Linguistic Violence, or Why I’d Rather Be On My Own

I am done letting other people define me. I am done letting in anyone who wants in. I am done settling for less than I deserve because I want people who do not know me to like me.

On Friday I went home half an hour into my day because I could not come back from an over-privileged, white co-worker battering me about why Hilary Clinton is better than Bernie Sanders for a full 20 minutes. She hurt me, with the way she talked over me, the way she dismissed any points I tried to make, the way she attacked and twisted my beliefs and ethics. I did not see it coming, which is why I chose to engage. I did not want to believe that someone who identified me as politically similar to herself would treat me like I had less to say–like I was a lesser person. But that’s what happened. And I bet she doesn’t even know.

Post-traumatic stress is real, but I had thought that mine was so minor and I had worked so hard on working through it, that mine was gone. I had thought that the 3 years of abusive relationships pre-C and the 4& 1/2 years of covert racism and ideological dogfights I lived through in Reno were in the past. Two minutes into my co-worker’s approach on Friday made me realize that post-traumatic stress never actually leaves you, if you’re lucky, you just get better at dealing with it. I went home on Friday because I could not pull myself together after this act of linguistic violence. It is violence to care more about one’s self-perception as a “winner” than it is to care about another person.

So I’m done for now. I still want to meet new people I may one day call friends. I still want to be able to relate past and through differences, but I’m not in a place where I can do that right now. I cannot afford to be careless with myself, because there’s nothing worth that cost.

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Separation from Church:

Months before I quit church I had volunteered to be a part of the summer “Vacation Bible Study” which lasted maybe a week, maybe two. Reader, you know why I did not want to go back, but you have the benefit of the intervening years. When I was 14 I could not explain my sense of shame and distress to my mom. It’s possible that even if I could have, she still would have made me go. At the time, she told me it was because I had to make good on my commitment, but for a numbers of reasons I haven’t divulged here, I knew this to be a crock of shit. I believe that she thought that if I could just be around her church I’d believe again. Instead, I stopped believing entirely. But my mom never did.

For the next decade and a half she and her friends would tell me they were praying for me. And here’s the point I want to make loud and clear: Christians, do not tell non-Christians that you are praying for them. As someone who identifies with Christianity now, I feel like I can respectfully and lovingly say that when you tell someone who has lost her faith that you are praying for her, it comes across as condescending and uncaring. If you see someone hurting, if you are worried about someone, engage with them. Show them that you are interested in them and their well-being. Inconvenience yourself. Do not tell them that you’re going to go home and say a sentence or two in between praising God and asking for world peace. Definitely pray for them if you’d like, but resist the idea that this is the best and therefore only thing you can do. And while you’re at it, resist the temptation to tell everyone about every perceived good thing you’ve done. To modify the old maximum, you’ll know a good deed because it will be satisfied by itself.

Sometimes I wonder if this new foray into the unexplored tundra of my own self-acceptance will ever stop feeling treacherous. As someone who was raised to look inward for the source of all problems, as someone who is versed in anti-racist and feminist history and theory, there are times when I feel nearly incapacitated by what feels like a violent polarization inside of me. But as I search for a way through how I feel and what I think, I’ve found unexpected joy and validated sorrow, each with their own homes, each a measure of myself and each other. Finally, this gift feels like more than enough.

Separation from Church: Lessons from My 14-year-old Self

When I was 13 I became a Christian with all of over exuberant fervor of an awkward adolescent who had never previously identified with any community. My mom, who is insistent that I was “raised Baptist” despite my own contrary recollection, appeared to enjoy my newfound religiosity, although it seemed she enjoyed the accompanying self-righteousness less. You can imagine how distraught she was when I began to refuse church when I was 14. I believe that she cried. Her own distress at my rebuff of her religion, however, paled in comparison to mine. It was not an easy choice.

I was an inconvenient age for the church we attended, with two peer groups I was cleanly separated from by a span of three years each–too old for the children’s group and too young for the high school group, I found myself in yet another lonely in-between place. Perhaps if I had been more charismatic, tougher, better adjusted—perhaps if I were all those things now I’d be able to reach back into my memory without seeming to put my younger self down. Regardless, I was old enough to realize that I’d rather be lonely and alone than lonely and surrounded by people who kept declaring how much they loved me even as they avoided talking to me. Even my hunger for knowledge was stymied at church: when I asked two different pastors what I now recognize were unanswerable philosophical questions, both refused to engage and told me that I’d find the answer if I read the Bible. If they’d listened to me, they may have realized that I had the questions I did because I was reading the Bible.

