I was still trying to navigate KNOWING that I was gay in a very, very straight world. When I came out to my parents, I was initially met with resistance.
People who meet my parents now don’t tend to believe this, as my parents have become very embracing of my sexuality (thank you Mom and Dad). But the truth is, for quite some time, my parents were scared. Terrified actually. In case you haven’t noticed, the world isn’t always a kind place for the LGBTQ+ community. We clashed heads for a while. I wanted to wear tuxes to dances, my family wanted me to wear dresses. I wanted to wear my hair short, my family wanted me to have it stylized more femininely. We compromised. I looked like Justin Bieber for half my life, and wore dresses to dances for two years. My junior year, my parents started to embrace it, and so did I. I openly went to dances with my girlfriend at the time, in a tux, and finally saw why people loved high school dances so much. I kept on looking like Justin Bieber, and didn’t regret a minute of it until I got into college (sorry past self for the swooshy Bieber hair). But my parents weren’t the only ones who struggled with it:
So did I. I let people make their speculations until 11th grade. I only told my closest friends or people I knew cared before then. Everyone else was on their own to figure out my sexuality. I still was struggling to be comfortable in my own skin, and to be honest to this day I still am. I was getting physically and verbally assaulted out of restrooms. I was called faggot more times than I can count, and not usually by my peers at school. Instead, it was people who didn’t know me. People who saw me in a public place and didn’t know me well enough to not “fear” me. I was scared to hold hands with my significant other in public. I was scared to draw attention to myself. I was scared.
My junior year I stopped hiding it at school, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I fully embraced my sexuality. And, if you know me now, you probably know me as someone who really truly wants the world to know just how gay I am. Why? Because I’m fucking proud of it. It’s just as much of who I am as my love of socks is (and boy oh boy, do I love socks).
However, there are other aspects of my identity that I still struggle with. I currently identify as a homosexual female. Is it possible that may change in the future? Absolutely. The physical aspects of my female self, in all honesty, often make me cringe. At some point in my life, I may have to do more than simply acknowledge that fact. For now, acknowledgement is enough.
As I already mentioned, everyone’s story is different, and how could they not be? There are so many factors that come into play when someone is in the coming out process. What is the social climate they find themselves in? What about the political? What is their family structure like? Friends? How are the other aspects of their life going? A lot goes into this process. Hell, a lot of times, one of the biggest factors of all is where they fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Certain struggles I face as a gay woman are vastly different than a gay male, someone who identifies as bisexual, a transgendered individual… etc. There are common themes in a lot of our struggles, but as a gay woman I will never be told that I need to “just choose” one gender or the other. I will never be told that I’m “being selfish for not picking which gender I want to be with.” There are some barriers that others will face often that I never have, and vice versa. Some people who identify as gay women will never be assaulted out of a restroom like I have. Others will.
So, if all our stories and some of our challenges are different, then how can I justify saying that the coming out process often takes a massive toll on someone’s mental health? The following are stats from The Trevor Project (find out more about the Trevor Project here):
- The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth.
- Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
- Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
If that doesn’t scare you, it should. But, we can make a difference. Each and everyone of us can help decrease these statistics. Here’s how:
Love and acceptance. Be an ally, and be a true ally.
Friends: If someone comes out to you, be happy for them. Don’t take away from their moment, even if you’ve suspected all along. It is a massive step to say those words out loud. Do not silence them by saying you assumed. It is often more harmful than it is helpful. Embrace your friends and all they are, and stand up for them the second someone doesn’t. The world is always going to be filled with ignorant people if we don’t do our best to help educate. The world is always going to be filled with hatred if we don’t attempt to show love. It is easier to dehumanize someone if you are not met with resistance. So resist against that hatred. Let the world know, and your friend know, that you will not tolerate hatred. Stick up for them when it is needed. No matter how comfortable you are in your own skin, it is hard to stick up for yourself. Be a voice if they need you to be.
Families: For God’s sake please do not let who your child loves interfere with your love for them. I see this more often than not, and I consider myself privileged to have the parents that I have. Love your children. Love all parts of them. Most of the time, the acceptance that is most important to them is yours, and it can be detrimental if it’s not given. If you are scared or worried, express that as fear, not as disapproval. Share those fears together. Chances are, they’re scared too. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from being a member of your family unit. Love, love, love unconditionally. If religion interferes, remember the part about God loving all his children before you remember the parts about sin. If you’re reading that far into it, remember that we’re all sinners… Loving another human being happily should be the least sinful thing there is. Understand that this is not a choice. It’s a part of who your child is. It always will be, even if they have to repress it. Don’t be the reason they have to repress it. I cannot express how important your love and acceptance is, and it can make a night and day difference.
And most importantly,
For those of you who are coming out, who have came out, who are afraid to come out, and who may not know yet if coming out is ever something they will have to do: You are wonderful. You are brilliant. You are beautiful. You are strong and you are courageous. You are everything you were before you came out. Coming out does not take anything away from your character. If people act differently towards you because you have come out, that is a reflection of their character, not yours. I know this can be, and often is, such a difficult thing to do. It can be so damn scary. But, I hope you can do it. I hope you do it, and I hope once you have it is so damn liberating. I hope you value your own acceptance. I hope you come to embrace it. I hope the world does you right. I hope you love yourselves as much as so many people do. I hope you have people that fight intolerance with love. I hope you become so comfortable that you can be one of those people fighting.
We have to come together to change those statistics. Love is a tool more powerful than anything else in the world. So be an ally. Be a friend. Be someone who loves unconditionally.
And, in the words of A Great Big World:
If you’re gay, then you’re gay! Don’t pretend that you’re straight! You can be who you are anyday of the week! You are unlike the others, so strong and unique, we’re all with you!