Originally published on EQView on behalf of the Polarised Project, a documentary on LGBT mental health.
While the general acceptance of LGBT people has happened faster than I can hardly believe when I think about it, we still live in a society where homophobia happens and every queer has to dwell, even for a second, on whether they want to come out or not to each new person they encounter. Many have to deal with much worse – bullying, name-calling, family strife and even violence are all still things that British LGBT people up and down the country have to deal with.
This experience takes its toll on our mental health. LGBT people are more likely to be depressed, to abuse drugs and alcohol, to develop general mental health problems, and to attempt to take their own lives. Indeed, these frightening statistics have often been used to indicate the “penalty” for homosexuality, or the “cost” of one’s “depravity”. More than one of my older friends has tales of coming out to loved ones and being told that they should not be gay because gay people are miserable creatures, doomed to live a lonely life on the edges of polite society. One of my friends was told by his mother that she was worried he would get AIDS.
As someone in my mid-twenties, I’ve grown up in a world where same sex marriage has gone from being a fringe issue people were simply confused that anyone could want to something that is apparently a policy red line for the majority of my generation. My challenges are different. I live in a world where everything’s more expensive but there are no jobs, but the government is doing its best to reduce our opportunity for education, affordable housing and the chance to develop and thrive as contributing citizens. I have repeatedly struggled to find somewhere to live in London that strikes a balance between earth-shattering rent and eye-watering squalor – and it gets even harder when you’re looking for somewhere LGBT-friendly.
I found a great room in Finchley that I lived in for eight months for £270pm – the price was I had to live with a homophobe who was obsessed with controlling the rest of the house and made everyone so miserable they never left their rooms. But it was amazing rent for North London and I couldn’t find anywhere else, so I stayed and paid with my sense of wellbeing until the landlord unexpectedly evicted us. This shouldn’t have been a choice I had to make.
Like most of British society, there’s a taboo on talking about mental health. We’ll inquire sympathetically on someone with a broken leg but someone with depression can find themselves being quietly disinvited from gatherings because they “bring the mood down”. There’s some great efforts being made to break down these barriers. But the LGBT community and young people in particular are both vulnerable and marginalised – we need an even greater voice, but are heard even less.
This is what Polarised is trying to do. The struggles of young LGBT people to lead fulfilling lives in the face of the obstacles put in our way is something we need to talk about – because it’s only until we acknowledge the elephant in the room that we can start looking at ways of getting it out before it knocks the entire bloody house down. And, indeed, asking pointed questions how an elephant ended up in such a cramped, inappropriate room in the first place.