Finding a queer South Asian therapist helped start my healing journey

November 2, 2023

GreenShield Cares about Women's Mental Health blog post

By: Jamie Pandit

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Growing up in the South Asian community, I’ve spent more than half my life concealing my transgender identity. When I moved to Canada from Bangladesh at 11, I didn’t fit into my surroundings. I didn’t have the language to describe how I felt on the inside and didn’t act how “boys” were supposed to, which was very confusing for me to navigate.

When I finally came out to my parents at 15, it was one of the hardest moments of my life because I felt I was letting my family down, being the only and eldest “son.” I had always been the golden child who listened to my parents and did everything they asked of me, abided by the rules, and didn’t stray from the norm. To come out to my parents meant that not only was my life going in a different direction, but their expectations, hopes, and dreams for me were now shattered.

Chasing joy and being my authentic self

In this moment, I realized that to be happy, I had to chase the joy of living authentically, even if it meant disappointing my family. In choosing myself, I was relieved to be me. But truthfully, I went from one cage to another as I continued to hide my identity publicly. I even moved far away from my family, not just for my own peace and safety, but also to shield them from the community’s backlash. Through these experiences, I learned that identifying as trans wasn’t something to be proud of.

The pressure to suppress my emotions and prioritize others over myself was immense. I honestly think it's a narrative deeply woven into the fabric of Asian culture. Truth be told, this trauma prevented me from sharing the positives of my cultural identity. I often don’t know where I belong as I don’t fit in with my South Asian peers, but on the flip side, I also don’t fit in with my queer community or other cisgender people. These feelings of alienation are something I still struggle with. My life has been filled with so many moments where I felt self-doubt, fear, and shame—along with the weight of societal expectations—that it has impacted my mental health. 

Navigating coming out publicly

I spent 18 years concealing my trans identity and pretended to be a cisgender woman so that I could potentially have the same opportunities as my counterparts. It was already challenging enough being a South Asian woman in spaces filled with mostly white people. The challenges I faced in concealing my trans self from family, colleagues, and the internet were immense. When I came out publicly three years ago, I vividly remember all the stress I felt from people finding out and their reactions. It wasn’t just the act of coming out once. It was coming out again and again and again to new people and in new situations. 

To this day, often in my interactions with friends and family, I feel like an outsider in my own life. The lack of intentional support from those closest to me, combined with the isolation during the pandemic, starting a new career in content creation, and the incessant bullying and transphobic experiences I’ve had, both in person and online, have been detrimental to my mental health. There have been so many changes in my life that I never properly took the time to deal with the effects of coming out.

Women and mental health

Recently, a GreenShield study shed light on a concerning trend among women in Canada, especially those from marginalized backgrounds—they are neglecting their mental health. This struck a chord with me. I can’t help but see how it echoes my own struggles, and no doubt countless others who are navigating their journey of self-discovery. 

My first experience with therapy was when I was 17 and then later in my early 20s. Talking to therapists who weren’t queer or South Asian made me feel further traumatized because they didn’t understand the intersectionality of my identity. I didn’t feel seen or heard, which made me reluctant to seek further help to improve my quality of life.

This is one of the reasons why I appreciate GreenShield Cares’ Women’s Mental Health program, which offers two free hours of culturally sensitive virtual therapy sessions. It has a personalized counselling matching tool to help you find the right therapist, which I believe is invaluable. After years of searching, I finally feel like I can open up and begin my healing journey with a therapist who understands my unique experiences as a brown and trans individual. 

Self-care is self-love

My journey has taught me the importance of self-care, a concept often overlooked in South Asian culture. Even now, I have to remember that self-care is not an act of rebellion or something to overlook. It’s a form of self-love that I owe to myself and shouldn’t feel guilty about. If you can relate, I hope you see this as a call to action to start redefining cultural norms, fostering an environment where we can all thrive, and prioritizing your mental health needs.

Reflecting on how far I’ve come, I realize how resilient I am. I acknowledge that I have been suffering silently and need professional support to help me be the best version of myself. I had the courage and strength to break from the mould and am now celebrating my uniqueness. 

Start your journey to better mental health

Everyone needs support at one time or another during their life, which is why accessible and effective therapy matters. GreenShield Cares is here to help connect people to the therapy that’s right for them.

The GreenShield Cares program’s personalized counselling matching tool includes over 50 matching options, including culture, race, gender identity, language, and religion, to ensure women can find a mental health professional who shares and/or can relate to their identity and lived experiences. The program offers virtual access to psychotherapists, psychologists, and other professionals whose specialties range from sex therapy, relationship counselling, and trauma, including therapists who specialize in Indigenous mental health services. Intersectionality is at the forefront of the matching process, and the diversity of Canadians is reflected in the diversity of the program’s certified practitioners, with hundreds of the program’s certified practitioners have identified as a person of colour, Indigenous, or Black.

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This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support from a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

‍If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternately, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call 1 866 APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).