Are you or do you know of a queer person who could use some effective self-preservation? Perhaps a reminder or new tips for points to keep in mind when you are looking out for your wellbeing? Being queer in a heteronormative society comes with issues unique to the queer experience, and this article offers some things to consider when preserving yourself somewhat holistically.
First things first, self preservation can be defined as ‘the protection of oneself from harm or death, especially regarded as a basic instinct in human beings’. In a society where research has found attempted suicide rates and suicidal ideation to be significantly higher amongst LGBT+ youth than among the general population, queer self preservation is a necessity. This article will be going through some of the mental, financial, relational, physical, spiritual and social ways that you can protect yourself and your energy. And before we get started, just a gentle reminder that you can always reach out to the resources mentioned throughout and at the end of this article.
Being an LGBTQIA+ person in itself does not make you mentally ill, nor does it cause mental illness. The experiences faced by queer people however, naturally impact their mental wellbeing. Some of these experiences include discrimination, homophobia or transphobia, social isolation, rejection and abuse. On the other hand when a queer person is embraced, there is a positive impact on their confidence, sense of belonging, self acceptance and relationships with friends and family. But this all sounds a lot like the power to improve our mental health is in the hands of others – don’t worry, it isn’t. We’ll tackle the ’other people’ aspect later on under the ‘social’ segment of this article. For now, let’s focus on your power.
‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.’Maya Angelou
How people behave has more to do with their character than it does your perceived ‘flaws’. If something a person said to you or a way they behaved has left you questioning your value, try this – if the roles were reversed, would you respond this way? More often than not, you wouldn’t respond in the harmful way that they did, because you have a better contextual and possibly emotional understanding of the situation at hand. Don’t let their lack of understanding be the thing that talks you into questioning if you deserved mistreatment. All humans deserve to be treated with respect.
Of course, you would likely still be left with the emotions of an unpleasant experience, in which case a beneficial way to handle these is through expression, be it painting, writing a story, journaling, dancing, composing music or hitting the gym. Whatever works for you, hear yourself and get rid of other people’s baggage through these mediums because it is not yours to carry.
Other than expressing yourself and understanding that all humans deserve to be treated with respect, you may want to reach out to mental health professionals. In the UK, a person can ask their GP to ‘self-refer’ themselves to an IAPT talking therapy service, which is covered by the NHS. If you are able to afford it you may also hire a therapist who specialises in supporting queer people on certified sites such as psychotherapy.org.uk. Your mental health is important, and it’s never a bad idea to ask for help; you never know how beneficial reaching out can be.
Coming out or being found out is not always a positive experience. Sometimes it can result in a person being financially cut off from dependants such as their parents or simply treated differently in smaller financial ways than before their queerness was known. It’s important not to panic if you are in this situation. If you are young and being withheld basic needs then speak to a teacher, school counselor or an adult you can trust.
If you are older, then there is employment support and housing support for those who need it; some are even tailored to help specifically queer people. AKT (The Albert Kennedy Trust) is a homelessness charity dedicated to helping LGBTQIA+ people. 24% of the youth homeless population is queer, but AKT offers support such as a case worker who can help you figure out what housing help is available to you based on your local council, assist you with finding financial support and put you in contact with career advisors. It’s also worth checking out your local councils website for advice, it can be long to figure out but it’s good to know if there is any help out there for you. Other good places to check out are shelter.co.uk and Citizensadvice.co.uk.
The purpose of relationships is to enhance one another. This may be difficult to hear but people who leave you feeling bad about yourself (yes, even the ones you love, those going through a hard time) still need to be considerate and comfortable to be around. If they are not, it might not be a reason to cut them off, but it is the responsibility of the person left feeling drained, to protect oneself from this experience. It is possible for a gay person to be homophobic; it’s also painful for that person and any gay people they encounter. The same is true for other relationships: a person may love you but still be homophobic; that is their task to work through. It is not your responsibility to stop someone from being homophobic especially if it is at a detriment to you. But it is your responsibility, as mentioned previously, to protect yourself from harmful experiences and relationships. This isn’t always possible or simple at all – so it’s important to know how much you can help yourself and whether or not you may need a third party to intervene. A counselor can help you figure out what it is you really look for in all different types of relationships.
It may seem uncomfortable to assert your boundaries, but boundaries are here to protect us. You know why you need to set up a boundary, you have the full context of your situation. Don’t be afraid of letting people go who will harm you, so preserve yourself. This doesn’t immediately make them a horrible person; they may just need to learn on their own accord not to treat people in a certain way. It can be greatly confusing when the same people who are homophobic still ‘love you’ and ‘want the best for you’, but you need to put yourself first and let life teach them the way that doesn’t put you at risk.
The term “LGBTQIA+” is often followed with the word “community”. This is because queer people have had to create safe spaces amongst one another that fulfilled the basic human need for community and belonging. This will be expanded more in the ‘social’ part of this article but know that the world is full of people who would love and embrace you in the way you deserve.
