MENTAL HEALTH IN THE LGBT COMMUNITY
A JOURNEY OF IDENTITY & A QUEST FOR ACCEPTANCE
By Alexis Pivnicny
The coming out process is a journey. It is something that you need to experience to fully understand. However, even the most personal and solitary of journeys such as this, would not be possible without the support and love that comes from community.
“And whatever you are.” - toxic friend, circa early 2000s.
I never would have imagined myself to be an LGBT-centric writer. I also never really imagined myself to be LGBT. While I’m not a “LILLY” (later in life lesbian) I am definitely not a lesbian who has been unabashedly gay my whole life. I came out in my mid-twenties and since then it has been a mix of relief, denial and assorted other emotions that come with any existence. While my dad said he “figured” I was gay when I came out, it was something I needed to accept, acknowledge and embrace in my own time.
What did not help me come out, however, was pressure and sideways comments from toxic people I, at one time, considered friends. Although I’m sure this will make me sound like a “typical man-hating lesbian” I must describe this person as an arrogant, self-important asshole who was obsessed with having a partner. The fact I was pleasantly single and unaffected by it bothered him. He tried to fit me in a box, and when it didn’t work he assumed (rightfully so, albeit at the time I didn’t know it) that I was a lesbian. He made comments to the effect of, “and whatever you are.” When he said that it bothered me, but I didn’t know why. I know now it’s because he was trying to identify me in a way I wasn’t ready to identify myself. And how fucking dare he.
Friends push you to be a better person. They give you a nudge when you need it and they listen to you tell the same sob stories time and again. It is one thing to help someone come out when they’re ready and quite another to tell someone they are gay when they aren’t… yet.
This isn’t the moment I kick open the door to expose a rainbow essence. No, I’ll save my coming out story for another time. Instead, I want to share some facts.
Let that word sit there so you can soak it in. Deal with your discomfort. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of young people between 10 and 24. LGB identifying youths are three times more likely to consider suicide than their hetrosexual peers. 40% of trans adults have attempted suicide and 92% of those attempted suicide before the age of 25. These disturbing facts and tons more are available on The Trevor Project’s website.
What is The Trevor Project? They self identify as “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. “ They provide a 24 hour helpline staffed by trained counselors.
In this heteronormative world, often people take for granted the fact they have it “good” or, at least, “easy.” Something you have, someone else is struggling to get. Acceptance. Love. Tolerance. Being straight when that’s what the world expects of you… good job (pause for the sound of one hand clapping). If you have never known an LGBT individual personally you may not know what it’s like to be rejected by your family. You, perhaps, can’t grasp what it’s like struggling to accept an identity you have been bred to think is “wrong.”
The availability of mental health resources, helplines and support groups for LGBT youth and adults is something that is very important.
A cursory search of the internet proves this point. There is an abundance of resources just a few clicks away. I spoke with Irene Greene, chair for the MN LGBTQ+ Therapists Network, who has made a career of working with LGBTQ+ individuals. At over 30 years old, the MN LGBTQ+ Therapists Network is the oldest professional organization of its kind in the country. It is a grassroots network of LGBT+ therapists that strives to offer programming and resources to the LGBTQ+ community - from support groups, individual therapy as well as 450 advocates in the metro area. If an LGBTQ+ individual is looking for mental health options, Irene has noted the importance of finding someone that identifies as part of the community themselves, “They have a common appreciation for shared oppression and a sense of understanding.”
Adam Blum of The Gay Therapy Center echoes Irene’s sentiments. Much like the MN LGBTQ+ Therapists Network, The Gay Therapy Network is an online resource that works to match LGBT individuals with a therapist that fits their particular needs. Whether it’s a very specific schedule or other nuance, Adam takes time to speak with every individual personally to find their perfect therapist match from his network of providers. It’s a personalized touch like this that makes his service invaluable to the community, especially to someone who is already feeling overwhelmed. The fact individuals don’t have to cold-call therapists and hope they find a match takes the pressure off and the results speak for themselves and, as he noted, are “humbling.” The connection between a therapist and a client is “part of the healing process.”
At the core of all issues, especially within the LGBT community, is as Adam puts it, “a quiet unknown sense of self-hatred.” Perhaps it’s obsessive activities, substance abuse or anxiety. At the root of it is a “deficit of self love.” Finding the perfect therapist who connects on an intellectual level and can relate personally can help individuals learn to love themselves and others.
Adam makes another excellent case for therapy in the community - coming out isn’t just a once-and-done process, it’s a lifelong journey. Perhaps it’s an omitted pronoun or a half-truth but whatever it is it’s a subconscious belief that we are not good enough and it holds us back. But we are good enough and with the right resources we can come to know that.
While coming out as gay, lesbian or trans are more clear cut identities, there is a unique struggle for bisexuals. The bisexual stigma is something I had heard about socially, but it was interesting to hear it from Mary Guillermin, a member of the board of the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association and a licensed marriage and family therapy practitioner. As someone who identifies as bisexual herself, Mary noted “bisexuals have more mental health issues than gays and lesbians. They feel a deep sense of isolation due to homophobia from the heterosexual population and suspicion from the homosexual population.” This sense of invisibility and lack of belonging can be met with understanding if the individual finds a therapist who is a sympathizer. The Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association is an online resource that requires a paid membership. It includes educational workshops, conferences and a directory of therapists. LAGPA is hosting a conference in November in which the keynote speakers will speaking to the aforementioned taboo issue of bisexuality.
The key message here is the importance of education, support and resources. If you are struggling with identity - be it sexual or gender - it’s important your therapist understands what you’re going through. If they can relate to the terror or anxiety you are feeling they can provide an extra depth of contribution. While you don’t need to see a LGBT provider specifically, know they are out there and resources and networks exist to get you the help you need during the hardest parts of your journey.
Alexis Pivnicny is originally from Boston but now lives in Los Angeles with her two amazing cats: Bruce Wayne and Eleanor Rigby. She has a zest for storytelling and an overall realistic (read: pessimistic) view on life that gives her loads of awareness and dark humor. While she focuses on LGBT issues and story lines, her range is vast and full of amusing anecdotes.
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