“Spectacle” — The Importance of Questioning and Queer Mental Health

Interview with author Natalie M. Esparza

IMAGE: “Spectacle” author Natalie M. Esparza — Image created by Max Micallef

Experiencing life through the eyes of a Queer Latinx woman, Natalie M. Esparza (she/her) is a life coach and motivational speaker based out of Marietta, Georgia. Adding to her repertoire of accomplishments, Natalie is set to become the author of her first book late this April.

With her work titled, “Spectacle: Discovering a Vibrant Life Through the Lens of Curiosity”, along with Esparza’s occupations, one may be inclined to stereotypically assume that this is just another self-help guide like the rest of them. That is not the case by any means.

Esparza takes an incredibly intuitive, yet easily comprehensible route in giving perspective on systemic, stigmatized issues including religion, mental health, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. Natalie dives deep into her past (and present) involving her recovery from an abusive relationship, navigating diagnosed depression, and addressing her intertwining trauma. Throughout this journey, Esparza also partakes in the much-needed examination of her pansexual identity, shedding further light on Queer existence and her individual marginalization.

Natalie’s request to all when taking in this particular work is also the main theme that encapsulates Esparza’s story beautifully: Question everything. Question traditions, question social norms, and most importantly, question yourself in a healthy manner. Esparza emphasizes her firm belief that curiosity towards life as a whole is what ultimately nurtures the internal and external fruits that self-exploration brings. Personally, I couldn’t agree more.

I got to speak with Natalie over Zoom and asked her questions about what led her to write “Spectacle”, the experiences that prompted the work, and what people can expect when reading this modern spin on viewing your life as solely your own, and improving your overall emotional and mental well-being.

What made you decide that the specific theme of curiosity was going to be what is now your first official book?

When I was little, one of my nicknames growing-up was “Señorita pregunta” which is “Miss Question” in Spanish. I used to ask questions all the time and it would drive my church leaders and teachers crazy. Though I was often shut-down, I always had this pattern of being curious and asking questions. My questions ultimately should have been “allowed” to be asked. This transitioned into my adulthood towards subjects that I had questions about, but for some reason couldn’t be discussed. Subjects that needed to be addressed.

I want to be a part of having these important conversations about mental health, about the LGBTQ+ community, about sexuality in general. When we go to networking meetings we ask the typical things like, “What’s your name, where do you work, what do you do?” But I like to ask questions that aren’t asked regularly like, “What are you passionate about? How did you get to the role you’re in now?” Just something that’s a little more personal.

Two main things I asked myself when writing this book on curiosity were, “What were some significant times in my life where I was curious?” and “What was the reaction of the public to my curiosity?” I wanted to express my growth with curiosity as a tool rather than something that should be punished.

Without giving too much away, how did you come to the conclusion of “Spectacle” as the book’s title?

Creating the title was one of the hardest things about making this book. For a long time, the book was called, “Curiosity”. But I felt that was just so generic and unattractive.

It ended up being a double entendre. In Chapter One of the book, I talk about my first experience with glasses and how I had no idea how blind I was, and how when I finally got glasses my entire world changed. I use that metaphor throughout the book of how I thought the world functioned in one way, and then once I got glasses everything got more vibrant and clearer.

The very last epigraph of the very last chapter, this double entendre comes forward again with the title and brings the book full circle.

Not to give too much away.

Why is it important to you that people understand the importance of validating and uplifting Queer mental health?

I talk about two different experiences in the book that directly relate to this.

The first was when I was younger, I struggled because I was raised religious but had same-sex attraction. I had to bring this up with a youth crisis center because this struggle resulted in self-harm. I connected the two together and wanted to seek help. I didn’t talk about my sexual orientation for months during this program, but then I finally brought it up.

While all these other kids were dealing with substance abuse problems like drugs and alcohol and were received with love, understanding, healing, and curiosity, I was shut down mid-group meeting for bringing up my Queerness. When I tried to speak again on it, the group leader just called on another kid to speak. She later invited me to her house the next day to talk one-on-one and it ended being a bunch of people trying to pray over me in her backyard because of my sexual orientation without my consent. That’s just “Exhibit A” of how my identity was addressed spiritually or religiously.

