by jay bird
I would like to acknowledge the position I am speaking and living from. I am a white european settler living in the occupied territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral nations. The privilege that I hold because of the color of my skin impacts how I am received in spaces, how I access resources, and how others view me. I recognize that my experience as a white, queer, trans/non-binary person shapes my experience and perceptions of community care.
Community is a fairly new concept to me. In fact, it wasn’t even until recently that I acknowledged the importance of one. I moved around a lot as a kid. Twelve times before grade ten to be exact. I lived in three different provinces, five different towns (seven now), and went to eight different schools. This was partly because of work (there’s not a lot of options in Newfoundland, and most people leave to find money somewhere on the mainland) and partly because of finances, and inability to pay rent, and the “on again off again” relationship between my parents.
I got pretty skilled at making friends fast, but not getting attached and didn’t get along with my family much. My brother was physically and verbally abusive, my mom was emotionally abusive, and my dad mostly worked out west and would be home for a couple weeks at a time. When he was, he would also be verbally and physically abuse – although he seemed to exclude me from those actions. I had very little else to compare it to so I figured it was just how families functioned. I don’t remember much about my childhood. If I think extensively about it, I can get glimpses. But most of it is clouded and blurry, if not missing entirely. I’ve been told by many books written by and/or for survivors that this is a pretty common defense mechanism. Something that I didn’t know until this past year as I started to have memories appear – seemingly – out of nowhere. I went from thinking that I experienced one assault when I was 11 years-old to realizing that I was working through flashbacks, memories, and feelings from what I believe to be a two to three year long assault by a family member (I say “believe to be” because the edges are blurry and time and dissociation makes it hard to remember when things actually started).
I attempted to work through them alone, spending long nights reading and re-reading entire chapters from The Courage to Heal, dissociating for hours if not days at a time, and coming back to it again. Confused as to why I wasn’t “getting anywhere” (I had this uncomfortably common idea that the only form of progress was forward movement – whatever that looked like). I played scenes on repeat in my mind, trying to figure out if they actually happened or if I was making them up. It’s funny (in a very non-funny way) how easily we write off traumatic situations as over exaggeration or imagination. And for almost a year I couldn’t separate who I was from the jumbled, out of order and fragmented memories I was trying to sift through. Honestly, most days I still don’t think I can.
And of course – as with many other intersections – being queer and trans complicates these thought processes even more. It’s not uncommon to hear folks say that people are queer because of their assault and subsequent distrust of men. Or that one doesn’t want to associate with the gender they were assigned because of the assault. Inherently I know these things are false, at least for me (if your experience of trauma has influenced your preference in partners – that’s super fucking valid too!) But it made me question who I was and if any of it was real. Especially when the thoughts of queerness and gender surfaced around the same time as the assault.
It wasn’t until I began to feel truly lost in these thoughts that I realized I needed a community. I needed to say words out loud, tell stories so I could make more sense of them, and have someone validate that I wasn’t entirely breaking apart at the seams. And even if I was – that it was okay. I give an endless amount of credit to my partner and best friend – who was there for me from the beginning, but it’s hard to not still feel isolated when you only confide in one other person.
But even when I started to build a community of survivors around me, I was missing out on people who shared my story. Queer folks who struggled for years thinking that the only reason they were queer was because of what happened to them as a kid. Trans folks who thought that same thing. Folks who were willingly handed over to their assaulters by their family members almost on a daily basis because they (through no fault of their own) trusted them. Folks who don’t remember their stories because they were too young, and folks who spent years struggling with addiction and reckless behaviour – no regard for a body that felt more comfortable when it was high. I don’t say this to invalidate anyone else’s story. All of our trauma is real and valid. But when I look at the statistics and realize I’m not alone, that queer and trans youth are more likely to be assaulted, that substance abuse and distorted senses of reality are common reactions, I wonder where the countless other survivors like me are.
Lately I’ve been throwing myself out on a very long, very breakable limb and have been sharing my story with more people. It surprised me how quickly I began to connect with folks and build what are still new but mind-blowingly supportive relationships. I’ve found validation in their passion to do whatever is within their power to help themselves and other survivors to heal.
I’m not writing this as someone who has found any sort of closure or sustained peace. But instead as someone who has only just come to terms with the fact that there is no healing in isolation. That I need to trust the ideas that I have been supporting for years. That community is what builds us, what sustains us, and the constant that we can fall back on when we need some extra support and love.
All of these ideas have terrified me for as long as I can remember. They still do. But I’m also recognizing the medicine in it, the healing that it can provide, and the potential it creates. These are hard times. And a lot of us are facing harsh realities, have been facing harsh realities for a very long time. And isolation makes these realities harder to carry. Healing and recovery are not linear, and every day is going to be different from the one before. But we can start to build something consistent. Hold space for each other, hold space for love, care, reflection, laughter, depression, anger, anxiety, confusion, acceptance, and for whatever else we need. It’s not about putting our problems off on another person, but holding a space that’s safe enough for us to feel comfortable setting down the weight we’re carrying for a while.
Jay is a white settler residing on the illegally occupied traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral nations (as well as on the Haldimand Tract). They are a queer, trans non-binary person who is passionate about a range of social justice and environmental issues; including prison abolition, trans and queer justice, and the protection of the land and water.