What do you do when childhood trauma makes you close off from the care you need to heal it?
Love is often prescribed to queer folks as a remedy for our trauma, but what do we do when our trauma means we struggle to receive it?
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My parents love me more than anyone else ever has, and they still haven’t loved me enough. I have never loved anyone as much as my parents love me, and I still resent them for the moments when they don’t show care. For their queerantagonism. Their gender policing. Love should be an endless storm, me a ship sank so deep underneath its torrents that I will never be discovered. But I always feel so exposed under the waves of other people’s love, like my broken sails are constantly bobbing up out of the surface while I attempt to catch my breath, because no one has taught me how to hold it.
I pride myself on how well I read other people, but this is really just as fake as any other pride I have claimed this month. As fake as any gender-bending look I will put on while still answering to “he/him” pronouns, pretending I’m not afraid that the maleness with which I don’t identify will always be identified with me unless I spend my whole life running from everything associated with it. I don’t want to spend my whole life running from anything, but no one has taught me how to be queer without doing so. I am doing all of this without a manual, and so I must take precautions. Sometimes, I feel like I only write so I can remember what not to do next time. Like all the ignorant shit I’ve published in the past will help me try something less ignorant now. I hate writing.
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I am always reading into other people because it’s easier than reading into my own thoughts and actions. I was sure my cousin stopped writing me back from prison because I finally told him I was queer, but when he did respond weeks later he explained that it was just because he was experiencing the torture of solitary confinement. My mother FaceTimed me while I was babysitting for a friend the other day, and as soon as she saw the baby she told me that she wanted to talk with me about my childhood sexual assault when I’m ready.
I am still convinced she was alarmed to see me caring for another child when I’d been so broken by a monster in my own childhood and am now so visibly, gender-bendingly queer, which to her is monstrous too. I’ll never ask her, but I am confident in this reading of my mother. I’ll never talk with her about my childhood sexual assault because I’ll never be ready, but I lied and told her we can talk about it soon. I know that shit is ignorant. I know I suspect that care is disguised as something more insidious more often than I should. I am working on it.
I am working on a lot of shit in therapy. In fact, I have two therapists, but I don’t tell them everything. I haven’t gotten a good enough read on my personal therapist yet to trust him with either of the things I just told you about my cousin or my mother. He tells me all the time it’s okay to make ignorant mistakes and I’m not always wrong and I did the right thing, and I feel like that’s caring but I also feel like that’s bullshit. I feel like I’ve made too many ignorant mistakes already and that shit I did to my partner will never not be fucked up and I do queerness wrong all the time. I don’t trust you either, but at least I am removed enough that you can’t bullshit me.
When I post my personal shit online, I don’t just avoid the comments, I often avoid the internet entirely. Sometimes, I think I avoid the support and encouragement even more than the arguments or insults.
After I got into a fight last week because some straight nigga didn’t appreciate the concept of my queerness, I wrestled with myself about posting about it. But I’m trying to do better at being vulnerable so I finally decided to. Everyone kept asking if I was okay and it all felt genuine but that only made it worse because no one ever taught me what to do with a genuine thing. I’d never tell them that I wasn’t okay because I’ll never be ready to face what happens after being submerged in such disastrous honesty, so I lied and said, “yes” to all 50 people who texted and DMd. I never answered any calls.
I pride myself on how well I read into other people because it gives me an excuse not to trust them. I don’t trust people because no one can ever love me like my parents did, and my parents still fucked me up. But my pride also gives me an excuse not to trust myself because I still don’t love me like my parents did, since my parents fucked me up. It’s a fucking vicious cycle that I’ve spent my whole life running along, never getting much closer to what I really need.
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Maybe there is no such thing as “enough love.” Maybe there is just love, in all its messy, painful complexity. Maybe love is not supposed to fix a person, and I’ve been running in circles instead of facing the bullshit because all I’ve been looking for is a fix. Something that feels good. Air to breathe. I need to believe that it’s okay to be submerged. It’s okay to be hurt. It’s okay for my parents to have made mistakes, not just to hear it from my therapist. I need to believe that it’s okay to tell people how to care for me if they don’t know how but genuinely want to, but I don’t completely yet.
I often hear love and care prescribed to queer folks as a remedy for our trauma, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I prescribe it all the time because I think it necessary we care for each other better. But I don’t believe we talk enough about what to do when care is given but your trauma means you struggle to receive it. Care doesn’t always feel like a remedy when you’ve been conditioned to run from it. Sometimes it feels like drowning. Writing this feels like drowning too. But I am learning, ever so slowly, how to hold my breath.