Masks + Hidden Identity

Halloween is a favorite holiday for not only many children, but also adults. I love to see the creative expression of elaborate makeup and costumes. What other time of year is it socially acceptable to get dressed up, to express yourself in whatever way you’d like, and not feel judged?

The sad fact is that individuals in the LGBTQ+ community often feel as if they are wearing a “mask” every day of the year. Imagine what it would be like to feel that your true identity was hidden–feeling pressure to conform, especially when it often does not feel safe to express your gender identity or sexual orientation.  When people in the LGBTQ+ community do try to express identity, they may be met with comments that misconstrue or make a “caricature” of their sexuality.

LGBTQ+ people often experience assumptions around their gender or sexual identity. For example, if I identify as bisexual, that does not mean that I want to have a sexual or romantic relationship with all my friends. If I identify as bisexual and am married to someone of the opposite gender, someone may incorrectly believe me to be “straight” or “not really bisexual”. Acquaintances might conclude that because I identify as female, my romantic partner is male. Strangers or friends might identify me as a certain gender based on my physical appearance. These are all examples of common and hurtful assumptions, and there are dozens of examples like these that hold true for the genderqueer community.

Those who identify as bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, asexual, genderqueer, having a gender identity that exists on a continuum, and those who identify as nonbinary or another gender often feel the pressure to conform due to social pressures, especially moving among family, friends, and colleagues who often operate from a heteronormative view. There is significant stress associated with having to make a value judgment of being one’s authentic self and coming out. At times, the rejection and misunderstanding associated with coming out feels too difficult to overcome. At this point, many LGBTQ+ people feel that it is easier to internalize their emotional pain and continue wearing the mask.

The Not Fun Side of Wearing a “Mask”

  • Feeling pressure to keep on the mask and feeling fatigue to keep up a persona that differs from one’s true identity
  • The emotional labor of managing others’ discomfort or rejection when the mask is taken off versus keeping the mask on and managing your own internal pain for not being seen fully
  • Internalized homo/bi/trans/queerphobia: internalization of negative social attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community
  • Fear of rejection and loss, especially among family members or friends if one’s true identity was revealed and they “came out”
  • Being judged unfairly or misunderstood; people making harmful assumptions about one’s pronouns, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.
  • Experiences of harassment, bullying, and abuse

Statistics from the Trevor Project:

68% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth
48% of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past twelve months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth
40% of LGBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered suicide
Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected
1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBTQ identity
61% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being prevented or discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity

Halloween marks the beginning of a season when people often spend time gathered with their close family and friends. For people in the LGBTQ+ community, this season can be immensely painful and isolating. With that in mind, here are a few ways to positively engage your loved ones who identify as LGBTQ+:

Educate Yourself
Rather than relying on your loved one in the LGBTQ+ to educate you, seek out  resources to understand the different nuances, struggles, and complexities that LGBTQ+ people experience. Everyone has their own beautiful, unique story. Making generalizations and assumptions prevent us from really knowing each other.

Create Safe Spaces
Create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people in your life. Ask about pronouns, gender identity, and sexual identity before making assumptions. Speak up against phobic language or language that dehumanizes others.

Practice Curiosity
Ask your loved one how they would like to be supported by you. Ask if there are changes to your environment, conversations, or interactions that can be made to help them feel more welcomed and seen.

Think Before You Ask
Practice awareness of how your own biases impact your worldview, questions, and assumptions. Many people ask “When did you first know you were gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/nonbinary/etc?” However, the same question is not asked to people who identify as straight or cisgender.

Accept
Everyone longs to be loved and known for their true identity. There is no gift more powerful that to be seen and accepted for who you really are.

Resources:

The Trevor Project: National 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth.
https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Introduction

Trans Lifeline: Call 877-565-8860. Anonymous and confidential
https://translifeline.org/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Resources for youth, friends, family, educators, and other supports
https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm

Outfront MN: A leader in LBGTQ+ equality
https://www.outfront.org/resources’

Written by: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC    and Hannah Parish, M.A.

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