The #Shame Inside Us

Trans people, as a generalization that applies across most of them, have a great deal of shame about themselves, about being trans, and about the very process they have to negotiate to solve many of those issues.

Being trans, we are told from our earliest memories — not directly, by example, by correction, by television and commercials and jokes and even cartoons and the very toys we buy — is shameful.  It is a wrongness, a bad thing, and something that only freaks, weirdos, and undesirables “get involved with”.

As we grow, we are fed tales of misery and woe, we hear about how love is lost, how jobs never come about, how life for those doing this is terrible.

This comes into us in layer on layer on layer, each one thin, and, like a tree ring, each one slowly builds up the massive amount of concern about it, one that lies below the surface, that makes us wish instead of work, that makes us seek an easy way, that makes us want to rewrite and erase a history because it is wrong. It makes us say that we are in the wrong bodies, that God made a mistake, and when we hear that, we accept it even more. And we do hear it. And we do think it.

We are also taught — and, because we are told that being trans is shameful, we pay close attention — that men are this way and women are that way, and we are rewarded when we fit those molds and punished when we do not.  It comes from parents, from teachers, from peers, from books and movies and magazine and shipping and the clothes we wear and the things we talk about and the games we play and the world as a whole around us keeps reinforcing it each day, a hundred times a day in the way we speak and the way we are told we must behave and act and perform.

It sinks into us, dives deep into our core, delves and roots and makes itself at home in our hearts, our minds, our very flesh.

It informs our decisions, it stands out in how we talk, how we act, what we say and what we do, why we speak it and why we perform it.

It lives there, in the how and the what and the why of it all.

It is shame, and it is passed onto us with guilt and stigma and fear and worry and distrust and dislike.

It is used against us in photos and in politics. It is used against us in flame wars and within our own communities.  It is held up as a truth in order to divide us and overcome us and overwhelm us and make us go away and stop and end and not be.

A few days ago, I posted a bingo card. Everything on it is related to internalized shame and stigma, and yet, like so many others, it can be used as a tool to see how it is applied against us.

It is unflinching. It is uncomfortable.  It is harsh and it is something that everyone will disagree with but in the end it is all based in the shame that we feel for ourselves, and the shame that we feel for those who are around us, and the shame that we look into.

People do not live well with shame. It is a form of ostracism, and it burns, and it hurts, and it breaks people. And what makes it worse is that there are some valid uses for it.

For criminals. For those who harm others. For those who kill and steal and beat and abuse.

These are not the things that Transness does.

It is hard to escape. It is hard to overcome.  It is not a safe thing — it is safer to live within the rules laid out for you and it is safer to hide that which is shameful and it is safer to pretend that you are not part of that which is attacked by shame and it is safer to say that you are “past” that shame, that you are no longer a part of it.

It is a painful thing. You have to see yourself, and because of that shame we do a great deal of contorting to not see ourselves and that is made even worse by the way that transness tells us we are what others tell us so often is shameful.

We hear people claim that we “hate” our bodies and parts of our bodies and that by doing so we cause harm to entire classes of people.

We do not hate our bodies, really, But we are told we do. Told so many times that we start to believe it, told by our peers and our doctors and our helpers and all the rest.

We do not hate these things — they are part of us that is not how we need it to be. It is not a matter of should be, or would be, or could be, it is a matter of this part does not belong there.

On us.

Not on other people.

That is a pernicious lie, as well, as it self repeats, and it is echoed among us and when others ask us they lead us into that path and it is so deeply buried in us already that we do not always see it as we bring it forth until it is too late.

Ostracism kills people. It hurts them, physically. It is an act of violence against another person, a form of abuse.  It is a way of exerting power over another, an act of aggressive oppression that when repeated day in and day out for 40 years crushes will and hope and desire and dreams and leaves something that is bitter and angry and depressed.

 Endured for a long time, ostracism leaves people feeling depressed and worthless, resigned to loneliness or desperate for attention—in extreme cases, suicidal or homicidal.

It erases one’s sense of being part of something:

Belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful recognition are under attack.

