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LGBT Mental Health

10 Ways To Support A Loved Who Is Questioning Their Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity

Last time, we gave tips on what to do if a loved one explicitly comes out to you. But what should you do if your child, close friend, or sibling “sort of” comes out to you? By this, we mean they are not really sure if they are gay, straight, or something else entirely, and they don’t know what to do about it. Chances are they are feeling scared, confused, and afraid of losing your love or friendship, but at the same time are in need of a sounding board. 

“Being queer is a struggle,” says Venue Aves, Punong Babaylan (Head Shaman) of the U.P. Babaylan, the longest-existing LGBTQI student organization in the Philippines and in Asia. “This is why it’s important to be a safe space for queer people, especially if they are questioning, because research shows that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems — including suicidal ideation — because of the problems that arise from society’s prejudice and non-acceptance of them.”

Here are some ways you can support a loved one who is questioning their sexuality or identity: 

“How they arrive at or express their sexuality is a journey; their identity does not have to be pinned down or labelled right away.”

Venue Aves, Punong Babaylan (Head Shaman) of the U.P. Babaylan
  1. Explicitly assure them that your relationship will not change. This is the most basic way that you can support your loved one. Say you love them, that they’re still your BFF, that you think nothing less of them. “The support and reassurance has to be explicit because more often than not, the one who is questioning will be afraid that your relationship will change or become complicated by their confession,” Venus says. “By being clear and affirming with support and encouragement that is unconditional, you allow your questioning loved one to express what they really feel.”
  2. Thank them for their trust. Even if your loved one knows that you’re an ally, verbalizing their fears can still be a really intense experience that takes strength and courage. Thanking your sibling, friend, or child shows that you honor this courage as well as the trust that they have for you.
  3. Don’t force them to come to a decision. Pushing them into a “gayer” or “straighter” direction — even if your advice is well-intended — puts undue pressure on the one who is questioning. Instead give them room to figure things out on their own. “How they arrive at or express their sexuality is a journey; their identity does not have to be pinned down or labelled right away,” they point out. 
  1. Listen more than you talk. Even if you are curious, questions like “Are you sure?” or “What if you’re just confused?” only adds to the pressure and complicates an already sensitive issue. If you must ask, ask what help or support your loved one needs from you. Otherwise, just listen, nod along, or be a shoulder to lean on. 
  1. Accept the fact that you cannot do everything. “Even if you are a safe space, the rest of society may not be,” they explain. “So if you can, ensure that your questioning loved one has access to support groups outside of your trusted circle.”
  2. Educate yourself. Do your best to understand the reality of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “Learn about Sexual Orientation, Gender Equality, Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC),” they say. “Read books, listen to podcasts, or watch shows that show the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. These are all readily available online.”
  3. Educate others. If you follow social media accounts that promote LGBTQ+ equality, repost their content. “If your partner or parents are struggling with your child or sibling coming out or questioning, make the effort to talk to them and remind them that their loved one is still the same person and your love should not change,” they advise.
  4. If a close co-worker is the one who is questioning, strive to make the company more inclusive and accepting of diversity. “Petition your manager or HR department to invite organizations like U.P. Babaylan to give talks on SOGIESC, which can lead to the formulation of diverse and inclusive policies and make your workplace a safe space for queers and questioning individuals,” they suggest.
  5. Check-in on them regularly. “It’s really scary not to be straight, so communicate with your loved one often to make sure they are okay and to assure them that you are there if they need anything,” they explain. 

Refer them to a mental health professional if — and only if — your loved one has a history of mental health concerns or is displaying signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation. “But do not tell them to talk to a psychologist solely because they are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity because homosexuality and transgenderism are not medical illnesses that need to be treated,” they add.  

  1.  Respect their privacy. Just because your loved one is processing their sexuality with you does not mean they want to be out to the rest of your family or friends, or even plan to be. Even though your intentions may be good (i.e. you want to be the one to tell your parents to spare your sibling the fear and anxiety), always ask your loved one first if that is what they want you to do. Outing someone who is LGBTQ+ without their permission can damage relationships or put them in awkward situations that they are not prepared for. 

It is important to create an inclusive environment for everyone. By simply affirming, supporting, and respecting your loved one’s questioning thoughts and feelings, you can already make a difference in their lives. 

If you are a queer person or know someone who is questioning, Balur Kanlungan (https://www.facebook.com/balur.kanlungan) is an online wellness community for LGBTQI+ youth in the Philippines and provide avenues for members of the community to be exposed to the LGBTQI rights movement.


