The month of June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Pride is a time of celebration and visibility for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, or generally as being under the queer umbrella. For the past decade, as Pride has grown into an internationally recognised phenomenon, cities in countries around the world host parades and festivals, and local communities engage in incredible art projects to highlight the work of their queer friends, family, and neighbours.
Of course, there is still a great deal of work to be done towards ensuring equality, visibility, and basic human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. Young people are especially affected by the continued cultural biases against those who appear to be outside the norm. In fact, according to research conducted by The Trevor Project, more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youths (aged 13-24) seriously consider suicide every year. Transgender and nonbinary youths have also been found to be twice as likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers, and bisexual youths consistently report higher rates of depressed mood, bullying, sexual assault, and physical harm.
The link between diverse gender and sexual expression and the development of mental health conditions highlights the extreme importance of creating safe spaces where young people can explore their identities and figure out who they are without judgement, shame, or pressure.
The Rainbow Room
This Pride Month, we at The Wave are very proud to be introducing The Rainbow Room: a non-gendered room for residents of our clinic who are transitioning, questioning, or simply do not feel comfortable being identified as either a girl or a boy.
Many of the young people who come to us at The Wave are in the process of discovering who they are: for some, this involves exploring who they are attracted to, and for others, it means finally understanding how to feel comfortable with their bodies and their identities. In order to give them the best possible opportunity to do this while they undertake our treatment programmes on their journeys to recovery, we are providing a shared residential space where gender is not assumed, and honest conversations with peers about sexuality, identity, and cultural expectations are encouraged.
As we move further and further beyond the restrictive gender binaries which have dominated our cultures in the recent past (children and youth media has been particularly rife with the intense stereotyping of ‘girls’ versus ‘boys’, something which has had a significant effect on young people worldwide), creating spaces for open conversations about what it means to be gay, straight, bi, trans, a boy, a girl, etc., are increasingly important.
Recent research suggests that for the majority of LGBTQ+ individuals, gender and sexual identity are experienced as fluid rather than fixed. That is, young queer people are less likely to want to pin themselves down as one thing or another: many of them crave spaces in which they can try out different ‘selves’.
The Rainbow Room aims to provide that. Like most of our rooms at The Wave, it will be a suite with several bedrooms and a shared living area. We often like to place our young people in shared living environments such as this so that their treatment and recovery are grounded in community and friendships, supporting the development of social skills alongside the other therapeutic activities and sessions they are engaging in through their journeys.
However, rather than having a ‘girls’ room or a ‘boys’ room, the Rainbow Room will have non-gendered bedroom spaces, and the living area will be specifically designated as a ‘questioning’ space: this will be a room where it is accepted, and encouraged, to ask questions about gender and sexuality and to discuss different identities.
It’s Ok to Be Me
In order to give the opening of this room the proper celebration it deserves, The Wave will be hosting its own Met Gala with the theme of ‘It’s Okay To Be Me’: flamboyant and camp are the words of the hour!
Our young people have been encouraged to create astounding, outrageous, and totally fabulous outfits for themselves. Alongside this, the different houses have spent the past month crafting each of the 20 flags representing the LGBTQ+ community by hand to decorate the clinic space. On the night of the event, difference and diversity will be celebrated, as will the desire to try on a ‘new self’ and see how it feels!
Whether we are part of the youth treatment community or simply have young people in our lives, this Pride, it is crucial to turn our attention to how discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is affecting the mental health of our children and teenagers for the worse. It is easy to stop overt bullying and homophobia as a teacher, parent, or healthcare professional, but it is less easy to turn inward and examine the negative cultural assumptions we all perpetuate in our day to day lives.
Let us take inspiration from the young people around us who are willing and eager to explore their identities in new ways and to take on identities which are fluid rather than fixed! If we could all take a step outside the gender binary in order to accept ourselves and others with more kindness and flexibility, we might just begin to see a change in the way our communities support one another in every aspect of life.
The Trevor Project. (2021) Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide. Mental Health. Dec 15. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/
The Children’s Society. (2020) How Gender Roles and Stereotypes Affect Young People. Blogs. Sept 1, https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/how-gender-roles-affect-young-people
Fiona Yassin is the International Clinical Director of The Wave Clinic. Fiona is a UK Registered Adolescent and Family Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor (Licence number #361609 NCP/ICP), further trained in the specialty of Eating Disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment. Fiona is trained in FBT (Family Based Therapy), CBTE for eating disorders, FREED (King’s College, London), EMDR for eating disorders (EMDRIA) and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Neuroscience and Trauma from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Fiona works with international families and family offices from the UK, Dubai, Kuwait, Singapore and Malaysia. Fiona can be contacted by email on [email protected].