The Autostraddle Guide To Queer Mental Health

As you may have heard, LGBTQ people have higher rates of mental health issues than straight people — and so it’s no surprise we’ve written quite a bit on the topic! Which brings us to our second volume of Autostraddle Classics (the first was Lesbian Dating 101), an easy-to-access guide to all the things we’ve said. This is by no means exhaustive — we’ve written a lot on this topic, so not everything is here (or even contained in the “mental health”) tag. But it’s a start.

Special note: Many of these pieces have inspired readers to reach out directly to the writers of the piece in search of support. E-mails of appreciation are great, but if you do choose to do this, please recognize that it can be emotionally overwhelming and mentally exhausting for the writer to feel obligated in any way to respond. But we love you a lot!


Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Other Psychiatric Conditions That Didn’t Fit Into The Other Categories On This Page

From "Tongue Depressor #5" by Cameron Glavin, via Saturday Morning Cartoons

From “Tongue Depressor #5” by Cameron Glavin, via Saturday Morning Cartoons

26 Things Depression Feels Like According To My Diary, by Riese

22. Being stalked by a lump of coal

23. Like being awake is sleeping and being asleep is living

24. Like being awake is lying

Anxious Little Butch, by Kate Severance

Sometimes I will see another body and be overcome with an anxiety that I am not as “good” at butchness as they are, not as sexy or confident, not as tough or lovable. This often spirals into triggered dysphoria, and I’ll find myself wrapping my body up for days until I don’t realize that I am attached to it anymore.

Trans and Schizophrenic: When Diagnosis Impacts Transition, by Sam Ashkenas

When I was actively psychotic I never mentioned my desire to transition. It’s only when I’m healthy that I pursue hormone replacement therapy and laser hair removal. When I was at my worst, I couldn’t even think about my gender identity. I was too preoccupied by my fears. I was afraid harmless things, like street signs or trees, were trying to kill me. I became concerned only for my survival. I couldn’t even think about my gender identity.

Dust to Dark: The Colors of My Craziness, by RN

“I’ve been listed on the news as a missing person and when I find out that there’s an entire police force, thirty men strong, combing the city in search of me, I am enraged — in my mind they’re careless and cruel, misguided and misinformed; they are nameless, faceless antagonists in my struggle to rejoin the night.”

Screaming/Not Screaming, by Laneia Jones (A+)

“What if you opened the door and nothing was there? Why is there ever anything there to begin with? What if you always thought a floor was there but you were really just walking on powdered insect shells? Why are exoskeletons so shiny? Is skin just a soft, matte exoskeleton? Does the person-like thing lying next to you have real skin or just this soft matte exoskeleton?”

Everything Hurts All The Time, by Riese

“I’ve had major bouts of depression throughout my life for various reasons, but that first year at Michigan was the saddest and loneliest I’d ever been for no reason at all. At 19, everything seems potentially permanent and therefore terrifying — you’re between childhood and adulthood and clues shoot from all directions about what that adulthood might look like. Mine was foggy as day: I’d get straight As, be single forever, and my body would never work again.”

Some Things Are Impossible: How A Rural Queer Lives With Depression, by Lila

“Through farming I learned to mold my own badass identity from out of the grip of pubescent shame. I learned to fall in love with myself through my own capability. To fall asleep and mentally recall the fence you repaired, the broccoli you transplanted, the pigs you tended, all in a day, is to feel grounded in your sense of self. So drunk was I on my own ability, that when depression descended — when getting out of bed required half an hour of mental brokering and the walk up to the field felt downright Herculean — I was entirely lost.”

To Be Queer, Black, and “Sick”, by Helen McDonald

“The first woman I ever loved told me that when you’re queer and Black, illness is a shadow that always follows you, but that no one ever acknowledges. I walked away because I didn’t know how to see it?”

Schecter 3:16 (Or How Jenny Schecter Saved My Life), by Heather Hogan

“Jenny Schecter was a mess. There’s no denying it. The writing for her character was so outlandishly inconsistent that you never knew which incarnation you were going to get from one season to the next. She was a duplicitous megalomaniac whose self-indulgent, self-destructive antics knew no boundary. But you know what? So is Don Draper. So was Walter White. So was Dexter and Jack Bauer and House and Tony Soprano. But they’re dudes, so that makes them interesting. Jenny Schecter is a lady, so her deal makes her a cunt.”

