When I was a teenager and young adult, I struggled with the simple concept that I was a woman. I wasn’t questioning my gender identity; I was questioning my validity. Anytime I had to say something like “I’m a woman” in any context, I was self-conscious and awkward and keenly aware that I felt ‘othered.”
At the ripe age of 51, I realize that was a consequence of being groomed as a girl. I think I was distancing myself from my traumas by denying an important part of my reality that had been battered and distorted by an adult man (not my father.) I was disconnected from myself, but not disconnected from the world. And that makes sense because I was literally programmed to be an object. Shutting down was how I coped. It still is.
I remember being in graduate school, the first time around, and asking my new feminist friends if they ever felt that way. Most denied it, but I wonder. That memory is so clear – walking across this one particular parking lot on our way to our offices, I was wearing knock-off Birkenstocks, a fact I remember because I was staring down as I spoke about this. They were very kind, but definitely framed my struggle as part of the struggle in patriarchy. That’s true to some extent that as a girl child, I was deemed property by the worst excesses of toxic masculinity. But I was almost not just a symptom of a broken system.
Feminism helped me quite a bit – it started intellectually which is how I process most things. I understood it to be useful and true so I embraced it as a worldview.
Coming out helped because it radically redefined how I understood myself in relation to my own sexuality that at the time I was merging with how I understood gender.
Blogging helped, in a backwards way, because I was suddenly under constant assault for the crime of being a woman with an opinion.
Therapy has also helped. I realized that it wasn’t so much about not being ‘a woman’ as not feeling valid as a person at all. That’s a consequence of grooming and of the ensuing complex trauma – feeling outside of yourself, feeling lesser, feeling devalued. I didn’t have words for that. And I learned that distancing myself from my gender and sexuality was a natural way to protect myself from this awful trauma, again without having words.
So between ages 20 and 30, I made the spectacular move away from feeling like I wasn’t a woman to feeling that I wasn’t a decent human being.
Progress? Yes, ironically. It was a move that landed me here, being able to discuss this. To get the appropriate help, I had to get to an accurate understanding of the problem. It wasn’t being a woman.
Why on earth am I sharing this? Because it is part of my story and part of my family legacy. I chose intentionally not to have or raise children, but my cousins and others in my extended family with genetic ties to the monsters have children and grandchildren. Maybe all of these posts in one place among my papers will be a help to them. Maybe it will stop someone else from assaulting women or getting help if they’ve been assaulted.
Or maybe it will just be another version of the truth on the record.
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