Is There Life After Shame?
The other night a neighbor of mine may have seen me share a kiss with my boyfriend. In my excitement to see him, I momentarily forgot to feel shame at my existence, and hadn't immediately shut the front door behind him. As I realized what I had done and our eyes brushed across one another, my lighthearted sensation of romance stirred into a lightheaded sense of worry and dread.
It's odd. I can be 'out' online and among friends, but there are still boundaries I impose on the world of neighbors, family members, and new acquaintances. I want to be strong, and confidently proclaim that I am not ashamed of my sexuality, my heart, my sensitivity, or my humanity, but such a declaration is at times more of an aspiration than a truth.
And speaking of truth, I have no reason to think my neighbor is homophobic. In fact she's good friends with a same-sex couple in our neighborhood, and even attended their wedding!
I think we often times conceptualize LGBT+ equality as something which is negotiated through laws and rights. Here I live in a state that at least for the time being provides same-sex marriage, recognizes the parental rights of same-sex couples, and permits a change between binary sex options on official documentation. Yet, I am still afraid of being totally 'out.'
Beyond these legal issues, trendy shops and progressive churches around the state--even in the back country--are eager to identify themselves as 'safe places' for people of any gender expression to use their restrooms. We talk openly and disinterestedly about gay sex scenes on TV. We have Pride parades, which, while protested, are also showcases of community acceptance, often including welcoming churches and faith community leaders. In many ways, red-state North Carolina and its libertarian-redneck enclaves make me feel safer than I ever have in blue-state liberal cities. For every violent homophobe there seems to be a multitude of Carolinians ready to put themselves between me and him whenever he opens his mouth in public.
Why then am I still afraid to be seen kissing another man by a progressive Christian woman who I know is actually good friends with other gay people?
For all the advances we have made in laws and culture, the truth is that we cannot go back and undo all the times and interactions and injustices where we previously failed. My reaction to my neighbor, my fear of strangers, my shame of myself--these aren't necessarily reflections of the present context I live in, but rather they are artifacts of the context I have lived through.
My Inner Rebel Fears Acceptance
Before 'equality,' there wasn't. There was the nightly fear of church men disappearing you in the middle of the night to get 'corrected' at the ex-gay camp your parents' church recommended. There were weekly stomachache tests of personal integrity where you'd weigh the risk of walking out of gay-antagonizing church services vs. sitting frozen in social conformity.
There were defaced school projects, laughter and spit and boots flying at you in liberal suburbia while teachers looked the other way or even smirked. In the workforce, there was the ever-present fear of being fired when discovered to be one of 'you people'--the heralds of the apocalypse, destroyers of marriage, and purveyors of decadence in a neo-fascist America decades older than Trump's presidency.
For men, there was a metrosexual stereotype, numbed on a Peter Pan cocktail of ketamine, liquor, and cocaine, and gate-keeping the last remnants of a tortured 'community' while an equally exclusive narrative of 'we're just like you' policed the political movement for state-validated 'acceptance.' Academia and -isms were the realm of upper-middle class liberal women today still debating definitions of womanhood and the correct order of political priorities, while closely guarding ownership and curricula of queer-related interdisciplinary studies.
My Rebel archetype was born in all this. He was the kid who grew up in a world that viewed him as a sort of feminine devil, but through a cruel trick of fate couldn't even find his place in hell. My Inner Rebel is the part of me that defends me when I feel defenseless, that comforts me when I feel homeless and lonely, and that sometimes loudly assures me I'm just better off alone.
My Inner Rebel is and isn't rational. He's the product of a lifetime of disappointing socialization and oppressive institutions. The true neo-nihilist, he claims agency as chaos and as a catalyst for destructive change in a progressive narrative that prefers docile minorities and slow, electoral reform.
In his shadow, he is distrustful of all authority and power. He likes to come out when I am on the verge of learning something great about myself through more conventional means. To be loved, to be accepted, to be successful would defuse him. Shame is his fuel. His rebellion is an applied victimhood, reactive. And despite his fiery aura, he has an icy heart. He is frozen in a trauma-hold with the past. Too tested, too vindicated, he won't let anything hurtful go. My Inner Rebel demands to remind me that homophobia--both internal and external--doesn't just 'go away' when you grow up and come out.
He speaks for my trauma--a trauma that is ungovernable and unfazed by laws.
How Do We Heal From This?
In my Inner Rebel I see all the aggravating and self-defeating impulses of all marginalized people locked in horizontal polemics with each other. I empathize with hurt people whose politics I find detestable. I see in their irrationality the same irrationality made physically manifest in my own fear of being accepted and disinteresting to my progressive heterosexual friends, family, and neighbors.
So how do we heal from this? How do we integrate the billions of Rebel and Victim archetypes ir/rationally engaging with their present-day worlds? I'd like to think that as a wellness industry professional and someone who additionally identifies with the archetype of 'Healer,' I have some greater purpose than comforting the 'worried well' with massages and spa treatments. And as an insider to the kind of trauma-reaction I want to help heal in myself and others, I intimately know the critical need for any wellness, faith, or healthcare professional to take trauma seriously. But so far when it comes to addressing the sort of collective healing humanity's traumatized need, I must admit I am stumped.
I don't know what to tell well-meaning people. I don't know what else anyone can do for us. Sometimes you aren't responsible for the problems other people are burdened with.
What I can say with certainty is that addressing my own trauma has become a personal mission in my healing journey. When I talk about and work to create a more utopian world, it is not out of ignorance or a desire to downplay the traumatizing dynamics of our parent civilizations. Rather it is deeply informed by these patterns and overflowing with a desire to move forward from them into something better.
I share this part of my journey because I have hope that we will all be successful. If even one of us can move forward from the trauma of their past, there is hope for all of us. And if there's anything I truly believe and know persistently to be true in all of nature, it's that Earth's children are so much more resilient than we ever give ourselves credit for. I don't want to live in shame and fear any longer, and I doubt you do either.
My hopes and prayers and practice are with us becoming free.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org