This is a story I’ve written in my head a thousand times. It’s a conversation I’ve wanted to have for so long. It’s a statement I’ve never been strong enough to make.
The past 48 hours consisted of two very important days.
The first was World Mental Health Day. Obviously, mental health is something very close to my heart and I’ll talk about it with pretty much anyone willing to listen. I’ve committed to being open and candid with the hope that someone (just one person is enough) feels like they’re not alone.
Why? Because it’s okay to not be okay.
The second is national coming out day. This may be obvious to some (either because you were told or you just figured) or it may be a shock to some other people.
Either way, I’m gay.
It took a long time for me to be able to say those two words. For the first 18 years of my life, I couldn’t string those five letters together out loud. Even as I write this, part of me keeps considering how much easier it would be to hit the backspace key and not do this. Not because I’m still in the closet, but because I was conditioned for so long to be “straight” that sometimes I question who I really am.
But this is a story I have to tell, because if I want to be completely honest about my journey and my mental health, my sexuality is a huge part of that. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are much more likely to attempt suicide (some sources like CAMH suggest 14x more likely) and experience a significantly higher occurrence of mental illness. I am no exception.
Imagine feeling like who you are is bad or wrong because of who you were born to love. Or that you’re a lesser person and deserve less because of who you’re attracted to. What if you had to live in fear of being disowned or bullied or beaten or killed if you were honest about who you were?
I was incredibly lucky to be born into a family where coming out as gay was met with nothing but love and acceptance. I was fortunate enough to be a citizen of a country where Pride has become more of a celebration than a demonstration or protest. I’ve been blessed with friends who don’t treat me different from how they treated me before they knew.
Despite all of this, my sexuality had a significant impact on my mental health. Coming out to myself was much harder than coming out to anyone else, and it took the acceptance of other people to make me accept myself. In fact, my declining mental and physical health was the driving force behind me finally telling my family and close friends about who I really was. Hiding my identity and pretending to be something I wasn’t made me hate myself more than anything, and reinforced the shame I carried every day with me. Even though I now consider myself “out”, and I don’t hide my sexual orientation, I also don’t advertise it. Sometimes I’ll let people think I’m straight; I won’t correct them if they assume I’m interested in men or have a boyfriend. I’m saying this today because I need to change that.
Why? Because it’s okay to be gay.
Even though I didn’t believe it at first, I do now. For those of you who are curious, I think I have one of the best coming out stories; I was never once responded to negatively, and that’s pretty special. Every single person in my life who knows loves me just the same, if not more. Even my parents, who raised me in a relatively conservative Muslim household, have never made me feel like there is anything wrong with me.
I’m extremely lucky, and I still had a tough time accepting who I am. Think about how tough it must be for people who don’t have the same type of support I did. Some people are against the idea of a coming out day, because we shouldn’t have to “come out” as gay if straight people don’t have to. While I completely agree, I think today is a great day to acknowledge the people who have come out for having the ability and courage to do so. Today is also a day to acknowledge the people who aren’t able to come out, and let them know, wherever they may be, that they are worthy and deserving of love.
So if you had to take away two important pieces of the past 48 hours, here they are:
1. It’s okay to not be okay.
2. It’s okay to be gay (or of any other sexual identity)
PS. I have the same policy about my sexuality and my mental health; all questions welcome, so feel free to ask away.
Keep Surviving by Living.