I Don’t Have An Expiration Date and Neither Do You: How I Learned to Have the Best Day Ever, by Grace Kim

“I realized I had just had the best day of my life and none of the things I had done to make it the best day were out of the ordinary. All that changed was the way I approached the day in my mind. I wanted it to be the best day and so I approached it as if it were going to be. It led me to take risks, leave my comfort zone and do the things I’d normally never do out of fear.”

The Big Reveal, by Jenna Leigh Evans

“In fact, the strain of hiding my illness would likely have caused me to break down with even more frequency. How would she have coped with those dysphoric, hallucination-ridden breakdowns — and how would I have dealt with her uneducated reactions?”

Panic and Parenthood: Having A Baby, Being Torn Apart, and Putting Myself Back Together, by Lucy Hallowell

“Sometimes late at night I would stare at the springs on my roommate’s bunk and revisit that first sex panic. My eyes would track the way her weight pushed the striped mattress into the s-curves of the springs.”

Advice:


Body Image & Eating Disorders

The Disappearing Act: Fighting Disordered Eating as a Masculine-of-Center Woman, by Ali Osworth

“Masculine people are afforded the privilege of space. Feminine people aren’t. Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. That they maybe make themselves disappear in that quest for lightness, for smallness, for compactness. Like flowers being pressed until they’re flat. Not all feminine people do it, but I think most of them feel the pressure.”

The Ersatz Emancipation of Femininity: On Being a Bulimic, Brown Lesbian, by Kesiena Boom

“When I was thirteen years old I began starving myself. I did so, in short, because I wanted so desperately to be thin. And by thin, I mainly meant white.”

Fat, Trans, and (Working On) Being Fine With It, by Mey Rude

“As a guy, the last time I remember someone making fun of me for being fat was in the ninth grade, but as a woman, I get comments on my weight almost every time I post pictures on my blog.”

Unashamed To Be Fat: Wear The Shorts, It’s F*cking Hot Outside, by Elicia Sanchez

“The constant teasing, an unsuccessful trip to fat camp, and even more ridicule later caused me to become anorexic at eight years old. EIGHT YEARS OLD.”

Loving Your Body In The Age of Patriarchy, by Sam White

“As a woman of color who does not fit into Western Eurocentric standards of what is conventionally attractive, every day I step out and love myself is an act of resistance.”

Fat Queer Tells All: On Fatness and Gender Flatness, by Allie Shyer

Culturally, we understand androgyny to be the ability to shift between gender expressions with a facility that highlights their outlandishness, and sometimes their closeness to each other. Learning to embrace the hyperbole of my own body has liberated my gender expression, but also made it more difficult for others to understand. There is little precedent for fat androgyny.

An Open Thank You Letter to Margaret Cho, by Whitney Pow

Because in a world where we are made to feel like our curvy, round, shapely, fat, scarred, queer, skinny, race-laced bodies are tiny and insignificant, we feel like we barely take up any space. We feel like fighting words will only make our bodies’ space bigger and more unsightly. But tattooed asses and arms and purple and white stretch marks and bellies and bones and all are worth fighting for.

Advice:


Substance Abuse

If Lindsay Lohan is “Pathetic,” Then So Am I: What It Feels Like for a Drug Addict, by Anon

My childhood was shit, and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t want to live it sober. The pills and their accordant blackouts and limb-numbing cloud-floating fuzzy-head tunnel vision side effects saved my life by granting me a few hours of uninterrupted peace that I couldn’t get anywhere else.

Experiments In Sobriety or “This Is When I Admit That I Have A Drinking Problem”, by Anon

The easiest way to explain it is that I’ve always felt like a drinker, a word that resonates with the same truth as the word ‘queer’ or my first name.

