This week has seen World Mental Health Day and many people are coming out about their mental health issues - depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis and others - and it has got me thinking. LGBTQIA+ people are far more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems and are at significantly more at risk of self harm and suicide, a fact that leads many people to think that LGBTQIA+ identities cause depression and anxiety. This however is simply NOT the case for the majority of us.
Susan Calman spoke candidly in her new book about her experience of depression and of her sexuality. She perfectly captured how I feel, which is that I am 100% content and comfortable with my sexual identity, and with my gender identity - I always have been. The issue however has been society's attitudes towards gender and sexual minorities. As a young person I was attracted to boys and girls, I knew that but society told me that I was a woman and therefore could only like men. You might say that it is my perception but the reality is that in 1988 section 28 of the Local Government Act was introduced, an act that stated no local authority should intentionally "promote homosexuality or publish material which promotes homosexuality" and they should not "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". This act wasn't fully repealed across the UK until 2003. Yes you read that correctly, 2003. I had completed my formative primary education at this point and was halfway through secondary school. I had received sex education and PHSE (personal, health and social education) for years... and all the way through I was taught that relationships were only between a man and a woman. If I had a question about my attraction to women I couldn't talk to teachers or pastoral support at school - they were prevented from promoting or teaching the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretend family relationship".
It hasn't changed a huge amount, though the act has been repealed there is not active teaching about same sex relationships. Starting a family revolves around getting pregnant, adoption, surrogacy or other ways of having a family aren't discussed. In fact, sex is all about pregnancy, what about fun?! Anyhow I digress... Laws may have changed but attitudes haven't shifted so quickly. In thinking about holidays, my wife and I need to think about where we go and how safe we will be...someone told me recently that in Northern Ireland we would have to pretend to be friends in many places, something that fills me with despair. I married my wife because I love her deeply and I want the world to know that and to witness our love. Not so that I would have to hide away. Our passports will say Mx and Mrs but some countries won't even view us as a couple.
In some ways it is not surprising I didn't want to get married... the marriage I would have wanted was illegal until 2013, and again the law changed but attitudes still need to catch up. A (not-so-quick) change in a law will not do anything to change societal views of gender or sexual minorities, and without some huge shift in the paradigm that these identities are less valid. Growing up secretly thinking that your entire being is less valid is what causes depression, not that identity itself. It is the little things too: being denied access to my own bank accounts because my voice does not match what they expect of a Mr, having to come out every time anyone wants to know if your husband is coming as your plus one, knowing that my gender identity is not valid enough to have its own tick box on a form...
It is not my queer identity that causes my depression. I am more happy than I have ever been since I came out and found words to express my own identity. My wife was astounded by my forwardness and how comfortable I was with holding hands or kissing in public. I never had a second thought about it, my relationship with her was as natural as any I had with men. But that is despite growing up in a world where we still have to openly and repeatedly state that no one should be bullied because of their sexuality, while hundreds of transgender people are scared for their lives in case they are outed. It is not my queerness that makes me depressed, it is living in a world where an easy choice, to love someone, is made difficult at every turn. It is having to fight every day against ingrained prejudices and opinions. It is having to shout to be seen. It is questioning at what point in a relationship to come out. It is wondering whether I am safe to come out, or hold my wife's hand.
THAT is what causes my depression.