April 24, 2017 was GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual campaign that brings awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. To participate in this campaign, we decided to share the stories (anonymously) of Talkspace clients who faced anti-LGBTQ bullying and used therapy to heal.
How Childhood Bullying Has Lasting Effects
When people face anti-LGBTQ bullying — or any other form of bullying — during their youth, it can affect them for the rest of their lives. One of our therapists worked with a client who was bullied in school because he was gay. His peers also taunted and teased him because he was quiet and shy. Rather than supporting him and being compassionate, his parents told him to “toughen up.”
This had profound effects on the course of the client’s life. Now in his 40s, the client has trouble making friends and believing he is likeable. He finds it hard to believe that anyone would want to spend time with him. He often takes neutral behaviors personally or perceives them as punitive. His world feels small and he struggles with the daily pain of his loneliness.
Due to his negative self-image, he believes people will inevitably see how awful he is and leave. His depression makes it difficult to separate his unfair negative self-image from the reality of who he is. After two years of working with the same Talkspace therapist, however, he made a breakthrough. Because his therapist hasn’t left him, he has begun to think he might be a decent person who is worthy of caring and connection.
Mistaken Identity and Harassment
There’s a reason why GLSEN includes “those perceived to be LGBTQ” as part of raising awareness for anti-LGBTQ bullying. Based on assumptions about what LGBTQ people look like, bigots and bullies often target heterosexual people they believe are gay because of their appearance or behavior.
Because they believed she was gay, people have harassed one of our clients on the street. They pushed her, called her names, and spit on her. Sometimes she responds to these people. Other times she fears for her safety and chooses to remain silent.
Our client has worked with her therapist to strategize on how to cope with these situations and her anxiety about them. Right now she is trusting her instincts when she feels in danger and surrounding herself with support and acceptance. She is resisting the urge to isolate herself. She’s feeling stronger and more confident about her sense of self and not worrying about whether it conforms to any specific identity.
Workplace Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination and Harassment
Another one of our clients worked at a male-dominated company where co-workers silenced her during meetings, excluded her from social events, and ridiculed her. It was difficult for her to discern whether this was because of her gender, that she was a lesbian, or both.
She coped by growing more silent and withdrawn, questioning herself rather than being confident. Her co-workers responded by criticizing her for not contributing enough. Fortunately she left the company and — with the help of her therapist — affirmed that the situation was about her co-workers and the company culture, not her.
When victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment lose their voice, we must acknowledge their pain. Once the silence is over, we hope to offer a microphone to share these stories and dispel the sense of loneliness and isolation that bullying can cause. If you want to share a relevant experience, please contact us via social media or email [email protected].