For those who want to talk to mental health professionals, MindNation offers 24/7 teletherapy sessions with licensed psychologists and WellBeing Coaches. Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential. Book a session now through FB Messenger http://m.me/themindnation or email [email protected].

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Featured

Debunking LGBTQ+ Misconceptions: Facts vs. Myths

Even though there is now increased awareness about sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), many myths and misconceptions, about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, and queers (LGBTQ+) still abound. This misinformation cause members of the LGBTQ+ community to face stigmatization, discrimination, and harassment, leading them to experience mental health concerns like depression and anxiety at higher rates than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. 

We asked Amber Gonzales Quiban, Director for Policy and Campaigns of the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY) to provide the straight facts to the 8 most common myths and misconceptions applied to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

“Conversion therapies cause more harm than good because the trauma that the person experiences can lead to the development of mental illnesses like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.”

Amber Gonzales Quiban, Director for Policy and Campaigns of the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY)

Myth #1: LGBTQ+ people are just going through a phase/experimenting/confused.

Fact: This misconception is especially prescribed to adolescents, as they are labeled as “misguided” and “confused” for feeling and/or experiencing a sexual attraction to someone of the same sex, both sexes, or for identifying with a gender different than the one assigned to them at birth.  But decades of research have shown that being an LGBTQ+ individual is an identity; it is a part of who they are and not a choice, lifestyle, or phase that someone grows out of. 

“If it were a phase or we were just experimenting, then it would have been an easier choice to just choose to be straight and not have to face the stigma and discrimination that comes with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Amber explains. “But being gay, bixesual, or transgender is who we are, it is our reality.”

Myth #2: LGBTQ+ people are mentally ill; if they receive therapy, they will be cured.

Fact: Although homosexuality and transgenderism were once thought to be mental illnesses or diseases, both the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations have declassified them as such. The WHO even went on to emphasize that homosexuality is a natural and non-pathological variation of human sexuality.

Furthermore, studies have proven that psychiatric attempts to “cure” lesbians and gay men are not only unethical and inhumane, they have failed to change the sexual orientation of the patient. “Conversion therapies cause more harm than good because the trauma that the person experiences can lead to the development of mental illnesses like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders,” Amber points out.  

Myth #3: They became LGBTQ+ because they were brought up the wrong way.

Fact: There are no studies that show that children from dysfunctional families are more likely to grow up to gay, bisexual, or transgender any more than children who were raised in loving homes. 

Additionally, many scientists and researchers have studied a variety of reasons that may contribute to a specific sexual orientation or gender identity, including genetics and environmental influences. To this day, there is no consensus that sexual orientation or transgenderism is determined by any single factor or even a combination of factors.

“No one is raised to become gay,” Amber reiterates. This is why when LGBTQ+ members are asked  “When did you choose to be gay/lesbian/bi/trans?” most of them would say that there was no sense of choice regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity; that is just the way they feel. “It’s like asking a heterosexual person ‘When did you choose to be straight?’ There’s no answer to that,” she adds.

Myth #4: I should not expose myself or my loved ones to LGBTQ+ peers/relatives or watch shows with LGBTQ+ themes to prevent them from becoming gay, bisexual, or transgender. 

Fact: Learning about or spending time with people who are LGBTQ+ does not influence the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person or harm the well-being of minors. What it can do is help build empathy and respect towards others, potentially reducing homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia for years to come. 

Myth #5: There is no such thing as trangenders. Transwomen are gays, and transmen are lesbians. 

Fact: Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Transpersons have been documented in many indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures and societies from antiquity until the present day.

“Gender is a social construct, it varies from society to society and can change over time. This means you can break it,” Amber stresses. “And we should not stop people from breaking gender norms because at the end of the day, these gender roles are just imposed upon us.” 

Myth #6: Letting transgenders use the bathroom matching their gender identity is dangerous.

Fact: One of the main arguments against trans-inclusive bathrooms is the perception that sexual predators can gain access to female-only bathrooms. “If people are worried about men who would disguise themselves as transwomen to enter female bathrooms to sexually harass women, then transwomen are not the problem,” Amber stresses. 

Amber also stresses that having a bathroom exclusively for transgenders is counterproductive. “Creating a separate bathroom is just a form of exclusion,” she explains. “We should not be made to feel bad using the restrooms of the gender that we identify with. Creating gender-neutral restrooms would be more inclusive and affirmative.”

