TW: Discussion of abuse, including childhood sex abuse and incest.
Early in my childhood, I learned a lot about emotional and verbal abuse from my parents. Later my Dad tried to excuse both he and my Mom by dismissing their behaviour to my younger brother and me as “practice parenting” That meant that the “successful” parenting was saved for my sister and youngest brother. I always felt this was very selfish and ignorant on their part. To this day, I wish my Dad would take back this smug dismissal of the way my brother and I were exposed to some terrible things.
I do believe that abusive relationships need to be ended right away. Unfortunately, the one relationship that I would have ended early if I could, I didn’t have the option of ending: the complex, sexually and emotionally tangled, incestuous relationship with my mother. In a future part of this story I’ll talk about why things got worse for me and my Mom, and how we remained kindred spirits throughout our days together.
What I am about to say is my own opinion, and you may want to skip the next paragraph if value judgements about abusive relationships is triggering to you.
Even if you love someone you abuse, and you may love someone who abuses you, there is a skin that is broken, and a tipping point that is reached, whenever there is abuse in a relationship. I feel it is possible that abusive behaviours can be unlearned, and that the trauma of suffering abuse can heal. I have experienced both. But if there is one thing I could take back about my past, it would be my belief that an abusive relationship can continue without abuse. If I could have a talk with my past self about this horrible, necessary subject, I certainly would. This is just the way I feel on my part, from my lived experience as both abuser and victim. My heart truly is with abused partners and family members who cannot leave an abusive relationship.
Verbal, emotional, physical, sexual abuse: they all come from the same place and I feel they all can scar us equally. But this narrative is not about statistics and studies. What hurt me just as much as the abuse was the fact that I had no options for coming out.
I come from a Mormon culture that blames the victim of sexual abuse, that requires that the victim meet in a room with their abuser, apologize for accusing their abuser, and accept that the church has administered the appropriate punishment towards the accused. Law enforcement is never so much as considered, and the victim is never assisted with their trauma. The most egregious abuse I have suffered has been sexual abuse, and if this is how my community mishandled sexual abuse, what chance would I have of being believed for the emotional and verbal abuse from my parents?
I wish I could go back in time and pull ten-year-old me out of the Mormon church and give myself a supportive hug and tell her “I believe you.” As much as I blame my parents for their “practice parenting” cop-out from accountability, as much as I blame my Mom for having her attraction to teenage boys and for having sex with me (I talk about that in part two), I blame the Mormon church for creating the anti-female, anti-LGBT cloud of toxic misanthropy that surrounded my family for years and still lingers over my community. I knew about and experienced things that no child should ever have to go through or be aware of the existence of until later in life.
What I said to my Dad when I first came out as a woman reveals what I would have said at ten years old, if I were not emotionally and verbally browbeaten into “respecting” my “elders” at such a formative age. As much as the Mormon church aligns itself with what they see as family-friendly values, it’s inability to adjust with the realities of human nature as they are revealed in someone like me, a trans woman, makes it a cult that is rigidly in lockstep with the unquestioned, authoritarian leadership of men.
I should have more to say about having a repressed transgender identity throughout my childhood, but I have mixed feelings about talking about the duality I felt. It hurt. In my nightmares, I was always telling someone to stop chasing me. My pain was represented by a hideous demon that pursued me relentlessly through a maze. The maze represented the world, the neighbourhood and our house. They were horrible, traumatic nightmares no one ever helped me with. Sure, it was the early eighties, but I was a young boy having nightmares that were about more than scary monsters from movies, and no one so much as talked to me about them, even when it was clear I was suffering.
I’ve been told that at sometime around my twelfth birthday, I built a mental wall around myself, started talking about and threatening suicide, studying subjects far above my grade level, and telling my friends about my sophisticated sexual fantasies. There’s a lot to explain these things: bipolar disorder, gender dysphoria, an eating disorder, hyper-sensitivity and autism.
This would be a good time to remind you of my above trigger warnings of incest and childhood sex abuse. I realize now I can’t talk about what is the most traumatic and the worst memory I have of my mother. I hope you understand, but know what it probably is, from your point of view. For me, two and two keep making four, not five as I would like them to if it means removing this memory and experience that has traumatized me. If you know what I mean by that, I apologize for my cryptic way of communicating it. If you don’t, maybe it’s for the best that it remains a cryptic message.
At this point I’m going to say I’m not even considering the Oedipus complex. My existence as a queer transgender woman invalidates the binary gender bias in Freud’s work, as well as his belief that homosexuality can be “caused” by the Oedipus complex. I do not even consider any of Freud’s work relevant in our age of ever-advancing understanding of the complexity of our brains and our sexual and gender identities.
My Mom would often tell me how grievously guilty she felt for how she and my Dad treated me and my younger brother. She could see how hard it was for us to have and keep relationships and jobs and succeed in school. My teachers would express concern that I was hiding something from them, especially when I would start the school year doing brilliant work and finish it doing no work at all. In these years I felt I could see myself from the outside in a detached version of my life.
I don’t want to speculate about what should have happened were I able to come out as an abuse victim as a child. Feelings that a victim may have toward their abuser may be very complex and may not be outright condemnation. That is certainly what I am trying to communicate about my relationship with my mother.