BEYOND THE RAINBOW
‘Monna ga a lele,’ is a common Setswana phrase that suggests that a man is not supposed to cry, whatever the circumstances. This is one of the stereotypes that affect the mental fitness of black male figures such as myself. All HGBQ men (heterosexual, gay, bisexual or queer) find themselves wearing the burden of cultural stereotypes and as a result they are struggling with their mental health. Mental health conversations are perceived to be a very sensitive issue and this perpetuates a culture where many will feel prioritizing one’s mental health is a weakness that bears shame.
By virtue of being born male, we are faced with clothing ourselves with strength and to never wear vulnerability as a badge. This may be why men especially those identifying as GBQ and MSM (man who have sex with other men) go through stress, trauma and rejection. MSM experience stigma, discrimination and harassment from all sorts of spaces. In my experience, I have come to understand that heterosexual identifying males are the group that wield homophobic attitudes.
This is through perpetrating abuse and shame on MSM. The leaders in homophobic crimes such as killings, rape and other forms of brutality are done by the non-MSM men and yet they are likely not to be held accountable for their inhumane actions, leaving the remaining MSM community in fear of experiencing similar incidents. A large number of MSM are people of faith and for that reason they find it hard to freely worship because of the stigma that is contributed by the church.
For instance, a few MSM have shared that they received prophecies regarding their sexuality in front of multitudes; some have been prayed for as a way of delivering them from the so-called homosexual spirits. Since this is an act of outing someone without their consent, delivering them also from their designed identity yet failing to cast the so-called spirits out causes spiritual bondage, setback and detachment from their Supreme Being as well as spiritual anxiety.
MSM who are still closeted and in abusive relationships find it hard to report cases of intimate partner violence due to fear of being forced to come out of the closest by law enforcement officials. MSM have anonymously testified that police officers often stigmatize them when they report matters of intimate partner violence. Some of these victims usually go back home, to the very same place where they were abused because they have nowhere else to go.
The ignorance of service providers causes mental damage to the victims, which may lead to self-harm and substance abuse. Being MSM may also limit to access to good and quality sexual reproductive health care. This is also because of the discrimination that comes from the health care givers, on the account of what they believe is morally right or wrong. Health care providers are sometimes trained on how to deal with diverse communities yet they still choose to discriminate against minorities.
Other MSMs’ have shared that some health care practitioners quote scriptures and pray for them, stating to them that they are sick because afflictions from hell, hence leaving the health care facility without even getting the services that they came for.
This also causes fear for them to visit the next health care facility thinking that the previous experience may occur. Furthermore MSMs who do not have the financial privilege to seek private health care are those that suffer the most, as they cannot afford private health care services.
These health disparities among the MSM community leads to increased HIV infection, untreated STIs and avoidable deaths. This may also give birth to depression, bipolar, attempts to suicide and even succeed at it, and or other mental illness issues.
Fear of stigma is a great barrier to accessing sexual reproductive health services even when they are available at no cost. Counsellors, psychologists and therapists are available to assist different groups including the MSM’s, however, the questions is are they trained to deal with sensitive MSM matters?
Most MSMs are reluctant to seek mental care even from psychological professionals. Identifying gaps and needs in MSM mental health would enable service providers to acknowledge what they have not been doing right and what they are willing to do in order to better the mental health of men sleeping with other men, so that their esteem and humanity may also be restored.