On self-hate and becoming someone else

Warning: emo post full of sadness!

I keep reading this post by Crash Chaos Cats. The paragraph I’m particularly interested in is this one, but of course, the entire post is fantastic.

“It is so hard to face trauma that hurt you bad enough it made you want to become another person, that actually did make you into another person, split off and wrapped around the one who got hurt. It is much harder than transitioning. I know because I’ve done both. Transition was hard. Detransitioning has been so much harder. The only thing I can compare it to is working through my mom’s suicide. So when I look at how painful it was, it makes sense to me that some people aren’t going to be able to stand that pain or go into it. Not cuz they’re weak or not as strong or smart as me or other detransitioned women. Not because they’re inferior in any way but because this world is fucking dangerous and facing your trauma opens you up, makes you vulnerable, makes you feel. It can make you feel ripped open and if you’re already protecting yourself from a society that wants to rip you up, you might not be able to go there. You need some degree of safety and security to face trauma and not fall to shit. So if you’re not safe or you’re not feeling safe enough, you can’t afford to let go of your coping mechanism cuz it could literally be your survival that’s at stake.”

I’ve been thinking about that first sentence, the part where trauma makes you become another person in order to protect the person who was hurt. That sort of happened to me one time. I don’t have PTSD, but I did go through a period of severely hating myself and I actually began to grow a new personality during that time. I will talk about that a little further down.

I read the above paragraph by Crash to my partner, and she nodded in agreement all the way through. We started talking about what little girls learn that makes them upset about being girls and scared of growing into women. Girls are told “You can’t do that because you’re a girl” on a regular basis. Girls also see how their mothers are treated—how they have to do twice as much work as men and yet still earn less money than they do.

My partner remembers being a little tomboy and wearing just shorts with no shirt in the summer. The boys told her she couldn’t do that because she was a girl. She tried to go swimming at the community pool with no top, and she was told to wear a girl’s bathing suit with a top next time. She remembers feeling upset about it—the boys got to do things that girls didn’t get to do. She learned that she had to modify her behavior to avoid harassment from boys. She also recalls generally feel ostracized and alienated from her peers, including lots of the girls. She started falling in love with girls as a kid, and she started thinking that she was really a boy. She wanted to take drama class in high school but didn’t because she couldn’t play a female role in a play and she didn’t think she’d be allowed to play a male role. She says it took until her mid-twenties to embrace her identity as a butch lesbian.

There is a reason why my partner totally gets what Crash was saying even though she’s never transitioned. That’s because Crash is describing being a butch or nonconforming lesbian in a patriarchy. Whether or not someone transitions will depend on her circumstances and how alienated she feels from her body. My partner grew up before the Internet, so she wasn’t indoctrinated into the religion of gender identity. She came out into a thriving lesbian community that embraced her as a lesbian. Every generation of lesbians needs and deserves a thriving lesbian community. Not a “queer” community that is inclusive of straight people and men with sexual fetishes, and that teaches lesbians that they’re not women, but a lesbian community. My partner would have met the criteria for gender identity disorder when she was a kid, but look what happened—she survived girlhood and grew into a lesbian. Not without any struggling of course.

I have written about being ostracized as a kid in this post. I was a typical girl in many ways (I wasn’t a butch or a tomboy) but my peers consistently found something wrong with me—I never could understand why. It felt very much like the kids at school had all gotten together and voted on what kinds of behaviors and clothes were “cool” and then not sent me the memo. I constantly felt like I was breaking rules that I had never actually been told existed. I didn’t understand their arbitrary social rules and I failed at them constantly. I learned early on that I was some sort of weirdo.

So getting back to that point about forming a new personality because of self-hate. (Time for a Sad Story!) Once upon a time, I was a 21-year-old working abroad for a summer and living with a large group of young adults. I’m not going to say exactly what the job was due to the need to stay anonymous. For two months I was in an insulated environment staying with the same people. Of course, we were segregated by sex for sleeping arrangements and washrooms and I was with the other women. I was just in the process of coming out, and I was scared of the feelings I could no longer deny. I felt like there was something wrong with me and I felt like I didn’t belong with the other women. I believed that the reason the men were separate from the women was because they’re attracted to women, and since I was attracted to women, that made me like the men. My thinking was that if the men didn’t belong in women’s spaces then neither did I.

