By: Tomas Michele
There are approximately 394,000 adults in the state of Massachusetts that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans. Making us the second gayest state in the nation, according to a report by the Boston Indicators and Fenway Institute.
A 6.4% of the state’s self-identified queer population resides in the Essex County; hence discussing the LGBTQ community’s mental health in local venues is imperative. Given that this group carries adverse life experiences and traumas attached to their sexuality, but also considering that in our society’s infrastructure, there are factors of the heteronormative, imploding the wellbeing of its members. Furthermore, even when platforms that were originally created to facilitate same sex dating-oriented-interactions, serve to harm its participants’ dignity, such as is the case of the phone application Grindr.
Grindr is a hook up app —part of the mobile dating market—, belonging to an industry that profits off the pursual of romantic relationships and sexual interactions. Just in 2019 this trade has had 3 billion in revenue with an annual growth on 11%, according to an IBIS World Industry Report. Such serves as a direct incentive for the app to have a low social responsibility at regulating its operations.
The application, which is branded towards the gay man usage, promotes habits of impersonal, casual-sexual encounters; a culture in which users categorize themselves based on their body type. Promotes a hierarchy based on weight and body built —opening way for body shaming. A hypersexualized sphere that dissuade users from promoting positive and healthy human relationships. A setting that fosters patriarchal discrimination within the gay community itself, in which positive value is added to being masculine and negative to being effeminate, openly. And one in which if you are a gay Asian man, you are publicly disregarded to a less desirable status, with certain users perpetrating racial bias alongside profile biographies, stating: “Not into Asians.”
According to the Clinical Social Worker and Therapist Michelle S. Wexelblat:
“Grindr users misunderstand the app’s purpose. This mobile application was created to facilitate hook-ups. Yet users are seeking emotional support on mechanical sexual interactions, confuse validation with attraction and think that they will build a connection on affirmation —they often lack from relatives and friends— on a one-night stand. This behavior can lead to the feeling of loneliness and emptiness, especially, when a significant amount of LGBTQ community members, has built tools to adapt to dysfunctional situations, that cannot effectively operate in healthy ones. This leads to feelings of isolation and guilt, that are preambles of depression.”
In MA there were 608 successfully completed suicides during 2014, with a 54% of the victims possessing documented and current mental health problems; and in 2015, 631 cases of suicide deaths, with a 55% of documented mental health conditions, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. A 40% of the LGBT population in Massachusetts has been diagnosed with depression, according to a surveillance conducted by Maria McKenna, PhD within 2011 and 2016, making it a high-risk community to suicide attempts.
Despite same-sex marriage was ruled constitutional nationwide in 2015, providing legal protection to an underserved and discriminated demographic, with second class citizenship status, one would think this measure would be the final milestone for equality. Yet the amendment did not fix the different types of judgements gay men are able to inflict against each other, many times as a result of inner wounds. Neither gave individual protection from a different array of institutionalized incurrences, that are a determining factor towards higher suicides rates as: lack of representation and institutionalized misogyny.
Fortunately, a bill was enacted in the U.S. Congress titled the “Equality Act” that seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act, at prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and biological sex. Legally protecting sexually-minority individuals in employment, housing, public accommodations and other public services at a nationwide level. Should the bill become law it will open a path for social justice in hostile social structures.
In the meantime, there is an institution based in Lawrence, that provides support to youth from 16 to 25 years old, that are experiencing mental health challenges with a drop-in center in 15 Union St. YouForward offers a welcoming and inviting home-like environment with a kitchen, a living room, a laundry and even bunks for the youngsters that are slipping through the cracks. This non-profit has a special focus on LGBTQ teenagers, which faces the most difficulties, providing one-on-one mentorship on assigned basis.
Initiatives like the previous mentioned, both with legislation and community-oriented, are necessary to provide safety to milliards of residents, deserving of protection. Many of which don’t perceive the feeling of being wanted or accepted, showcase themselves too effeminate to be safe out the closet and carry stigmas around their sexuality and Who have the need to feel respect, dignity and due consideration in the full spectrum of society’s public services, which should be provided to every citizen regardless of their sex, gender or sexual orientation. These are necessary steps to deter imprudent platforms like Grindr to proliferate at the expense of the LGBTQ community mental health, in such an unregulated manner. Being an application that facilitates sex as a sport, and not fulfilling relationships and congregations, needs to be acknowledged.
Nonetheless, more participation is needed from families, friends and allies to pursue collective health and eradicate depression. “To heal toxic, self-harming and mal-adaptive defense mechanisms, on a personal basis, is just the first step” Therapist Wexelblat would say, in order to have a wholesome community that embraces all of its members. ◊