What even is Existence?
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Hi People! I figured that since its mental health week 2020 I really should do something. Why you might ask? well cos yours truly has a bunch of experience with that particular issue. Mental health. Its a funny term isnt it? We all think we know what health is right? But then when you think about it, what does someone who is mentally healthy look like? How do they act? What can they do? and in what way? Tricky to pin down isn't it? Like anything its a diverse range of abilities and strategies. The world health org defines health as:
"...a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity"
(World Health org 1948)
And yet, that last part... "not merely an absence of disease or infirmity" is rarely applied to discussion of mental health. How many times have you heard, "oh pull yourself together" or similar? "Just be you" or "everyones got problems, just deal with it" are common phrases when ever any one brings up the issue of alack of mental capacity to cope with a particular situation, or longer term struggle.
In doing this, and saying these things, what people are (inadvertently) doing is substituting mental health, for mental "strength" and denying the validity of the coping strategy that is deliberately asking for support. Think of it as being a bit like going to the gym, some people can bench press a 50kg weight. Others can't .. but can with assistance. And still others might be able to bench press that weight, but only for 5 reps, not 10 like their mate.
Mental health, mental fitness, and mental strength are all related. But just like in the gym, knowing how much one can lift is key to avoiding injury. Trans people and mental health.
Much has been said about trans gender people and mental health. Some parts of the world still see 'being trans' as an illness, howsoever qualified. Others may suggest its unethical, unscientific, illogical etc. Whatever way this argument is constructed the point is that being trans gender is perceived and projected into the world as "wrong" That's quite a weight to bench press on a daily basis...
The posh term for this is "psycho social capacity" Trans people are often operating with a higher level of 'normal' stress than other members of the population. Perhaps due in no small part to the lack of opportunities afforded to many of them. Whilst some of us do manage to create a way of carrying that load that reduces the existential conflict of being as we are in a world that tell us we are not, others tend to ask why is it necessary to do so? Still others may set about the unenviable task of changing the world a little, so that those who come after them won't have to do this existential work.
This week, after making the video above because I, as a trans person and academic, was mentally fatigued from carrying the weight of other peoples stories as well as my own, I started to feel better. Then, oh look... more reps to do...:
"Transgender people in Hungary have lost legal recognition, as the country makes it impossible for people to legally change gender.
In the earth-shattering move for the transgender community by Viktor Orbán’s parliament, who are currently ruling by decree due to emergency COVID-19 laws, a massive omnibus bill has just passed.
All references of "sex" will now instead refer to "sex assigned at birth" in the national registry and on identity documents" Greeeeeaatt! just frickin brilliant says I. Now ok. I live in the UK. Currently we are reasonably well protected under the equalities act 2010. BUT, Lizz Truss, the current administrations equalities minister, recently came out and suggested that "people under the age of 18 should be protected from life changing decisions" which effectively means the UK government is looking to end healthcare provision for young transgender people. The consequences or this are far reaching. It sends a message that people cannot and will not know themselves as trans gender until they are deemed an adult and, more insidiously, that being trans is an 'adult only' issue, unusual, abnormal, and yes you guessed it .. "wrong". Our current UK government is no friend of trans people. and the general direction of the comments made by Liz Truss would required legislative changes to the equalities act 2010 if, as she says, she wishes to go down the route of "same sex spaces"
"....First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important. Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.
"Finally, which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but is relevant, making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future,"
(Liz truss, cited in an article by Andersen 2020)
Whilst it may be true that here in the UK we are still some distance from a removal of rights like the people of Hungary has just witnessed, it doesn't bode well. So, this mental health week spare a though for those people who are living in a prison that they cannot escape. Those who, by an accident of birth or geography are living in a country that doesn't recognise them as citizens, or people in their own right. Or even, as Donald Trump recently suggested, not having equal rights to health care, and life saving treatment in a pandemic. The knowledge that you are regarded by society as 'wrong', and 'less than' is a weight you can't just "put down" or "take a break from".Whats more, this kind of thing doesn't JUST apply to trans people either. Social disability models and health care needs, injury, life, or life changing incidents can create this situation. Once you no longer fit in an ablest and or cis normative world, It's there, like a monkey on your back that never lets go, and never lets you rest.
Case in point. I currently do not have gender recognition certificate. Mainly down to cost, since I've been excluded from the job market for nigh on a decade. Now, given the Hungary situation and UK political scene, I feel like this is something I NEED to do before that option is taken away from me. Can you imagine? living in a way that means you know every day, that your legal existence is up for challenge? And what of those in Hungary who have been delayed for the last two years? Their transitions on hold, because they could not change, and now never will be able to? The picture below links to an article in the guardian pointing out some of the UK labour market injustices, and yet it was written TWO years ago. Nothing has changed. if anything its getting worse.
For someone like me, a former solider who once served a country that is now systematically excluding me, it's a double blow. And yet the very thing that the military trained people like me to lean on is tenacity. A stubborn refusal to sacrifice principles, or bend under the weight of injustices. Or put it another way, we were taught how to find "strength in adversity".
That's why LGBTQIA+ people need your support, and alliance. Their very existence is an act of defiance. Whilst some may exist quietly or in secret, for reasons of their own mental capacity and/or safety, those that stand up and stand out are volunteering to carry more weight. Not for applause or awards, but because they feel they must. All we ask is that you prop us up on the days when we get tired. So we can regain some of that strength and as a result, be healthy enough to fight another day.
Some contact numbers*
Samaritans: 116 123 or Text "SHOUT" to 85258
Rethink.org 0300 5000 927
If you want to support ReportOUT and their Ride for rights campaign then you can check out their website by clicking the logo. ReportOUT is a human right charity that documents and raises awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity abuses around the globe. Their work give a voice those who otherwise would not be heard. Please donate if you can. Or consider a fund raiser.
Thats all from me for now. Till next time keep it #stubbornlyoptimistic. Why? because optimisticality works of course!
Andersen, J., 2020.Mixed Response To Equalities Minister's Trans Pledge. [online] Christiantoday.com. Available at: <https://www.christiantoday.com/article/mixed-response-to-equalities-ministers-trans-pledge/134761.htm> [Accessed 20 May 2020].
World Health org (1948) 'Preamble to Constitution of WHO as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June - 22 July 1946;
signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States
(Official Records of WHO, no. 2, p. 100)
Wareham, J., 2020.Transgender People In Hungary Lose Right To Gender Recognition. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiewareham/2020/05/19/hungary-makes-it-impossible-for-transgender-people-to-legally-change-gender/?fbclid=IwAR3-i8myPma5zaJgmwtMJXmHGmLxNcTI2jYru255MPG8P_dWDtYnXpQp6Vs> [Accessed 20 May 2020].