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5 Things You Need to Know About My Gay, Mentally Ill Self

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I have always been different. In pre-school, I was the kid who cried every time her parents left in the morning. In elementary school, I was the token horse-obsessed child. In middle school, I was bullied ruthlessly for being nerdy, and in high school I was a significantly less bullied drama geek. In university, things started to look up. I moved almost 1,000 miles away from the small village I grew up in to a big city full of people who didn’t know me and didn’t care who I was. It was during this four years that I became more different than even I could have anticipated; I realized I was gay, and I was also diagnosed with trichotillomania. There are a lot of negatives that come with belonging to a marginalized community, but there are positives as well. The following are the five things I’d like society to know about my unique experience:

1. I’ve had to come out in more ways than one.

Coming out is a crucial moment in the life of any queerfolk. Before I came out as gay, I had a number of opportunities where I had to come out as mentally ill, be it to friends, family, professors or employers. While it sucks that I’ve had to explain personal parts of me to important people in my life, having to “come out” as mentally ill made it easier for me to come out soon after, since I already knew who my real friends were. I also knew how to have a serious kind of conversation while keeping my emotions in check. Having trichotillomania often forces you to “come out” in a kind of way, as it is a visible mental illness. Eventually people will start to question why you have patches of hair missing, so you’re forced into having these kinds of conversations, which make you stronger in the end.

2. I don’t pull my hair out because I’m gay.

Most people assume the two are related. It makes sense, given the prevalence of mental illness among us queerfolk, due to the discrimination we often face. I am fortunate that I have not been actively discriminated against in any harmful or damaging ways, other than the occasional vulgar gesture. I am fortunate to be accepted by my friends, family and colleagues, and to live in a country that protects the civil liberties of queer people. I did start pulling out my hair around the time I started realizing I was gay, and I’ve had friends and therapists that latched onto my sexuality as the main contributing factor to my distress, but exploring my feelings about my sexuality has been the least helpful avenue to recovery. I have been out and proud for over a year now, and this has been the hardest year with my trich I’ve had yet. Was my trich triggered by my coming out? Possibly. Is being gay my number one problem? Nope, and I’m tired of people telling me it should be.

cartoon of author as rosie the rivitor with words 'we can do it'
An illustration my friend drew of me as Rosie the Riveter.

3. I am entitled to my anger.

Trichotillomania is an infuriating disorder to have. Not being able to control your own arms and fingers is disempowering and sometimes a bit frightening. I am more at peace with my trich than I have been in the past, but sometimes I still get angry when people call me out for having bald spots or if someone makes a rude gesture to my partner and me if we hold hands in public. People will say, “Don’t get mad, they’re trying to tolerate you!” or “They’re from a different generation” or “You’re the better person, cool it.” First of all, I hate the word “tolerate” because toleration is superficial. Second, I have spent most of my life “tolerating” other people’s nonsense, so the least anyone else can do is validate my existence and treat me with real respect. Life is full of little triggers for me, whether it be a joke about someone being “so OCD” or accidentally coming across an anti-gay Facebook group. I know things are changing, but there are parts of the world still really freaking backwards, and I am allowed to be angry. I am allowed to feel it and express it. So please, don’t tell me to calm down.

4. I have major desirability issues.

In a recent article published on the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network’s blog, blog coordinator Laura talks about BFRBs and desirability. Everything she says is totally spot-on, from realizing that outer beauty does matter to some people, to the fact that being a woman is hard enough without having a BFRB when it comes to society’s unattainable beauty standards. As a woman, I have had desirability issues all my life. I have frizzy, curly hair, wide hips and large thighs. My arms are dotted with scars from my compulsive skin picking. I am not the poster child for Americanized female beauty, even though plenty of people find me pretty. When I started coming out as gay, I had more than just sexual desire to worry about. I feared I would no longer be socially acceptable, and that is a whole other terrifying area of desirability. I am sure there are other queer mentally ill kids out who feel the same way, so please, hear me when I say you are not alone.

5. I am lovable/I am loved.

If my trich has taught me anything, it’s that society as a whole doesn’t necessarily need to love me. Knowing this, it was easier to accept myself as gay, which has led to even more happiness in the long run. Initially, I feared my disfiguring mental illness, among other things, would mean no one would ever love me (see above section about desirability issues). I am happy to report to you this is not true, and I have found a wonderful human being who I love dearly and who loves me back. The love of one person is much more meaningful than the love of strangers. My life got better in spite of all the crap thrown at me. I felt like the odds were against me, but I was wrong. That gives me a lot of hope for the future.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you in both the LGBTQ and disability/disease/mental illness community? What is one thing you want society to know about your experience? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 31, 2016
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