I think the thing that is bothering me the most about this recent interpersonal conflict in which I have been called out as triggering, is that it makes me feel that there is no place in our radical spaces in which my emotions and behaviors can be valid.
My anger is still never justified, unless it is anger at a person or institution that we’ve all agreed is bad. I have been called out by cis men for acting patriarchal when I was frustrated, angry, or shutting down because of emotional stress and the effects of my own PTSD. Those emotional and mental health problems are things we talk about A LOT as a community of radicals, but in practice, there seems to be no actual space for them.
I say this because I have indeed jumped the gap into the world of male privilege by transitioning - that is something I will never deny - but within radical space, the history of my body and being-in-the-world is suddenly irrelevant when I show frustration, or don’t show appropriate empathy in the moment, or can’t deal with other people’s emotions. The bald truth is that I was not raised with male privilege. I was raised with a lot of emotional abuse in which any feelings I displayed were heavily policed, subject to intense scrutiny and narrow avenues of approval, narratively erased, or outright shamed. Sexual abuse or assault that I suffered was silenced, brushed off, or erased. I was raised with a lot of slut shaming, body shaming, and attempted control of my very personality to conform me to binary gender standards that did not in any way describe me.
I am still subjected to that binary when it comes to my emotions. Whereas before, they were inappropriate for a female person, now they are signs of enacting the patriarchy and cashing in on male privilege. When do I get to feel what I feel without being shamed for it? When do I get to have an off day, or simply not be able to talk rationally about an emotionally charged topic without being oppressive? Is this possible? Or must I still and always absorb, empathize with, and carry other people’s traumas and emotions without being able to show my own?
To explain the recent events, I was triggering to someone in my radical community when a queer cismale person of color came up to me after a general meeting and wanted to talk to me about rape culture and a specific occurrence of sexual assault in the local community that I had become involved with by facilitating community accountability meetings for the survivors. This person had negative feelings about parts of the accountability process, and brought up several good points about the dichotomies often found in these community narratives, especially around race and gender. As a queer cismale POC, he felt that there is a cultural narrative around white, cisfemale or AFAB nonbinary people as survivors of sexual assault and rape that overrides or silences the stories of people like himself. This is true, and I agreed with what he was saying.
It was only when he began to make negative remarks about the personality of one of the survivors that I felt frustrated. I had been involved in all of the accountability meetings so far and was trying to form a group in town for non-cis and/or non-male folks to process their traumas and help one another. The meetings were very intense and also brought up memories and feelings of my own that I was having some trouble dealing with. I was, and am, in full support of the survivors and the courage it took to call out a rapist in the community. As his critique of the survivor’s personality continued, I said, with some frustration, “well, they WERE raped,” as a way of saying that I could not sympathize with his judgement of this person at the moment because of extenuating and intense circumstances. He then told me that he, too, was a survivor, and I immediately apologized. I was quiet and let him talk a little bit more about his experience. He started crying and I felt awful. I said I was sorry once more, and that his experience should not be discounted and I was sorry if it sounded like that’s what I was saying. I told him that I wanted to find a way to support him, too.
Afterward, I sent him an email apologizing again and explaining what I’ve just explained - about my level of personal exhaustion and frustration on the day he spoke to me, the fact that I have been closely involved in the accountability meetings and very much in support of the survivors, my own emotions. I told him these weren’t excuses for sounding dismissive, but rather an explanation, so that he wouldn’t think that I really did feel dismissive of him. I reiterated that his experience was important and if he needed to talk further about it to me, we should find a good time and space for both of us to do that.
He didn’t reply to the email nor did he talk to me at all for two months. As we organize with the same group, I would see him at meetings and events, and try to say hi, but would be soundly ignored. He would do this even while standing right next to me, so I suspected it wasn’t just shyness or because he didn’t see me. I figured that he needed space so I didn’t try to corner him and ask what was wrong. I just kept saying a casual “hi” whenever I could, tried to be friendly but not pushy, and kept getting the cold shoulder. He would whisper to mutual friends right in front of me, look at me then look away, refuse to talk directly to me even when we were in a conversation of only three people. I felt like I was just crazy, because he never said anything, never responded to the email, but was acting like he was angry with me...or was I imagining it?
I sent another email recently asking if he was mad at me and what I could do about it, if so. That’s when he finally replied and said that I’d triggered him and he didn’t care to have contact with me or be around me, even though that was inevitable. He said that he had no capacity for dealing with this issue. I replied that I would try to limit contact and asked him if he felt uncomfortable with me presenting at the upcoming gender dynamics workshop for our group. He said that he didn’t want to tell me what to do or not to do, but then asked me if all the presenters at the workshop were white. I said I thought they were, and he hasn’t responded. I understand the frustration, but now I’m not sure if I’m being accused of being racist, as well. I can’t push him any further because I said that I would respect his lack of capacity.
I'm probably taking this the wrong way, but it is so incredibly evocative of the way my mom emotionally abused me that it makes me angry. For most of my growing years, and even still sometimes today, I was made to feel like my only use as an emotional being was to be the vessel of all of her trauma, and if I didn't know how to respond to it, or responded in a way that wasn't what she wanted, I was called out for it, or treated with distance and coldness even though I didn't know what I'd done wrong. My anger was often violently silenced.
When I triggered this person, I wasn't even acting angry. I do understand that everyone's barometer for unpleasant behavior is different, but it is still incredibly rare for me to ever show actual anger. Instead, I believe that I was showing clear signs of discomfort with the conversation. I didn't expect to be cornered and made to answer for the faults of the community accountability process (meetings which he didn't even attend), so I wasn't prepared emotionally for this conversation. However, I also didn't tell him that it wasn't a good time to talk about it. I let the conversation continue, because I didn't know it would affect me that way. And even when it began to affect me that way, I kept telling myself that it shouldn't, and so I let myself get frustrated with the way he was talking about the survivor in question rather than stop the conversation. I probably did sound very dismissive - I don't feel like I used an overly dismissive or frustrated tone, but to someone who was about to reveal that they, too, had been raped in the past, it must have felt silencing. I didn't know until I said what I said, and he responded, that he had also been raped. I apologized immediately and invited him to share only as much as he felt like he could. I don't know how else I could have responded to fix the way I came across.
Now, I feel manipulated further because he, as the wronged party, gets to dictate the terms of our interaction in shared spaces. I am fine giving him space, and I guess that's what I'll just continue to do. But I still resent the image that he is allowed to create of me, because I am unable to talk to him and clarify my feelings. Yet I know that it all just comes across as me being angry because I, as the oppressor, can't tell my side of the story. Though I am also someone with PTSD, depression, a history of abuse, and a survivor of sexual assault, I am still white. "My" story is going to be more often covered by the media, is going to be more familiar to counselors and therapists, is going to be cause for easier access to care and medication than the story of a POC survivor. Yet, at the same time, "my" story is in so many ways not my story. I feel lost in a gap between the abused person I was and the male person with PTSD that I am now, and I feel defensive.
The proper rhetoric of mental health also tells me that there is no "greater than" and "less than" in stories of PTSD and abuse - what happened to you happened and it was bad, and it's not fair or useful to compare it to the suffering of others. Yet, on the flip side, the rhetoric of oppression tells us to do just that, and I feel caught between the personal and the political. Angry, frustrated, and unsure of what to do.
One of the most frustrating parts about suffering from depression is that everyone, including a lot of those "how to help people with depression" guides, assumes that I want to talk about my feelings. That being helpful constitutes trying to hug me or getting me to talk.
Like, no....FUCK feelings. I would love for someone to physically help me do the things I am incapable of doing but need to do. Go to the grocery, or fill out important paperwork, or write a decent resumé. Eat food. I dunno. Things that actually might impact the state of my life for the better.
Depression is not "feeling sad." Depression leaches you of the motivation or will or actual mental capacity to help yourself. It's not that you're being lazy, or wallowing in your feelings. Sometimes you're not even aware of WHAT you are feeling - you just cannot perform up to the bare minimum standard of being a person for some reason.
You forget everything if it's not tied to you/written down in 15 places. You forget everything even if it IS tied to you/written down in 15 places. You misplace things. You forget what day it is. You lose track of time until suddenly all of these crucial things are happening all at once. You have random attacks of anxiety seemingly out of the blue - attacks which can make it uncomfortable or difficult to breathe, or leave you feeling like you're going to die or pass out. You start to fear and loathe social commitments, even "fun" ones. You randomly and frequently feel like puking. You lack physical energy. You put off/forget eating until you're starving and angry, then sometimes eat a lot all at once. You eat weird shit because it's "easier" or you think it will make you feel better. You find yourself literally unable to scrape up any interest in things you used to love, then have an anxiety attack about THAT. If you have a job, you start calling in sick because you can't get out of bed or are having anxiety. If you don't have a job, you have enormous difficulty in taking the steps to find one. You miss payments on bills. You don't return phone calls/texts/emails. It goes on. And the best part is that you constantly, eternally, either consciously or not, shame yourself for all of this.
And then you write some weird, rambling Facebook post about it and then log off and hide.