Being ‘out’: the personal is political

[content note: mental health, homophobia, reproductive rights, rape culture]

I’ve recently been struggling with my mental health. This has led me to consider how open I should be about my mental health with others — if I should admit it to other people, if I should post publically on facebook about it. I guess the worry is always that people will judge me and think less of me. It feeds into my own shame and feelings of failure because I am struggling.

Recently, though, I’ve started to take a new approach. To be ‘out’ about my mental health issues, to talk openly and honestly about them. This doesn’t necessarily mean to go into great detail, simply to try not to be ashamed of it. To answer questions honestly, to tell friends if it’s a bad day. To recognise that having poor mental health isn’t something I should brush under the carpet and pretend doesn’t exist for other people’s comfort.

This has got me thinking about how I live my life in general. I am gay so I am ‘out’ in the traditional sense as well. I don’t play the ‘pronouns game’ (where you avoid using gendered pronouns and words when talking about your partner). I talk very openly about being gay and I hold hands with and kiss partners in public as long as it feels safe to do so. Being open about such things prevents a lot of the stress and anxiety that comes from being closeted and allows me to be myself. However, it is more than simply personal: I see being out as a political act. Being visibly gay normalises homosexuality; if people see gay people and know gay people then we are more than simply an invisible minority. Being open provides positive role models and helps young people accept their own sexuality and other people to accept them. I am thankful for those pioneers who came out before me, who said publically that being gay is okay and I’m not ashamed.

I’ve decided, then, to be ‘out’ about my own poor mental health. To talk openly about it and go some small way to erase the stigma. To say, ‘I’m not ashamed of this and you shouldn’t be either,’ to advocate for better mental health services and angrily defend benefits. Being ‘out’ is a political and, I think, deeply feminist act and one that can be transferred to all manner of other issues. I am thinking of the survivors who raise their voice and say, ‘I was raped,’ of the women who say, ‘I had an abortion.’ It challenges taboos and raises consciousness. It opens discussions and allows us to talk and campaign for rights, services and change. Without those who raise their voices and come ‘out’ then we would see no change.

This is not to say that staying closeted is a shameful thing or that people should at all times be out. I recognise that my being out is a personal decision that comes from a position of privilege. I am lucky and privileged to live in a time and a place that I can be out both as gay and as suffering from mental health problems, which in other countries and cultures could cause me to be to be disowned or killed. Speaking about rape is an incredibly brave thing to do and can often be traumatic and triggering for survivors. Not everyone wants to talk about their experiences or should feel they have to. People can lose their jobs when they admit to mental health issues; I know this. We have the right to privacy and to remain silent, to protect ourselves and those we love.

However, I would urge people where possible to come ‘out’. To recognise the political and transformative power of being open and honest about our own experiences.  To say I will not remain silent and I will not be ashamed.