Mental Health, Grief, and Queer Community
For the second time this year the queer community in Philly has lost someone. Both deaths were people that I knew from “around”, but not close friends of mine. However, it still totally sucks. Last night, talking with a friend, he mentioned feeling like we need to talk more about both mental health and grieving in our communities. And he said, “This is kind of your thing.” And it is my thing. Many consuming years of school gave me a great opportunity to distance myself from others as I dealt with my own feelings and issues and helped me to learn how to be a healer in my own communities. I’ve been on committees, done organizing, ran groups, worked with people individually – and it still can all feel so hopeless when I mourn the loss of life of people who were suffering. I’m not so conceited that I feel like it’s my job to “save” people – I don’t really feel like that’s how the world works and I don’t want that job. I know there are some things in life I’m really good at (writing blogs at a picnic table) and other things I’m not so good at (meeting strangers) and I try to use the things I’m good at to help folks who are having a hard time because I know what that feels like.
My friend was right, we do need to have more conversations about mental health and about grieving in our queer communities. But what does that look like? How do we acknowledge the diversity of experience and feelings that people feel without judging and pathologizing? Where is the line between brilliance and mood swings? What if someone doesn’t want help? What do you do when everybody already knows that living in a homphobic and transphobic world fucks us up, but that doesn’t really stop it from happening?
I often write and talk to people about finding the parts of the world that are brilliant and magical and finding ways for those parts of the world to be the ones we turn to when feeling low. And just to really be as gay as possible, I have this Indigo Girls lyric running through my head, “Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.” And so in these moments of sadness I can talk all I want about hope, but I believe that first we need to look at the darkness, sit with it, and acknowledge it. Because it’s sad when someone we love dies. And it’s sad when we no longer see the face of someone we recognize in the crowd like we once always depended on in a way we didn’t even understand.
And so I write this, thinking of my friends words last night, and making a visible space for us to think about and acknowledge our loss and our grief. I’ve seen people come together to support each other in amazing ways, so I know that this is happening over and over again. And it’s gonna need to happen over and over again. And I’m going to write about it and talk about it and make art about it over and over again so that it stays visible and we keep supporting each other even when life flows like a dream. Because anyone who’s been there knows, that even when you’re surrounded by love, you can still feel alone. And I don’t want to “save” anyone, but I do want to be a voice that speaks up and says that it’s ok to ask for help, and it’s good to need other people, and we’re all doing the best that we can. Take care of each other.