By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
CW: This Lettitor contains mentions of mental illness and queer-phobic medical practices.
“You say you’re bisexual now. Under this treatment plan… well, you might find that will change.”
These words have been echoing around in my head since a registered psychologist working out of Burnaby Hospital first said them to me, nearly three years ago now. At the time, I was exhausted, confused, more than a little scared, and willing to believe anything this man was telling me about why I’d experienced a two-day dissociative episode so intense I was hospitalized a week or two beforehand. On that front, he had no real answer. The moment he’d asked about my sexuality and heard my response, he’d clearly made up his mind about what was wrong with me, and there was no changing it. I could not convince him that I wasn’t a sex-obsessed maniac, a selfish and indecisive serial cheater. He never accused me of this out loud, of course, but the questions he asked led that way, and he seemed happy to decide my responses before I gave them.
It took me months to realize that no one at that hospital could help me, since they’d already decided that what was wrong with me was inextricably tied to my identity. It wasn’t even the first time a doctor had made these assumptions based off my sexuality—a family doctor asked me if I was manically addicted to sex moments after I’d told her that I was bisexual and, at the time, a virgin. These incidents didn’t just hurt on an emotional level, they actively barred me from receiving services I sorely needed at the time, and still sorely need. I’m still searching for a medical support system that will not treat me differently because I’m queer, and believe me, it’s a constant uphill battle.
I applied for the Rainbow Youth Health Forum that took place in Ottawa last Thursday and Friday out of sheer desperation and frustration with the current system. I’d just had a psychologist who listed themselves as queer competent respond to my concerns about my past mental healthcare experiences by agreeing that the psychologist shouldn’t have suggested that he could change my sexual identity… if that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to scream. For once, consent was not the issue here. A psychologist who couldn’t understand that conversion therapy of any kind, wanted or no, is horrifically damaging and ineffective is not a psychologist that should be listing themselves as queer competent. I needed someone, anyone, to hear me. To my intense gratitude, my application was accepted, and I was invited to Ottawa.
I talk a lot in this paper about my experiences as a 2SLGBTQ+ person, and as a person living with mental illness. I do this because I think it’s important to make these experiences visible. However, talking about it only gets us so far.
Change in the Canadian healthcare sector is sorely needed. I’ve lost people through the cracks of this system, and I know others have too. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to walk into a healthcare centre without the worry of how my sexuality and gender identity will stigmatize me before I even start to explain my mental health concerns.
But I do have hope. I hope change is coming. And I really, really hope they’re finally listening.
Until next issue,