This Valentine’s Day, Loving Our Queer Identities is Necessary for Our Survival
As always, if you are facing a medical or psychiatric emergency, please dial 911. If you need immediate support, you can call the specific support services listed below. The Trans Life Line Crisis & Suicide Hotline is 1-877-565-8860. If you’re thinking about suicide, please care for yourself and reach out for help. Here are some resources that can help support you below. If you’re uncomfortable using the phone, the National Suicide Prevention Helpline and the Trevor Lifeline also have a chat feature on their websites. We love you.
In an age where Galentine’s Day is more trendy than actually having a significant other this holiday, self-care and, more radically, self-love, seems to dominate our plans rather than receiving that love from another person. “Treat yourself with a box of chocolates!” they say. Maybe go out with your pals, watch the latest addictive Netflix show, and bask in the glory of being single. Or take the art of self-care to a very generic level and stay in with that new face mask that’s been hiding in your cabinet for weeks and possibly scare off your food delivery person.
But what does self-care mean when our identities tell us we’re not allowed to fully love ourselves, when we’re three times more likely to experience a mental illness just due to our queerness? Or even more dangerously, when LGBTQ+ youth is at a higher risk in attempting suicide, and where over 20% of queer people also suffer from substance abuse? Sure, it can be difficult to be queer and single on this day of romance, where finding a successful relationship seems more challenging than rocket science. But what about the difficulties of being queer and downright lonely, not from chronic singledom, but from minority stress or depression?
Practicing self-love seems to get easier with age and changing attitudes, yet this radical act becomes an obstacle for those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, queer, pansexual, intersex, and/or asexual. The practice becomes a two-layered system—we must love ourselves, but also love our queer identities that heteronormative society tells us not to. While the act of loving myself didn’t take much effort, wholeheartedly loving my identity as a lesbian took me 20 years (and counting). This process seems to never end when societal institutions restrict our ability to practice self-love, where we’re unable to take up space like our privileged peers, or some are even denied their identities by today’s legal and political structures.
It’s a constant routine that’s hindered by our double consciousness of being queer in the heteropatriarchy, where it may be safer to pretend to be straight or cisgender rather than dealing with the stigma, the chronic bullying, or the sometimes the loneliness of being LGBTQAI2S+. This loneliness can translate to severe stress or anxiety, called minority stress, where being part of a marginalized group can cause disproportionate amounts of alienated feelings, severe stress, and even physical health issues. This is compounded significantly for those who fall into more than the minority group of LGBTAQI2S+, such as black queer femmes, especially due to racism and the normative idea of a queer person still being a white person. Being part of a minority—whether one or more—usually means needing more support, ranging from smaller worries such as coming out or major issues like battling with suicidal thoughts. Yet, when queer, especially young and queer, it can feel impossible to find a support system to help navigate through finding our places in the world. Even more so if we’re still closeted and/or not accepted by our families. Feeling both alone and marginalized only creates a double burden that can only be solved through one practice—self-love.
What Is Self-love? How Do I Practice It?
While the term “self-love” has been tossed around casually so much in self-help media and without its radical Black queer roots of Audre Lorde, the act is one that could save a life—figuratively and literally. If you are struggling with severe depression, anxiety, or are even considering suicide as a queer person, there are immediate steps you can take, like calling an LGBTQAI2S+ lifeline (such as The Trevor Project or the Trans Lifeline).
But there is also a more ongoing process, which sadly never stops. Even if you’re more confident about being gay than Ellen Page, it’s still necessary to remember your roots and continue to unabashedly love your queerness. This comes in many forms, whether through not being afraid to hide your identity to strangers, validating your own existence through a new look, or finding a chosen family of other queer people. And while this extra work seems to make life more difficult than it should be, it’s also a big reason why being queer is such an infinite and magical experience, especially when this form of love is shared with others in the community. Surviving the lowest lows of growing up and realizing you’re queer is a greater feat than most, and that should be enough to celebrate your queerness on a daily basis. Now, how exactly can I celebrate my queerness, you might ask?
