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.