By Abby Maher
We live in a society that regards heterosexual and cisgender as the norm. For LGBTQ+ folks, this means we are so often excluded from the institutions and traditions that were built on the premise that heterosexual, cisgender people are the standard against which everyone else is judged. As an LGBTQ+ person, this can feel extremely isolating. It can feel as though there isn’t space for us. When we are simply tolerated by heterosexual cisgender people, it can feel as though we should praise them because they made room for us to simply exist in their world. In my personal experience, the feeling of constantly being on the outside has made conforming to heteronormative ideals seem like the most appealing option. I have felt the pressure to fit myself into the boxes that are considered “normal” in order to get along in an environment that didn’t want to tolerate me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I have also encountered many kind, well-intentioned people who wish to be inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, but I have found that even inclusivity can come with constraints. I think society as whole doesn’t really tolerate things that it can’t explicitly define and place in a box. So for those of us who exist outside of the heterosexual, cisgender boxes, society has created a new set of standards about what a lesbian is supposed to look and act like, what a gay man is supposed to look and act like, what a transgender woman or man is supposed to look and act like, and so on. Once I discovered that I simply couldn’t squeeze myself into the heteronormative box society tried to place me in, with a swell of pride in my identity, I searched for inclusivity within the LGBTQ+ community. I tried really hard to ascribe to the values, thoughts and ideas I was “supposed” to have as someone who identifies as a lesbian. A lot of those things don’t define who I am at my core, but after all I am a human and I crave love, inclusion and acceptance. I have had to ask myself however, if I have to betray my authenticity in order to receive those things, is it even love, inclusion or acceptance?
So therein lies the dilemma, as an LGBTQ+ person I am often outcast from the majority of society because I cannot mold myself to fit, and I often feel outcast and left behind within my own community because I do not see myself reflected in the assumptions society makes about me.
As a future mental health counselor who hopes to work with the LGBTQ+ community, I hope to use this feeling to guide my work. I am aware that these boxes I have mentioned often tell LGBTQ+ people how to love, how to have relationships, how to express themselves, and how to find acceptance. If I had one wish for any of my fellow LGBTQ+ folk, it would be for them to be able to see beyond the constraints of these boxes, to get in touch with how they want to love, how they want to have relationships, and how they want to express themselves. Above all, I wish for them to feel that their truth does not make them less valid if it doesn’t align with the standard, and finally I wish for them to know that they can find unconditional acceptance through these truths. As a counselor I see it as my role to help clients do the work of silencing the voice that tells us as LGBTQ+ people what we should be, so that they can find their own voice that tells them who they truly are. Beyond that, I see it as my role to help clients feel empowered enough to share that voice with the rest of the world, so that they may be loved, included, and accepted without conditions.