My whole life, I’ve needed a minimum of three reasons to do something. The third reason I stopped attending church came in a conversation with the youth pastor. He had told the high school group (of which I was newly a member) that we could call him at anytime for any reason. So, I did. I got up my nerve, and called him. It may have come out as a whiny complaint, “why doesn’t anyone like me?” but I meant, “why, if God’s love is so abundant in this community of believers, do I feel so insignificantly, so insurmountably alone?” He answered my question by telling me I ought to try harder, identifying and inextricably lodging the problem inside of me with a solution so thin and vaporous that to this day I still fail to understand how I could have tried any harder. Ashamed of my own failure, isolated, and full of unanswerable questions with no guide in sight, I began to miss Sundays until I wasn’t going at all. It was too hard to hear about how I was supposed to be filled with God’s love now that I knew my reality was my fault.

Thus Far: Grief Nearing the Four-Month Mark

I feel exhausted. The past two months, these family holidays without Dad, and the quality and amount of time I’ve spent processing my new life without him that these months have necessitated has wiped me out. Two weekends ago C & I were cleaning out our little storage space in our building’s basement, and I came upon a series of boxes that contained my childhood and teenage years. As I opened one after another I saw remenants of the past. My throat began to close and I became breathless as the choice of whether to keep or toss confronted me. C took the boxes and put them back, saying we could figure it out another time, but it feels as if I did not put them back. It feels as if I took them out and spread their contents all over our apartment and now have to be careful not to step on the clay mask I made in elementary school when I get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I think about cancer and I think about death, but in such a way that it feels as if I can’t grasp either. Both words mean very little to me even as they feel like quite a lot. I bring up Dad’s death at least once a week, which I assume makes people uncomfortable. It’s not that I want people to feel unease or sympathy, it’s that the awkwardness feels genuine and therefore right. He is dead. He has been dead for four months and I still feel happy that he’s not in pain, blessed to have had time with him, angry that I am left here to make of life what there is to make of it, grateful that I can remember him as someone I admire, and sad that we ran out of chances to make new memories. But I also feel ready for whatever comes next.

This process of grief has, perhaps, felt like the stupidest thing I’ve done in life thus far. It has been whole in its illogicality, but when I deconstruct all the bits and pieces it almost starts to make sense. As someone who is used to the watery, fluttering grip of anxiety, the sudden feeling of oversaturation combined with overexposure, I am used to searching for meaning as a talisman against slipping underground into the aquifer of depression. But grief has been and is not a different beast. Sometimes, I suppose, things just need to be their own.

Love & Hegemony: When Self-Love Feels Radical

How do I explain my life to my mom? How do I challenge her beliefs in the way the world works when they are backed up by her own experience? Moreover, how do I resist totalization with respect while maintaining a semblance of the relationship she wants?

These are only a small sampling of the questions I’ve been trying to answer these last two weeks, but ultimately they are all the same question of: What next? The reality is that I don’t know. I do know that for a long time I had my mom on a pedestal, to the extent that I believed I was the sole reason we had problems. My dad and my granddad only ever wanted her to be happy, and I grew up with my dad putting the role of the guardian of her happiness on me. Sometimes I think that because she was so used to being prioritized by them, she extends that expectation to me in a way I fail comprehend.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to renegotiate our relationship, but it is the first time that I’ve had the conscious thought that not everything is my fault strictly because I am the common denominator in my own life. I have always suspected that she resents my attempted coups because of the way she seems to shut down and evidenced the in recurrence of familiar issues. However, now that I am realizing all of these things, I don’t love her any less. I simply love myself more now that I have room to tell myself that those things she said and didn’t know she said aren’t all the absolute Truth.

Love & Hegemony: Coming Out & Staying In

When I was 14 I told my mom that I was bisexual. To be fair, this was a bad weekend for her. She was away for the weekend helping my aunt pack up their parents’ house. Their mother’s, my granny’s, Alzheimer’s had progressed to such a state that my granddad who was 11-years her senior, needed help caring for her, so they were all moving them to be closer to my aunt. However, I was 14, and I had only known my grandmother as a woman who was often partially unaware of what was going on. I was also selfish, as people who are still gathering experience are often selfish. Being selfish, I explicitly picked this weekend because my mom would be out of town.