So I had internalized homophobia, and then I developed a second problem. After a few days of being there, the lesbians in the group all found each other. There were about a half a dozen of us. All of them except me were extroverts and really fun people who were always acting like they were comics on a stage, saying hilarious stuff and getting laughs from people. I’m an introvert and a thinker and a dreamer—I can’t think of witty comments on the spot, and I can’t entertain people (unless they’re people who like to read feminist blogs.) When I feel uncomfortable in a group I get even quieter and even more awkward. I didn’t get along with any other lesbians at that job. I felt alienated from the straight people and like I didn’t belong with them, and then I was alienated from the lesbians too. They only paid attention to me when they thought I had done something dorky, and they pointed and laughed. When I wasn’t serving as a joke in their comedy routine, they ignored me. Not only was this painful, but it brought back all the feelings from my childhood, of being rejected and hated for no apparent reason. It was even more confirmation that I was some sort of weirdo. I completely internalized this—I wasn’t mature enough to realize that I was a worthy person regardless of what other people think and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, only something wrong with the way people were treating me. At age 21 I still thought like an adolescent and adolescents crave approval from their peers and they have a hard time when they don’t fit in. For several weeks, I was going around constantly fighting back tears. I was living on the verge of a crying fit 24/7 and just trying to hold myself together.

My internalized homophobia started snowballing. I hated that I was attracted to women, and I hated that the other lesbians hated me. That made it so much worse—being a “weirdo” and being hated even by the other “weirdos.” I hated that I wanted them so badly—wanted their approval and inclusion, and wanted the sexual pleasure they could have given me if they had wanted to. I hated the fact that I needed them. I didn’t want to need people who hated me. I had absolutely no one to talk to about this.

I had a previous history of depression and I had been taught meditation. I understood that I needed to sit quietly and pay attention to my feelings and try to find some self-acceptance. But when I tried to listen to my Inner Self, my Inner Self said “Fuck off, I’m not talking to you because you hate me.” I couldn’t get in touch. And my self-hate seemed to solidify, and I stopped being me. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but my personality started to shift. I started to become the person I thought other people wanted of me. I became a fake extrovert. I started acting all wild and crazy. People noticed a change in me and generally they preferred the fake me to the real me. By the end of my time there I was a different person, and I stayed that different person for a while. I went back to university that fall still living in my fake personality. That was fun for a while but I was one setback away from a mental breakdown. The mental breakdown occurred in the form of another lesbian rejection. I completely lost it and the floodgate opened. My distress was so obvious that one of my university professors took me aside and told me I needed to get help. I found myself sitting and staring at a bottle of pills one night wondering if I should take them all. I finally did get help.

There were so many terrible beliefs about myself living in my head. I believed that being a lesbian in a women’s dorm automatically made me a sex offender, even though I had no desire to assault or harm anyone, and I believed I was stupid on many levels and basically worthless. If that’s the way I felt, I can’t imagine how it feels when on top of all that you’ve been told your whole life that you aren’t a real woman because of your personality and appearance. And when everyone is promoting the idea that there is a simple fix—you were meant to be a man all along—that will feel like exactly the solution.

But building a fake persona in order to escape from pain doesn’t work. Sure, it might work as a coping mechanism in the sense that it allows you to get through another day, but it doesn’t take the pain away. Underneath the performance of mannerisms and appearance that make the people around you happy is still the traumatized woman who still has never been told that she’s okay the way she is. She still needs to know that she’s okay. She’s not wrong or bad, she’s perfect and whole and beautiful. There is nothing wrong with her, there is only something wrong with the way people have treated her.

Some women will never be able to deal with their trauma, because they are never in a position of safety, and opening the floodgates will release more than they can handle dealing with. Some women will need their coping mechanisms forever. One of the ways that women can find safety is in women-only feminist political spaces. Many lesbians report being saved by Michfest. The people who work to destroy female-only political spaces are doing the work of anti-feminism and they are hurting women, whether they know it or not.

I can’t tell anyone how to deal with body dysphoria, because I don’t have it. But I do know how to deal with general self-hate. The only way to deal with self-hate is to learn to love and appreciate yourself as you are. Becoming someone else won’t work.

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15 thoughts on “On self-hate and becoming someone else

  1. ((Hugs)) I’m glad you were able to work your way out of the bad mental place, and I agree with you about coping mechanisms. That’s why a lot of people cling so tightly to behaviors and ideas that aren’t actually solving their problems in the long term. The term sounds sort of dismissive, doesn’t it? But it shouldn’t. Saying that something is a coping mechanism indicates that the person with it is struggling to cope, so compassion is the appropriate response rather than snark. There has to be a way to say “this is not ultimately going to be a solution, it’s just a way to keep your head above water for now” without the undertone of “you’re weak and shouldn’t need this”.

