Talk centers on internalized homophobia, transphobia
Remaining mental health month events
May 31 , 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Speaker at the Basalt Library (free)
Pyramid Bistro owner and nutritarian Martin Oswald presents: “Nutrient Dense Superfoods! Health Benefits and Cooking Techniques.”
May 31 , 8:30 p.m.: Comedy night at the Temporary
Some of the valley’s funniest comics will present “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Tickets are $20 online; $25 day of show.
For more information, visit aspenhopecenter.org.
Dr. Robert Davies opened a presentation last Thursday at Third Street Center by describing his own “coming out” experience.
The Denver-based psychiatrist, who spoke as part of the Mental Health Month series sponsored by Aspen Hope Center, specializes in treating the LGBT community.
He said to a room full of medical and mental health care professionals that his journey was like many others. Coming out was prohibited, because no one really identified as being openly gay while he was growing up, and that factor made it harder for him to realize his own identity.
“Generationally, those of us, we didn’t talk about it,” he said. “No one was openly out, so you couldn’t go, that’s what I am.”
He started intentionally placing himself in certain situations, going to gay bars, frequenting gay coffee shops, comparing himself to other people.
He said the hardest part was battling the fear and discrimination that comes with being openly gay, referencing fearing for his safety, rising numbers of hate crimes against the LGBT community, and workplace discrimination.
“You start to have an internalized expectation that these things are going to happen, even if you’ve never been discriminated against,” he said, adding that the journey is not over after coming out.
He calls this phenomenon internalized homophobia and transphobia, the process of absorbing the negative messages and stereotypes society creates about the LGBT community, and then incorporating those views and ideas into how one sees themselves.
“It becomes a form of self hatred, and that’s linked to the risk of suicide in the LGBT community,” Davies said.
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
Davies specializes in treating mood and substance abuse disorders, among other things, and has experience conducting and studying research on this particular phenomenon.
He referenced a set of studies that showed how internalized homophobia and transphobia can affect a person’s mental health and said the two often go hand in hand.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, suicide rates decreased among adolescents in states that passed same-sex marriage policies.
The link was most prominent among lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens, the study says.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found higher rates of suicide among trans adults who were denied access to the bathroom of their choice while in college.
“Almost every LGBT person I know has internalized homophobia and transphobia,” said L.J. Robertson, a trans, non-binary student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
Robertson added, 40 percent of trans people are suicidal or have attempted suicide.
A trans woman in her 70s, who attended the event and asked to remain anonymous, said she didn’t come out until she was “almost menopausal,” adding that was relatively common 20 to 30 years ago.
She said when she was growing up the only trans person she could read about was Christian Jorgensen, and because of this, she kept her identity a secret.
“It depresses you, it frustrates you,” she said. “You need to express yourself as the self that is truly you, or that self just doesn’t let you rest.”
Davies said there’s “this insidious, horrible history” in which the LGBT community experiences fear of coming out, and that still plays out today, he said.
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
One hour in four years of psychiatry school is dedicated to learning how to treat the LGBT community, Davies said.
He urged medical and mental health care providers in the room to look for signs of internalized homophobia and transphobia within their clientele.
He said clients will often open up to him and express the so-called form of “self hatred,” in a health care setting.
When clients doubt their ability to secure and sustain a life-long relationship, or when they make comments about marriage being unlikely in the LGBT community, which Davies says is common, he’ll challenge the remarks and will tell the client they’re subliminally saying they’re not worthy of such a gift.
“Individually, we need to call each other out on it,” he said last week.
“As mental health professionals, you need to just listen, and say, ‘Really, is that really what you want?’ ”
He trains residents finishing psychiatry programs on how to treat the LGBT community because he says there aren’t enough health care professionals with experience in this area, and the reverberations of that are astounding numbers of LGBT Coloradans who avoid seeking health care.
According to OneColorado, an LGBT advocacy organization, 28 percent of LGBT Coloradans who responded to a survey said their sexual orientation has prohibited them from seeking appropriate physical and mental health services.
Ninety-two percent said they would use a list of providers who specialized in or were trained in treating the LGBT community if it were at all possible.
But a majority, 6 in 10, said they felt there weren’t enough adequately trained health care professionals who could address their specific needs in the state.
There are no physicians or mental health care providers in the Roaring Fork Valley who specialize in LGBT health care services, according to Colorado.gov.
The closest mental health care professional trained in such services is almost 100 miles away in Grand Junction, and she says she has clients who sometimes travel from out of state to see her.
Dr. Devin Pinkston, a gender therapist who owns Identity Insights, provides gender and mental health services, teen counseling, and more in Mesa County. She says this is still a fairly new concept to medical and mental health professionals in the area and said there isn’t a lot of awareness around the specific health needs of the LGBT community.
There’s a fear of not being treated equally or appropriately in a health care setting, and an LGBT individual might avoid seeking health care to escape being called the wrong pronoun or the wrong sexual orientation.
Pinkston said some doctors just genuinely don’t know that a lesbian and a straight woman have different sexual health needs and should be addressed accordingly at a doctor’s visit.
Dr. Pinkston, who identifies as bisexual and polyamorous, says she’s open with her clients about her identity and that she feels it’s important for clients to know she’s a part of the community.
When she moved to Grand Junction, she said she saw a specific need for her services.
“I want to be the provider that someone can go to and feel safe,” she said.
“Because there wasn’t anyone else who identified as the gender therapist in town.”