I told my dad first. He and I had a difficult relationship, and as he was an avid consumer of Rush Limbaugh, I had assumed any pushback I would receive would be from him. We sat down in the family room, he in his chair, and me adjacent to him on the couch. I told him I thought I was bisexual. My only clear memory is of his immediate response, which was a pause followed by the word, “Okay.” He followed up by telling me that I was still young, but probably old enough to know myself, and then gave me a vague warning about perhaps being more aware of my surroundings and safety if I were to be out and about with a future girlfriend. The entirety of the conversation probably took less than 10 minutes and ended when he asked me if there was anything else and I said, “Not at this time.”

Buffered by the relative ease of this interaction and believing I had cleared the highest hurdle, I called my mom. When I declared that I was bisexual, she immediately began crying. “Please don’t do this to me right now,” is my recollection of her words. I don’t know what I said in response, or if I said anything. I do know that I locked part of myself away in the following 15 minutes, and that now that this interaction had played out it would become the first in a pattern that established itself as logically and quickly as the spiny brambles that encased Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

I never brought my non-norm-conforming sexuality up to any member of my family again. I stopped bringing up a lot of things that happened. For an unfortunate while in college I made jokes to my mom about how much I loved men, which made me feel like a liar—not because I really don’t, but because by doing that I was admitting to myself that who I am was someone to be ashamed of. Combined with a pre-C history of slight sexual abuse that seems so common as to be unremarkable, this denial of who I experienced myself to be so that I might gain her favor so fucked with my head that I effectively became asexual. Better to have no desire than one that hurts someone I love.

I don’t know why my mom seems to have such a hard time grasping the concepts of inequality that play out so cleanly in my own life. In dark times I attribute it to my acquiescence—that internalized gag reflex of victim-blaming. I often wonder if everyone has such a hard time believing that they’re real. I spent my undergrad career trying to answer the questions of the bifurcation of my experience and my indoctrination. I have a lot of theory that explains it: white privilege, white guilt, objectivity of the feminine, criminialization/medicalization of the other, and on and on and on. But all of it feels flat when I consider that we are two humans who cannot overcome the legacy of historic de-humanization based on race and gender lines and complicated by a hierarchical, familial relationship.

Love & Hegemony: Inside Adoption

One of the interesting things about being a transracial, transnational adoptee is the split view of race this curious intersection provides. Being the adoptee, I would recommend against transracial, transnation adoption unless the adopting family is aware of and committed to anti-racist and anti-colonialist philosophies. I believe that my parents did the best they could, but even at their best they were often unprepared for the challenges I faced. Because they were unprepared, I was unprepared, and the things that they took for granted were torturous for me in ways that were invisible to them.

My mom is casually dismissive of racism, a trait that only manifested after she retired to Nevada. She refuses to see race, and when I bring it up, she tells me that she doesn’t think it’s so—that I would not be treated any differently if I were a white man. When I tell her about my experiences, she cries and says she just never thinks about things like racism because she doesn’t see how anyone can be racist. But I do. I see it, and I feel. More to the point, I see it and feel it in her flat denials and vigilant policing. If C, my partner, talks to her about how our legal system has been historically used to criminialize the behavior/presence of non-white peoples, she will say, “I don’t think that’s true.” This effectively ends the conversation because if he persists with evidence, say, citing laws, she will just continue with her blanket denial until he tires. She doesn’t often explain why she believes the things he says are untrue, but it doesn’t really matter because she doesn’t seem to actually engage. She’s also quick to tell me I ought not to let my cisgender, male partner do all the housework even though at this moment I am out of the house 9-10 hours a day five days a week at a job that provides for us both. When our roles were reversed and I would complain to her that I was stuck with all the housework, she told me that C was tired and if I wanted the housework done I might just have to do it myself.

The painful part of being my mother’s daughter is that I do love her. I love her when she negates my experiences. I love her when she dismisses my partner. I love her when she structures who I can be around her through her denial and tears. I know that she’s going through something heavy, and I know it’s scary and lonely. I also know that no one can accompany her through this grief—that even though her church and her community are promising that they can be there and help guide her, her grief is her own. I also know that her privilege allows her the illusion of opting out. Her insistence on constant communication that never touches the boundaries outside of narration is nearly as foreign to me as it is oppressive. It’s a dance I have to appear to enjoy in which my participation is mandatory and my agency is restrained until it no longer feels as if it is still mine. In many ways this experience is no different from the majority of my past romantic and sexual relationships and a fair amount of my failed friendships with other white people. But she’s my mom. I can’t walk away from her.