Photo: Jeff W. Gates. Creative Commons License 3.0. 100520-F-JZ025-987.JPG
I had a really hard time starting this article and then finishing it. Mostly because it details my experience with two identities (queer and struggling with my mental health) that just exist for me. I embody them and live them in my everyday life, and although I’ve had 19 years to reflect on experiences I’ve had, I think a lot of my difficulty in writing this piece stemmed from two questions: one, how do I explain something I live? And two, how do I even begin to talk about them together?
The second question exists because, in the past, I’ve felt that being queer and dealing with my mental health has been segmented. And I guess, in a way that answers my first question ー of where do I begin?ー because the ways in which I was forced to come to terms with and accept and celebrate these identities were two separate, individual struggles. (When I say this, I want to be clear: I always knew I was queer and sad, but I didn’t have the language to articulate it, the support to feel like it was something to be proud of, or even the knowledge that communities for these identities even existed.)
At first, my narrative was really all about mental health for me. In seventh grade I was sitting in class, learning about all the wonderful shit like disordered eating, puberty, and suicide prevention, and the word ‘depression’ came up and right then something clicked. I’ve always felt a weird sort of comfort in being able to directly name my experience. While this was just the beginning, it was definitely a bit of an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. From then on, although I knew the “right” thing to do was to get help, I wasn’t sure if I was truly depressed. I did the whole webMD search and half the symptoms didn’t match what I was feeling, so was I half-sad? Was I valid?
In high school, in a mission to deal with depression and in a cruel, twisted way “prove” my emotional pain, I began to self-harm and restrict my eating. My junior year, I broke down in tears when my doctor asked if I had depressive thoughts, and after a series of painful conversations with my parents I started therapy. I’ve now been in therapy for three years and started medication a couple of months ago. In an formal sense, I have depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD and have struggled with disordered eating. I know, woohoo.
But that was just a little bit of the struggle. On top of mental health, there were a lot of outside factors affecting me internally ーMy parents’ unhealthy relationship, being mixed, being a young womxn and being queer.
I grew up in a small, white, suburban town. Although I knew most people in my community and family were accepting of the LGBTQ+ community due to their votes on Prop. 8, I still hoped I could somehow become straight. I think that’s largely due to the fact that I never saw an example of someone like me. I had never seen a same-sex couple holding hands in public. One of my close friends came out in high school, and he was pigeon-holed into being that ‘flamboyant gay best friend,’ and I wanted none of that. From looking through journals that I wrote at five years old, I knew my crush on Samantha in first grade was a confirmation that I wasn’t straight. But that didn’t stop me from being in harsh denial for nearly eighteen years of my life. I remember chanting to myself, “I’m straight, I like boys,” over and over again in the shower.
I was frustrated because it didn’t seem fair. I had struggled with my identity as a womxn of color, struggled with my mental health, and now I had to tell people I was queer? I saw my marginalized identities as problems, not as parts of myself that should be celebrated.
Being queer and closeted definitely impacted my mental health. I felt like I couldn’t be my authentic self, and every time someone said, “Any boys you like?” I felt a pit form at the bottom of my stomach. The first two or three people I came out to I told I was bisexual, and they responded that I was only saying it for attention. It was crushing to be invalidated immediately, and unfortunately it seemed to be a pattern in my life. I came out to my therapist at the beginning of this past school year and she asked me, “How do you know?” Other people, even within the queer community, said, “Wow, I thought you were straight.” These doubtful reactions made me question myself even more. I felt like people were surprised because I presented as feminine and was a womxn, and somehow if I looked like that, there was no way I could be queer. Some people didn’t even know what the term “queer” meant and were confused because I had dated men. I chose to say I was queer because it felt right and I liked the fluidity of the termI didn’t feel like I had to be boxed in, but I pretty quickly figured out that it just meant everyone was going to try and do that for me anyways.
Thankfully, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At the beginning of winter quarter, I went on a retreat with the Cross Cultural Center, where I work. In the beginning, we did an icebreaker where we stood in a circle and different identities were yelled out. Those who identified with that, ran to the middle and danced with everyone who did as well. When they yelled “queer fam,” my heart beat fast and I hesitated, but I pushed myself to run to the middle.
Dancing with the other queer folx on the retreat was a magical moment. It was the first time I had ever seen my queerness as something to be celebrated. When I came back from the retreat, I made sure to continue to celebrate my identity and not be ashamed anymore. I surrounded myself with the queer people I met on the retreat and attended workshops at the LGBTQIA resource center. I finally found people to look up to in the queer community and felt accepted.
Not all hasbeen all rose-colored. When I think about mental health and being queer, I think the times I felt I was able to celebrate my identity and get support were the times when my mental health was better. And, not surprisingly, when I invalidated myself because I was suppressing that part of my identity is when my mental health was shitty.
Most recently, I have been seeing a therapist who is queer as well, and the experience has been so meaningful. Having a mental health professional who holds at least one of my identities is super important to me. Otherwise, I feel more uncomfortable, and like I have to spend the whole time explaining to them who I am, which is not my job. I hope for more resources like this especially for queer people of color. Mental health needs to be intersectional because marginalization causes more need for support, and we live in a society that oppresses us.
Recently, I tried queer dating apps and decided they’re not for me. In the past when I dated men, although I was transparent about being queer, there was always a disconnect, which made me feel worried to share my experiences. My first dating app date made jokes about suicide. Repeatedly. Even when I stated I was uncomfortable with them. I bring this up not to relive the shitty date, but to show how mental health and queerness live together for me. They blend and seep into one another and there is not one without the other. Just like my identities of being mixed and being a womxn. It’s a complicated Venn diagram, but it’s me.
http://ccc.ucdavis.edu/ (my workplace)
http://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/ (UC Davis LGBTQIA resource center)
http://www.nqttcn.com/ (National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color network, a directory to help folx find QTPOC therapists and other additional mental health resources)
The Brown Boi Project http://www.brownboiproject.org/about-us (building leadership, economic self-sufficiency, and health of LGBTQIA PoC’s to pipeline them into social justice)