It is no secret that Eating Disorders can affect all people, no matter their race, age, gender or sexual orientation. Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and we thought we would mark the occasion by talking about Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Zac Grant is a queer, trans, gender non-binary social worker who facilitates a group for trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks with Eating Disorders at Sheena’s Place in Toronto. They started the group three years ago in response to the lack of support for trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks in the community. “I was part of a lot of online groups and noticed a lot of trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks trying to find Eating Disorder healthcare that was really tailored to them and over and over again the answer was it doesn’t really exist,” they said. “I really wanted to try and figure out how we could meet the needs of some of the folks within Eating Disorder healthcare.”
Zac says they are consistently being told that healthcare providers don’t have enough of a knowledge base when it comes to LGBTQ2S+ folks. They say that in many cases the healthcare system is very standardized and although there are some benefits to that, it doesn’t take into consideration the needs of folks with of different identities, education, class or race. “All of these factors are going to change their ability to access care and what it looks like for them once they do access care.”
While all the data points towards members of the LGBTQ2S+ community having high rates of Eating Disorders, most treatment is not adapted for them. There is also a gap in diagnoses for LGBTQ2S+ folks because some of them don’t meet the strict criteria for Eating Disorders in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual for mental disorders). Zac says that particularly trans folks avoid seeking healthcare because healthcare providers often don’t know how to address them, and they’re also often not considered as people who can have Eating Disorders. “There’s this phenomenon of people just getting lost in the system and it never really crossing healthcare professional’s minds to even explore whether Eating Disorder stuff is going on for folks.”
Zac believes that one of the solutions to the problem is more training for healthcare professionals in Eating Disorders and the needs of LGBTQ2S+ folks. They say that often healthcare professionals see LGBTQ2S+ folks through a certain lens that dictates that all health problems are due to their sexual orientation or identity. They say that treating LGBTQ2S+ people need to be integrated into a healthcare professional’s regular training rather than it being a separate unit. “A lot of times the most basic aspects of health can get lost because everyone’s just trying to focus on, oh what was my LGBTQ2S+ training,” they say.
Zac says that healthcare professionals need to make the effort to educate themselves about LGBTQ2S+ folks. Currently the onus is often placed on the individual to educate their healthcare providers which is a barrier to them seeking out care. Zac also believes that there needs to be more LGBTQ2S+ representation within the healthcare and Eating Disorder recovery community. “If you don’t see yourself you don’t exist,” Zac says. “If LGBTQ2S+ folks don’t see themselves in representations of Eating Disorders or in representation of Eating Disorder healthcare it can really play into how the Eating Disorder operates in the ‘I’m not sick enough’ discourse,” they say.
LGBTQ2S+ folks need to be represented in all forms of mainstream healthcare so that they get the treatment they need as early as possible. “We know that treating Eating Disorders sooner leads to better outcomes so if it’s invisible in some populations then it’s going to take longer, or if you have particular populations that are really avoiding healthcare then it’s going to take longer. It’s not to say there won’t be good outcomes it’s just it can be more challenging.”
Zac is currently doing their PhD in social work focusing on trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks and Eating Disorder healthcare. They are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to LGBTQ2S+ issues and Eating Disorders and if you would like to hear more from them be sure to register for NIED’s upcoming Honouring the Journey where they will be on a panel of diverse Eating Disorder voices. The event will be held on Wednesday, June 2 from 7:00pm-8:30pm and you can get your free ticket here.