Peer Support: Cultivating Community, Care and Solidarity Amongst Queer Comrades

Being a human is inherently messy, chaotic and at times (if I’m being honest) embarrassing. We are all out here doing our best to make sense of the expansiveness.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that being alive can get a bit scary, stressful and hard to navigate. It can get pretty lonely, too. It’s difficult to connect with others, let alone allow them to witness our vulnerability; to shine light on the hidden parts of ourselves and expose things too commonly suffered in secret.

The barriers between ourselves and others can be hard to overcome, especially when there is a sense of hierarchy, power imbalance and inauthenticity. I’ve been in the mental health and nonprofit field for over a decade now. I have been on the clinical side of things as a social worker and I have been in the trenches with my fellow queer, neurodivergent comrades as a peer supporter.

What I’ve experienced time and time again is how radically powerful and healing peer support is. Conversely, I’ve seen how traumatizing clinical resources can be — especially when the provider holds power, privilege and acts to marginalize and invalidate those they are meant to provide care for. I know this conversation can feel a bit uncomfy and I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s experiences. I acknowledge that therapy and other traditional mental health services can be wonderful and work very well for some, but like all things in the human experience there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Peer support can be supplemental to therapeutic services, but it can also be used as an alternative to, and I simultaneously honor both of these experiences because, ultimately, humans are magically diverse and what works for one will not work for another.

Peer support is unique and effective because it allows us to connect with others with shared aspects of identity on an equal plane and, honestly, it is a beautiful thing. I’ve always believed that it is in community in which we are given the conditions we need to heal. We are a social species, we are interdependent. Extreme independence, the idea that we must survive hardship in isolation, is rooted in oppressive structures and systems. It’s a dangerous narrative because it leads people to isolate and suffer alone. It is truly an act of liberation to show up for and tend to those in your life. It is resistance to a system in which queer, racialized, trans, neurodivergent, disabled folks were not meant to thrive. To build and invest in community networks of care and support outside of the current system is necessary for our collective survival and sustainability. It’s necessary because although the current mental health system can and does work for some, it also can be dehumanizing, dangerous and distressing for others.

Being psychiatrically incarcerated against your will and forcefully medicated can, instead of bolstering your ability to heal, be a new source of trauma from the very services that you’d expect to help you. It’s been far too normalized, the stripping of rights and autonomy from those navigating difficult times emotionally and it can make those needing care (especially those who have experienced it firsthand) feel trepidation about reaching out for help at all. This fosters further isolation in those who deserve community support the most.

And that is one of the primary reasons why Peer Support Space, a relatively new peer-led collective, was founded in 2019. We cultivate spaces where peers with shared aspects of identity can connect with one another and seek support, respite and community. This is especially vital for those who are queer, trans or otherwise fall under the beautifully broad umbrella of being 2SLGBTQIA+.

We often know, all too well, what it is like to be otherized. Just look at the current legislation in our state that is telling our queer children that their identity is so taboo that it ought not be uttered in public spaces — it’s isolating, devastating and horrifying to be marginalized, forcefully excluded for being authentic to yourself.

That is why Peer Support Space exists. We know that the world can be hostile and cruel. Simultaneously, we also know that we all deserve love and care.
All of our resources and offerings are led by and for people with lived experience (otherwise known as peers). I can’t say that we are the perfect fit for everyone, but I have seen over my time in this field that too many people fall through the cracks, are left without access to care or left with culturally illiterate and even harmful services. Our intention as an organization is to focus on centering communities that are too often excluded from traditional resources. We have spent the last few years cultivating spaces for healing and support that are centered around shared lived experiences, mutuality, consent and compassion.

We are all doing our best at being human and even though I don’t have the answers, and none of us are experts, we can offer an ear, empathy and stand alongside each other in solidarity as we work to figure it out together. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, with that in mind I implore all the folks these words connect with to take time to care for themselves and one another, whenever you are able. Not just during May, but every day or any moment you are able to find. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, little things like having tea with a loved one, sending memes, expressing care — we can cultivate a softer and more hospitable world, together. I hope you can remember and internalize that you are beautiful, magical, divine and you deserve community, care and connection.

Dandelion is a co-founder of Peer Support Space. They are genderqueer, bisexual, neurodivergent. A social worker, advocate, gardener and parent.

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