On Sobriety, Recovery and the Art of Not Dating, by J. N. Reyna

Of course, instead of reaching for a strong, memory-altering salve, I could reexamine my approach to relationships and I could learn to think differently about my love life—but who has time for that shit?

How (Not) To Quit Smoking, by Phoenix

“Smoking regularly has something that’s been with me as long as drinking heavily has, that is to say about three years. Frequent use of substance appears to be common in many demographics that I belong to, including – but not limited to – people who are gay (see above), people who are college-aged, people who wait tables for a living, people who write bad poetry on occasion, and people who earned good grades while growing up in restrictive houses in suburban New York before being set free into college life.”

The 13-post “Sober in the City” series by Ginger Hale:

  • Sobriety as a Form of QPOC Empowerment: “I will not let substances rob me of my promise. I will not let alcohol numb me to the pain I experience when I am oppressed and discriminated against, nor will I let greedy corporations and corrupt governments profit off of that pain.”
  • An Atheist Walks Into Alcoholics Anonymous: “It sounded a bit too much like “pray the gay away.” You know, like I was choosing to be an alcoholic, like I chose to be gay, because I was “spiritually bankrupt” and all I needed to do was find God to cure me of all my moral failures.
  • A Feminist Walks into AA: “…one of my greatest challenges in AA: I did not get sober to get silenced.”
  • The Life-Changing Day My Addict Partner Left Me: “January 7, 2009 was one of the best days of my entire life. However, at the time, I didn’t actually realize this.”
  • Redefining My Queerness On Fire Island: “..if being queer was synonymous with getting drunk, then how would I ever be able to define myself as anything other than a drunk?”

Sexual Assault, Abuse & Trauma:

My Personal Is Political: Reconciling My Trauma With My Feminism, by Jess Paige

A week later, I start having nightmares and panic attacks and flashbacks. Some nights I see that matching pajama set I wore when I was six. Some nights I relive that moment when I asked my friend’s parents why my clothes were on the floor. Others, I start to remember minuscule moments – being carried to my friend’s sister’s bed, the brain freeze I got from slamming my glass of chocolate milk, a dark figure that I can’t really make out. I had buried this night somewhere deep in my head. It was now being dusted off for the first time.

You Are Not Alone: On Being A Queer Survivor, by Kate

Rape is impact: there will be aftershocks, ripple upon ripple of side effects, cyclical reminders. You will see your body, or not see it at all. It may become a dry husk you struggle to fill, or something to tear down every few hours.

Run Anyway: Real Talk About Abusive Lesbian Relationships, by Gabby Rivera

“The further away I got, the clearer it became. She had been my first serious girlfriend after a succession of boyfriends, and I was more in love than I had ever been before. But the relationship stretched and accommodated behavior I likely would have never taken from a man.”

The Second to Last Woman I Loved, by Roxane Gay

“I had gotten in the habit, you see, of dating women who wouldn’t give me what I wanted, who couldn’t possibly love me enough because I was a gaping wound of need. I couldn’t admit this to myself but there was a pattern of intense emotional masochism, of throwing myself into the most dramatic relationships possible, of needing to be a victim of some kind over, and over, and over. That was something familiar, something I understood.”

She Wouldn’t Give Me Up, by Allison McCarthy

“I remember everything: what normal felt like all through college in my relationship with her — an attractive and charismatic woman who was also a compulsive liar and an abusive lover. Of course it didn’t start out that way. Insane realities rarely do.”

Because If I Was Honest, Everything I Knew Would Explode, by Tina Vasquez

“That instinct, to lie or protect the men who abuse us, is hard to explain. It comes from being afraid of the person who is abusing you, of course, but also afraid for the changes that honesty will force.”

This Happens: Sexual Assault Between Queer Women, by Leah Horlick

“I was destroyed. I wanted it to be different. Wasn’t it different, when it was a woman? It wasn’t, and it isn’t. But there are definite factors that make sexual violence and survival different between lesbians.”

It’s Not Okay: Intimate Partner Violence in Radical Queer Spaces, by Emma

“The idea of the normative trans woman — the heterosexual, white, skinny, shaved, dolled-up skirt-wearing femme — makes it hard to conceive of intimate partner violence coming from within the community.”

