Connect with us


Gay men talking about mental health

Why don’t we take it as seriously as physical fitness?



SiOV, gay news, Washington BladeI’ve always found it interesting and amusing that as gay kids we did pretty much anything we could to get out of gym, but as gay adults we more or less flock to them. I remember in sixth grade being terrified of Coach Whitmore and this terrible, sadistic game he invented called “crab soccer.”

That was then. And I’m sure most of us had Coach Whitmore in our childhoods. But now many us can’t imagine gay city life without the gym. For various reasons best explored in other columns, gay men put a huge premium on their physical state. Naturally, we want to look good, and feel good, but why does it seem that when it comes to our mental health, many of us don’t seem to invest as much?

I was wondering about this issue — gay men and mental health — so I grabbed my friend Bobby, who last year started his own organization, Strength in Our Voices, with a mission to provide support for people impacted by mental health issues. We sat down a few Sundays ago in Larry’s Lounge. Here’s what he had to stay:

Tell me more about Strength in Our Voices

SiOV is a mental health non-profit dedicated to eliminating stigmas surrounding mental health. Our mission is to create an environment of trust and support for those impacted by mental health issues through open dialogue, education, empowerment, and positive change. As a group, we are individuals that have either experienced mental health issues firsthand or truly believe in the cause of eliminating stigmas so that we can all live in a more understanding world. We hope to use the power of social media and storytelling to bring insights to our community. Additionally, we host events not only to raise money but also to bring the community together to talk about mental health stigma.

What has SiOV been up to lately?

This past spring, SiOV hosted its first “Summer of Strength Benefit for Change” in D.C. where we raised more than $16,000. With these proceeds we are bringing Sources of Strength, a permanent, comprehensive suicide prevention program, to McLean High School in Fairfax County, a region that has witnessed high rates of teen suicide in recent years. We are facilitating the program build out at McLean this fall

Why is mental health important to you?

I’ve gone through so much in my own life. From being bullied during middle and high school to the process of coming out in college. More recently, I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis and regularly see a therapist to work on stress reduction.

I know that talking about the issues I’ve experienced has been the most important action I’ve ever taken to improve my own health. If I had found a platform or comfort with which to do so sooner in my life, I wouldn’t have had to suffer alone as long as I did. I hope to be able to touch lives so that someone out there might feel like they are not alone, and even find it in themselves to seek help through a friend, family, or medical professional.

What issues surrounding mental health are of particular importance to gay men?

Generally, LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Additionally, gay men experience identity issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide ideation, substance abuse and body dysmorphia, among others.

In my opinion, I think that the mental health issues gay men face originate from two primary sources: societal expectations and the gay social scene.

There’s a dynamic between gay men and heterosexual/religious communities. That is, there’s a sense of wanting to remain acceptable within the eyes of a majority that had recently rejected us. This may be changing as younger generations enter into adulthood. However, I do feel as if many of us expect to face homophobia or discrimination at some point. Whether this makes us sensitive, defensive or want to seem impressive, I’m not sure. But there’s something there that has an effect on our mental health.

Regarding the gay community, we live in a hypersexualized, active community that is both vain and self-loathing. One on hand, we are accepting of differences, but on the other hand, we are body shaming, judgmental critics – mostly of ourselves. Social media self-affirmation is common; we are constantly bombarded by shirtless selfies. Body dysmorphia is a huge issue in the gay community as a result. We are also a close-knit, extremely social, but small community which makes gay men both competitive and cliquey. I think that the concept of being a fabulous, multi-faceted, A-type gay who throws perfect dinner parties is something that plagues much of the gay community. We constantly size ourselves up to other gay men. Additionally, we tend to interact with a number of gay men, but we aren’t particularly close with a majority of them (it’s simply not possible to be close friends with that many people). As a result, we know everyone, but we don’t really know everyone; judgment and gossip fills the gaps.

Is the stigma surrounding mental health more or less so in the gay community?

I think it’s useful to distinguish between stigma and “self stigma.” Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person (i.e. simply, a negative stereotype). “Self stigma” is the internalization of negative beliefs.

Mental health stigma in the gay community is both more and less pervasive. On one end, gay men tend to be more open and accepting of feelings, issues, differences, and hardship than their heterosexual counterparts. At the end of the day, we recognize that our experiences are quite similar and tend to talk more freely with each other about those experiences.

However, on the other end, we can be dramatic, shallow, judgmental, gossip-folk in an incredibly social community, which leads to more “self stigma.” I believe that many gay men think regularly about judgment, being stereotyped by other gay men, and being accepted by different cliques within the gay community.

Where do you hope to take SiOV?