“The Body Keeps Score” is an all time best seller which describes the way trauma affects our physical bodies. The notion that a person raised in a nurturing environment, compared to the opposite would be impacted on a physical level is an idea worth keeping in mind. The best way I like to think of this is when in the cartoon series Bob’s Burgers, Lin and Bob speak about his childhood. Here’s how that went;
Bob: “Lin, I just realized something. I had a bad childhood.”
Lin: “Yeah, I know.”
Bob: “What do you mean you know?
Lin: “Look at you.”
Bob: “What do you mean, look at me?”
Lin: “Look at how you stand. People who had good childhoods don’t stand like that.”
Lin looks barely surprised when hearing about Bob’s past, almost as if it’s obvious that the way you are treated affects you physically. Well, here’s the science: stress releases a hormone called cortisol, and too much stress creates too much of the cortisol hormone. This hormonal imbalance can have adverse effects on our physical health. A few areas impacted by cortisol imbalance would include our heart, brain, thyroid, and back.
Queer people don’t have any diseases exclusive to them, however over the years they have had to fight to improve medical treatment. Protests, visibility and sharing their stories was a big part of this. One era in history are those brothers, sisters and siblings who lost their lives to HIV and to the medical community withholding resources for finding treatment. That struck the queer community so much that there is a place on the flag to pay homage to queer folk, and to this day trans people speak out against the discrimination they face when speaking to a doctor. It is imperative to advocate for yourself and your health.
The basics, in case you need a reminder, include sport, food and mental health. But what could also help is looking at forums and joining a community of people or a support group that have gender dysphoria or people who have had to recover after their coming out experience was responded to negatively. Social media is a place that can help you find your tribe. The world is still in progress and with enough education, less ignorance and medical advancements, queer people will eventually get the help they need without having to struggle for it. And if ever you feel down as a response to the medical care you received, remember that somebody’s response to you speaks more about their character than does about a flaw you ‘may’ potentially have.
Taking care of one’s spirit can seem undefinable. Existing literature explains spiritual health to include a superior existence, oneself, others and nature – which is quite broad. Whichever way you might understand the term ‘spirit’ commonly interchanged with the term ‘soul’; it is a part of yourself to consider when holistically approaching your wellbeing. Some of the ways you can nurture your soul include meditation, appreciation lists, connecting with nature or acknowledging a higher power. For some people it’s engaging with hobbies like making or trying new foods, singing songs or reflecting on poetry.
The more conventional ways of taking care of your spirit are within the context of religion. Certain religious organisations have harmed the community but look for groups that embrace you. Seek out pro LGBT+ social media accounts by searching with hashtags and joining queer social spaces. I recently attended the ‘Pride in the Park’ picnic in London with my queer Muslim friend who was over joyed by the amount of fellow queer Muslim people they saw at the event. Another tip is don’t be afraid to bring up the discussion of religion. Some queer people may have experienced pain from organised religion and already done the work to affirm themselves with their religious principles. Queer people are people who come in diversity, which includes all of the religious knowledge and practices available to humankind.
Your attitudes, behaviours and perspectives are heavily influenced by the people you hang around. Humans are social creatures, so we need company. We need to choose to love ourselves so much that we are selective with who we allow in our inner circle. Here’s a warning, it won’t always be easy but the choices we make end up creating the life we live in. Try to identify your core values and spend more time with those who hold similar ones. It’s healthy to have diversity in the group of people you associate with, but the wrong company can jeopardise your self perseverance journey. Hearing the right words and being treated the right way is important because even though another person’s actions can’t define you, what you hear a lot of can end up sounding true. If your friend is homophobic and has a problem with queer love, you could end up observing yourself through their harmful views which easily damage self-esteem, confidence and positivity.
Finding the right social circle can be a frustrating journey. You can’t make people appear out of nowhere, you can’t change how a person behaves or the things they believe but you can recognise when a person is not prepared to be a part of your life in a way that’s conducive to you. When a flower doesn’t bloom, you change its environment and conditions rather than just expect it to change. What environments are you planted in? Do you want to stay there? Will you grow? To find a different social circle you can check out online communities of specific interest to you like ‘gay mathematicians’ or ‘pansexual baker’ hashtags. That’s the beauty of a hashtag, and social media – don’t give up, try a bunch of combinations! You can also increase your exposure to positive and enriching social experiences by following content creators who advocate for queer people. You can go to queer events, find queer bars or art sessions – queer art shows or performances where you can mingle with the audience. And with time and boundaries, the right people will find their way to you. Stay tuned for our lists of queer events to look out for.
The journey of unlearning ideas that affect you negatively and finding the courage to step out and show up for yourself is not a linear one. It’s not something to rush or aim to pursue all at once. Bit by bit as you feel ready to make changes, follow your heart and be gentle with yourself; because wherever you go, there you are. It is a journey of loss, but also gain – your brain can only tell you what you will be losing, it can’t tell you all the amazing things in your future that you are going to gain. Stay focused on the positive outcomes you’re sure to find for yourself and the larger community. You can do this!
Naomi is a digital marketer and content writer who enjoys writing informative and opinion pieces about social topics mainly to do with inclusion and diversity. Her passions lie in coming up with creative campaigns and using digital means to make positively affect change.