OPINION By David Blackett @boysies 
Photo © www.flickr.com/danielcornejo


And you should be too...

Coming out, the eternal ball ache of being a homosexual. We all have a story – the good ones where Aunt Rena has installed Grindr on your phone and your Dad is showing you how to carefully place a condom on a life-like Corbin Fisher dong all before your firework and music spectacular have settled are excellent, showing friends and family at their best. 

But you’re lucky if your coming out can just become another well-rehearsed story and the months if not years of angst, emotional confusion and research that led to that one particular moment just fade away. For those who have to suffer abuse, rejection and violence, the emotional scarring can run a little bit deeper and take longer to heal. 

To make things worse coming out is something we have to keep on doing, over and over again ad nauseam: new friends, colleagues, baristas, Shirley in Finance, the list goes on. It’s never as big as the first time, but it does mean testing the water ever so slightly with new people. 

It can be something small like choosing a gay friendly place to meet or selecting wonderfully gender neutral phrases like ‘my partner.’ These small moments add up, making a hell of a lot of brain acrobatics even before we start throwing culture and religion into the mix. Being gay can be mentally exhausting and it’s something we just don’t talk about. 

We’re all painfully aware of all the infections we can catch from bumming and what not. But there is rarely any information about how to cope with the unique stresses that come with being gay. I can already hear the angry click-clack of tweets and comments from people who have had a lovely time with their sexuality and bully for you, but it’s not great for all people. Some folk need support and finding that support is more difficult than it should be. I’m not saying being gay = instant mental health burp, but there is a clear lack of awareness around what mental strain comes with thinking about your sexuality and not identifying with what society expects of you.

The RaRE report recently published, commissioned by PACE, shows that 34% of young LGBT people surveyed have made at least one suicide attempt with around 51% having a go at self harming. I asked a doctor at 56 Dean Street if he felt there was a link between mental health problems in the gay community and the rise in chem sex. He said that of all the people he spoke to who identified as having a chemsex problem there was a definite thread of unhappiness bordering on depression. There is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Sadly this isn’t an easy problem to solve. In the UK we are only starting to acknowledge mental health as a valid illness, which is staggering to think. The Mental Health Foundation says that ‘about a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.’ Aunt Floss is finally frowned upon for telling your cousin with depression they ‘should just try smiling a bit more.’ When it comes to us gays you have to add a minefield of years of social stigma on to a set of illnesses that people are already ignorant about. 

It was back in the 70s that homosexuality stopped being categorised as a mental illness but we still live in a world where gay people are seen as second class and where conversion camps still exist. I was 16 when I came out/was outed by my mother (that all sort of depends on your point of view on whether having a diary read counts as an outing especially if said diary was placed in the not so secret location of on top of my bed). 

My mum became worried. This was heavlly focused on me seeing an ever so slightly older man. There was less concern than arguably there should have been about my numerous (admittedly lacklustre) suicide attempts and a clear set of warning signs that my mental health wasn’t at the shiniest. My family and school thought that my sexuality was the issue here and I was shipped off to Christian gay conversion once a week for the best part of six months. Thankfully I came out of the process pretty unscathed and understood that for a conservative school and family it was easier to try and change me rather than change themselves. 

From birth all messages fired at us are around heterosexual relationships and the boy/girl genders placed on us. Trying to pick apart a different set of desires and new emotions takes its toll. Being a teenager and factoring in puberty, exams, finding yourself, university and what not, it’s going to cause issues. It’s infuriating that we live in a hypocritical country which, on one hand, is still so prudish that we refuse to teach children the difference between their public and private parts, then fawn over a bunch of celebrities because of who they’ve bumped uglies with and wonder why our teenage pregnancy rates are so high. 

We have an education system that puts our teenagers under years of exam conditions without any acknowledgement of the stress this can cause, and look baffled by ever increasing suicide rates. It’s only in schools that we can teach young men, gay or straight, to vocalise their feelings and not just to keep ‘soldiering on’ through confusing and complex situations, because that’s what real men do. 

We need to normalise homosexuality. Anyone who uses ‘gay’ in a derogatory way needs to be chastised as if they’d used the N word. Every single person who argues against gay marriage, judges anyone based on sexuality or tells a fey boy to ‘man up’ needs to be held and it screamed in their faces that their stupid, outdated bigoted views are killing people.  

We have a long way to go. Even with marriage equality and equal rights, gayness not being part of mainstream society is highlighted every time a celebrity revealing their sexuality makes the headlines. Until we get to the point of ‘meh, whatever’, there will be people who struggle with their sexual identity and we need to provide more services to help them. Until these services are available why not do your bit? Take a moment to think about the person on the other end of the Grindr message before telling them to ‘fuck off’ or “don’t be a cunt, have a face pic”. That person could be lonely and in need of human contact. Being polite might just get them through one more day. 



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Support

If you are looking for counselling on a one-to-one or group basis, contact GMI Counselling on 020 7160 0941. GMI provides a secure and safe environment to enable you to explore issues around your sexual behaviour.

To get help with mental health and emotional well-being, you can contact PACE Health on 020 7700 1323.

PACE Health have also launched a free online chat support service for LGBT people in the UK. Visit www.pacehealth.org.uk

For general information and advice for gay men and lesbians, call the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard on 0300 330 0630.

If you are having a problem with alcohol, drugs or sex addiction and feel that you need to access support, contact Antidote on 020 7833 1674.


"I need help now!"

If you are in crisis and need support or someone to talk to right now, Samaritans is there for you no matter where you are or what age you are. Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day, for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide. 

Call: 08457 90 90 90 or email: jo@samaritans.org.



THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM FS ISSUE #148. 


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