TW: This post deals with trauma in the discussion of suicide/physical abuse/emotional abuse. Please practice self care. I love you, I support you. <3
It’s been a while! It feels so good to be writing like this again. Today’s post comes from thoughts on my personal family structure. I realize that trauma in communities of those who are oppressed peoples is normalized. Consider first, the lingering unaddressed trauma of the enslaved, then the unaddressed trauma of reconstruction, the Great Migration and onward and upward that continues on today. Am I saying that reactions to that trauma is valid? No. I’m simply saying, consider the source and then seek truth and peace and accountability from actions that are related to trauma. Today’s post is about my own search for balance while standing in multiple crooked rooms, and how I am learning that support rather than separation is a powerful healing tool. Influence from today’s post comes from the 1990 film, Paris is Burning about Queer/Trans, black/brown fierceness in Harlem, NY. This post is dedicated to the QTPOC Ancestors.
I come from a close circle of narcissistic behavior. I am not a narcissist, due to constant accountability and emotional labor, but I do come from it and thus understand it at a very intrinsic level. The trauma of not “being enough” lives in my bones as a womxn descended of black and brown oppressed peoples who were never “enough” for the perceived “greater society”. Lately, I’ve been engaging thoroughly with the idea that within black and brown womxn identified people, there is unrest, there is something about “true community” that doesn’t always translate and at the same time translates like no other. This stumped me growing up. In subtle moments, I would see womxn side eye each other or throw unnecessary shade and I wondered why. In family, I sometimes see toxic behavior that translates to a meanness that seems uncalled for. Why does my shine, mean your demise? Well, I sought out not only the influence of womxn before me, but my own childhood in response.
As a young girl, somehow, there would always be a sense of comparison with other black and brown womxn, regardless of it it was my own mother or aunts or people around me. The most comparison that I felt, came from black and brown womxn in church functions and I came to hate religious spaces because of it.
“Well, Charlotte got an A. Why didn’t you?”
“Lisa looks great in that dress. What’d you wear that for?”
“Mmmm, look at that girl’s skirt. She’s so fast. Good thing you don’t hang out with her.”
I internalized the competition, the homophobia, the politics of respectable behavior and I didn’t know it, but it came from a profound sense of insecurity. Black and brown womxn are constantly told that we are not enough, that our very existence is wrong. Some of the ways that we seem to “fight” it is by turning inward on ourselves. “Well if I’m not enough, then you can’t be either.” I didn’t know why or how to fix this and I spent years being unhappy in my own skin and self because I could never, would never be “good enough”. This is also coming from a person who got every award, who seemed to be so loved and hold such promise and inside, I was dying because although everyone talked to me, no one spoke with me.
I haven’t talked about it much, but I am a survivor of multiple attempted suicide. I am a survivor of a self harm addiction. I say that for context, not pity. In my young brain, if I couldn’t be “good enough” no matter what I did, then why was I here? I lived my youth as a large lie. I became good at lying. I told no one about my experiences with sexual assault or my attraction to same sex, difference sex and varying gendered individuals. I didn’t talk about not identifying with a gendered ideal, thus being non-binary. I didn’t speak about anything that wasn’t “nice”. I learned to hide inside of myself. Suicide is something that many black people think isn’t a “black” thing. I’ve heard it called “stupid, over-reacting, dumb, nonsense”etc. The thing about suicide regardless of what you think, is that it is real. It is affecting the black community and is mostly affecting young black queer/trans teens. What it really is, is a lack of support, a lack of worked through trauma.
Academics love to look at where trauma comes from and as one myself, I can’t say that I don’t catch myself being caught up in the where, how, who, why, and when of the past. But what about the actualization of the present? What does trauma look like? How does trauma manifest itself in our bodies?
I remember the first time I ever watched the film, Paris is Burning. I was in college in a Queer Afro Studies course and we were assigned the film over the weekend. I sat with a glass of wine and some french fries from the dining hall, curled up in bed. I sat, cried, laughed, gagged, and lived on the fierceness. I had found what I had been searching for in QTPOC Ancestry. I found representation. I found art. I found music of soul. It hurt me that so many of these wonderful womxn were no longer with us, but instead guide us from the spirit realm. Where had society failed them? How could I be apart of something that did better to support QTPOC lives? I loved the presentation of “respectability” in performance and then the feeling of family that came about from the struggle of black queer womxnhood.
“Respectable behavior” is a set of particular trauma that holds fast to its roots in white supremacy. Black and brown people wanted to be as far away from animalistic behavior as possible. We would become the colonists themselves in their proper attire. We would be better than even the best. The problem is that, isolation from human feeling means being a robot. Since we are not that, we loose our sanity. When I say that I don’t subscribe to the respectability politics, I mean that not all human emotion is pleasant. One thing that human is, is real. It’s problematic, fraught and deals with true investment in the balance.
My relationships with black and brown womxn have been fraught, mostly because I loved and hated them at the same time as I did with myself. After all, weren’t we in competition with each other? Only one of us could “make it”. But the thing is, there’s more than enough room for all of us. So really, what were we fighting for? This ideology? Where did the ideology come from? Trauma. Anything built on a foundation of trauma cannot and will not stand. The thing about taking one step outside of the box is that soon, one realizes that there’s a whole world that was missing from being inside one small box.
I’m learning now, that family is what you choose and that loving self, permits me to love family more openly and honestly. Family is the good, the bad, the ugly, the honest, the dishonest, the striving for more. Over a series of months, and years, I’ve started to cultivate a healthy family. Some are blood related, most not. Most are queer and of color because representation is important and because we all come from a background of strong silence, of being failed by a larger society, but of making it through.
For my young black and brown queers out there. For my young black and brown people who step outside of the box. Be fluid. Be you. Make it through. There’s a world waiting for you. It won’t always be easy and it definitely won’t be perfect. Find your family. Find that your Paris is Burning.
Catherine Speaks Xx