Advice:


Grief

A Year of Grieving: 10 Things I’ve Learned, by Gabby Rivera

“…this publicity seeped itself into my psyche and destroyed the filter I’d developed for 29 years. Her death lived on the edges of my lips and pores of my skin.”

Before You Know It Something’s Over, by Riese Bernard

“My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this forever. It is the truest thing about me. I was 14 when he died. My father. I was 14.”

I Am Jack’s Preoccupation With Mortality, by Laneia Jones

“Oh, death! I can’t believe I was ever so unfamiliar with you! I’m now completely 100% AWARE: I am going to die. Other people are also going to die.”

Where Hope and Grief Can Co-Exist, by Caitlin Zinsser

How do we both honor our child’s memory and prepare to open our hearts again to a new child?

This Is A Dead Mom Essay, by Maddie Taterka

“I stared at her. She stared at me. I said, “We were out running errands last week, and three days later, she was dead!”

The “Book of Life” Gave Me My Anything More, by Asha French

“Book of Life posits that my father is in a place more vivid than memory, which is is just a medium between the man who raised me and the man who waits for me in a place beyond time.”

Advice:


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24 Comments

  1. 0

    I am in awe about how often you all reveal yourselves to us, these very real and oh so important stories. My English is failing me tonight but I’ve been considering seeing a therapist (I’m privileged enough that I can afford it).

    Thank you so so much to all of you for being so fierce and real. Goddammit I really have no words. I’ll just sit here and wait for somebody to say it more eloquently and give it a thumbs up.

  2. 0

    There are so many beautiful essays here that I will never forget reading – particularly that piece by Elicia Sanchez about being unashamed to be fat. That shit was so real and so good and it gave me so many feels.

    And Riese, I read your essay about your dad on my way home from work on the train one day and missed my stop because I forgot I was even on a train.

    You guys are changing lives with the bits of yourselves that you share with us.
    You are wonderful and I’m so proud of the humans here who contribute to our community in such a significant and moving and genuine way.

    <3

  3. 0

    Hey Autostraddle, this is so awesome! Maybe you could do an open thread on mental health? I know it does not sound as a fun one but I honestly think it would be great, especially since, as you said, LGBTQ people are dealing with more mental-healt related issues than straight people do. As a person dealing with anxiety disorders and depression I sometimes feel the need to talk about my everyday experiences and challenges, and it’s just not always possible. It would feel great to have the possibility to do so in a safe (web-)space.

  4. 0

    I feel like this counts toward Bi-Awareness Week a bit.

    And now that I’ve learned more about panic attacks and anxiety, I realise that the Hulk-out feeling or reaction I used to get and sometimes still get but rarely do now because my feels are not stuffed into a glass case.

    You AS and especially Kate did that, broke the glass case of emotions.
    I know how hard it can be to access things, to let things go, to let the vulnerable bits show.
    So thank you for doing you the way that you do.

    • 0

      Well, from what I’ve seen, Axis-II personality disorders tend to be the most stigmatized. A lot of people see borderline, sociopathy, or psychopathy, and they think serial killer. The whole lack of evident empathy thing tends to turn most people off, I think.

      Didn’t know BPD was so prevalent in the queer community, though.

      • 0

        People with BPD do not lack empathy, nor is the illness similar to sociopathy/psychopathy. BPD is a complex condition that involves intense emotions, difficulty in regulating emotions, and an unstable/unclear sense of self. It’s thought to have significant genetic risk factors, but trauma can definietly be a trigger. I can see why queer and trans people in unsupportive communities, whose inner feelings/desires are not affirmed by the outside world, might be at higher risk.

        • 0

          If we want to be absolutely technical, BPD does involve a lack of empathy but for different reasons than that of APD. Regarding the technical definitions, someone with BPD might feel a lack of empathy due to the amount of effort it takes to regulate their own emotions… forget dealing with everybody else’s as well. So what I originally meant in that regard was a perceived lack of empathy. It doesn’t matter if the individual actually feels empathy. If the perceived lack of empathy is there, the prejudice will also persist.

