the trauma i never knew i had: navigating childhood trauma 29 years after the fact

the trauma i never knew i had: navigating childhood trauma 29 years after the fact

This post is by Vesper, reposted here with the permission of the author.  You can read the original post here.

content warning: explicit talk of childhood sexual abuse & religous trauma without going into detail; explicit mentions of acephobia, biphobia, homophobia

this is one of two posts that i’m going to (hopefully) post on the topic of sexual abuse / violence and consent issues. this specific post is a submission to @resourcesforacesurvivors‘ series on Intersectional Ace Survivor Stories and pertains to navigating childhood trauma and religious family as a not-so-young-anymore black, non-binary, bi / pan asexual. while i have talked briefly about the topic of this post in a video, for the most part the experiences discussed in both posts are ones that i’m only just now sitting down and thinking about. please bear with me as i try to put things into words.


i’ll be honest with you. i’m extremely hesitant about posting this or drawing any kind of connection between myself and sexual abuse. why? well, for one, my online presence isn’t exactly anonymous. on top of that, i don’t actually view myself as a survivor. even identifying as a victim at all is something that i’m still coming to terms with.

regardless of how i view myself, you, dear reader, might view me as a survivor and/or a victim after reading this (or the upcoming) post and quite frankly, i’m not sure how i feel about that. it almost feels like posting this is a calculated risk of sorts that i’m taking.

the goal: to put a story that seems to be uncommon out there for those who might benefit from hearing it.

the risk: being viewed as or associated with something that i don’t don’t even view myself as or associate myself with. having people attribute who i am to this trauma.

…well, enough with the stalling. here goes nothing.

when your (a)sexuality and/or gender is blamed on childhood trauma that you didn’t even know happened to you, how do you even begin dealing with it? and where do you even go from there?

November 2015

BET, a US television channel aimed at black Americans, released a full-length, original documentary titled “Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church” (watch it here). i was beside myself with excitement because there is so little of anything specific to being black and LGBTQIA, let alone anything that also centers around The (Black) Church, something that’s often at the center of many black families’ lives.

i myself am not religious. dare i even say i’m religion-averse? i was, however, raised in The (Evangelical / Missionary Baptist) Church because my family, specifically my mom, is extremely religious. in fact, my mom is an ordained minister who single-handily ruled over her household with an ironfist.

growing up in The Church (i mean literally, we were there 3~5 days a week) with a minister for a mom put The Church and religion at the center of any and all trauma that happened during my childhood. this does not explain why i’m not religious. that’s complicated. it does, however, tie into my aversion to engaging with religion– especially Christianity– in any way now. as such, i certainly would not normally watch a documentary centered on religion and The Church, but here i was faced with a documentary that spoke directly to experiences that i had growing up. after watching it with bated breath, i deemed it ‘not too bad, considering’ and decided to forward it to mom in the hope that it could be a resource to help her work through things.

…i don’t know why i keep doing that to myself. being naively hopeful whenever i interact with my mom. i never expected it to go perfectly, but i certainly wasn’t prepared for how it ended up going.

the video call after she’d watched it was zero improvement from the many video calls we’d had in the past. there was lots of “everyone’s bisexual! i can appreciate a woman’s beauty and could do things with her, but choose not to! i’m abstinent but i don’t choose to identify as asexual!”– pretty much the exact same things she’d said when i was outted by her in 2014. the exact same things that she still says even now in 2016. but wait, it’s not even just that she thinks sexuality is a choice. from the day i was outted, she’s constantly been trying to figure out what caused me to be who i am, even saying to me point-blank, “what’s so bad about your life that’s made you this way?? it couldn’t have been how i raised you… could it??”

well, unbeknownst to me, i’d inadvertently just given her yet another “plausible cause” for why i am who i am.

in the documentary, there was a black gay man who was molested by a man during his childhood. the man said that he feels like this childhood trauma is the reason why he is gay.

when i was watching the documentary, i noted what this man said with a pause, but didn’t really pay much attention to it beyond that. silly me. of course my mom, being on the mission that she is to explain away non-heteronormative sexuality and gender nonconformity, would latch onto that minute of footage in a 60 minute documentary.

but how could i have known that she’d draw a line between that man and myself…?

when she brought up what the man had said in the documentary, my initial response was to immediately stress that that was his personal experience and feelings in regards to himself, not license to assume that trauma is the cause of anyone else’s sexuality. i was completely blindsided when my mom, one of the strongest women i know who i’ve almost never seen cry, started to do so in front of me. tears running down her face, completely overcome with emotion and apparent guilt, she told me about something that she’d apparently buried away in her own mind for the past 29 years.

