Trauma is a term we often hear talked about in communities of color and the LGBTQ community. There is an entire body of knowledge about how to support individuals who have had trauma. But what is trauma and how ordinary is it?
In a prior post I wrote about getting a brownie camera for my eighth birthday, and excitedly running around the house taking pictures, only to have my father get angry at me. Dad’s anger had had a deep, rough, growl to it and the force of being hit by something hard. While that birthday was over fifty four years ago, I still have a vivid image of dad standing in the doorway of his office yelling at me. I do not remember the words he said but I remember the force of his anger and how much it hurt. I had been so happy that morning with my parents gift of a brownie camera. Then the joy was gone in an instant as his anger hit me. Was this trauma? Yes, I think it was.
It is hard to grow up as any of the letters in LGBTQ and not have trauma. We face a world and a society that still sees illness in who we are and hatred towards us. No little boy, who is a little effeminate, or doesn’t play sports, or who can not roughhouse with the boys feels like they fit in, like they belong. But worse than not fitting in is the feeling so many of us grew up with that there was something deeply wrong with us, something wrong at the core of who we are as human beings.
I felt all through my childhood that there was something wrong with me, that I was deeply flawed. Even while I smiled, had friends, laughed, I knew that no one could see the ugliness inside. When you grow up in a world that considers who you are to be an illness how can you possibly feel healthy.
I remember the boys in fifth and sixth grade that were thin, lean, with crew cuts, and who excelled at sports. The sporty boys, I now call them. I wanted to be them. They seemed to own the world and move through space with ease and assurance. They were cocky, roughhoused easily, and were quick to look down on those of us that did not fit in.
One of my teachers in fifth grade called me, big boned in front of the class. “He is not fat, he is just big boned.” This must have been in response to someone calling me fat. How would you like to be called big boned in front of the classroom. I was mortified. Was this a form of trauma? Yes, I think it was.
While the other boys in my all boys elementary school played baseball at recess, I sat under a tree playing with sticks and stones creating imaginary stories. I felt both superior to the boys who played baseball and at the same time isolated, lonely and excluded. I was angry not to be included and at the same time had no interested in joining a team sport I was terrible at.
What is often worse than being teased or tortured as a young boy? It is being ignored. The sporty boys acted like I did not exist. They did not speak to me and I did not speak to them. It was a terribly isolating lonely period of my life from third to sixth grade in the all boys school. And was it trauma? Yes, it probably was.
These kinds of stories from those of us who grew up LGBTQ are common and form a kind of trauma that we must deal with as adults. This ancient trauma is hard to see and understand. I am not sure how these traumas effect me today. I certainly feel that I have moved well past these childhood events, but suspect the historic trauma still can shape and color who I am today.