Exploring queer mental health: an intro to "Ripe Podcast"

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WUSSY is proud to introduce the first episode of the Ripe Podcast, hosted and created by Barry Lee. To keep these podcasts as accessible as possible, we will provide you with a transcript of the conversation each week.

Do us a favor and subscribe to the Ripe Podcast on iTunes and give us a quick review!

Welcome to “Ripe Podcast” a show where I share stories of Queer individuals and how they manage mental health. This is the first episode and I feel the first episode should really answer one question:

“Why the hell am I doing this?”

My name is Barry Lee. I am an artist based in Atlanta, Georgia and I grew up in a small beach town in North Carolina. I knew since I was probably around seven that I was Bisexual. I didn’t know the word for it, I didn’t really know the word for it until I went to college but I knew I was Bi. Along with this knowledge at an early age I was also dealing with my own disabilities. I am deaf and I was born with a very rare syndrome which caused me to have around 20 surgeries as a child. When I was a teenager I started to discover I had anxiety and depression. I remember sometimes literally lying down on the classroom floor having panic attacks. I was unsure of why and I saw my first therapist at age sixteen. This began an on and off pattern of going to therapy.

I am not a therapist, I am not a mental health expert but I am somebody dealing with depression and I’m also a Queer person who always strives for representation. Conversations about mental health are important. No matter who you are or what you identify as we need to have these conversations about mental health. As a Queer person I can feel really lonely in this community. I can feel lonely for the fact that I am disabled and I can also feel lonely for the fact that I deal with depression. I don’t see a lot of representation for any of these subjects. As an artist I do my best to share my story about the disability and the syndrome that I live with. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now, however what I cannot do is speak for other people. Nor do I want to. So this podcast is really a platform for others to share their stories. For other people in the Queer community to share how they navigate their mental health.

The syndrome that I was born with causes my face to look fairly asymmetrical. Now, we are all asymmetrical to some degree as humans but we do not culturally embrace asymmetry and with that, it’s really had a ripple effect on my life in regards to how others treat me as a human being. Ever since I was little I had people stare at me, make fun of me and ask me extremely invasive questions. As a kid I was really excited to be an adult and then I became an adult and realized that the same questions that children were asking me adults were now asking me. These questions produced a lot of anxiety for me. Sometimes I just would not want to face the world because I didn’t want questions about my looks or I didn’t want people trying to touch my hearing aid without my consent.

Barry Lee (photo: savana ogburn)

Barry Lee (photo: savana ogburn)

I reached a breaking point though in my early twenties. I was working retail and one day a customer came up to checkout. He looked at me and paused. He turned left and he turned right and he looked at me again and he whispered. He said, “I know what you have!” My skin crawled as I had a nervous laugh. I tried to brush off the comment as he continued to tell me that one of his former customers had what I had but he “couldn’t remember what it was.” So I just continued to ring the items hoping that this man would leave. He then made a comment and this was his comment.

He said, “y’know you should really go to an eye doctor and get your eyes fixed because your eyes look so crooked!”

I tried to hold back tears. I tried to just not tell him to go fuck himself frankly because then I would lose a job. I just smiled, I nodded, I continued bagging his things until he paid for his items and left. I asked another cashier to go to the register. I went to the restroom and I cried. I had a panic attack at work flashing me back to moments when I was little being made fun of. A month later, he was back in the store! So I went to avoid him. I avoided him for an hour, he was going down the aisles and talking to other employees that he knew. He’s really good friends with the boss and so the whole time I am having anxiety trying to ignore this person. So I thought the coast was clear. I head toward the front of the store and I see him leaving. He turns around, looks at me and asks:

“Did you go to the eye doctor yet?”

To which I swiftly responded, “No I don’t need to go” and I sighed with relief. He had no response and walked away. I never really learned how to speak up for myself. I then recognized that the work that I should be doing should be centered around activism but it took a really frustrating moment like that for me to recognize that. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a lot of anxiety from these questions because sometimes I don’t feel like a teacher. Sometimes I don’t want to feel like I want to teach somebody. Sometimes I just want to be left alone and be a “symmetrical” person. What we fail to see is that asymmetry is everywhere. I will always get invasive questions for the rest of my life based on the way that I look. That is a hard pill that I have to swallow.

A few years ago, I ended up having a therapist who was fairly Bi-phobic. Around the time of leaving this therapist, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and I felt the need to spend more time at home during the holidays to be with my family. Returning to the small town I grew up in after living in a city as large as Atlanta becomes hard. There’s a reason why I left my hometown but here I was again for more than just a few days. Being there did not help my depression or anxiety. While I was glad to be there with family, the physical space of the town seemed to vibrate loneliness. It also seemed to vibrate memories of how I was treated when I lived there as a child.

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While being home, with no therapist I was just looking for stories to relate to. In the midst of my search, the internet was filled with “How To’s” on coping with anxiety & depression but no sort of real life examples of how people navigated it. We show Queer folks overcoming many things but we tend to only show the results that worked, we tend to show that everything turned out fine once the issues were overcome. We can fail to show what life actually consists of, which is a stream of failures and a stream of successes. Sometimes that stream is congruent, other times - not so much.

The streams for me, were in the form of abstractions.I would be having really great days and then some days I just didn’t want to get out of bed. I’d have great success placing boundaries I wanted or getting into healthy patterns but then my patterns abruptly stopped.

I wanted to know I wasn’t alone and I also wanted to show that all LGBTQIA+ stories are not linear.

After the winter, my Dad went in remission and life moved on but  depression didn’t leave. I opted to see a new therapist based on the recommendation of a friend. I was still a little scarred from my previous therapist not recognizing or respecting my Bisexuality. On top of the scarring, therapy wasn’t necessarily affordable to me due to the fact I was freelancing.

Like dating though, finding a therapist took a lot of trial and error but I ended up finding a therapist who worked best for me.

I still see her and I am fortunate enough to have her. I recognize though this is a rarity. Therapy has been an asset for my mental health though and my depression & anxiety hasn’t been cured.

I’m unsure if it ever full will be but I have tools to help me manage my mental health better. I wanted to share tools with others. Sometimes I still feel alone due to lack of representation. With this self knowledge here we are with Ripe Podcast. Each week a different person from the LGBTQIA+ community tells their story

So answering the question I asked in the beginning of this episode: “Why the hell am I doing this?”

To hopefully give you a sense that we aren’t alone in our struggles with mental health. This podcast is a safe space where people can share their experiences with nobody speaking for them but, themselves.  I simply act as the narrator and producer - the vehicle & platform for people to share their stories. Along with these podcasts, there are articles available that act as translations for the episodes so that this podcast can be as accessible as possible. You can find these over at Wussy Mag.

I hope you join me on the road to hearing these stories. You can follow me @barryleeart and if you wish to share your story, you can email me at ripepodcast@gmail.com. Special thanks to Wussy Mag for being the web host of the show.