As the first activities in the 2012 election season begin with events like the recent Republican Iowa Straw Poll, I have noticed an increase in reported stress in my daily practice of therapy with gay men. It seems that the rhetoric in the news daily is an irritant to the men I work with in a way that exacerbates anxiety and/or depression.
We hear Michele Bachmann’s ill-informed rhetoric that is nothing but hateful and mean-spirited. Gay men use their inherent “gaydar” on her husband and rail at his (alleged) hypocrisy and self-loathing as a “therapist” (though he’s not licensed in ANY state) who (allegedly) performs “reparative” or “conversion” therapy on gay men, a technique that has been discredited by every major mental health organization in the United States for many years.
We see victories like achieving full marriage equality rights in New York, but in the process, we hear the hateful rhetoric from the “other side” that the media insists on reporting (when no other minority’s “other side” gets much media reporting).
All of this goes beyond the collective “current events” and impacts individual gay men’s lives, sense of self, mood, and overall mental health and functioning. Hate speech by conservative politicians is an assault for which gay men must develop resilience to in order not to succumb to its ill effects. I hear the anger, frustration, sense of injustice, impatience, and a little despair in my clients’ voices when they report what negative news they have been exposed to, and how it affects them.
It’s easy to say, “Oh, just shrug it off”, but no other current group in America is the recipient (victim?) of so much negative public rhetoric (with the possible exception of illegal immigrants — keyword there, illegal; gay and lesbian American citizens are breaking no laws of the land, even if they are assaulted by the Right with breaking “God’s law”, which is irrelevant to civic life). The truth is, the almost daily new bad rhetoric against the LGBT community, and gay men in particular, is a blight on the mental health of these American citizens. No wonder we’re angry.
What can we do about it? I offer my clients various tips to cope with the hostile media environment without condoning it. These include:
1) Limit yourself to how much “news” you are exposed to — online, TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, office water cooler, or whatever the source.
2) Understand that coping with helplessness is a lesson in understanding what you CAN do, and affect, and what you CAN’T. Doing what you can WILL make a difference. Protest. Write editorials. And perhaps most of all, vote for gay-affirmative candidates at every opportunity.
3) Trust history. Women, African-Americans, Jews, workers, and others endured much public negative rhetoric before finally achieving equal rights under the Law.
4) Diversify your attention. Sure, it’s great to be an informed citizen. I think that’s part of civic duty and a part of self-empowerment. But you can’t save the world; even Superman sleeps or eats or bangs Lois Lane once in a while. If you have your own fun, the bad guys don’t win in their attempts to defeat your spirit. Living well is the best revenge.
5) Evaluate the source of negative rhetoric and realize their agenda behind it — money, power, Narcissistic ego satisfaction, Sadistic impulses, etc. One way to build resilience is to completely divest ANY respect for the aggressor. They are buffoons who publicly despise the gay community in service to their own selfish power-grab (The Bachmanns, Perry, Romney, Santorum, Palin, Dobson, Robertson, etc.). However, they can be gaining political POWER, and this is why they must be defended against in all legal ways (voting, protest, public education, person-to-person education, etc.).
6) Separate how negative rhetoric in the media is affecting your anxiety and/or depression, versus other sources, such as natural ups and downs in your symptoms. Evaluate also the role of other stressors in your life: financial, health, local, interpersonal, domestic, occupational, etc.
In the current climate, negative anti-gay rhetoric DOES indeed impede our quality of life — but only to a certain degree. Much of rhetoric we can ignore, except if it leads to the stripping of legal civil rights by candidates who have promised to do so. Then, we must answer the call to mount a defense to that threat, lest the situation worsens beyond the point where we can defend ourselves legally, emotionally, and even physically.
The current political climate now — and probably for some time yet to come in the new election season — is a combination of reasons for much hope, and also a time of threat and apprehension, but with the commitment and belief that our rights will steadily march along the path of progress. Self-empowerment is being an informed citizen and exercising your rights, but balancing this with your own personal and individual needs for peace of mind. Achieving this balance can help you to…Have the Life You Want!