An emotionally healthy human is one who constantly learns, unlearns and relearns.
We are all bones and flesh; our DNA is 95% alike, what separates us is our ability to be human.
Society often forgets this crux of human existence, and we disregard those who do not conform to the norms. The LGBTQ community, too, has always been treated as “outsiders” or “different”.
While growing up, a lot of us normalised behaviour that was, in fact, very hurtful. Calling people who didn’t look and behave “normal” names, letting our classmates and even adults get away with bullying. Most of us grew up in spaces that had norms and roles. But what if someone didn’t fit into that box? When did not complying with these norms make someone less human to us?
Mental health is a right for all. When we see people like us in such spaces, talking and sharing, opening up feels more comfortable. Representation in the mental health space by the LGBTQ+ community too is very essential. The queer affirmative therapists understand the nuances of gender, the struggles with gender identity, the issues that one faces while trying to understand their bodies and can effectively come up with ways to help the community.
Society’s idea of normal, even in these metropolitan times, is heteronormative. However, the gender spectrum goes beyond identifying as a man or a woman. In simpler words, beyond black, white and a shade of grey.
The gender spectrum is a vast forest, a forest having place for all, food for all, love for all. You could be a mango tree, you could be a strawberry bush, right next to each other. Everybody is who they are and nobody wants to change anybody else.
We have grown up hearing phrases like “The only way to gain respect is to give respect”, but is respect only limited to those who fit into our idea of normal? What even is normal but a subjective sphere ruled over by what has been taught to us by society. Normal is subjective and changes as and when society deems fit. Does one need to fit in a box then?
Terms like emotional well-being and mental health are fairly old in textbooks but newer in practical application. When we talk about emotional well-being, we talk about activities that aid in being aware and processing our emotions, there is healing from things that cause us trauma and validation for what we feel, by ourselves and by those around us.
As a society, we need to learn to validate everybody’s feelings. The rules are bendable, and oftentimes, the rules don’t make sense. The fluidity of gender is not restricted to clothing as everybody perceives, but clothes are merely a form of expression; one’s gender identity runs deeper and is set at a more emotional level. Why is somebody wearing a blazer applauded and another person shamed for it? Actively breaking stereotypes, making the parents and guardians understand, trying to figure out one’s sexuality without being gaslit and navigating through unnecessary hate takes a huge toll on a person’s mental health. Often individuals do not possess a healthy environment at home to discuss these with their parents or are even unable to discuss their inner conflict. Here is when it is supremely important to have an empathetic non-judgemental space. As we grow, we need to unlearn what we deem normal and be more accepting and inclusive.
“You know it is funny that we look up to our parents so much when we are younger and anything that they say can either make or break our self-confidence. The LGBTQ community was welcoming, it made things so much easier. And once I realised there were others like me, I have felt validated and so visible. I can’t explain what a person who is ready to listen to you and tells you that it is okay to feel this way can do for your mental health,” says Shashank (he/him), who identify themselves as pansexual.
Ankita Mehra (she/her), shares “My expression has nothing to do with the gender I am assigned with” she further shares that there were far too many instances growing up as a gay child that hampered her emotional wellbeing. She faced bullying by teachers and fellow students and faced a lack of a safe space while growing up.
Ankita recounts that the media too fuels the idea of one being not normal. All movies and TV shows show heteronormative relationships where a cishet male falls in love with a cishet female, sadly, even now, true representation is far from being achieved.
In all the instances and stories shared, the theme of lack of representation and no guiding light is apparent. “90% of your energy goes into worrying about what others would think about you, being worried about bullying, being misunderstood or losing our parents love and support and nothing makes you feel better,” says Ankita.
Sasha Roychowdhury said they felt the privilege that came with understanding parents only when they joined various queer forums and realised that many folks lived a double life. They remember a teacher in school saying that gender fluidity was only something that the new generation had started, to which they very strongly disagree.
This is not a trend. More individuals have had the chance to explore only because society has become more accepting and people are confident to come out of the closet. They see representation and know that gender and sexuality can be something one can explore and is not a rigid but a wonderful and inclusive spectrum. Queer people have always been around, but they didn’t out themselves due to the fear of repercussions they might have to face by our non-inclusive society.
It was their peers and friends and finding people like them that made them feel seen and validated. Therapy too added as a catalyst to better emotional health. And it helps when the therapist is queer affirmative and has experience with working with queer people, shares Himani.
I feel that it is important for everybody, especially mental health professionals and caregivers like doctors and nurses to understand the importance of using the correct pronouns and referring to the person by the name and pronoun they feel most comfortable with. When the mental health community is welcoming and educates themselves on sensitive topics it leads to the opening of many more conversations and validating the children who feel unseen and uncomfortable.
Ankita, Mohit and Himani too resonate with this and say that is essential for people to educate themselves and queer people aren’t educational institutions to be expected to constantly educate others. And the nuances of gender needs to be understood by all, Ankita puts forward a great insight on how, oftentimes, it is also younger people who take therapy and lack the knowledge of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and therapists in these cases need to be equipped with resources to optimise help.
“Listen, listen, listen and refrain from judging. Ask what is okay to bring up and then ask your questions. Read up, do your research and clarify and the most important, never belittle or invalidate” says Anurag, a queer affirmative therapist. They add that there are plenty of things one can do as a friend, caregiver, parent and ally. Everything becomes so much easier if we only listen, give space and validate our loved ones and support them in their journey.
“The mental health community has a long way to go but I am proud of how far it has come. We need more representation and voices, I would love to see more queer affirmative and queer therapists in this field headlining the conversation around mental of the LGBTQ community” concludes Vishwari Kumar, a queer rights activist.
We are all humans, capable of being human. It is said that “If you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose to be kind”. When we relearn to be kind and mindful, we give space for others to flourish in comfort. We are social beings and will reach greater heights when we walk together holding hands and cheering for each other.
We can achieve a world that looks beyond what one is wearing, beyond what one identifies as and a world where nobody needs to fit in a box only when we -
Learn, Unlearn and Relearn.