That’s why I write: to help fight the stigma against mental illness. That doesn’t mean I consistently do a great job at it in my personal life. It’s challenging. I find it easier to write without a filter about my life and let it go out into the world. That’s because the people who read it aren’t standing five feet from me sizing me up and wondering why I look so normal, when I just said I wasn’t.
Having bipolar disorder is one of many things that define who I am, and that tend to fuel others to judge me immediately. So, when I think of stigma, I think of everything that makes me….me. Check this out for what I put on my dating profile. Hence, why I’m single: “Hi, I’m Sean. I’m a single dad. Clean and sober. And I’m transgender.” If you think I’m kidding, find me on the dating platforms. While I don’t say it all in one sentence, it’s all in there.
I got tired of telling people any of those things on a first date, just for them to say they weren’t interested in a second date. You noticed, I’m sure, that I didn’t even drop the bipolar bomb. I feel that’s something I can add in later, after a few dates. Luckily, I never have had to worry about that because situations 1, 2 and 3 are enough to send guys running the other direction. But, it’s who I am and those things are all important to me.
It’s funny because I get more slack for being clean and sober or a single dad than being transgender. People make assumptions about individuals that are clean and sober: “Maybe they’re no fun because they don’t drink. Maybe you can’t drink around them. Who wants to go on a first date that isn’t going to be at a bar to get a drink?!” Same with being a single dad: “Does that mean he was married…to a woman?! He’s never going to have time in his schedule to hang out. I don’t even like kids—would he expect me to? He’s probably straight anyways.” Sound familiar? The stigma against these parts of who I am are just as strong as the stigma against mental illness…which I have as well.
It’s Pride month and it always makes me sit back and think about who I am. It used to be a trigger and excuse to party all month. And for a long time, it was a month I rarely remembered because of that. This year, I was thinking about how strange it is how I am still so embarrassed to tell people that I am transgender, and gay sometimes too. When I think about it, I am more likely to bring up the fact that I have bipolar disorder than I am to mention I’m transgender. In fact, I have friends and people in my life daily who don’t know I am transgender. Clearly, even when I send out the link to my blog on BC2M or post it on my Facebook, these people still aren’t reading it! Ha. Some even lie and say they read my blog and love it; when I know they’d be freaked out if they actually did read them. Guess that’s another topic about friendship to talk about another time.
I’ve gotten so used to hiding being transgender so well, I never push myself to bring it up. I tell myself it’s because it isn’t relevant. But deep down inside, a part of me knows it’s because I’m embarrassed. I’ve worked so hard to feel like me. Now that I look just feel like a normal guy, and nobody is threatening my life, it’s hard to go backwards.
From my life experiences, I’ve come to learn that stigma comes in many forms. When I say I have bipolar I’m not so afraid anymore of what people think. It’s an illness that I was born with and something I have zero control over having. People tend not to judge you so much for having bipolar; they do still judge you for the stereotypes ingrained in the world that come along with it, but that’s why I speak out and work with Bring Change to Mind.
Being transgender, on the other hand, comes with a whole other series of reactions. I can’t say whether people are born gay or transgender, I can only speak about myself. Either way, people judge harshly because I have acted upon it. As if they have the right to make those judgments and associate them negatively. I’ve been told by people I know, acquaintances, and literally strangers off the street, that since it was my choice to transition, I should bear the shame of it.
So, there you have it. It’s Pride month, I’ve been out as queer for 20 years, and I still struggle with being 100% out about it. I’m not ashamed of who I am or confused or wishing I was someone else. I love me. And my absolutely adorable 7-year old daughter knows who I am, and she loves me. And that’s enough. But I just wanted to put it out there that even though I am on a crusade to fight the stigma against mental illness, I still have a long way to go to help fight the stigma against all of me.
While I’m comfortable with who I am, I get nervous about what people will think about me. I don’t even care so much what they think in their own heads, but I’m nervous they won’t want to be my friend, or friendly co-worker or neighbor anymore because of who I am. I’m afraid of losing people in my life, or losing the opportunity to have people in my life, because of who I am. I wish it all just didn’t matter. I am a proud single dad, I am proud of myself for being clean and sober, I am proud to be a loving, thoughtful man, and I am proud of myself for taking such good care of myself and not letting my mental illness run my life. I wish that when I say all of those things about who I am and what makes me, me, that people will want to be in my life because I am all of those things.