Championing Spaces is a new webseries for individuals identifying as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community within the Peel Region allowing them to explore and learn about their social health needs through conversation, art, and activity. It happens every Tuesday @ 6pm - 8pm!
We're honoured to have Rahim Thawer, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in Toronto, leading the exploration of social health needs in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Every week he brings us a new topic to both educate us on and create discussion around.
The first week of the sessions focused on discussing 'What is Health to you?' and the health determinants faced by the 2SLGBTQ+ community. A space was created to critically analyze how we think about health, how anything beyond physical health (mental, spiritual, emmotional, etc.,) isn’t taken seriously or given the same attention and care. Other points of discussion included how certain health determinants severely affect the 2SLGBTQ+ community (drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, etc.) and how these health determinants occur and/or become aggravated due to living in a cisgender white heteronormative society that doesn’t allow us to exist without punishment. A highlight of this discussion was self-reflecting on why we may feel and react in certain ways to situations that don’t usually warrant that emotion or reaction. We learned that quite often these reactions come from past events / trauma, and understanding the root issue in turn helps you understand your emotions and creates the ability to move on. This first session set the tone for the rest of the webseries as each week we continued to discuss more specific topics on social health needs in the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
In the second week of the sessions, Rahim discussed the Pandemic: Loss and Grief under the 2SLGBTQ+ context. Participants were asked to make a graph/drawing of how we felt throughout the pandemic so far. Most individuals visualized their mood constantly fluctuating throughout the pandemic. And for most people, they enjoyed the beginning of the pandemic. Having time off from work or being able to work from home was a nice vacation from the 9-5 structure they were used to. But as the pandemic continued, participants discussed feeling worn out by the constant negative news and the inability to physically talk to or meet with any friends or family. The topic of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement became relevant to the discussion as Black queer and/or trans folks discussed how the constant news and social media posts of police brutality played a huge role in adding to the difficulty of dealing with the pandemic. Non-black queer and/or trans folks also discussed the reevaluation of what allyship truly looks like. There was also discussion on the pressure to constantly be engaged on social media and the idea of performative 'wokeness.'
The discussion then moved on to the unique losses faced by the 2SLGBTQ+ community during the pandemic including the loss of safety and acceptance. Some participants were stuck in homes with people who don't accept their gender and/or sexual identity. Others were unable to be with their found families, and many lost opportunities to connect with other queer and trans folks. One participant compared their current situation to how it felt living during their high school time. Moving back with their parents, and having to resort to old coping methods to live in a unsupportive household or a household unaware of their sexual and/or gender identity. Folks living by themselves talked about loneliness and how they often went days or weeks without talking to someone. This caused many participants to cope in ways that were deemed 'unproductive' by society , and created a cycle of guilt and shame when participants weren't using their ‘free time’ to their 'advantage'.
What we learned, from this week's session, was that all the emotions and the coping methods we employed to deal with the pandemic were valid. We learned that being unproductive or not having the ability to do anything was ok because we're going through an abnormal time, and it's okay for people to simply try and survive.
The third week’s topic focused on the concept of 'coming out,' a unique experience faced by Queer and Trans folks. Coming out is seen as a huge milestone in every Queer and Trans persons life and the ‘last step’ of fully accepting their identity.
When having this conversation about coming out, everyone had varying relationships to the concept. Some participants felt it was very important to their development of accepting their gender and/or sexual identity, while others didn’t see it as a big deal and didn’t feel the need to come out. This made it evident how diverse the coming out experience is, and how the mainstream coming out story (of mostly gay white men) is this huge fanfare and public declaration of being gay. What this mainstream portrayal doesn’t show is that many individuals, especially Queer and Trans BIPOC, don’t have this experience and if they do, it tends to not be a positive one. When discussing the differences between mainstream coming out and real life coming out, a lot of people’s coming out wasn’t blatant. A majority of folks carefully selected who they wanted to come out to, whether it was family or friends or both. Sadly, some didn’t have the option of coming out, as they were outed and lost their agency to come out on their own terms. A recurring theme that was seen during this session was how queer and trans BIPOC folks had to worry about and take a more community based approach of revealing to family their gender and/or sexual identity. There was an understanding that if you came out, there was going to be negative repercussions, not only for yourself, but also for those close to you. As well as an unspoken rule that coming out and addressing your sexuality and/or gender publicly was a huge no no. It was known that people would rather ignore the obvious indications that someone is Queer and/or Trans to keep the peace in the family. This brought us to discussing questions and statements we’ve received from our family or other loved ones when/if we came out.
Many of these questions / statements revolved around what other people would think, to not tell anyone else about your gender and/or sexual identity, dismissing it as something learned from Western culture, and parents questioning what they did wrong to have their children identify as Queer and/or Trans. None of the questions asked are about the individual coming out. None of them focus on that individual's personal experience of coming out and how it's going to change their life. Instead the focus is on how it’s going to affect the family and how they are going to be perceived by society.
We ended the session with tips and concerns surrounding coming out and all participants agreed that coming out is the individuals choice. You choose when, who, and how you want to come out, as well as the choice to never come out. We further discussed the pressure to come out to validate your identity and how some participants felt that they weren't allowed into the 2SLTBQ+ community unless they came out. No matter what, you are a part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community whether you come out or not, and the validity of your sexual and/or gender identity isn’t based on if you came out or not.
These were the main highlights of Sessions 1 -3 of Championing Spaces. If you want to learn and be a part of a safe, educational, and inclusive space on 2SLGBTQ+ social health needs, you can go to this link:
The next Championing Spaces session will be on Tuesday August 4th, 2020, and the discussion will be focused on Spirituality. We will also be ending it with a Yoga session with The Virgo Queen!
If you have any questions or concerns about Championing Spaces you can contact Amneet Bhogal at firstname.lastname@example.org.