Recently, my home state proposed a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Although the bill didn't pass, it created greater awareness for how damaging conversion therapy can be to a person's mental health, especially for teenagers. So many young queer people are coerced into therapy that they believe will "cure" them of something that wasn't harming them to begin with. And because people's gender identity or sexual orientation is such an inherent part of who they are, conversion therapy can lead to serious mental health issues and perpetuate gay discrimination.
Mental Illness Stigma - The life: LGBT
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about her relative who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She was worried for her relative because he told her that part of his OCD involved worrying that he was gay. Until then, she'd never heard that rumination about your own sexuality could be an OCD symptom and felt like her relative was probably just part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
It's important to honor our feelings, to treat them with respect and to not judge ourselves for having them. Even embarrassing feelings, or hateful ones, or angry ones. We can honor our feelings without acting on them immediately because when you own your feelings, you have self-discipline and can allow feelings to pass in and out of you until you feel ready to act on them. Or not. Learning to honor our feelings teaches us to honor ourselves.
Common wisdom and social research both tell us that accepting who we are and being open about our sexual identity brings mental health benefits, despite the negative consequences we may experience for doing so. Many of us who have come out LGBT know that coming out as a sexual minority is risky and the consequences are real, particularly in the workplace. We also know that coming out is not a one time thing. It is a never ending process of interacting with others while trying to remain as true to ourselves as possible. Whether it is correcting co-workers who assume the ring on my finger means I have a husband, or telling my boss the woman in the picture frame isn't my sister, we are always making a moment by moment decision about disclosing who we are.
This time of year, everyone but me seems to be in the “New Year, New Me” spirit. Sure, the phrase is catchy enough; but I like who I am just fine and I have no interest in continuously obsessing about my weaknesses, failures and limitations. For me, self-acceptance is the way to grow. On the surface, I don’t see anything wrong with having the desire to grow and improve yourself. And I know that the desire to be a better you doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like who you are at the moment. But for those of us struggling with self-acceptance, “self-improvement” can become just another hammer to beat ourselves over the head with.