          But I also disagree with the idea that Axis-II personality disorders be so categorized. In fact, contrary to popular belief, Axis-II personality disorders can be comorbid with each other. People with symptoms of BPD have been seen to have symptoms of APD, for example. All Axis-II PDs involve an inability to properly process emotions the way most people do. In my opinion, the precise way this manifests itself in each individual, however, can’t easily be quantified by a DSM diagnosis. Emotions are far too complex for that.

          We say sociopath or psychopath or borderline because most people, including many therapists and psychologists have no idea (ironically) how to empathize with Axis-II individuals. It makes it easier for people to categorize based on the strict guidelines put into place by the DSM, because most people don’t understand and are frightened by the idea of Axis-II PDs.

          But while I’m at it, Kacey asked where the borderline stuff was at, and I’m bored and I have writer’s block. So I will say this: I also resent the idea that these are “disorders” in the strictest sense. It’s just another way of living. I’m not a serial killer, and I’m not just going to just snap and kill you because it really is more trouble than it’s worth. Ted Bundy and the rest are emotionally challenged morons, and even then they’re one in a million; most violent crimes are actually emotionally charged anyway. We might not be able to feel in the traditional sense. We might not be able to recognize certain emotions at all, but we can feel bonds of loyalty. We can feel our own little cocktails of emotions which are very real to us. We’re not inherently good people and we’re not inherently bad people. Hell, no one is. Long story short? I like being the way I am and I don’t need to be “fixed.”

          • 0

            I find this offensive. I hate this stereotype that borderlines “lack empathy” and are violent. My problem is I have too much empathy and too many feelings! I don’t have one violent bone in my body. I recommend getting more familiar with the borderline community, I know you don’t mean to be offensive.

          • 0

            Also, I can respect that you don’t like being labelled, but because those of us with bpd have unstable senses of self, this diagnosis is very cathartic for us. For me, it was a way of understanding why I felt like things so were so much worse than depression. The bpd label is very important for many many borderlines and I don’t think it’s a good idea to discount others identities, yourself of course is your choice.

    • 0

      Um I question what source you got that from and would question the BPD diagnosis of any queer person.
      Therapists, psychologist, and psychiatrist are human beings subject to prejudices.
      In the past being queer was considered in itself a mental illness and in the present we still face discrimination, persecution and alienation from “mainstream” society. Things that make a person “unstable”.

  5. 0

    I have like, 10 tabs open and am prepared to become very emotional.

    (Also, seeing the word “bipolar” up there was a nice surprise – I’m so used to “mental illness” being equated to “social anxiety and/or depression”. Or some demonised Unnamed Mental Illness that makes us go do Terrible Things.)

  6. 0

    So many of these pieces ae seared into my memory. I’m deeply greatful for all of the incredible, beautfiul, writing that this site offers. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, I am privileged enough to be able to afford treatment and am doing reasonably well, but recovery is a long, complex, and uneven process. Even though I wouldn’t wish mental illness on anyone, it’s helpful to be reminded that I’m not alone.

  7. 0

    This guide sucks. How the fuck is there no advice for STDs/Sexual Practices? Can we stop pretending like people don’t fuck, like there aren’t infections you can get from fucking, and start acknowledging that both those things are closely related to mental health?

    It’s like, you want to help Queer people, and you straight up ignore a serious problem that disproportionately affects queer people. Great job.

  8. 0

    Thanks so much for putting this wonderful and super extensive guide together! I remember reading some of those eating disorder and sexual violence pieces when they first came out, and they helped so much at the time. Thanks so much to the awesomely brave writers of all these personal pieces and the empathetic and wise authors of the advice pieces <3

    Maybe this is not the most doable piece, but I would LOVE to see a piece about how queer women's communities can respond when there is sexual violence within our group/community or when there's a perp or abuser in the group/community. I haven't seen anything like that online, and I think if anyone could write a good piece about it, it would be Autostraddle! Obviously the vast majority of perps are men and the vast majority of perps against queer women/NB folks are men, but there are definitely some super tricky issues that happen when the violence is intra-community.

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