Grief and loss are not a part of being gay and lesbian, but a part of being human. Everyone grieves.
To be gay and grieving can be a harsh reminder of how cruel the views of the world can still be. At a time when what you need the most is compassion, society can leave you down to bleed while you are in most need.
Your relationship was real, and you feel real pain. Mourning a loved one in this way can lead to what we call disenfranchised grief. This is when your grief is complicated by further loss of social engagement.
You lost his or her loving acceptance. You lost your combined freedom of expression. You lost a home filled with daily support.
If you are a gay or lesbian person, the holes left by the loss of your partner may feel deeper and wider in a world that often diminishes the value and validity of your love.
Mourning the loss of long-time love in an unresponsive, and even callous society may lead to feelings of disenfranchised grief that makes your loss most painful.
Disenfranchised grief occurs when mourning is complicated and compounded by further loss of social acknowledgment, affirmation, and encouragement.
You might feel as though your right to express your grief is being diminished.
You might feel as though your right to grieve at all is being removed.
Often grief is exhausting, and there is no energy left to deal with the rest of the world’s lack of understanding.
You might feel powerless to fight against a community or family that refuses the reality of your grief.
Loss, for you, may include the following dynamics:
LGBT mourners often miss out on the understood sympathies, and relational support offered a grieving heterosexual partner. Discomfort or denial of your identity and relationship may create a vacuum of normal kindnesses and care from those in your families and community.
Social stigma and interpretations of “valid” partner grief keep people away. They can’t place your grief under their “acceptable” label. So, they pretend they can’t see it and stay away. Unfortunately, you’re left even lonelier.
Societal resistance and family disapproval essentially conspire to keep your grief at arm’s length when what you need most is to be comforted and embraced.
LGBT partners sometimes find themselves mourning the loss of relationship status as well. First, you must accept transitioning from partnered to single. Then, you may realize you no longer have a shield from the outside forces that would invalidate your union.
You must face people who don’t recognize your relationship emotionally, legally, or even historically. For them, your grief doesn’t register. Your years in a committed relationship, building a life and a home, don’t count.
At a crucial point of vulnerability, it feels like the world is taking more from you when what you need most is communal and institutional support to help secure what you’ve built and shape into a new future.
LGBTQ people, who feel disenfranchised throughout their grief process, also feel very alone.
Mourning the loss of love is one thing. To do it knowing that your grief is unacknowledged and your relationship is unrecognized is extraordinarily isolating.
What you need is compassion for the hurting individual you are.
Disenfranchised grief is not part of being gay or lesbian. It’s part of being an LGBT person in a “hetero-normative” culture.
To be gay and grieving is sometimes a harsh reminder of how the world still views you.
To be lesbian and mourning the loss of love often feels like grief is just kicking you when death already has you down.
But the unfairness of being invisible, invalidated, or isolated at such a difficult time deserves attention.
Your relationship was real love. Your pain is real grief.
You deserve compassionate, bereavement care.
You deserve to be comforted.
You also deserve a hand to hold.
Reach out to someone who sees you.
(Barbara Fane, NJ) Cintia Mancuso.