I like to think of myself as a pretty empowered person. While I recognize the importance of collective liberation over individual empowerment, I value my empowerment in terms of defying stereotypes about submissive gay Asian men. A few weeks ago, though, I found myself struggling to integrate this idea of an empowered self with another part of my life: the abuse and hurt people have put me through, especially my mother.
My angst reached a crescendo the day after my birthday, as I sat on my couch listening to “Break Free” by Ariana Grande. Something about listening to “Break Free” while reading Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – a book in which the main character experiences child abuse – made me start to cry, a lot. One moment I probably thought to myself “wow, I love how no man is good enough for me or my friends” and then the next I started sobbing while remembering scenes from my childhood, specific instances of my mother screaming and yelling at me.
I had not consciously thought about my childhood for a long, long time. It felt good to cry about it as Ariana hit all her high notes that brought me more fulfillment than any man I’ve had a crush on made me feel proud of my strength and resilience. Throughout this crying episode, I remember thinking to myself: my mother hurt me. She really really hurt me.
While it felt validating to honor how much my mom actually did hurt me, thinking and writing about it still brings up some feelings of confusion and shame. These emotions may in part come from the lack of weight given to childhood emotional abuse compared to other forms of abuse, even though childhood emotional abuse often causes serious health consequences. Even in therapy later that same week, I asked my therapist multiple times “was what happened to me actually bad?” even though we both knew that yes, my mother treated me horribly, to the point where I still sometimes dissociate when I think about it. To this day, I can’t bring myself to read any of my older blog posts because the memories feel too painful.
Even beyond the silence surrounding childhood emotional abuse comes the stigma of having experienced childhood abuse at all. When I think about someone in my professional life finding this blog’s posts related to my childhood, I feel a strong sense of dread fill my stomach. Because even though I have published research in reputable Psychology journals, even though my clinical supervisors consider me a superb therapist, and even though I receive strong teaching and service evaluations, I feel like by writing about childhood abuse, I am breaking some implicit and explicit code that all parents are at least in some way affectionate, that the heteronormative nuclear family is holy and infallible. I feel like I am dirty, broken, and weak, even when it was my immediate family and our surrounding social structures that failed me.
By naming the abuse and hurt, I restore some of my agency and strength. Yes, my mom hurt me, and other people have hurt me too, like random men who used me for emotional labor then tossed me aside. At the same time, I still practice empowerment: I set strong boundaries, I support myself and my loved ones, I do my best to contribute to social justice causes though I know I have a long way to go. My mother and others hurt me, and I survived. The abuse and the hurt will always be a part of me, co-existing with my love for relationships, my obsession with upbeat pop music, and my weird self-disclosing super queer blog.
When I write blog posts I usually do not have an audience in mind. But I wanted to write this one for people who have also experienced child abuse. I’ve read in various books that sometimes when people are abused as children, they internalize a notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, something broken or disgusting or irreparably damaged. It’s a lonely feeling. I wanted to write this post so that you know you’re not alone. I think I’m beautiful. I think you are, too.
Any general reactions to this post? Feelings or reactions about child abuse in society, about writing about traumatic or painful events, or Jeni’s ice cream or books? I recognize the ongoing importance of taking action to support Black Lives Matter, because they do matter, so my comments from this post still stand (and I want to highlight N.K. Jemisin’s recommendation for people in the position to donate as well). Until next post!