It’s a fairly well blogged-about fact that members of the LGBT+ community have a higher than average chance of having mental health problems during their lifetimes. Similarly, the proportion of LGBT+ people that have self-harmed, attempted or committed suicide or have drug and alcohol dependencies is higher than that of the general population. So I thought I’d tell you a bit about my own experiences around sexuality and how I feel being gay has impacted on my mental health.
I spent the majority of my adolescence with two contradicting world views battling it out in my head. The first was a world in which men married women with procreation inevitably following shortly after, because God said so. The second was a world in which everything I felt, felt right – even though the other world kept telling me it wasn’t.
Like many, my primary school had prayers and hymns and I attended Beavers, Cubs and Scouts at all of which I pledged allegiance to “God and to the Queen” and every month I would attend church for Flag Parade, but it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe, but unfortunately this was one of the irreconcilable differences in the two world views I was juggling. How could I believe in a god who’s followers had taught that a part of me and over which I had no control, was wrong? I had feelings of guilt for the way I felt about other boys, I felt like a fraud at church or whilst saying prayers and I felt sure that if God was real, he probably didn’t like me very much. I wanted to be part of this “bigger thing” that many people around me appeared to be connected to, but my own understanding told me that to be part of it, I would have to deny I part of myself and that felt even more wrong.
Outside of the church, this contradiction between expectation and reality continued. Society is (or at least was) geared up to perpetuate the false gender dichotomy and the associated expectations, behaviours and even colours that were associated with little girls and little boys. Admittedly, this is improving at a steady rate with retailers removing unnecessarily gender specific marketing and with more diverse representations in children’s entertainment, but when I was in my formative years, things were a bit more rigid. Action Men were for boys, Barbies for girls.
For me, the final contradiction of note was that between the first world which expected me to have babies and the second in which I wasn’t capable of having them. I can’t imagine not having children at some point in my life, but I wish I could. This desire to want children and the feeling that I am not leaving any form of legacy or contribution to the world unless I procreate is both irrational and extremely harmful. It has led me to feelings of utter self-worthlessness and down destructive roads – both for myself and those around me. Whilst I accept that I can adopt or have a surrogate and who knows what technology is around the corner for enabling those that cannot biologically conceive and carry a child, in my head I am still trying reconcile a world in which I feel I should have children and a world in which I cannot have them, because I am still hung up on that hideous word “normal”. I am still trying to deprogram myself so that I no longer pine for a “normal” family and would be satisfied with the perfectly valid options that are available to me, but its very hard to unlearn such basic an idea as “Mummy and Daddy”.
From speaking to other LGBT+ people, I think my experiences as described above are fairly standard (please let me know if you disagree!) and I have come to believe that it is this ‘extra layer of complication’ as I have always referred to it, that is responsible for the higher number of mental health problems amongst LGBT+ people. Not only do you have all the usual angst and trials of growing up and discovering yourself and the world around you, you have to do it all using definitions and trying to achieve expectations that don’t quite match up with your experience of the world.
I would imagine however, that this is also true for any person who believes that they do not fit the definition of “normal” and I’m yet to meet a single person who honestly believes otherwise.