I certainly hope to be able to raise more money to bring useful programs to the community. I also hope to be able to dig into the many specific mental health issues we all face, ones that may seem relatively mundane, and share detailed stories on those issues so that new perspectives are illuminated. Maybe you learn something new. Maybe you simply find that the information resonates. Ultimately, if we understood how similar we really are, we will not only treat each other differently, but also, we will treat our own selves differently.

Bobby and I both felt it necessary to state that neither of us are professionals when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself needing assistance, contact either SiOV or the myriad other community resources available such as Whitman-Walker Health.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based freelancer writer. He writes regularly for the Blade.



A historic first: Pride celebrations in Fairfax City

Mayor Catherine Read spearheaded event



Fairfax City's first Pride celebration took place on June 3, 2023. (Photo from the Fairfax City Department of Parks and Recreation's Instagram page)

Both joy and controversy marked the City of Fairfax’s first LGBTQ+ Pride celebration.

The event, coordinated by representatives from the city and George Mason University with the help of local Drag and Variety Show The Palace, took place the evening of June 3 at Old Town Hall.

“The night of [Mayor] Catherine Read’s historic win, she sponsored our drag show at Earp’s Ordinary so her team could celebrate,” writes Alan Xtra, producer of The Palace. “She is a fierce ally and that very night she promised the community that there would be a Pride celebration in Fairfax City. The mayor made good on her promise and the event was an absolute success.”

The All-Ages Pride Dance Party drew backlash from some community members due to the presence of Drag Performers at the event. Stacy Langdon of grassroots conservative group Mama Grizzly, photo-ready in her red “Make America Great Again” hat, coordinated a group of protestors bearing signs: “Drag is prostitution,” “Trans is a no-no,” and “June is Groomer Awareness Month” among others.

Fairfax City Police were present outside the event.

“When we heard there was a hate group coming, I naturally had some safety concerns,” writes Xtra. “We were blessed to interface with the local fire and police departments to ensure a necessary presence for our protection, and we were able to coordinate with the city for private security and a bag check as well.”

As the sun began to set over the Beer in The ‘Burbs festival outside, Old Town Hall filled with a colorful crowd, many dressed up in rainbow attire and dramatic makeup. DJ Slamz laid down a soundtrack of dance classics, punctuated by drag performances from local artists. Drag King Maqks Gross performed Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and drag queen Sirene Noir Sidora Jackson showcased “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. 

The Drag Show’s Host, Masvusi, performed Kylie Minogue’s “Magic.” 

“Drag is about world building,” she writes. “It’s about having those small moments of liberation, peace, and joy that we don’t get out of the world we live in now.”

Local band Shelley Star and The Galaxy performed a set complete with dancers.

Star, a songwriter and dance teacher, writes “I am lucky enough to be a performer with a band that contains several cherished LGBTQIA+ members, and the joy and community we felt in the room was palpable and overwhelming. I was specifically moved by the amount of young people who got to broaden their horizons and maybe experience something new about the world they live in for the first time. “Part Of Your World” … moved me to tears. It was so wholesome; just a perfect choice for the spirit of the event … It was beautiful to witness and be a part of.”

In addition to the entertainment, the city organized crafts, face painting, and booths for local organizations upstairs. Pizza was served. 

“Despite the protestors, the city has assured us that this was just the first of what will become a community tradition of Pride celebrations every June,” writes Xtra. “I look forward to seeing how the event will grow in the coming years.”

Continue Reading


D.C. still has an HIV epidemic

Legalizing sex work a good next step in fighting the disease



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New CDC data from February 2023 shows that the percentage of D.C. residents with HIV has gone down. Some outlets have marked this as a success and a positive statistic to herald.

The data specifically shows that 1.8% of D.C. residents are living with HIV, compared to 2.8% before. While a downturn in cases is good, D.C. still is living with an HIV epidemic that needs to be curbed even more.

We should not be celebrating a disease rate of 1.8%. In the nation’s capital — a metropolitan city that is supposed to provide quality healthcare coming from the biggest economy in the world — two out of every 100 residents we cross on these streets should not be diagnosed with a serious and lifelong illness.

Of course, recent measures nationwide and in D.C. to prevent HIV harbor lots of potential and should be celebrated. For one, PrEP has been made free, the daily pill that would safeguard against infection even if sexual contact with a positive patient was made.

The medical community has long studied what constitutes an “epidemic” in a given country. But most of that scientific literature studies epidemics that grow and reside in developing countries, where infrastructure and healthcare are of so poor quality that disease cases skyrocket beyond any manageable proportion. Take the Ebola virus, which likely originated from an unregulated animal market in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ebola went on to ravage the DRC, Sudan, Congo, Gabon, and Uganda. Doctors are quick to call Ebola an epidemic (and for good reason), but are slow to call other diseases epidemics as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an epidemic as “an unexpected increase in the number of disease cases in a specific geographical area.” Unfortunately, according to this definition, HIV in D.C. doesn’t constitute an epidemic. While cases have gone down, though, the virus’s prevalence in the capital city should still shock everyone.