    On the criteria for being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, how many of us would have met those as kids? The only one I didn’t meet was declaring oneself to actually be a boy, and I didn’t even grow up to be a lesbian. Given the way a child’s mind works I can see why little girls who’re exclusively attracted to other girls and also chafing at all the restrictions placed on them would come to the conclusion that they were just meant to be a boy. If I can see it, why can’t every single person working in the psych profession? Do you need to be a radical feminist to see it? It’s starting to look that way, because liberal feminists clearly don’t see it, even though some of them were tomboys who were constantly pushing against the social constructs as children too.

    The fact that so many people are enthusiastically embracing the idea of innate gender roles (and justifying that as, well, it’s not like your sex matters because sex is a “spectrum”) is disheartening. Just when it seemed like we were finally getting past that point it kicked right back in again. The whole idea of gender identity is the new backlash, adapting to get around women’s attempts at resistance as it always has.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Also! The current trans discourse continually reinforces the idea that lesbians are predators who other women shouldn’t be comfortable having in their spaces. Why is this acceptable to even the wimpiest of libfems? It’s about as obviously a case of homophobia and misogyny as you could possibly come up with. Every time a trans activist makes that argument in support of the idea of bathroom/locker room access based on gender identity rather than sex and libfem supporters either agree or just go quiet I want to scream.

    Liked by 3 people

      • I don’t have any on hand, sorry. I’ve seen it come up multiple times in the comments on mainstream media articles about the bathroom wars, a trans activist saying “well you let lesbians in and they’re attracted to women” as if that was either the point or in any way the same thing as letting a man who’s attracted to women into the same space. I also see what appear to be MRAs dropping “look how high the domestic violence stats are for lesbians” comments on a lot of articles about male violence. Leveraging homophobia to support your argument that trans women deserve access to sex segregated spaces – super progressive, much “queer” unity.

        Liked by 4 people

    • It’s a kind of confirmation of rape culture, the idea that everybody who is attracted to women is at risk of wanting to rape us. It works to mask how rape culture is about normalizing men raping people.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I think the best response I’ve ever seen to the question of lesbians in locker rooms was following a recent question from a (presumably) male reporter who asked a member of the US Women’s soccer team ‘what conditions’ (I am using these words since I can’t recall the exact ones used) had been made for the players regarding having (and I do remember these words) “lesbians in the locker room.”

      Her eyes grew wide (perhaps at the audacity of the question) and it took her a beat or two before she answered, shaking her head and saying “it’s not a problem, that’s not a problem.” And that’s where she left it.

      From someone who should know: “It’s NOT A PROBLEM.”

      Liked by 4 people

  3. I thank you for this post. I’ve experienced self-hate (as well as body dysmorphia) and have really struggled when coming to terms with my own sexuality. It almost made me laugh to see how similar our stories are. I constantly feel as though I am not truly being myself, and yet when I try to be myself I am disliked by the people who I wish to connect with. On top of that this is also all happening as a 21 year old. Your post is a great read and helped me put everything into perspective. Thanks :).

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Also important to remember … the thing about women and self-harm, self-judgement, self-hatred, self-anything, is that its origin is not with the Self, it never was. It is judgement imposed from without, from patriarchy. The shapes of our Selves are wonderful, and are only distorted by the mirror that is forced in our faces. As you say, shattering that mirror is a very hard, and often dangerous, thing to do.

    I sometimes think the term self-‘fill-in-the-blank’ is another expression of ‘blame the victim’. It’s your Self who’s the ‘problem’ because you don’t fit in with what we (the patriarchy) say you are supposed to be.

    Like your partner I found my Self within a blatantly lesbian culture … that we had to fight for, sometimes on a daily basis … and the more I read of how lesbians are being actively denied this same community, the more I realise that the fight never ended … which is rather heart-rending, and is making me really, really angry.

