Legislation, stigma, and judgment affects everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. In this Everyday Health article, Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW, talks about looking for ways to find joy anyways.
It’s not surprising that joy feels hard to come by these days. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), state legislatures have introduced more than 100 bills targeting transgender people since 2020. That means that amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, politicians still found the time to attack sexual and gender minorities, and these attacks have real-life consequences.
Jonah DeChants, PhD, a researcher with the Trevor Project, says “Recent political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to healthcare, support systems, and affirming spaces at school, they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health.”
In a 2022 survey of more than 34,000 American LGBTQIA+ youth ages 13 to 24, the Trevor Project found that, while support from family, friends, and community can mitigate mental health and suicide risk, nearly half of all respondents had seriously contemplated a suicide attempt in the past year.
This society is crushing our youth, and it hurts us all. I personally found myself having visceral reactions to this news, including emotional withdrawal and thoughts of ending my own life.
Every single person has to find joy where and how they can. But queer people, especially people of color, often must carefully sift that joy from difficult social realities.
The Texas therapist and active ally Kiana Shelton observes that her queer clients sometimes struggle with measuring their joy against heteronormative society. “For the older clients,” she says, “it’s actually easier to count certain things as joy, because they hold a longer history of feeling so constricted in certain spaces. [With] younger generations, it’s a frustration with needing to celebrate something that seems so small because of where we should be” — like being able to use the restroom you’re most comfortable with, for example.
Creating connections with peers
I am a former social worker and someone who navigates the mental health system on my own behalf. Something that has always troubled me is the implicit and sometimes explicit expectation that you contain every vulnerability and hard story within four walls opposite a therapist, who may or may not be culturally competent to treat you, so that you can go back out into the world and not make a ripple.
But people heal in community. When I was younger, I joined a homicide survivor support group to cope with a tragic loss. It reignited memories of past violence I endured and the fear that I would ultimately meet a similar fate to my loved one. This moved violent death from an abstraction to a possibility so close I could feel its breath on the back of my neck.
I needed the group in order to process these complicated feelings, and the work I did in the group, while not inherently joyful, helped me begin to complete the grieving process in a way that would not have happened otherwise. And, in fact, there were things I did as a result, such as getting a tattoo in my loved one’s honor and dedicating parts of my creative practice to him, that did bring me joy.
Similarly, Shivani Seth speaks about an online community they participate in that has become informal support for fellow queer folks, particularly those who are still figuring out which identities suit them best — answers that can evolve over one’s lifetime, as I can attest. It’s a space where they can find fellowship without the expectation to conceal “unacceptable” parts of themselves.
Joy is our birthright
“They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Shelton says this phrase locates “very much where rejoicing sits when you are in a marginalized group.”
Our collective history of queer agitating and advocating must be referenced in order to make sense of joy, which Shelton imagines more as an active practice than a feeling. For me, this looks like belting out karaoke on a rare outing, distracting a friend from pain during a hospital visit, and, of course, cheering the loudest when we win … anything.
Leaning into the idea of joy as a birthright, Shelton says — one that should not be delayed and that lives in the smallest of glimmers — allows people “to see the ways in which folks cracked, they break, they grow. And they still continue to rise up.”
We never stop cracking. That’s why we shine so hard. Others may covet it. Try to steal it. To dim it or extinguish it. But that shine can’t be taken away. It’s who we are. Happy Pride.
Read the full Everyday Health article with sources.
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