Hello there, everyone. There is an unacceptable and disastrous trend when it comes to eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. This affects the community both by suffering from a multitude of hardships that drive individuals towards eating disorders and by being barred from the treatment that would save them.
This is a real and life-threating struggle for the LGBTQ+ community. The first step to change is bringing the problem to light for all to see, and this article will do just that.
Eating disorders are caused by self-loathing, stress, and unrealistic expectations of body image, and the LGBTQ+ community is rife with these symptoms.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association:
“Beginning as early as 12, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at a higher risk of binge-eating and purging than their heterosexual peers.”
“Studies have found that compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men have more behavioral symptoms indicative of eating disorders. For example, Strong et al. found that the proportion of gay and bisexual men with symptoms related to disordered eating was 10 times higher than among heterosexual men.”
“There also appear to be higher rates of binge eating and elevated BMIs in lesbian and bisexual women than in their heterosexual peers.”
“LGBTQ individuals are more likely to engage in risky behavior, have lower self-esteem, and battle depression and suicidal ideation. The Minority Stress Theory posits that stigmatized social groups, such as LGBTQ youth, experience excessive stress from discrimination, violence, bullying, social pressure, and alienation. Internalization of this stress is thought to negatively affect mental health, leading to low self-esteem and disordered thoughts and actions.”
I personally have had these statistics play out a demented tragedy that haunts me to this day. I watched a close friend of mine, I’ll call Zach (to protect his identity), come to the realization that even though he was born a woman, his true self could only be realized if he existed as a man, a man he knew himself to be.
No amount of my presence and friendship could seem to mend his wounds or protect him from our cruel world as he carried on this revelation. The venomous disdain and hateful words of his parents dug like knives into his mind during high school.
All of that partnered with and was the likely culprit for the self-loathing over the way he looked. Even when he finally had the courage to come out as transgender, even when his hormone therapy finally gave him results, bringing him closer to appearing as the man he knew he was, he still couldn’t stand what he saw in the mirror.
His stomach wasn’t flat enough. His chest was too big. His hips were too wide. He was far too feminine, far too ugly. All of these insidious declarations self-birthed the evil of bulimia in Zach.
Even more depressing were his two attempts at confronting it. When he applied to a treatment center, he was turned away since it was a faith-based program. They were unwilling to help him due to him being transgender.
This further instilled despair that nothing could work, that nothing would bring him peace. And, somehow, after that, strife sunk its claws deep in his mind. Somehow, night after night of us convincing him to stay on this earth with us, we managed to get him to try again.
But, just a week later, I got a call from his girlfriend that he was back home, wrought with the conviction that this would never work. Apparently, Zach’s roommate at this treatment center made his distaste over his identity known. This place was supposed to offer recovery and compassion to Zach, but it only brought him more contempt and hate.
Sadly, that hate won. That hate made Zach give up. That hate eventually stole my friend from me with a noose and a rope.
Zach isn’t the only one; being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I have personally experienced and witnessed those earlier statistics. I have heard conversations across a restaurant of someone suffering needlessly in this miasma of cruelty. I have seen so many of my fellow members lamenting their despair online.
Everywhere I look, I see that hate winning again.
- Having a distorted sense of self (especially those struggling with their true identity being different from the bodies they were born in) often burdens these souls. It brings disturbing amounts of self-loathing, searching for methods (recurrently dangerous ones) to transition by inhibiting their diets, partaking in exorbitant workouts, etc. Every time they stare into the mirror and their lack of progress stares back, they feel confined, not safe in their own body, further entrenching mental illness.
- Being unable to meet an impossible standard of beauty: almost every ad targeted to those in this community shows bodies that are unhealthy and/or not real: A man adorned with rippling muscles, a woman dancing in a field, her dress flowing on a razor-thin frame. Sadly, I see so many making use of negative health habits to try and achieve these bodies.
- A general lack of education has left so many members of my community not understanding safe sex practices (leading to STIs and subsequent further self-loathing) or not understanding their own identity. This throws them adrift into confusion and an inability to relate to others. This also leaves those going through hormone therapy without proper knowledge on how to adjust their diets and mental health to the aggressive changes brought upon by HRT.
- Transgender or non-gender conforming individuals turning away from treatment centers because they aren’t willing to respect their identities. It is beyond insulting to ask a transgender man to room with a woman just because their biological sex hasn’t changed yet, but, sadly, I see a lot of treatment programs make these kinds of mistakes.
- Lack of education again plays a role in many of a transgender individual’s roommate not wanting to share accommodations with them, which is often due to an illogical worry of something sexually inappropriate happening. Instead of the treatment center making an effort to enlighten their residents (just because someone doesn’t fit into typical standards of identity does not mean they pose a potential threat), they support this behavior by either putting these peoples’ views and comfort first and giving into these demands or just turning people away entirely to steer clear of these kinds of situations.
- I’ve listened to tales of someone with unique pronouns walk into a treatment center and aren’t respected, and it only pushes them away.
Most insurance companies as well don’t seem to respect people’s pronouns when they differ from their birth. Transgender individuals are often forced to bring about their dead names and be called the wrong pronouns. It’s only natural that so many don’t want to bother interacting with a company unwilling to respect the fact that they have put behind a life that they fought so hard to be rid of.
These poor souls already exist in a world that tells them to reject themselves, or that doesn’t support their existence. It is absurd to see the parts of our society that preach to save those enduring eating disorders barring their doors to a community that is more predisposed to experiencing them.
About Our Sponsor:
At Eating Disorder Solutions, compassion is at the root of everything we do. We understand that eating disorders are complex, deeply rooted mental health and medical conditions which require personalized treatment for a successful recovery. By integrating behavioral health modalities and clinical interventions, we endeavor to address disordered eating at its source.
About the Author:
Patrick Fraser received their Bachelor’s of Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has three years of experience in working with homeless youth and has spent over a decade studying meditation; which helps him bring a uniquely holistic and scientific perspective to EDS. As an admissions coordinator at EDS, Patrick has shown a tempered and deep empathy to bring peace and care to many on their first steps in finding treatment.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published January 14, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 14, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC