By Anastacia Tomson
It's not an easy thing to look after oneself at the best of times. And especially in 2016, when self-care has become such a trendy buzzword; there are articles and guides and “tips and tricks” all over the internet, but a lot of them are written for a straight, cisgender population.
We live in a society where being straight is still often considered the “default”, and anyone who doesn't conform to that default can be made to feel very excluded in many settings. Not just that, but many of us will go through periods where we feel a great degree of guilt or shame associated with our identities, and where we blame ourselves, or become resentful of who we are.
As you can understand, guilt and shame aren't exactly conducive to self-care.
So bearing that in mind, here are some basic fundamentals for self-caring when you're queer – and please remember, not all of these may work for you, they're just ideas and suggestions.
Minimise your toxic interactions
One of the self-care basics that is often spoken about is spending time with friends, family or loved ones. But it's important to remember that if these are people who aren't affirming of your identity or orientation, they could be hindering rather than helping your self-care. We're allowed to choose with whom we spend our time, and it's often better to surround ourselves with affirmation and support than with adversity.
Find an outlet
“Living while queer” can be an immensely challenging endeavour for many of us – it's filled with unique frustrations and challenges, and they quickly become quite the onerous burden. It's important to be able to let off some steam, and unload some of the baggage that comes with being who we are. Whether it's through exercise, painting, writing, music, cooking or whatever else you enjoy, dedicating some regular time to a cathartic hobby can make all the difference.
Go easy on yourself
It sounds simple, but this can really take a lot of consistent effort! Part of this involves not blaming ourselves for the way we feel – simply to acknowledge that the pain and the hurt and the frustration is real, and that it's valid, and that it's okay for it to upset us or throw us off track. And then to remember we're allowed to set our own boundaries. Take time out, disengage from the arguments, don't push yourself too hard – this is all part of acknowledging the difficulties we're facing, and having some compassion towards ourselves. It can manifest in different ways for different people, but the advice I usually give is “Treat yourself the same way you'd treat your best friend if this had happened to them”; often, we are a lot kinder to those around us than we are to ourselves.
Break the “selfishness mindset”
Usually, a barrier to self-care is that voice that tells us that by looking after ourselves, we're actually being selfish. That instead, we should sacrifice more, or work harder, or push ourselves to the extremes. It's not always an easy concept to get away from, but it can be useful to view self-care within a broader context. Instead of seeing the things we do to look after ourselves as petty indulgences, try to conceptualise self-care in a wider sense. See it as steps you can take to grow, and to develop, and to become a better person. And to make that process one that is sustainable. Because that's what self-care is about, ultimately – it's about recognising that we each have tremendous worth as human beings, that we have so much to contribute to the world around us, and taking steps to ensure that we have the best possible degree of sustainable support while we do so.
Often when it comes to looking after ourselves, especially as queer-identified people, we put a very square emphasis on sexual health, STIs and HIV. Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that these aren't important; of course, they are! But we also need to remember that our health – and our overall well-being – encompasses so much more than just that! We need to try to look after all those facets of our unique lives – and that means paying attention to general healthcare, trying to bolster our support systems, reaching out for help when we need it, and taking steps to develop healthier and more sustainable coping mechanisms for when things get rough!
Do what works for you
It's really not possible to write a framework or guide for self-care that works for everyone. We're all so unique and different, and what works for one person may not work for the next. One of the best steps we can take is to figure out what works for us – because that's what counts. And it might sound silly, but it's worth making a list of those things. Whether they're certain songs that lift your mood, foods you like to eat, activities you enjoy doing – because sometimes, it's hard to remember, especially when you're caught in the grip of despair.
There are also so many useful online resources for the self-care basics too that might give you some inspiration. Check out these links:
About the writer
Anastacia Tomson is a medical doctor, author and transgender activist. She is also a consultant with Anova working with us on our new transgender project, which is developing transgender training manuals for clinicians working within the public and private health sectors.
Anastacia has also just launched her book “Always Anastacia" which documents her transgender journey.