by Lori Heine
Many of you will remember the old movie, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten. Boyer’s character tries to drive Bergman’s insane by making her question her own sanity. From that film, the term “gaslighting” was born. There are plenty of people who try to pull a Charles Boyer in real life.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are gaslighted all the time. We’re told that we are the way we are because we are mentally ill. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association officially removed “homosexuality” from its list of mental illnesses. Most mental health professionals declare that transgenderism is not a disease. But many people still haven’t gotten the memo.
I happen to suffer from a severe, generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Those are indeed mental illnesses, though neither one of them has anything to do with my affectional orientation. Because I know what mental illness is (and isn’t), I take exception to people’s misuse of the term when they use it to stigmatize those they dislike. It’s an ugly and despicable thing to do.
There certainly are LGBTQ people who are mentally ill. But there are also a great many more who are mentally healthy. There should be no stigma whatsoever attached to mental illness, as no one who suffers from it has done anything to deserve such a fate. But when applied to every sexual minority, the stigma does become a slander.
In totalitarian countries, anyone who questions authority is declared mentally ill and thrown into an asylum. Tyrants have a long history of abusing the science of psychiatry. That so many evangelical preachers employ the same tactics as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot reveals much about them--none of it good.
Professional anti-gay and anti-trans Christians want to enrich themselves and promote their careers. Charles Boyer wanted to steal Ingrid Bergman’s jewels. There is little difference between one of those aims and the other.
Being mentally ill should no longer be synonymous with “bad” and “worthy of ridicule.” And being LGBTQ should mean neither of these. What’s really sick is that there are still people, two decades into the Twenty-first Century, who try to conflate them.
It’s important that we hold high the standard of what sanity and mental health are. This is a godly endeavor. Good theology is good for the mind and the heart, as well as for the soul. We want to be able to live authentic lives, love as we are best able and honor our commitments to one another. There’s nothing mentally, morally or spiritually wrong with that.
Without a clear and scientifically-sound standard of mental health, accurate diagnosis and treatment become impossible. Rates of homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide--problems all exacerbated by mental illness--are off the charts. The gaslight brigade in the anti-gay churches is doing incalculable damage to people genuinely suffering from mental illness. Not only is their behavior un-Christian, it fails to meet even a minimal level of human responsibility.
“You’re nuts” is what people say when they can’t win an argument. Any argument that would dehumanize LGBTQ people is one anti-gay and anti-trans Christians deserve to lose.
© 2019 Lori Heine
Photo: Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in MGM's 1944 film Gaslight.
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