D.C. must continue to treat our HIV rate as a crisis belonging to epidemic proportions. There are a few measures the city can take to prevent spread. A couple come to mind: First, the city could finally legalize sex work. There are too many vulnerable sex workers in parts of town who sell their bodies without safe contraception, and who might take in used needles as well to inject drugs. Second, the city can amp up efforts to advertise PrEP, the antiviral drug that prevents HIV infection. There are plenty of successful PR campaigns around the city, and more posters advertising PrEP, be they on public buses or the Metro, would do some good.

Treating HIV as an epidemic in our capital city is necessary to reduce its harm as much as possible.

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

Continue Reading

Blade Blog

Cruising into Pride

Celebrity holds firm as a proud corporate supporter of LGBTQ community



Celebrity APEX (Photo by Peter Rosenstein)

As you know if you have read my columns and blog posts, I love cruising. The kind where you are on a river or the ocean. Today in both the United States and around the world the LGBTQ community is facing difficult times. Attacks are coming fast and furious. There are few places where members of our community can feel totally safe these days. 

One of those places is on a cruise ship that values the community. That is what I have found whenever I travel on a Celebrity ship. Today, they are going even further in letting the world know about their respect for the community. They happily advertise Pride at Sea. Of course, they are doing it to attract LGBTQ passengers and their dollars, but that’s great in this day and age, when a company is willing to step up proudly, wants our business, and will do everything they can to make us feel both wanted and safe. That is what Celebrity Cruise Lines is doing. 

I want Pride to be celebrated not just in June, but every month. But I am excited about the June celebrations whether hosted in D.C. by Capital Pride, or on the high seas. While many of us will be at the D.C. Wharf, on June 10 to help the Washington Blade celebrate Pride on the Pier with spectacular fireworks, those who miss that and are on a Celebrity ship will be part of a Pride celebration as well. Their ships will all celebrate the month in various ways including flying a LGBTQ Pride flag. 

Celebrity has invited my friend, entertainer extraordinaire, Andrew Derbyshire, to lead the celebration on the Edge on June 13, in Ibiza. He recently quoted Celebrity, “In honor of Pride month and our continuing commitment toward fostering positive and authentic partnerships within the LGBTQIA+ community, Celebrity Cruises is raising the Pride flag to celebrate acceptance, unity, and support for the community. Each June, Celebrity Cruises hosts our annual Pride Party at Sea. Every ship takes part in the celebration that brings our crew and guests together to honor and celebrate Pride.” Andrew added, “I am happy to announce I will be flying to Ibiza on the 13th of June for a few nights, to host Pride on the Celebrity Edge, with my friend and captain, Captain Tasos, and the amazing team on board.” Andrew, like many of the entertainers I have seen and met on Celebrity ships, is encouraged to be who he is, ‘out’ and proud. 

The Edge will kick off Celebrity’s fifth annual Pride Party at Sea during its June 10, 2023, sailing. “The party will take place in tandem across the award-winning Celebrity fleet, with each ship ‘handing off the party baton’ to the next, to keep the festivities running across hemispheres and time zones. A variety of multi-generational LGBTQ+ focused programming will take place throughout the month of June. Together, officers, staff and crew around the world will participate in Celebrity’s signature Pride programming.”

You should know one of the things straight couples could always do on a Celebrity cruise is have the captain marry them. Now, since same-sex marriage became legal in Malta, where most Celebrity ships are registered, their captains can legally marry same-sex couples. After this happened the first legal same-sex marriage at sea, on a major cruise line, occurred on board Celebrity Equinox in January 2018 when the captain married Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray.  

Celebrity is a Florida-based company, and along with Disney, they are standing up for the LGBTQ community. They have been a Presenting Sponsor of Miami Beach Gay Pride for four years in a row. They continue to advertise their collaborations with gay cruise companies like VACAYA, which has charted the Celebrity Apex for a cruise of the Caribbean in 2024. The ship will be sailing with a lot of happy LGBTQ cruisers on Feb 17-24, 2024 for seven nights from Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Antigua. For anyone who hasn’t been on the Apex, it is an amazing ship. While not during an official Pride month I will show my Pride along with many other LGBTQ travelers on Celebrity Beyond this October out of Rome, and on Celebrity Ascent in October 2024 out of Barcelona. The Ascent hasn’t even set sail yet. 

Let’s hope other companies will follow Celebrity’s lead and value the LGBTQ community. We are entitled to live our lives safely and to the fullest, as who we were born to be. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade