Shame, Pain, and Power

c2189-transgenderprideflagSo, Laverne Cox came and spoke at my school earlier this week, and I went and saw her speak. I won’t go into too much detail about that today, as I want to save it for next week when I have the pictures and have gone over everything a bit more. I do, however, want to address some of what she said, as it also applies to me and many trans people, and is something that my therapist and I discussed earlier today.

Laverne mentioned that she has been dealing with a great deal of PTSD and shame over the years, working through them with her own therapist, but that even now, she still deals with them. She also mentioned how there isn’t a day goes by when she leaves her apartment or hotel room without thinking that today might be the day she doesn’t come back alive. These fears, feelings of shame, and anxiety over prior traumas are common amongst the trans community, leading to the 41% suicide attempt rate within the community. When Laverne brought this up during her talk, I mentioned to the person sitting next to me, another student in my activism course, that the 41% number is only the attempts, and doesn’t include those who succeed at taking their lives. Laverne discussed how she was in that 41%, but I never brought up that I’m also in that 41%. Laverne made her attempt in high school, I made mine at age 7.

Something that is common with both depression/shame and PTSD is a difficulty feeling emotions, except for those of anger, pain, and sadness. I was working on this today when she asked me why I feel those emotions but others, and what I gain from them. For many of us, they are are a survival mechanism, something we do to protect ourselves from the abuses we face. However, she countered this by asking me what I still gain from them. I didn’t have an answer for her at the time, but after thinking about it for the hour-long drive home, I think I’ve hit upon it, and it’s actually something I’ve discussed in the past with other therapists.

As those who know me are aware, I’m a goth. I don’t wear as much black anymore, I’ve never been big on clubbing, and have only ever been to two concerts, which were within a week of each other. However, I am still a goth, and like many goths, I love The Crow. There’s a scene near the end of the second Crow movie (City of Angels) where the villain has successfully taken the strength and power of our protagonist, Ashe. Upon placing a serious beat down on Ashe, he gloats “it’s over, Ashe, I’ve taken your power. There’s nothing left for you but pain.” Ashe responds to this with “pain is my power” before giving his own beat down in return. I’ve used this scene as a way of discussing the roots of my own activism.

Specifically, I turn the pain of my past abuses and turn it toward being compassionate rather than becoming an abuser myself. Several studies have shown that those who grow up abused often become abusers themselves, and many who don’t end up instead in relationships with abusers. For me, I try to avoid this (though I’ve been less successful in avoiding relationships with abusers), and so I’ve turned my pain into a source of compassion and power for activism. For me, I think there is a fear of letting go of that pain though, of forgetting where I come from. We see this from time to time, those who come into money forgetting what it is to be poor, falling into the oppressive standards of the wealthy. However, there are also those who buck this trend, such as J. K. Rowling, who was almost homeless once upon a time, then became a billionaire, and in her desire to help others less fortunate, has dropped from being a billionaire to being a millionaire through her not avoiding taxes, donating to charities, etc.

It’s my desire to be like this, able to move beyond my oppression while still helping those who are also oppressed. I think there is this fear that I have that to lose my pain will lead to a possible loss of my compassion. On the other hand, I also fear becoming an abuser and oppressing others. This is a no-win situation, and unfortunately, this is a situation that many trans individuals find ourselves in. I’m lucky and fortunate in that I have mental health coverage with the VA, but far too many do not have this advantage. This is one form of privilege that I have, that I wish were not a privilege but a right for all in this society. However, I also wish for it to not be a right that needs to be practiced, as I desire for a world where we are not abused for who we are, and ideally one where we aren’t abused at all.

Sadly, I don’t have an answer to today’s problem. It is something I still must work through on my own, and continue working to create a world where no one else needs to suffer as I have. I doubt I will see it in my lifetime, but I can work to bring the world closer to this ideal before I die and pass the torch on to others.

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