It fosters a sense of resentment and frustration and anger and that becomes rage and that creates more harm:

Next comes the “coping” stage, when people figure out how to “improve their inclusionary status.” They pay attention to every social cue; they cooperate, conform, and obey. If belonging is a lost cause, they look to regain control. In extreme cases, “they may try to force people to pay attention.” For instance, a 2003 analysis of school shootings found that 13 of the 15 perpetrators had been ostracized.

 It is abuse. Abuse that starts as a child and continues on a daily basis, an hourly basis, and is present in everything around us, in everything we do, we say, we think, we feel, we dream, we hope.

It is even inside us by the time we are 16, deeply ingrained, deeply heartfelt, and we will look to other possibilities first. Perhaps we are just gay. Maybe we are just a lesbian.

Perhaps we are this or that and if I do that or this I can be “fixed”.

Because we need to be fixed. Fixing something that is broken or wrong, an idea that comes, in and of itself, from that stigma that we are exposed to, that shame that follows us, that effort to ostracize and teach us how not to be trans people.

How Not To Be.

how to not exist.

And we are extreme cases, and worse, it is not merely the pressure to not be trans that we deal with, it is the pressure of a system that works so damned well for everyone else. forcing us even further out.  How do you tell parents that they are abusing their child when it is not seen as abuse?

When the whole world around them says what they are doing is good and righteous and proper.

It is easier to raise them well than to try to fix them later.

because there is something wrong with them, and they need to be fixed. To be corrected. To be changed to work with all others.

And who the fuck cares what they think that should look like or be like.

We know better than those poor broken people.  We are doctors and lawyers and therapists and theoreticians. We are Authority and pwoer and we know their lives better than them and since they are not like us they must be broken, must be wrong, must be in need of fixing, of correcting of changing.

And how can we argue when we do say that’s what we want, and we are so desperate for it we will say and do anything to make it happen? You say I am broken and so I can have surgery?  Yay!  I shall be broken for you so you can help me be what I have always known I am — not broken, just needing a little help from a world that casts me out to live my life.

I have heard it said that people get SRS or GRS or whatever term you want in order to have sex.

I scratch my head at that.  I don’t have a driving need there for it in order to have a fuckhole. I have it because when I step out of the shower I am in tears from touching an alien thing, a strangeness, an attached manifestation of everything that is wrong with me, as I have been told my whole life.

But I am also a realist.  Sex matters, all right. I enjoy sex.  I would like to engage in it in a way that doesn’t bring me to tears or cause me to be depressed for a week afterwards. But that’s me, and I don’t usually talk about how other people feel about sex with them because when we do talk about it and someone overhears, we are told that that is wrong and gross and that *for us* sex is not allowed.

Because we do not belong, we do not count, we are delusional and crazy and batshit insane. We are the problem, the challenge the difficulty, the bargaining chip.

Ostracism kills. Stigma kills. Shame kills.

We do not leave notes when we kill ourselves most of the time.  You do not see that in TV shows and police procedurals. We just die.

To us, death is the escape, the release, and so many of us hope that there is something after this because if this is all, then this really fucking sucks because we’ve been told all our lives that we really fucking suck.

And as this is abuse, and it is abuse that starts in our childhoods and continues into our adulthoods, each hour settling deeper and deeper into the totality that is our own sense of who we are and what we are and how we are and why we are and where we are that it touches all of that, in many ways, and it colors our thinking, our perception, our actions, our habits, our behaviors.

It increases the likelihood of HIV and other STDs. It increases the chance of never talking or telling anyone about it, and not being tested.

It increases the likelihood of seeking validation and affirmation in sex, thus creating a portal to promiscuity.

It creates a greater chance of substance abuse and addiction.

And it is ignored because to the world, child abuse in only rape. Is only ever sexual. So let us, instead, call it the thing that people will hear it as: Child neglect.

Because we are trans people, and our transness means that when we are raised as anyone else, we are deeply affected by it, we are harmed by it, and since people will overlook it, pretend it does not happen, it is child neglect.

Neglect. The looking over, the passing over, the Ostracism of children, the hurting of them.

We are Damaged, but we are still very good.

The science is already there.

But because trans people are told we do not belong, we are also told we do not belong in this science. We are told that we are crazy and delusional and confused and too young to understand and too young to know and we are told that we cannot know that and we cannot see that.

Yet we do.

And we know what the long term consequences are.  There is a great deal of knowledge on this.

