This upcoming week has been designated as a time of remembrance for two important causes: Transgender Awareness Week leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance and National Survivors of Suicide Day. I plan to write more about each during the week to come. I am thinking today about the areas of overlap, about how both are a time of mourning for those lost too soon and senselessly. I am thinking about the role stigma plays. And I am especially thinking about the many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth, known and unknown, who have killed themselves because they thought that was their only choice.
I feel like a broken record. I know I just said this, but it bears repeating:
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents attempt suicide at a rate three to six times that of comparably aged heterosexual youth. All because the important people, institutions and media all around them continue to give them the message that being queer is something horrible.
When mental health professionals convey these messages, the damage can be especially profound. There are still therapists who see any orientation other than heterosexual as pathological, as something to be cured. Some therapists persist in these beliefs and practices, despite all the major professional organizations taking stands against the pathologizing of LGBT people.
I want to share with you a video addition to the It Gets Better Project that is close to my heart (and close to home). A group of Chicago mental health professionals made this video to affirm “There is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian”. They go even further and state that it is in fact malpractice to attempt to treat something that is not a mental illness. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender does not make you mentally ill! It is time for us to be done with that tired, destructive myth.
I am very proud of my local professional community and colleagues! Check them out here:
I know this project began in response to the anti-gay bullying related suicides. I firmly believe that many boys and young men are targeted for this sort of bullying based on gender stereotypes too. Men especially are still expected to adhere to rigid gender roles and presentations in our culture. Any boy or man that is perceived as gender non-conforming, as displaying any behavior or characteristic judged to be feminine, may become a target for harassment and bullying. Sometimes this discrimination is coming as much from transphobia and misogyny as it is from homophobia.
So as I honor and remember those lost next week, this is the message I want to convey: You are okay exactly as you are. Your sexual orientation, your gender identity and expression, they are all part of what makes you uniquely you and precious.
You are okay if you are lesbian or gay!
You are okay if you are bisexual, pansexual, asexual!
You are okay if you are transgender!
You are okay if you are an effeminate male or a masculine female!
You are okay if you are genderqueer!
Thank goodness for the diversity of ways to be and love! It makes our world a richer place.