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Being Mentally Ill and Queer

— By 08 July 2015

It can be really scary to be diagnosed with a mental illness, especially if you’re queer. But it doesn't have to be!

The thing about having a mental illness is they’re a part of everything you experience, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people try to reduce and manage symptoms so they can feel more in control, while others find ways to live with symptoms for what they are. Some people even prefer to see their mental illness as a totally separate entity, like someone whispering annoying things in their ear that they can accept or ignore. I know for me, I’ve embraced my diagnosis and see it as a defining piece of me.

That means, though, that I see every part of who I am through the lens of my diagnosis. I analyse myself a lot, probably too much, and I can’t see any part of me being unaffected by my disorder.

Sometimes it gets extra hard, because even people in the psych field can treat my identity as less real because of my diagnosis. There are psychs who believe I shouldn’t be allowed to go through any kind of medical transition ever because this is all just an ‘identity crisis’, and psychs who will spend entire sessions asking “why” I’m bisexual or gray-ace. There are people who will point at symptoms about having identity issues and say that I can’t know that I’m queer.

There’s some diagnoses and sexualities where this happens more than others. Asexuality is often seen as a ‘result’ of trauma and PTSD in psych circles- and for me it is. But the stereotype can be really harmful, and a lot of ace people push so hard against this that they actually ignore mentally ill ace people instead. 

For a long time, too, psychs actually treated being queer as a symptom of borderline personality disorder. Hell, they’ve treated queerness as mental illness on its own too. Personality disorders can be used to dismiss queer people a lot, like your identity can’t really include both a disorder and queer identity. In reality, you can definitely be both, and whether or not they are connected doesn’t make either part of it less real.

These days, I think some of my sexual and gender identity is the result of my disorder. I think that the reason I want a label that 100% encompasses every aspect of my identity in specific detail is kind of symptomatic. But what I’ve realised is that that identity doesn’t matter any less just because I think it’s a part of my mental illness.

It doesn’t matter how connected or separate someone sees all the different parts of their identity. There’s no right or wrong way to experience any of this. Whatever makes sense for you, for your identity, and for your experiences is totally okay.

I don’t know for sure if I’d be queer if I wasn’t mentally ill. But I also don’t know anything about who I’d be if I wasn’t mentally ill, because I am who I am. It’s a definitive part of me and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. Neither is my queerness!

Hell, even if it did go away, it wouldn’t change the fact that I really and truly do have these feelings now. The words I use to self describe now (and trust me, there’s a lot of them) still fit. That isn’t any less true because I have a personality disorder. 

I’m queer, I’m mentally ill, and I’m in charge of my identity. Always.

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