Myth #7: Letting my son play with dolls or my daughter play with cars will affect their gender identity.

Fact: Research has shown that behaviors such as playing with feminine toys or wearing feminine-colored clothes do not cause a boy to become gay or transgender, just as those same activities do not cause a girl to become heterosexual or cisgender. 

Myth #8: If someone comes out to me, it means they are attracted to me. 

Fact: “We don’t come out to people because we are attracted to them; we do because we trust them and they are a safe space for us,” Amber emphasizes. “Coming out entails so much fear and burden so when someone comes out to you, be thankful and proud of yourself because someone believes in you and they are willing to risk their lives just to come out to you.”

As an ally and a friend, it’s important that you take a stand for LGBTQ+ rights and join in the fight for equality. By educating yourself about what it means to be LGBTQ+, normalizing conversations related to LGBTQ+ matters with loved ones, and calling out myths and microaggressions, you can play an active role in helping build a kinder and more inclusive community. 

To our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters and allies in the Philippines, you are not alone. MindNation’s psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions if you need someone to talk to. Book a session now through FB Messenger http://m.me/themindnation or email [email protected]

Categories
Featured

8 Things To Do When Someone Comes Out to You

Coming out is defined as the process by which someone accepts and identifies their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and shares their identity willingly with others. It is sometimes one of the hardest things a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) community can do.

“While coming out is a big thing for the LGBTQ+ member because it means they are finally speaking their truth, it is also scary and difficult because of the stigma that is associated with being homosexual, bisexual, or transgender,” says Anton Paderanga, MindNation Marketing Officer and a gender equality advocate. “So when someone comes out to you, it means they trust you and consider you a safe space where they can be free to be themselves.”

“Choosing to come out to you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.”

Anton Paderanga, MindNation Marketing Officer

If you are on the receiving end of a coming out confession, it’s important to make the other person feel seen, heard, and respected. Below are some things you can do:

  1. Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to come out to you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you. Anton says that the best immediate reply to give is “Thank you for telling me.” “Saying this also honors the bravery of your loved one and reassures them that nothing will change in your relationship,” he adds.

Do not say things like “Are you sure?” “I knew it!” or “Duh, it’s so obvious” because even if your intention is to lighten the atmosphere, it invalidates the gravity of the coming out process and inadvertently offends the one coming out. 

2. Respect your friend’s confidentiality. A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity should never be the subject of gossip, so don’t go around telling other people in your circle that so-and-so is gay, bisexual, or transgender even if your intentions are good. Every person’s coming out process always involves private and personal information that deserves to be treated with respect. 

Now, if someone else asks you point blank, “Is your friend X gay/transgender?” Anton advises that you respond with a non-committal response like “Why do you want to know?” or “Is it an issue?” This gently lets the other person know that it is inappropriate to engage in idle talk about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. You can also reply with “Sorry, it’s not my place to say.”

  1. Be the friend you have always been. “Immediately assure them that nothing will change,” suggests Anton. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them, so tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Then continue to do what you have always done together, whether it’s playing sports or catching up online on weekends.
  2. Feel free to ask questions that you may have.
    Anton says that some good follow-up questions include:
  • “Who else knows?” (because they may need you to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret)
  • “What can I do to help?” (because they may need it down the road)
  • “What pronouns do you want me to use?” (important if your loved one is coming out as transgender)
  1. But refrain from asking about the following:

— Anything about their sex life (just as you would not ask a straight person)
— If you can set them up with another LGBTQ+ person that you know (because for all you know they are already in a committed relationship with someone else) 

— Your gay friend if he can help you with shopping, make-up, fashion, etc. (because this is propagating the stereotype that all gay men express themselves in a feminine manner, when in truth they can also be masculine)

  1. Offer and be available to support your friend as they come out to others. “Your role is to be a stage parent — to give them support and confidence they need when their anxiety makes them forget what to say,” Anton points out. However, this does not mean that you should pressure your friend to come out to other people when they are not ready.
  2. If possible, connect your friend with the LGBTQ+ community. If you know of other LGBTQ+ individuals or organizations, tell your loved one about it without giving specific names (because, again, it is not your place to out other people). “You can just say ‘Oh, I have a friend who has gone through the same experience as you if you want to talk to them about it’ or ‘I know of this group if you want to hang out with other LGBTQ+ members,’” Anton advises. Then seek the permission of the other person or organization before introducing your friend to them. 
  1. Learn about the LGBTQ+ community. Doing this will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart. “When a loved one comes out to you, you automatically become an ally — a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports gender equality,” says Anton. “This means you take on the responsibility to help educate other people and amplify the voices of the LGBGTQ+ community.”

