Being a gay person, you have a lot to live up to. In our culture, LGBT people, especially gay men, are often perceived as these effervescent creatures. We light up a room and are always ready to be gawked at, to be the center of attention. However, on top of our perceived notions of fun and flamboyance, we also fall prey to stigma. When we aren’t put on a pedestal, we’re put down. This polarizing effect of perception takes a toll, especially on LGBT youth.
I can’t speak to everyone’s experiences, but my identity has played a major role in how I view myself and the world around me, and is a factor that plays into my mental health. When you can barely understand yourself, it not only adds to the uncertainty in your life, but for me, made my anxiety even worse. Trying to navigate life, while also trying to break the stereotypes people so easily assume on you, is tough.
It has been studied and proven that being an LGBT youth has an effect on mental health, and the numbers are representative of that:
- Abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs are 2 – 4 times higher compared to heterosexual peers
- Higher rates of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive and phobia disorders
- Double the risk of PTSD
- 14 times the risk of suicide compared to heterosexual peers
These figures come directly from the Canadian Mental Health Association. The stigma surrounding LGBT people are major causes for the distress, especially among youth.
Moving forward it is imperative to start the conversation and ensure LGBT people are perceived in a positive light. The world is moving in a direction where we are visible, we have positive role models, and the conversations are shifting. We have fought for people to be tolerant, we have fought for marriage equality, and now the fight is for acceptance across the board. For further reading on the topic, this link outlines the effects of mental health on LGBT people well: https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer-identified-people-and-mental-health/.
As important as this topic is, I in no way want to try to say we all go through the same problems, or at the same severity. However, it is important to open up the conversation about mental health, especially in the scope of LGBT people, as we are usually a silenced demographic in this conversation. One of the turning points of an LGBT person’s life is their “coming out”. When it goes well, it’s liberating and feels like the weight of the world is off your shoulders; however, not everyone’s story is so happy. Coming out is something you should only do if you feel comfortable and safe doing so. Never feel the need to push coming out onto someone because if they feel comfortable with you, when they’re ready they will tell you.
I feel blessed that my coming out story was a positive one and I want to share it to continue this conversation and normalize it so maybe one day, it won’t such a contentious topic. I came out in grade 12, through a performance of a slam poem I wrote, in front of my entire school. The poem goes as follows:
I’ve always done what is expected of me
I follow the rules, I don't talk back
But whose rules am I playing by?
Who is leading me down this track
How are you so blind, I'm taken aback,
I know I may be a tough nut to crack
But I’ll be coming out ahead of the pack
Because I have found myself
Within your dirty lies, I thought I had to do what was expected of me
I played by your assumptions
I followed your corruptions
I’ve been a member of your grand production
But it’s time for someone to take a stand
It’s time for someone’s exponential function
because from right here I'm only going up
I was impressionable, young and curious,
Young and delirious, I was hidden
I was trapped within my prison
I don’t want your commission
I just want to have risen,
Risen from your ashes,
Your bashes, our clashes,
My scared little mind,
Too scared to think, just trapped and blind
But under the blackness I could finally find
That my pain was my armour
That it shone vividly and with expression
That my fight was with ardour
So this poem could make an impression
I am done with your societal norms
With arguments lukewarm,
The naysayers swarm
And with a bang, its a storm
And you’re back to making me conform.
I’ve been playing it safe for too long
I’ve been playing it safe for you,
For your expectations,
For your caustic assumptions.
Because that’s what I thought was expected of me.
Because that’s what I thought I had to be.
But do you know what is expected of me?
I am allowed to be who I want,
To do what I want, to love who I want.
You can jeer and taunt,
You can continue to haunt
But I’ll remain nonchalant
Because I am stronger.
It’s easy to compartmentalize,
It’s easy not to realize, that what you do is corrupted
And what you choose not to can be destructive
That as much as we idealize
That as much as we can legalize
We still get penalized,
We still get demonized.
And when will we finally accept
That we are all equal
That our time is limited
That we don't get a sequel
That true love is uninhibited
That my love can't be solicited
That our love is unlimited
Is no longer for me
This poem is for everyone to see
Just want representation
To stop the frustration, your uttering damnation
It’s time to start a new flirtation
One that’s a little more controversial
We are not born with a choice
We are born with a blessing
So let us rejoice
That we’re no longer left guessing
I am honoured to speak such an important truth today
On something I never thought I’d be able to say
It’s been a rough journey but I came out okay
Sometimes you just have to be strong and say it.
Sorry girls, but I’m hella gay.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. To conclude my story, I want to refer to the title of this article. I am usually happy, but I still struggle, and talking about it is the first step to doing anything about it.
By: Jake Girling