So the 17th of May is the International Day Against Homphobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
You can read more about it here if you like.
The theme for this year’s IDAHOT is “Mental Health and well-being”.
To be honest, I don’t know where to start. I’ve spoken recently about my own well-being in terms of mental health and self care. Or what happens when that delicate balance is compromised, and how hard it can be to seek help. And, let me be forthright about this – I’m still a little scared. Because life is chaos right now, and so much is happening, and I wonder if my support structure and my coping mechanisms are going to be enough to endure what is to come. It’s a difficult assessment to make, because I don’t even know the full extent of what is in store.
In case you didn’t know, I’ve just had my first book published. #AlwaysAnastacia was an exercise in soul-baring, make no mistake. It was a difficult book to write (I mean, I don’t have much to compare it to, having not written any other books as yet). It really is the product of so much introspection, self-analysis, and reflection. And a lot of that was very painful and very draining for me. There were some chapters that I knew I had to write, and I just kept putting them off, delaying them, avoiding them. I was scared of opening those Pandora’s boxes. Eventually, though, I did… and the product of all that is now sitting on shelves in a bunch of bookstores across South Africa. Before long, the eBook will be available too.
It’s all out there. All of those personal, intimate, honest details. The reflections on my dysphoria, on my self-doubt, on the struggle I faced to claim my identity. On coming out. On facing rejection in the name of the faith that I grew up with. On the prejudice I faced from the medical community – the same community I once considered myself part of. The successes too, of course. Those victories I earned and the milestones I reached. But also, the often-steep prices I paid for them.
It’s my vulnerability made tangible, printed and bound. My life in words.
I talked a little in my last post about why I do what I do. And a lot of that is true of the book as well. It’s not for fame or fortune. It’s not because I want to see my face in the newspaper. It’s because I want people to understand a little better. Because in the presence of understanding, empathy and compassion can be cultivated. And where empathy and compassion flourish, prejudice and hatred wither.
I recognised a long time ago that the best way to foster the understanding and the empathy and the compassion was by telling my story. Using my words. Baring my soul. And that’s why I do it. That’s why I put myself out there, vulnerable and exposed.
I believe in what I’m doing.
And also, I am fucking terrified.
Because for all the positive feedback, the encouragement, and the support – for which I am so appreciative – I know that there will also be venom.
There are some people out there with nasty things to say. People who don’t even know me, but that won’t stop them. And sure, I know better than to take it personally. But… that’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when the vitriol is so targeted and so vile. And I know, because it’s happened before. The last time I was prolific in the media, a couple of months after I came out, there was backlash and hatred. And the scale… well, it feels like this is shaping up to be so much bigger.
I hope I’m wrong, of course. I hope that everything goes smoothly, and that the bigots either leave me alone, or that I can successfully ignore them. But I need to be prepared, either way. The last time my mental health took a dive… well, it was scary. I reached depths of depression (and dysphoria) that I hadn’t known in a long time. And I found myself coping in ways that shocked me. I was desperate, and I was afraid, and I didn’t know how to even conceive of finding a way back from that darkness.
I don’t want to go back there. And I’m worried, because I understand how easy it is to slip. To lose that delicate balance. And if that does happen? What if it’s worse the next time? I don’t have the answers. And that is truly terrifying.
I’m self-caring as best I can. I’m spending time with people who care about me. I’m exercising regularly. I’m eating, and hydrating. I’ve pieced back together my confidence and my self-esteem and my love for who I am. And I’m reminding myself, continuously, of my raison d’être, and of the fact that I can make a difference, and that this is part of how I do that.
I’m trying to stack the odds in my favour, at least to the best extent that I can.
And I hope that you are too. I hope that today, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (which should really be every day, shouldn’t it? Because the -phobias don’t take time off. But, of course, neither do those of us who fight them), we can focus on mental health and wellbeing.
Because for too long, being trans or being queer or being different has been tied into illness and pathology. I’ve experienced it myself, as a patient. When doctors refused to believe I was trans because I was too functional. Because I wasn’t screwed up enough. Because they couldn’t find enough pathology.
Sure, some of us struggle with mental illness. But it’s not because we’re trans. Our identities are not a sickness. They’re not ways in which we’re broken. We don’t need to be fixed.
Society – cisciety – though, is ill. Because of the way it treats us. Because of its intolerance. Because it insists on making our lives so much harder than they need to be. Accessing healthcare, finding employment, feeling safe at home, or at school, or at work. That is the pathology. Fuelled by transphobia, these are the ills that actively oppose our own wellbeing.
Treating us like criminals, predators, deviants, freaks. Telling us that we’re unacceptable. That we’ll never be good enough. Inculcating guilt and shame and self-loathing in us, from before we can even understand what those words mean.
It’s killing people. People like me, and my trans and queer siblings. It’s snuffing us out, one by one. Denying us our potential. Obliterating our prospects. There’s so much we can give to the world. So much we could give, if only it would have us. Young, beautiful, queer lives are extinguished through hatred, through violence, through discrimination.
So, if you are an ally, I hope that you will stand together with us, in opposition to the hatred and the violence and the discrimination.
And if you are trans, or gay, or bi, or lesbian, or ace, or intersex, or queer, or any combination thereof, I wish you health and wellbeing, both mental and physical.
Not just today. But every day.
My book, Always Anastacia, is available at booksellers across South Africa. If you don’t see it on shelves, ask your local bookstore. Also available worldwide through Amazon. Don’t miss my launch events in Johannesburg and Cape Town, where you can hear me discussing my story, and have your copies signed.
You can read an excerpt from the book on Women24, read my remarks on trans healthcare at IOL, hear me discussing #AlwaysAnastacia with Gareth Cliff at CliffCentral. and read another excerpt (translated into Afrikaans) on Netwerk24.