When C.M. McGuire, author of Ironspark, was a child, she drove her family crazy with her nonstop stories. Lucky for them, she eventually learned to write and gave their ears a rest. This love of stories led her to college where she pursued history (semi-nonfictional storytelling), anthropology (where stories come from) and theater (attention-seeking storytelling). When she isn’t writing, she’s painting, crocheting, gardening, baking, and teaching the next generation to love stories as much as she does.
The Past and Present Pain of the Queer Community
Coming to terms with one’s queerness is, in so many ways liberating. In other ways, it brings with it a cultural weight with which we were not born. Though increasing waves of tolerance and diversity have perhaps made it easier than ever to be queer in America, that was not always the case. Conversion therapy remains an ongoing debate, as is the very validity of being transgender, asexual, or any identity more complex than “straight” or “gay.” There will remain, for the foreseeable future, the frightening “what if” for this community. “What if history swings back the other way?” The effect of this history in conjunction with the present reality results in an obviously higher risk for mental health issues in the LGBTQ+ community.
Though the immediate affects of queerness in today’s society can be seen and felt, coming to terms with one’s queerness brings with it the shadow of the past. The pink triangle marked homosexuals as the lowest caste of those incarcerated during he Holocaust, and libraration did not come for them at the end of the war. Many remained imprisoned for decades after the war, and the same laws that allowed this to occur led to such horrors as the chemical castration of Alan Turing. Until 1973, the US still considered homosexuality and any and all subsets to be a form of mental illness, and more than a few lesbians were lobotomized in an attempt to cure this. Even as the US began ponderously removing its sodomy laws, the AIDS crisis left a tangible scar on the community. One that echoes through the modern culture, affecting even those who did not themselves suffer.
It is difficult to be a queer person and not feel the weight of all of those who came before, who suffered so much more. There is relief to be in a world which is more accepting, grief for those who were not accepted, and fear. Will my rights be taken away? Will the suffering of my predecessors come to haunt me? However, it is also not a grief that can be readily discussed with one’s family, because in so many cases, it won’t be understood. To accept one’s own queerness is to shoulder the weight of this history, with the threat of its resurgence looming over a promising future.
The communal grief of the queer culture is unique in that it is not automatically shared with the family. It is a grief into which an individual can come of age. I remember a ten-year-old me knew nothing about the history of queer people. It isn’t taught in schools. It isn’t deemed appropriate for most audiences. Therefore, it was only when I came out myself that I began to learn and, quite without intending to, shouldered this very weight. One which my parents did not wish to know. Unlike many cultural traumas, this is not one which an individual can process with the safety of family.
In fact, for many queer teens, the family is a greater source of anxiety than not. “Coming out” is still a difficult experience because it comes with the implication that one might not be accepted. The family might deny or disown a previously loved or at least tolerated child for this perceived abnormality. Bullying and social rejection are still the norm in many schools. For these teens, the haunting history of being queer in America is a present and lasting horror.
For many, the support of a queer community is vital. Online forums and Pride events can provide much-needed support for those who are fortunate enough to access these. However, even within the community, the othering isms of racism, ableism, body shaming, and transphobia serve to further alienate those to whom the community should be a respite. Around half of transgender individuals will have attempted suicide, and well over half the community struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Homelessness and substance abuse are a greater risk when a teen could be disowned without a lifeline or individuals are forced to wrestle with their trauma alone.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the mental health of the community is the threat of stigma. There is still a stigma against mental health care today, discouraging people from seeking help for fear of being labeled “crazy” or “broken.” Many members of the community avoid the potentially lifesaving resource of therapy, knowing full and well that therapy can be a gamble if it cannot be confirmed that the therapist is an ally before the first session.
I wish I could state an easy solution to this issue, but the factors threatening the mental health of queer individuals are many and varied. It is, perhaps, the greatest hope that the fight goes on. With greater representation and education, the isolation and rejection of the community’s past and present may turn to tolerance and understanding. The community may become more welcoming even unto itself, and the current pains of rejection from the medical community may turn to competent and compassionate care as the standard. For the moment, it is important that queer individuals not simply accept the rejection, but fight to secure the care they need. They owe it to themselves and to the next generation, to whom we will be but another chapter of an inherited history.