By being a supportive friend to someone who comes out to you, you help establish more safe spaces for those in the LGBTQ+ community and help them take one step closer to attaining the rights that they deserve.

If you need someone to talk to, MindNation psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Book a session now through http://m.me/themindnation.com or email [email protected]

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Get Inspired

10 Trailblazing Trans Women You Should Know Right Now

A transgender person is one who cannot identify with the gender they were given at birth. For example, one may be born as a male but somehow feels more inclined to identify as female and behave in a feminine manner. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but due to society’s expectations, transpeople have to live with constant prejudice, stigma, discrimination, and — in some cases — even physical violence. They also tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues than the general population, including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

In honor of National Women’s Month, MindNation pays tribute to 10 amazing trans women from all over the world who are breaking free from stereotypes and the limitations placed on them and making their marks in various fields:

  1. Mela Habijan, Filipina actress, writer, content creator, beauty queen
    When Mela first came out to her parents in 2002, her father said, “So what if you’re gay? Why would I be embarrassed by you? You are a smart person. I raised you to be a good person. Most importantly, you are my child.” After coming out to her parents and with their blessing, Mela came out publicly when she turned 30 in 2017. She’s since openly spoken about her relationship with her parents, and has paid tribute to them several times on her social media pages. Last September 2020, Mela became the winner of the first ever Miss Trans Global. She is now organization’s spokesperson for its activities, including work with groups such as  TransValid and TransBeauty Magazine to “raise money, educate, and inspire transgender people globally.”
  1. Gislenne Zamayoa, Mexican architect
    Gislenne knew she was a woman at the age of four, but her transition did not begin until she was 36 and already working as an architect for a multinational soft drink company. During business trips, she would take a suitcase full of women’s clothes, makeup, and high heels. Whenever she finished her work, she would call a taxi from the hotel to take her to another hotel; there, she would change her clothes, put on makeup, and go to bars.

    When she announced to the company that she was transitioning, they offered her an administrative job, which she accepted at the beginning. But sheI had so much repression and worked so hard that her body did not stand it anymore, and she ended up in the hospital.

    Her big break started in 2016, when Apple Inc. hired her to build eight Mac stores in Mexico. The money and renown that the projects bought allowed her to create her own architectural company, Arquia, which now specializes in green design. 

    Today, Gislenne champions labor inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. She works with the Mexican Federation of LGBT Entrepreneurs (FME-LGBT), and as a result, has been able to boost the projects of 13 transgender entrepreneurs.
  1. Mianne Bagger, Danish golfer
    In 2004, Mianne competed in the Australian Open professional golf tournament, becoming the first openly transitioned woman to play in a sport infamously known for its conservatism. She did not win, but she spent the next few years advocating for the rights of post-transition athletes and arguing that they do not have any clear physical advantage over their female-at-birth counterparts. Through her efforts, many professional golf organizations have amended their practices, paving the way for more inclusion in the sport. 
  1. Jin Xing, Chinese dancer
    Before becoming China’s first openly transgender celebrity and one of the first few transwomen officially recognized by the Chinese government, Jin Xing was a colonel in the People Liberation Army’s, which she joined as a child to receive dance training from a dance company affiliated with her military district. 

    At the age of 20, she traveled the United States and Europe to study and perform, returning to China six years later for a very specific purpose — to become the woman she’d realized she was meant to be. She insisted on having sex reassignment surgery in China, even though doctors there didn’t have much experience in the procedure at the time. The operation left one of her legs partially paralyzed and it took three months before she could dance again.

    Today, Jin Xing is the artistic director of her very own contemporary dance company in Shanghai, an in-demand choreographer, actress, talk show host, and an infamously hard-to-please judge on China’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” And while she says she never aspired to be an LGBT+ activist, she is now eyeing politics, saying she has the power and presence to help society.
  1. Breanna Sinclaire, American soprano
    As a child, Breanna sustained intense physical abuse at the hands of her father, who was deeply uncomfortable that he had an expressive, non-conforming child. When she was 13, her parents got divorced and the abuse eased up. She went on to study at the Baltimore School for the Arts where she found her niche, and then moved on to the California Institute of the Arts. In her final year at CalArts, she began her transition which included a transition in voice type from tenor to soprano. She faced heavy discrimination throughout the rest of her studies, but ultimately succeeded in finishing her studies and would go on to become the first transwomen in the opera program of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Today, she is widely known for her impressive four-octave vocal range.

