June is Pride Month. For these 30 days we recognize those who have fought – and are still fighting – for LGBTQ+ civil rights. During June, there is an extra amount of self-expression, and many come together in solidarity with those in the LGBTQ+ community. But, what happens after these 30 days? Life doesn’t change simply because the rainbow flags have been taken down, and companies have put their Pride clothes on the clearance racks. The marginalized community always has been, and always will be, who they are. We can’t forget that.
As a male who identifies as straight, I can celebrate human rights and the happiness that community expels during these 30 days. But, I will never completely understand what it has taken for those individuals to outwardly be who they truly are.
I interviewed my friend, whose name I changed to Sarah, a member of the LGBTQ+ community. She explained to me her journey of opening up to others and herself about her sexual orientation identity. Her secret and internalized hatred toward herself caused much pain for years. But, eventually she was able to love and accept herself.
Sarah identifies as bisexual, but it took her years before she could say it out loud. There was a time in her life where her sexual identity consumed her in a horribly negative way. Her internalized homophobia toward herself crippled her from expressing and accepting who she is. “Society”, states Sarah, “has pushed a negative stigma of what being gay is”.
Societal pressures, she said, push girls to be straight – the media, for years, capturing marriage as being between a man and woman; women’s fashion; hairstyles; femininity, have all displaced Sarah from being herself.
Even during her first relationship with another girl she was unable to accept herself. At that time, she understood her identity. But, even while being open to herself, emotionally, she felt ashamed.
This self-deprecation harmed her mental health greatly, and it went further than just during times of intimacy. During classes in high school, Sarah remembers, her ability to focus dwindled. There were days when her mind would be consumed by intrusive thoughts. For 30 minutes, she would be in a state of self-hatred, missing lectures. Her body was present, but she never was.
She also recalls her high school not feeling like a safe place. She heard of fellow students who were in the LGBTQ+ community being teased about their sexuality. Therefore, Sarah stayed quiet out of fear of ruining the positive reputation she held.
Her mental health was at an all time low, and physical side-effects ascended. Sarah has a “hair condition” as she calls it. She has hid it from people for years – not even I knew until one year ago. As a result of anxiety, her hair falls out, or she pulls it out. Makeup and hats were her best ways to cover it, successfully. Even taking pictures for Instagram required particular angles.
It wasn’t until college that she decided it was time to shave her head. It was something she felt she needed to do for medical reasons, but she was also scared. Because of her long hair, she “looked straight”, something that helped her avoid the conversation of her sexuality. With her hair shaven, she feared she may face stereotypical comments. Unfortunately, her prediction came true on multiple occurrences, typically from people assuming they were being accepting of gay people with their remarks.
For all of her high school years, Sarah hid her sexuality for countless reasons. It took leaving her hometown to begin to feel like she could fully express herself.
After high school, she went to college across the country, wherein she knew no one and no one knew her – a breath of fresh air. Who she was – her reputation, her schooling, hobbies – was once again dictated by her.
The community she found was more accepting than where she originates. Her university had clubs for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and she made friends with a young woman who is also bisexual. This was one of the first times Sarah felt comfortable accepting her sexuality. Being around others who acted as catalysts of self-expression, ignited self-acceptance.
Sarah is accepting her sexuality with confidence. She is currently in a relationship with a young woman and is more publicly open. It’s taken her years to get to this point. Therapy from a young age, medication, and supportive people in her life have helped with her anxiety, tremendously.
What I find powerful about Sarah’s story is her ability to continue on and find the strength to accept herself. As a straight male, myself, I can’t imagine the strength it must take to grit your teeth at society while trapped in a closet, fearful of what will happen if you express yourself differently than what is considered “normal.” Many people go through self-acceptance issues, but for those of us not in the LGBTQ+ community, we are fortunate to not be subjected to degradation and having to fight for civil rights.
In my view, straight members of society have the power to be fantastic allys. In the words of Sarah, “the best ally in the world is to just love someone for who they are.”
It’s difficult to be vulnerable, and it’s even harder to accept yourself when, for so long, you never wanted to. For all those who are struggling in similar ways as Sarah, know that you’re not alone. Pride month, and every other day of the year, you can get help and there is a large community who wants to help.
About the Author
My name is Cole Swanson, I’m a young creative who loves to follow my passions and aims to make a mark on the world around me. Through my love of writing, I have paved myself a path that allows me to always tell stories. With each blog post, I desire to share a story in hopes that it allows others to find the courage to share their own.
I’ve been actively working on my own mental health for the past three years. During that period, I learned of the struggles of wanting to give up trying to improve myself, as well as of the joy I feel when I know I’m becoming healthier.
At NAMI, I act as a volunteer for their Ending the Silence program where I talk to students about the power of vulnerability, empathy, and self-advocacy, so they can find the power to redefine the stigma of mental health.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMI Eastside. NAMI Eastside will not be held liable for false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information. The content should be used for general information purposes only.