Right, I’m going to finish this damn post if it kills me. (See my last-but-one post for an explanation of why that might be likely not to happen.)
About a zillion years ago, Teenage Misanthropy posed the question of why there aren’t more gay mental health blogs. It’s an interesting question, and one I tried to write about, first in a comment on the post itself, and then, when I couldn’t make that come out sounding halfway understandable, in three separate abortive attempts to write a post for my own blog. This is attempt number four, and I think I may be able to make this one work because, in one of those quirks of serendipity that seem to happen quite often in the blogosphere, there’s a post on Mentally Interesting which is about a different issue, but captures quite a lot of what I was trying to work out how to say about the lack of gay MH blogs.
Or, to put it another way, I’m going to steal somebody else’s ideas, modify them very slightly, and pass them off as my own… ;o)
The post in question deals with the issue of ‘feminist guilt’ for being a woman with a MH problem. It is, like all the other posts that appear over there, fascinating and brilliantly written, and you absolutely should read it. I hope I’m not paraphrasing too wildly, but one of the points made is that feminism teaches that women should be strong, capable and independent, and that having a MH problem makes it impossible (or, at best, bloody difficult) to live up to that ideal. I think there’s a parallel phenomenon with gay people and blogging, and I think that may be why there seem to be fewer MH blogs written by gay people than statistics suggest there should be.
From the early 70s onwards, the main focus of “gay liberation” (now there’s an old-fashioned phrase for you – it goes along with people talking about “women’s lib”) has been on the idea of “pride”. There have been specific political campaigns at various times, but that’s been the overarching principle. The main visible component of the movement has been Pride marches.
I like the idea of Pride. I like it because it’s as much (or even more) about changing the internal self-image of gay people (and latterly transgender people too) as it is about changing external reality in the forms of laws and so on. The main aim of the Pride movement, I think, has been to create entire generations of gay people who are proud of who and what they are, and who live their lives accordingly. I have to say, it seems to have been dazzlingly successful.
I think one of the main reasons public attitudes to homosexuality have shifted so far and so fast is that so many people either personally know someone who’s gay, or know someone who knows someone who is. It’s very hard to think of homosexuals as strange and threatening when you have personal experience of them as “that nice guy Steve in accounts.” Most of these gay people haven’t been especially political – plenty of them would refuse to attend a political rally, I’m sure – but just by being themselves, just by quietly living an “out” life, they’ve changed the world, or at least the Western parts of it. Even though not all of these people may have been to a Pride march or festival themselves, the seeds for the social revolution were sown there.
But there is a downside to Pride. Pride achieves its effect by promoting a particular image of gay people: happy, self-confident, emotionally stable, and romantically fulfilled. This image was promoted for very good reasons – it contradicted the negative image of gay people as sad, lonely, and unfulfilled. Over time, as marketing people began to realise there was such a thing as the ‘Pink Pound‘, this same image was picked up by companies trying to sell things, and has gradually become part of a packaged “gay lifestyle.” This means that people who fulfil the ‘gay ideal’ are now supposed to be: happy, self-confident, emotionally stable, romantically fulfilled, improbably good-looking, rich, dressed in designer clothes, and with all the latest gadgets at their fingertips. In fact, pretty much their entire lives should be fabulous.
Now, of course, this is a marketing myth. Very few gay people would take it entirely seriously (although the BBC3 series Spendaholics managed to find at least one). It’s not so different to the equally mythical images of perfect people with perfect lives that are used to sell things to straight people. Where it is different, though, is that it is, in part, based on the fundamental “Pride image”. That means, as well as the “my life seems like shit compared to that” issue that everyone with MH problems faces, gay people also feel a sense of “letting the side down”.
Of course, as the post on Mentally Interesting makes clear, it’s not just gay people who feel excessive and inappropriate guilt just for being mentally ill. But I do think the guilt screw is given an extra little twist for gay people.
By not being happy, self-confident and so on, I’m not just letting the side down by failing to be like everyone else. I’m also letting the side down because I’m providing ammunition for the sorts of people who still like to argue that being gay means living a lonely, sad and unfulfilled existence. My life as it is at the moment doesn’t serve as a positive example; instead I’m some kind of an “anti-Pride” figure. My life doesn’t say, ‘Hey kids, you’re gay? Great, that means you can be happy and successful, just like me!’ Instead it says, ‘You’re gay? Oh dear, that means you could end up like this.’
I think this is all made a little bit worse because one of the ways that people used to be nasty to poofs was by telling us we were mentally ill. I know this is a factor in the way I think. When I was still quite young, but old enough to know what gay was, and be properly aware that I was gay (which happened pretty young for me), I saw a letter in the Radio Times, of all places, that said something along the lines of, ‘Of course, all homosexuals are mentally ill, and most of them have other kinds of mental illness too.’ I don’t remember any of the context – I imagine the letter must have been in response to a TV or radio programme – but I’ve always seen it as my duty to prove that nasty-minded little letter-writer wrong.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I still feel quite a bit of guilt about this. I am worried that by being open both about being gay and being a bit of loony I’m Letting Down The Team. I know the guilt is irrational. I know it’s incredibly arrogant of me to think that my inane wurblings could have any effect on the general social opinion of gay people. But I still feel guilty, though.
So, this is (finally!) my suggestion as to why there might be a lack of gay people blogging about their own experience of MH problems. Basically, I think that everyone with a mental illness is likely to feel guilty about it, but that gay people are likely to feel even more guilty. I think that extra guilt can lead to a couple of responses.
On the one hand, I think it can lead to us being so keen to stress that being gay has nothing to do with mental ill-health that we decide not to mention our sexual orientation when we blog about our MH problems. On the other hand, I think it can encourage us to keep quiet about the whole thing, and so never decide to keep a blog in the first place. Or, at any rate, that’s my suggestion, for what it’s worth.
And, on that note, I’d just like to say – hurrah, I got to the end of the post without forgetting what it was I was trying to say in the first place.
*pats self on head*
But, having re-read it, now I find myself wondering whether it was really worth saying in the first place…