    In 2015, she also became the first trans woman to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at a professional sporting event.
  1. Padmini Prakash, Indian news anchor
    In 2014, 31-year-old Padmini made history by becoming the first Indian transgender television news anchor. Before this big break, however, she experienced a troubled childhood — her family disowned her when she was 13 years old because they would not accept her gender identity, and she even attempted suicide but was saved by some people. She enrolled in an undergraduate programme in commerce through distance education, but had to drop out after two years due to financial problems and bullying. Undeterred, she went on to find work as a dancer, then as an actress, and even went on to compete in the trans beauty pageants.

    In 2014, after the Indian Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling recognizing the right of every human being to choose their gender” and ordering the government to provide equal protection and opportunity for transgenders, Lotus TV, a Tamil news satellite channel, hired Padmini. Today, she is also quite active in conducting awareness campaigns, even once working with the local police force to conduct transgender sensitivity workshops.
  1. Sasha Elijah (Lebanese model)
    In 2012,When Sasha’s devoutly Christian family opposed her desire to undergo hormone therapy when she was 15 years old, she pushed through with it anyway. It was a decision she says she does not regret, even though it took years to mend the relationship with her parents.

    She began modelling and, at the age of 17, became the first openly trans woman of the MENA region to walk the catwalk on an international TV channel. This attracted both local and international media, and she saw a way for her to raise awareness of the transgender community in her own country.

    In 2018, a district court of appeal in Lebanon issued a groundbreaking ruling that consensual sex between people of the same sex was not unlawful. Despite this positive development, Lebanese society still remains deeply rooted in religious and political conservatism.  Sasha hopes her outspokenness will encourage transgender people in the Middle East to be who they want to be, and help improve society’s understanding of the issues they face.
  1. Lynn Conway, American computer scientist
    Born in 1938, Lynn was a shy child and experienced gender dysphoria — the distress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Upon completing her transition in 1968, she took a new name and identity, and restarted her career in what she called “stealth mode,” or passing as a cisgender woman instead of a transgender. In the course of her work, she became known for various pioneering achievements — much of today’s silicon chip design is based on her work — and won many awards and high honors, including election as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, the highest professional recognition an engineer can receive.

    But it was only in 1999 (31 years after her gender transition) that she began to emerge from stealth mode and come out as a transwoman to friends and colleagues. She began work in transgender activism, intending to “illuminate and normalize the issues of gender identity and the processes of gender transition.” Today, she continues to work to protect and expand the rights of transgender people. She has provided direct and indirect assistance to numerous other transgender women going through transition and maintains a well-known website (https://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/conway.html) providing medical resources and emotional advice. Parts have been translated into most of the world’s major languages.
  1. Titica, Angolan singer and dancer
    Born in Luanda as Teca Miguel Garcia, singer and dancer Titica adopted her female persona four years ago following a breast enhancement operation in Brazil. Her stage name means “worthless” or “useless” in Portuguese, as a way to reclaim the hateful words that people have thrown at her as a transwoman.

    At age 25, she became the new face of Angola’s unique urban rap-techno fusion music style known as “kuduro”. By day her songs boom from minibus taxis, by night they fill Luanda’s dance floors, and at the weekends she has become the essential soundtrack for children’s parties. Named “Best Kuduro Artist of 2011”, she is a regular on television and radio, and has even performed at a Divas Angola concert attended by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

    In 2013, she was named a goodwill ambassador for UNAIDS. Through this role and her international popularity, Titica has increased awareness of HIV risks and treatment, sexual health, and issues regarding the LGBTQ community. Her success in the industry combats the homophobic and transphobic sentiments that exist in Angola and globally.
  1. Geraldine Roman, Filipina congresswoman
    In 2016, Gerladine became the first transgender person elected to the Congress of the Philippines. She, along with other elected lawmakers (collectively known as “equality champs”), launched the passage of the anti-discrimination bill on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (now known as the SOGIE Equality Bill) through a speech in the House of Representatives that garnered international support for LGBT rights in the Philippines.

    She was also named as one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 by US-based Foreign Policy magazine, as well as one of the “13 Inspiring Women of 2016” list by Time magazine.

Way to go, ladies!

Know any more amazing trans-women we should feature? Tag us in on Instagram and follow us at @themindnation!