Unless you have been under a very heavy rock and buried deep in an undisclosed location, you know that the LGBT community scored significant legal wins at the Supreme Court last month. The Court decisions were not perfect mandates on equality—far from it, but they upheld the principles for which LGBT advocates have been fighting for so long.
Most important, the Court decisions turned back our abusers. They told many of them that they had no legal standing to prevent us from being treated fairly. They rejected those who lied about our qualifications as parents and spouses. They rejected those who painted us as perverts and drags on society. They turned away those who claimed a liturgical right to bully us. They looked in the eyes of those who wanted to define us as subhuman and were determined to keep us that way, and said, “you are wrong.”
The joy across the LGBT community was resounding. Many of us were euphoric, and who can wonder! In California the speed of the decision was that of a lightning strike. Infrastructure was turned on, court approvals were put in place, and happy couples started marrying almost immediately.
I looked at my partner, Jim, with whom I have been in a serious relationship for under a year, and suddenly our potential path had new options. A dear friend announced her engagement, and I no longer felt that deep sense of envy. In the past, such an announcement would have signaled that my friend was going through a door that I was only permitted to knock on. No longer.
So, with all this terrific progress, why do I suddenly feel in such a disoriented, numb, crappy mood? And why do I detect that I am not the only one of my LGBT advocate comrades who is feeling this way?
Allow me to offer my personal theory that some of us, probably myself included, are going though what I’ll coin a Post-Traumatic-SCOTUS Disorder mood right now. Bear in mind, I’m speaking as a layperson with no claim as a health or mental health professional, and I do not say this flippantly. Nor do I take comparisons to PTS(tress)D lightly. I became aware of the effects of PTSD in counseling several years ago following my divorce from my domestic partnership. She told me that the horrors experienced in the life-ripping events of divorce often create the effects of PTSD.
Helpguide.org states that causes for PTSD include assault, childhood neglect, the sudden loss of a loved one, terrorism, and abuse. How many elements of these have we been bombarded with in various ways during the reign of homophobia over the past forty years? Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, these factors have been a constant presence in the lives of many LGBT people. To be sure, we have stated that “it gets better,” and we have gotten stronger against it, but no one I know asserts that homophobia has disappeared.
Then came a President who stood up for us. Like the satisfaction we have had from many allies, he gave us an even more powerful release. He also helped accelerate the death of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a policy that demeaned LGBT military heroes specifically, and sent a demoralizing message to all LGBT citizens as well.
Nothing said “homophobia is going to go away” like the Supreme Court decisions however. Those were based on principle, not personalities and popularity. They did not address everything, but they opened the door for a full vision. Above all, they gave reassured us that we are out of the legal grasp from our oppressors, once and for all.
So, in a sense, many of us are feeling “post trauma.”
Here are the symptoms that would indicate a stress disorder over these events:
- Re-experiencing the event. Do you feel that you are being judged for being LGBT now more than ever? Do you have feelings of shame, fear, or self-oppression around who you are? Do you feel traumatized over the things that have happened to or been said about LGBT people in the past?
- Avoidance. Is there a feeling of detachment with your LGBT rights buddies? Are you avoiding reading the articles and pages you used to seek out voraciously? Is there a feeling of numbness, and even a sense of trying to remember actual things that occurred and disturbed you greatly at the time?
- Increased anxiety and emotional arousal. Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you feeling agitated and unfocused? Are you feeling hypervigilant and prone to outbursts of anger?
These feelings can be exacerbated by feeling that we should be contented and elated over the recent gains we have made.
If this describes your current emotional state, here are some key things that you can do, in the immortal words of Cher, to “snap out of it.”
- Reach out to others for support. We have networks with one another. Let others know you are feeling this way, and work through your feelings in conversation.
- Avoid overusing alcohol and drugs. Did partying at Pride seem even more pronounced this year? If you are in this kind of mood, it is probably best to avoid the “solution” that becomes more of the problem than the “problem” itself.
- Challenge your sense of helplessness. We have changed the world—all of us. The sense that we are helpless is an illusion. The best way to overcome this is to reach out and help others. Now, more than ever, it is important to reach out, advocate, and work to make others’ lives better.
- Spend time in nature. The Sierra Club has instrumental programs for veterans who suffer PTSD from the horrors of physical war. We have experienced it from a virtual war. Nature is our friend too. It is powerful, principled, and beautiful. Embrace it and allow it to reach the depth of your soul. To quote Desiderata, “you are a child of the universe, just like the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.”
- Seek therapy. If you are finding yourself responding to these historic Court decisions with more than simply a mood, please consider seeing a trained professional who can open up the possibility to more in-depth assistance.
When my counselor suggested the existence of PSTD in my life, I found comfort in hearing about it. I was able to give myself leeway around feelings and temporary dysfunctions. I found strength to move myself through the moods, thoughts, and dejection I was going through at the time.
We still have a lot to do as a community. We have to ride this momentum and keep working to get our society to understand us better. We also have to acknowledge that we have been harmed, and in many cases intentionally so. We need to take a minute to stop and allow ourselves to heal, and, once healed, to reach out our hands to our brothers and sisters and allow them to do the same.
Here is my hand for you.
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Special thanks to Rachel Hockett for editing help on this article.
I think the anger that many of us, particularly in the T area of LGBT, is the “so what?” kind of anger. Marriage rights are one tiny, tiny piece of the puzzle. Or as one of my friends very eloquently summed up: homeless and jobless, eating wedding cake out of a cardboard box. We need comprehensive non-discrimination legislation (that includes gender identity and expression!) and educational outreach in every county, city, state. We need a safer mesh to live and work and learn and, yes, be married in and that needs to happen before marriage rights. Otherwise, the only meaning in our victory is symbolic and basically token to the majority of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans lives.
Thanks for the article. I never would have even thought of this issue that way, very eye opening.
I like this a lot. You have artfully articulated a trend I have noticed lately and it is a trend I think many people are overlooking or dismissing. After having worked as an advocate and playing a small part in a huge movement, at first I was thrilled and then I couldn’t help but think, “YEAH I already KNEW that this shit was unconstitutional, I already KNEW that being gay didn’t mean being less, I already knew legislation meant to delegitimize the LGBT community was rooted in intolerant bullying–you’re WAAAY late to the party.” I think we have to recognize that just because some of the government-sanctioned bullying STOPPED, doesn’t mean it was ever okay. It doesn’t erase the horrible actions that have taken place and continue to take place in many states across our country and many more countries around the world. It’s a win and for that I’m happy–but I’m angry at how many lives were ruined, lessened or lost so that ignorant people could enjoy their snail-speed learning curve.