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How I’ve overcome queer shame by helping others

Growing up LGBTQ+, I always felt different, like I didn’t belong. Constantly feeling like I didn't fit in, a lack of representation and the use of casual homophobic slang was extremely detrimental to my mental health, leaving me feeling depressed and anxious. However, last year I began working for an LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing charity and now I am helping others with their mental health while overcoming the shame I have for my own identity.


I distinctly remember the first time I heard the word ‘lesbian’ shouted across the playground as an insult. I was probably only around 8 or 9 and definitely wasn’t sure of my queer identity yet. However, I remember how, while not even directed at me, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I believe this moment was a catalyst in the long and complicated journey I have had with my sexuality.

Mercedes Mehling on UnSplash


Coming to terms with my sexuality was an extremely lonely and isolating time in my life. It’s a bit of a cliché, however, the gut-wrenching feeling of being sat around with a group of girls discussing their crushes on boys, knowing that you did not relate, is an experience I am all-too familiar with. Simultaneously, LGBTQ+ representation in 2000’s -2010’s pop culture  was rare, but when we did see a queer woman in TV or film, they were either over- sexualised or seen as a ‘joke’, a negative stereotype that I very quickly internalised.


This led to a huge feeling of shame, making me feel worthless and like I wasn’t good enough. Despite having good friends in my early teens, as secondary school progressed, the shame only grew, which led me to push myself away from those close to me and become extremely lonely. I know that I’m not alone in this; A study by Just Like Us found that young LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to suffer with depression, anxiety and panic attacks than their non-LGBT peers. Not only this, but they are also twice as likely to contemplate suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.


Cut to several years later, unfortunately, I find that this sense of shame that I felt so strongly growing up, is still with me to this day. I will often still find it hard to ‘come out’ to people and it is my default to feel like I am not ‘good enough’, whether that is in friendships, relationships, work or even hobbies. However, I have come an awfully long way since I was that scared and lonely teen. In particular, university gave me the opportunity to meet a huge range of new people, as my authentic queer self and with no preconceptions of who I used to be. I now feel incredibly lucky that I am surrounded by many other beautifully queer people and supportive allies.


While my mental health has been significantly impacted by my LGBTQ+ identity, it would be ignorant not to acknowledge the fact that we have seen significant improvements in attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people over the last 50 years. This, of course, is due to the numerous LGBTQ+ organisations and campaigners who have been supporting the community and fighting tirelessly for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. London Friend, who I now work for, being one of them. For me, working for London Friend is a way of giving back to all of those courageous queer people who have come before me and paved the way for generations of queer people to come.


Similarly, I know that my experiences are also made better by the fact I am white, cisgender and have an incredibly open minded and supportive family.


On the other hand, LGBTQ+ people of colour are more likely to experience homophobia or transphobia than white LGBTQ+ people.  Acknowledging my privilege was a huge motivator in wanting to help other LGBTQ+ people. This is particularly poignant at a time where transgender identities are being vilified in the media, in what is being called a ‘culture war’ over trans rights. I cannot begin to imagine the distress it must cause to constantly be hearing your own identity, something so integral and personal, being debated and discussed. Therefore, it would be a disservice to my younger self, who felt so lonely and ashamed of her identity, not to do what I can to support those who are experiencing the right to live as their true selves being questioned.


As the oldest LGBTQ+ charity in the UK, London Friend have adapted their services over the years to serve the needs of the community. Right now, they provide three main services; social support groups, 1-2-1 counselling and drug and alcohol support. All of these services address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ people to support their mental health and wellbeing.


Throughout my time at London Friend, I have witnessed how these services can have a positive impact on people’s mental health. From seeing a drug and alcohol client celebrate a sobriety milestone, to a member of our over 50s group connecting with new LGBTQ+ friends, it is undeniable how both the practical support and general sense of community at London Friend can be a vital tool in supporting LGBTQ+ people and their mental health.


Of course, there are some tough aspects of the job. Hearing about people’s poor mental health and the challenges that they have faced can be incredibly upsetting. It is often hard not to take those stories home with you. In particular, when I was new to the role, it was certainly quite taxing on my own mental health as many stories would bring up past memories of my own. However, the solidarity and support from the team is second to none and I am constantly inspired by my colleagues' expertise and professionalism, which reassures me that by accessing our services, those struggling with their mental health are in the right place.


Certainly, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is reading clients feedback as it is almost always so positive, enthusiastic and emotive. Each time a client recalls how something about our service was able to help them make change in their life, I can feel myself dismantling the shame I felt for so long, making me feel like the struggles I went through were worth it to get to where I am now.


From feeling like an outsider, to becoming a member of a rich, supportive community, I feel so incredibly lucky to be part of London Friend and I am incredibly proud of myself for getting where I am today. While, of course, not everyone should or will go to the extent of using their past experiences as the basis of their career, I cannot stress the value in finding your community and looking out for others. It might just help you on your own personal journey.

1 Comment

David Joe
David Joe
Jul 13

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