    Liked by 6 people

    • “I sometimes think the term self-‘fill-in-the-blank’ is another expression of ‘blame the victim’. It’s your Self who’s the ‘problem’ because you don’t fit in with what we (the patriarchy) say you are supposed to be”

      So true.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post. I identify with some parts of your story quite strongly. Yes, we invent personas as survival mechanisms. I have an extrovert persona but I don’t really like using it, it’s wearying. It’s really impossible to be friends with people if you can’t be yourself much of the time.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks for this post Purplesagefem, you write so well! 🙂
    I find the following paragraph so powerful,

    ” … Some women will never be able to deal with their trauma, because they are never in a position of safety, and opening the floodgates will release more than they can handle dealing with.
    Some women will need their coping mechanisms forever.
    One of the ways that women can find safety is in women-only feminist political spaces.
    Many lesbians report being saved by Michfest.
    The people who work to destroy female-only political spaces are doing the work of anti-feminism and they are hurting women, whether they know it or not … ”

    We need to be around those who are like us. That is our precious connection with humanity that no one has the right to take from us.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It must have been so deeply disturbing and infuriating to meet other lesbians and their response to have been rejection. Incredibly confusing message, especially at that age.

    There are moments when I’m particularly down when I think back to how hard I have tried to be a person who fit in, and I still ask myself, “Why didn’t it work??” This statement: “People noticed a change in me and generally they preferred the fake me to the real me.” holds so so so much truth and so so so much danger. How many times do we nudge ourselves to just smile and nod a little more, just sit a little more properly, just agree and be lighthearted about things we actually deeply care about… and yet! It doesn’t work, it never works, it always exhausts us and tears us apart, even when people think we’re great. And then we’re left torn in two, on one hand valuing the social approval and on the other grieving the repression of our actual selves.

    It’s such a strange and mysterious thing, really, why our actual selves need to be expressed, need to be given space to be. We claim to have a society that puts value on individuality and uniqueness and yet it pushes so hard for conformity and so stubbornly against real personal expression that people just fall to pieces over it. Every story like this, so many stories like this. We gotta expand the spaces to just let ourselves be, with some kind of communal support for each other.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think it’s also worth considering whether lesbian kids experience an unusually high rate of trauma simply by virtue of being recognized as nonconforming, as different. Gender socialization is brutal and the corrective measures as well. This could make it on average more common for lesbian kids to have difficulty bonding, because they’d be acting out their own traumas, and that would get in the way.

      The same thing would apply to gay male kids, but they’d still have male privilege, which would change the dynamic some.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Your writing, especially when it’s so personal to you, is always thought-provoking, and I find I have to take a day or so to mull it over.

    I understand the need to take on a ‘different’ persona, it’s ultimately a survival mechanism. The woman who was known as ‘Sybil,’ diagnosed as having multiple personalities following severe childhood trauma comes to mind, an extreme example to be sure, and the patient later challenged the psychologist/author’s findings and dramatizations. Still, the premise holds, and dissociative identity disorder is the diagnosis used today.

    How many of us have ‘adapted’ to our circumstances, though, how many have grown up to be adults our child-selves would not recognize, working so hard to ‘fit in’ and be accepted that we would delete our natural personalities to do so? Looking back, I wondered if I ever took on a persona that was ‘not me,’ or did I merely amplify the parts that existed under the surface while muting the ‘real ones.’

    I can tell you that I’ve adapted my appearance, under the influence of my lover at the time, to one ‘less butch,’ because she was no longer comfortable with the implications of my ‘presentation.’ That should have been a warning but I missed it, and when I was alone again, I realized the extent of those changes, that they had tamped down not only my appearance but the parts of me that made me, unapologetically, who I was, and I had to work to reclaim my true self, to deprogram myself to conforming to what someone else, what Society in general, expected me to be.

    Did this ‘persona’ draw on something innate or was I just ‘performing?’ Did I change because I was doing it for myself or for someone else? Or both? I wanted to please my lover, I had no idea at the time that she was embarrassed to be seen with me in that new town, introducing me to her new friends, and the surreptitious changes were small but, over time, significant.

    I can honestly say that I had more of a mental struggle in returning to my former self than I did in reclaiming my appearance. It took me a long time to get past ‘what other people would think,’ about something I was going to say or do. It was a thought process that I had not considered since I was a teenager and even then had not spent much time on.

    Now, though, I am old enough to know that not making other people ‘comfortable’ with me is their issue, not mine, and I don’t go out of my way to persuade them otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s heartbreaking to hear that your lover wanted to you change to be more conforming. I’m going to diagnose her with internalized homophobia for that one! I love my partner and don’t want her to change anything, and if people give us looks, so be it. I’m proud to be with her and I’m proud to be a lesbian. May your next lover appreciate you one hundred per cent!

      Liked by 3 people

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