between the age of 9mo ~ 18mo old i’d been molested by a female staff member at a childcare center.

as she recounted how she found out, how others doubted her but how she knew for a fact that it’d happened and all the things she’d done in the aftermath of finding out, i don’t remember feeling anything but the need to comfort her and get her to stop crying & blaming herself. she might as well have been telling me a story about something that happened to someone else because i felt no connection to what she was saying had happened to me. how could i? i have zero memory of what happened and zero memory of anything that happened afterwards. here i was at 30 hearing this story for the first time and struggling to even imagine it happening to anyone, let alone to me.

at the time, i was focused on comforting her and reassuring her that my sexuality (and gender) isn’t her or anyone else’s fault. that was the extent of my reaction to what she’d said. it wasn’t until afterwards that i became angry.

angry that she was just now telling me this at 30 and that she would have literally taken this knowledge with her to her grave if she could have.

angry that the only reason she was even telling me now was to use it as a “what if” argument against me and everything that i’d been telling her for the past 2 years.

angry that she was once again making something that has nothing to do with her (ie. my sexuality and gender) about herself and things that she had or hadn’t done.

6 months later, the topic came up again.

i was talking to her about a peer of mine at The Church during my childhood. he had been out(ted) as gay and i was talking to her about how much i’d witnessed him suffer during church services and how seemingly no one even noticed but me, when suddenly she chimes in with:

“oh, did you know he was molested as a kid too? by his uncle.”

…..and i just sat there in silence for a minute taken aback, exasperated and angry all at once. there were so many things wrong with what’d just happened, let alone the fact that she was even telling me this about my peer as offhandedly and matter-of-factly as she was. here she was seemingly chalking someone’s sexuality up to trauma while at the very same time seemingly blaming the trauma that this boy had endured at church on his childhood trauma. it was hard not to feel like the “too” in what she’d said, along with the way in which she’d said it, denoted the confidence that she felt in her beliefs. it was also hard not to feel like it was added commentary on her beliefs about me and my sexuality (and gender).

in the eyes of my mom, i am a victim. in the eyes of my mom, this has now become yet another explanation for why i’m bi. for why i’m asexual. for why i’m non-binary.

and i can’t stand it.

i don’t view myself as a survivor.

how can i when i don’t even remember what it is i survived? when i don’t even remember living through the aftermath of what i survived? when i have so little, if anything, in common with people who do identify as survivors.

i don’t feel like a victim, even if i technically am one.

i’ve gone almost my entire life without the knowledge that i was ever a victim of something like this. the disconnect that i feel between myself and the crime that was committed against me is so immense and complete that it almost feels beyond reconciliation.

there’s also the matter of processing the information that was given to me; something that i still haven’t really done 7 months later. i want to say that this new information hasn’t changed anything for me, but i might be lying if i did because i really don’t even know. i do feel like what happened has nothing to do with anything in terms of who i am, but at the same time i do think about it offhandedly now and then. it almost feels like a case of “the chicken or the egg,” except that because it happened when i was so young, it isn’t even a matter of “what came first?” there literally is no “before” it happened, there is only “after.” there is no possible way to know how what happened affected me or influenced who i am today.

that aside, even before learning about what happened, i’ve always been of the mindset of not caring about the “why”s of who i am… which is probably why i become so incredibly annoyed whenever someone else preoccupies themself with the “why”s of who i am.

the knowledge that my mom gave me that day is something i feel i have no actual use for. there is absolutely nothing for me to do with it, it just takes up space in my head and it will forever continue to do so because it’s something that i’ll never forget.

“survivor.”

“victim.”

words that others use when talking about childhood trauma escape me entirely. in the end, this knowledge of my past and the feelings that i have about it is all so vague and disjointed that i’ll probably just end up ignoring it again…. until i don’t. like now.

the risk that i’m taking in putting this out there… only time will tell if this will become yet another thing that people associate with me or chalk my sexuality (/gender) up to like my mom does. either way, in the end, i feel like it’s a risk worth taking.

after mom told me what had happened, i turned to Google to try and find similar experiences from others only to be met with disappointment which made me feel even more alone with my thoughts and feelings. if this post reaches and helps even one person so that they feel less alone, then posting it was worth it.

i may not identify as a survivor or a victim, but that doesn’t mean others with similar experiences shouldn’t rightfully do so. i hope there’ll be more in the way of– well, anything!– for people who’ve experienced something like this. at the very least, they might find this post and know that they aren’t alone.

About the Author:

This is a guest submission. Please check the top of the post for more information. Some contributors submit guest posts under a name or pseudonym, while others are made by people who wish to remain anonymous. Please respect their privacy and do not speculate about their identity.

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