April 17, 2010: The Census and Gay Men’s Mental Health

My very close friends will sometimes tease me that in ordinary conversation, I can switch topics abruptly, or I can link seemingly very different things. Such is the case with my thoughts on the current United States 2010 Census effort, and gay men’s mental health. (Several articles these days address gay issues regarding the Census, such as http://www.newsweek.com/id/219859 and http://gayrights.change.org/blog/view/make_sure_your_gay_relationship_is_counted_in_2010_census). How are the Census and gay men’s mental health even remotely related? Here’s how:

We all have our hobbies, and a “recurrent” hobby for me has been tracing my family tree, on both my mother’s and my father’s sides, through all different winding branches that scurry all over the country. Most of this has been using a great online resource, www.Ancestry.com, and spending probably “too much” time late into the night “playing” with the online tool (toy?). But the research and its surprisingly satisfying “discoveries” do a lot for me as a mood-booster. They reiterate my long-held political and social philosophy that we all do not live in a vacuum; what we do, for better or worse, affects other people, now and in time to come. “Lowly” clerks who recorded the Census for centuries, as dull as that lifestyle sounds, have provided information that I’m using, and benefiting from, sometimes hundreds of years after they did their mundane clerical work. How many of us can say our work might be valuable to someone 400 years from now?

But to discover my ancestry validates my sense of self, and my own small place in history. In my work with clients, I am frequently working with them to ward off the ill-effects of societal homophobia on our self-esteem growing up. And, simultaneously, I’m working with them to build a strong, positive sense of self, that helps them have the courage, drive, ambition, optimism, vision, focus, and energy to achieve their dreams — whether it’s resolving relationship conflict, getting a raise at work, coping with a health setback, or opening their own business. Our sense of self is a VERY high predictor of how successful we will be at any given endeavor.

Learning that my ancestors were some of the original settlers at Jamestown is something I’m proud of. They obviously had strong immune systems to not perish, as so many of those original settlers did, isolated in harsh winter conditions and in an area with few Native Americans/American Indians to help them learn how to endure those conditions. This gives me hope that with my recent health challenges, maybe I can trust my long-standing generational immune strength to get me by.

In an age when we have the Tea Party movement wanting to abandon our country’s poor in their selfish “every man for himself” thinking, tracing ancestry means that we must all live together and take care of each other, and our world, or we will perish like the vulnerable early settlers who didn’t survive those first Jamestown winters. Navigating the current health care system? That’s a good parallel to literally surviving in the harsh woods.

Also, gay men who answer the current Census are making their voices heard, by making their numbers KNOWN. I loved filling out my Census form, knowing that it will be calculated as a household that contains two adult men, identifying as married, and sharing the same address. Hundreds of years from now, I hope someone takes notice that the 2010 Census was the first in history to record same-sex, married households in California (before the current, hopefully temporary, Prop 8 ban on new same-sex marriages). Some geek like me, way into the future, who likes studying geneaology, is going to get the same kick out of that, like I did in learning that my great-great grandfather, a prominent physician, founded the Public Library in Butte, Montana, in the late 1800′s.

Want to improve your self-esteem? Want to strengthen your sense of self? Want to advocate for your gay brothers everywhere? Want to contribute your legacy to history? Answer the Census!

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