“If Homosexuality is a disease, let’s all call in queer to work: ‘Hello. Can’t work today, still queer.’” — Robin Tyler, American Activist.
When you come from a cisgender cissexual heteronormative background, queerness is treated as a disease or mental illness. As someone who is both queer and a mental health professional, I regularly engage with two of the biggest taboos in India. Being queer has its own issues, such as not being accepted in the mainstream society and being considered an outcast. On the other hand, for many Indians, mental health professionals are as good or bad as babas who tell you that there is “some evil spirit in you or influencing you that this why one is acting this way”, or “giving a certain commodity to a certain person or place will alleviate your issues in life”. But there are so many important ways in which queerness and mental health intersect, and we need to talk about it.
Ever since the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality as a disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), mental health professionals across the world have become more queer friendly. In India, the story is a bit different.
Majorly due to social influences, it has been seen that most mental health professionals are not queer-friendly. Psychiatrists usually have been quite biased towards queer people. An article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry states: “There have been anecdotal revelations by patients of being given treatment and therapies for getting ‘rid’ of their homosexuality or any alternate sexuality for that matter.” The fact is that the major viewpoint of most mental health professionals is cisgender cissexual heteronormative. Dealing with queer people with such a biased has proven to be unfruitful. Personally I have come across only one queer friendly clinic in Delhi – the Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing in Vasant Vihar.
Mental health professionals aren’t taught about sexuality or gender in detail but are taught to be more open minded and sensitive towards people. In my professional opinion, sensitivity workshops and importance of reading about different sexualities and gender identities is a must. A country which has about 2.5 million queer people (and counting), most mental health professionals do not have the required skill set to deal with mental health issues faced by this section of the population. As for psychometric testing, there are barely any tests which have been standardized according to Indian norms. Despite this shortcoming, these tests play an important role in deciding if a trans person can go for surgery or not. In my own experience, I have come across a trans couple who wanted to go through surgery together but couldn’t. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory II was used on both the partners, but while one partner was psychologically determined as trans, the other was not. Because of this, only one of them was able to take the necessary steps to fight their gender dysphoria
Due to ostracism, queer people go through various mental health issues and are very vulnerable. Being queer gives me the opportunity to understand this reality in a totally different perspective than most therapists. In three years of clinical experience, I have come across many therapists who, instead of creating a safe space, re-create another stereotypical heteronormative space where one is made to feel like they are “disturbed” and “not normal”. This, in fact, pushes people to hide themselves from everyone and that adds to their stress. As humans we all want to be accepted by our families and our peers, or at least understood by mental health professionals, and when one doesn’t get that support, its lays the foundation for mental illnesses to get worse.
I know of a fellow therapist who was seeing a client with a gay son. The son had come out to his father while he was pursuing his studies in the US. The client tricked his son in coming back to India so that the client could put him in conversion therapy. This is not an isolated incident.
Ever since I came into this field, I came to the realisation that most places were not accepting of queer people, and didn’t have enough knowledge about the LGBTQAI+ community. That’s why having queer therapists will do wonders for the field. We all live in a heteronormative society which has a certain perception of the world, which is again decided by the patriarchal socialization we undergo throughout our lives. Queer folks make the society question what is thought to be “normal” and help us deconstruct many issues we face in a misogynistic cissexual cisgender world.
Queer mental health professionals will ensure a certain level of sensitivity which might not be present with cisgender cissexual mental health professionals. Most importantly it will sensitise the majority of the heterosexual people by showing that the sexuality or gender we identify with (or don’t) is not because of mental health issues but because we are born this way. We have not ‘chosen’ this ‘lifestyle’. The more queer representation there is in different fields, the more people will normalize our presence in the mainstream society.
There are therapists who are not biased, not judgmental and will definitely not tell you that your issues are arising due to the fact that you are queer. We are here to create a safe space for everyone to talk about their issues. We’re here to do away with taboos related to queerness and mental health.