I didn’t realize how traumatized I was by that incident until I wrote this book. It was one of the things I had blocked from my life and then recalled when putting the stepping stones together of how I realized I was Queer. I wish my mental health was taken seriously as a Queer person. I was told I was a sinner and that it was just a phase, which I hate. All of the typical jargon that gets thrown at you.

The second was when I was 22 years old and I discovered the Unitarian Universalist Church. The first time I went to a Unitarian Church they had a Pride flag out front. I was nervous because it looked like a traditional Christian church, but during the service, they had Tibetan singing bowls, Buddhist prayer, and a female minister. It was great. I learned that not only did the Church have an immigrant task force where they dealt with I.C.E. and matters like that, but also an LGBTQ+ task force. It felt like I was in a different universe. I came out to them right then and there as pansexual.

It’s really important to normalize our Queer community and see ourselves reflected in society more. Queer people are still second-class; a taboo subject instead of human beings. I wish mental health was talked about more openly because I would have realized earlier in my life that I was chronically depressed since I was 12 years old. I started anti-depressants in January of 2020. Since mental health is stigmatized, I thought medication was a “never do it” or a “temporary last resort” option. My doctor finally convinced me to try them and I now feel more like myself. I realized this is how human beings are supposed to feel.

Queer mental health is important because, yes, we struggle with things like depression like anyone else, but it’s a whole other layer that a lot of people who aren’t Queer will probably never understand. Our identity as a person is called into question in a lot of different areas of society that a lot of people don’t experience.

Have there been any significant changes towards how your view life trauma from when you began to sit down and write this book to now that it’s completely written?

I actually didn’t recognize this until very recently, but trauma used to live in my bones. It’s hard to put words to it other than that. It was there, but it was blocked, or it was something to ignore. Writing this book was really an opportunity to transmute my trauma into something positive and help other people not feel alone.

A lot of the reason I wrote this book was that I wanted to be something for someone that I didn’t have growing up. I wanted to show people the messiness of life. A lot of us pretend like everything is fine even when we’re not, and when we aren’t fine apparently something is “wrong” with us. The spectrum of human emotion exists for a reason.

It’s not like my trauma is gone obviously. But writing this book unlocked something inside of me to let the trauma sit in the book instead of me; then let it go. But our interview right now is also right after I finished the book, so you would have to ask me that question again in a year.

Is there anything else you would like to let people know about your book or any other of your endeavors?

Yes. “Spectacle” is coming out in late April. I’m also looking for podcasts to share my book on. So if you’re reading this and have or know of a podcast that would like to interview me, please go to my website to contact me because I would love to come on.

I want to keep talking about these issues so people know more about them. When I first started writing this book, I thought no one was going to read it. Almost like it was just for me. Just for the cathartic processing of my trauma, and it’ll just live as a single book on a shelf. Then as my beta-readers and reviewers were reading it, I saw it was touching people in a way that I never expected because I am so vulnerable in the book.

I’m excited about what change it could create. I’m just one person. The fact that it could have that type of impact is really cool.

As stated, “Spectacle” is set to publish in late April. To contact Natalie or to find out how you can get your own copy of the book, visit Natalie’s website.

To learn more about LGBTQ+ mental health, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) LGBTQ+ information page. Rosemary Donahue (she/they) also explains in her published Them. article her personal experience with Queer-focused therapy, which I believe summarizes the need for so as a whole very well.

Examples of LGBTQ+ counseling organizations include Cerebral, Pride Counseling, the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN), and Latinx Therapy. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is also always here to help.

Available at any time, the TrevorLifeline exists to assist LGBTQ+ youth and young adults struggling with suicidal ideation via chat or text, as well as over the phone at 1–866–488–7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline team is also available to help at 1–800–273–8255.

You are loved.

Democratic socialist Queer rights activist who is sexually liberated and uplifts mental health. Email me: mthm100@gmail.com

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