Being “Too Much” Is Never Actually Too Much
For many, we find self love through validating our identities in several ways, such as discussing our gayness like it’s the air we breathe or being sure to make our identities visible, particularly when bierasure is very real and lesbians continue to be invisible. At times, this can appear to be a bit too obvious, or even a form of overcompensating for the internal turmoil we deal with on a daily basis. Yet, the only ones who both make these comments and who shouldn’t be making the comments in the first place are those who don’t carry the burden of being queer. Being told that you’re “too much” simply because you have finally found a way to fully love your identity can lead us into depressive episodes or even back into the closet. While straight and/or cisgender people think we put on “an act or performance” because we enjoy annoying them, think again—it’s a survival mechanism and more importantly a celebration to make up for the years we’ve dealt with internalized homophobia. Because there are two layers to self-love we have to overcome, it may come off as an overt act, which, to be entirely honest, it is! If you want to wear a rainbow pin every day, do it. If you want to talk about your obsession with King Princess and Willow and Tara’s relationship from Buffy nonstop, go ahead! Because at the end of the day, you’re never “too much,” but you’re also always more than just “enough.”
Find Other Queer People to Practice Self-love With
While practicing self-love entirely on your own is perfectly fine (and implied by the term itself), finding others to share and encourage this love with can be even more empowering and avoid possible feeling of loneliness. It can be enjoyable to do this with a romantic partner, but we all know how difficult that can be to find as queer people. Plus, sometimes we’re not always in the right headspace for that commitment, or you might never want to date, well, ever (shout out to those who identify as asexual and/or aromantic). Which is where queer friends come in hand! You can discuss all your queer desires, fears, and interests with them without the anxieties of romantic or sexual feelings, because let’s face it—talking about gay things with our straight friends is not quite the same as having a person who just gets it. Because a component of queer self-love is being able to freely talk about our identities, encompassing small details like news that The L Word reboot is officially happening to major ones like homophobic family members or political turmoil. It can be even therapeutic to discuss these topics with other friends in the LGBTQAI2S+ community. No wonder so many queer people only seem to hang out with other queer people.
But, how do we find these queer friends? Especially if you live in small towns or even large cities that carry a nonexistent queer scene, it can feel impossible to find others like you. This is why minority stress is even worse in communities that lack an LGBTQAI2S+ culture—it’s just downright lonely. If you attend a college or university, most have some form of LGBTQAI2S+ student organization(s) that foster a supportive community. Many that I have encountered incorporate general body meetings that encourage friendly and insightful conversation between anyone who decides to show up, and wonderful, even lifelong queer friendships can form through these meetings.
Or, if your town hosts any, try to attend events geared towards or organized by queer people, whether this means showing up to your local gay bar if you’re of age or finding more focused events, such as queer speed dating or queer dance parties. While this can be difficult to attend due to geographic reasons or social anxiety or depression, they are usually always a fun time and can foster inspiring conversations that just might lead to future hangouts.
But, at the end of the day, some communities simply do not hold such events. Which is where the Internet comes in, aka the best tool to find other queers! I’ve always been a fan of social media due to how it can produce the best of friendships, and this was before I even knew I was gay. Because I still am very much involved with every form of social media ever, I always go back to it to create more connections with other queer people. I have an ongoing list of queer friends I’ve made through Instagram that I’ve never met IRL, and I even still talk to some of my friends from Tumblr I connected with almost ten years ago who knew I was queer before anyone else.
There are so many online communities dedicated to LGBTQAI2S+ people; there’s bound to be a Facebook group for queer fans of every niche interest out there. Trevor Space is a platform for queer youth aged 13 to 24 who wish to connect to other queer people, which is particularly important for those who are not entirely out yet but still need to practice self-love and -acceptance with others going through similar experiences. For those looking for queer friends, lovers, partners, pen pals, you name it, Personals is a queer-only Instagram platform (soon to be an iPhone app!) where you can publish personal ads, stating what and who you’re looking for, and connect to anyone who comes across them. Or, more controversially, you can use dating apps like Tinder to find queer friends, which I’ve done many times in the past. Your options are limitless!
My hope is that these options will allow you to embrace your identity, find your queer community, or even your chosen family to start actively practicing that self-love. Remember to love yourself wholly, all your perfections and flaws, and remember that you are you and don’t need to fit into a certain mold of queerness. Because no two queer people are alike and some choose to not identify as queer! Authentically loving yourself is the most radical act one can practice, so if you do happen to achieve this or even start towards the journey, you are on your way.