The Check-Up: Reflections on mental health during Pride Month

·5 min read

Jun. 22—The month of June is full of celebrations. High school graduations. The beginning of summer. The long-awaited warm weather. Beach trips and barbecues.

June is also recognized as Pride Month, in which we celebrate and recognize the impacts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals (LGBTQ+) have had in the world. Pride Month is a time for me to recognize the vast spectrum of identities that exist, celebrate love and continue working against the ongoing marginalization and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals across the globe.

My name is James Rinker, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I'm the digital community engagement journalist at The Sentinel.

Outside of my job, I'm a runner; a self-proclaimed "cat dad"; a life-long resident of the Monadnock Region; an introvert; a former college radio disc jockey that continues to listen to over 100 different genres of music each year; and, though I may try, a really bad dancer.

I also identify as transgender. I realized, and came out, as bisexual at the age of 15. For myself, I prefer to use the term queer as an umbrella term for my identity.

Aside from these celebrations each year, the month of June is also when I take the time to reflect on my own experience as a queer individual and, in more recent years, work on being kinder to myself.

Olivia Belanger — the health solutions reporter at The Sentinel and the usual author of this weekly newsletter — asked me if I'd be willing to take the reins this week in sharing my experiences during Pride Month and its relationship with my mental health.

I'm honored and privileged to provide my insight, and I hope that, in some way, it makes an impact and resonates with you.

It's important for us to recognize that for many, Pride Month isn't always full of jubilee. Some don't feel safe in being "out" — open in disclosing to others their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression — for many reasons. Pride can be a difficult time for many in the LGBTQ+ community.

The reality of being openly queer in a community that I grew up in is that it can, and does, have its toll on my mental health. I've run into old teachers, family friends and many other people I've met throughout the course of my life, and thus consistently have to reintroduce myself. The "coming out" process never really ends, and sometimes having to do this over and over can be incredibly taxing.

Having to continuously prove and advocate that I and others in the LGBTQ+ community have the right to equal treatment and representation has also impacted my mental health.

History hasn't been kind to us, which can be traumatic to remember and reflect upon. As we continue to face marginalization today, it can be emotionally draining to scroll through our social media feeds and be faced with stories of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, and to read comments under these articles telling us we're "sick", "unnatural", and "confused." It specifically has been difficult to tune into the ongoing attacks against transgender athletes, as I'm a transgender athlete myself.

So, what can we do to help our LGBTQ+ neighbors in this region?

I'll be honest, there currently aren't many specific mental health resources for LGBTQ+ individuals in the Monadnock Region. My most recent therapist, who I met with via telehealth for mental health care specific to my needs as a transgender individual, was based in Conway — more than 2 1/2 hours away.

There are, however, many resources that foster community, which can help in battling loneliness. For many in the LGBTQ+ community, the pandemic hit us hard in feeling isolated from other local queer-identifying individuals. Over the past two years, I found that I really missed in-person interactions, with most of my connections through online queer-only chatrooms or social media.

Some local resources include Out in the Open, which is based nearby in Vermont and has programming and events to help create community and connections with rural LGBTQ+ individuals. Keene Pride is a nonprofit organization that has events planned right here in the Elm City for Pride month, and is putting together the first Keene Pride Festival set for this September. There are other local and national resources that exist, which I've linked at the end of this letter.

Pride is a joyful experience each and every year for me. It's a blessing to rejoice and celebrate who I am and to do that with others at various pride celebrations throughout New England. It can be also hard sometimes to also recognize and advocate tirelessly that we still have work to do.

I take each day of June one step at a time, celebrating what makes me whole.

I make my playlists of music. I go for my runs. I laugh loudly and proudly when my cat does something silly (spoiler: it's quite often).

And although I am truly really bad at it, I keep on dancing.

If you want to talk more about this, my inbox is open. Shoot me a message at jrinker@keenesentinel.com.

This article originally ran in The Check-Up, the new weekly email newsletter from The Sentinel's Monadnock Region Health Reporting Lab. To sign up for the newsletter, and get the latest from health reporter Olivia Belanger delivered for free to your inbox every Monday, visit sentinelsource.com/newsletters/newsletters_signup