 Experiencing child abuse and neglect may lead to adverse physical, cognitive, psychological, behavioural or social consequences in adulthood.

How many trans people do you know are often sick and depressed?

How many trans people do you know react inappropriately to people saying things about them?

 Adults with a history of child abuse and neglect are more likely to have physical health problems and chronic pain symptoms. Research indicates that adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect have more health problems than the general population, including diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, headaches, gynecological problems, stroke, hepatitis and heart disease (Felitti et al., 1998; Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2009; Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007). In a review of recent literature, Sachs-Ericsson et al. (2009) found that a majority of studies showed that adult survivors of childhood abuse had more medical problems than non-abused counterparts. Using survey data from over 2,000 middle-aged adults in a longitudinal study in the United States, Springer et al. (2007) found that child physical abuse predicted severe ill health and several medical diagnoses, including heart and liver troubles and high blood pressure. Some researchers suggest that poor health outcomes in adult survivors of child abuse and neglect could be due to the impact early life stress has on the immune system or to the greater propensity for adult survivors to engage in high-risk behaviours (e.g., smoking, alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour) (Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2009; Watts-English, Fortson, Gilber, Hooper, & De Bellis, 2006).

Read that.  This is what our own shame does to us.

Every day.

You want to know what that bingo card is so painful, why I say that these internecine fights within the community about who is and who isn’t, why I say that some people are job security?

Read that.

Understand this.

Know this.

Trans people are the adult survivors of childhood neglect. And when people like Rose Verbena or Elizabeth Hungerford of Maggie Gallagher say things about us, they are perpetuating that neglect, that harm, that evil

that evil

that malign, malevolent will

and we are being killed it by it.  We are being hurt by it. Literally.

It Does Not Matter How Slight The Slight.

 Mental health problems associated with past histories of child abuse and neglect include personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis (Afifi, Boman, Fleisher, & Sareen, 2009; Chapman et al., 2004; McQueen et al., 2009; Springer et al., 2007). Depression is one of the most commonly occurring consequences of past abuse or neglect (Kendall-Tackett, 2002). In an American representative study based on the National Co-morbidity Survey, adults who had experienced child abuse were two and a half times more likely to have major depression and six times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder compared to adults who had not experienced abuse (Afifi et al., 2009).

Think about this, please.

Dwell on this.

I have. I restructured the programs and things that the organization I run engages in with this stuff in mind, to combat it. It takes a great deal, a “holistic” approach, a whole being way of dealing with things and you have to do it in a way that does not force people so that makes it even more difficult. And this is why what TIH does works.

If there was a secret to how it is that we can help so many people, it is that. We recognize this. Not just on an intellectual level, not just as dry theory, but as a day-to-day practicality.

This is why I support the work of my friend. She works to stop this. So that eventually, trans people will not be neglected as children. Because when they aren’t, then none of this happens.

They avoid the dangers and the problems and the troubles and they even escape most of the internalized stigma.

And we have to start in ridding this shame, this stigma, this horribleness by starting inside ourselves, first.

If we don’t, then we reinforce it in others.

We need to find out own words and language for things, we have to come up with ways that say we are not wrong or bad or in need fo being fixed.

We have to do that. Other’s cannot do that for us. They are already invested in things as they are.

And also, we have to remember that this isn’t always on purpose, that for the most part people do it because they have been taught the same things we were taught, and that they are willing to change most of the time, willing to take the time to not ostracize us and not shame us and not use the entirety of what has been used against us our whole lives.

There will always be some who do use it, who shame us, who ostracize us, who say that we do not belong in their spaces.

It matters not that all they need to do is say that this is a space only for cis women.  No, they have to defend themselves by sayign why and that why always has to include that shame and that animus and that aversion and that anxiety about us that is dependent on the idea that we are broken people, that we are dangerous people, that we are wrong people, that we are bad people.

That we should not be.

Me, I say that we should be.

I say that what we are brings greatness to the world.

That our lives have profound meaning.  That our adventures and our journeys can teach and grow and help others.

Because I do not see us as broken.

We do not need to be fixed, I say.

We are not crazy, I say.

We are real, and we will Be.

We exist.

I exist.

I am damaged by my past, but I am also very, very good, and all they have to do is look to see it.

I say let them.

So I do.