“Time has ravaged on my soul / To wipe a mother’s tears grown cold”

“Time has ravaged on my soul / To wipe a mother’s tears grown cold”

CW: Sexual assault, maternal abandonment


So as it turns out, I’ve had an awful lot going on and haven’t updated in the last two months. My apologies. I’ll likely write a catch-up piece when I have the spoons and the time, but for now, on the eve of Mother’s Day, I wish to share a story with all of those out there who, like me, have a strained or completely absent relationship with their mom. Take care of yourself while you read this, and know that if your heart is feeling empty, mine is there with yours. ❤

Several years ago, I was in a very confusing relationship. Hell, it was a confusing time in my life, and the relationship was a major, but not singular feature contributing to the overall miasma. I met someone I fell for almost immediately. I met this person (name and pronouns are unknown at this time) online, and after a few dates, things picked up pretty quickly. We spent a lot of our time together, then almost every day. We started spending the night with each other more and more. After a few months, we decided to move in together.

At first, I was over the moon. This person was male assigned at birth, very sweet, very much in touch with their femininity, and in every conceivable way subverted stereotypes of toxic masculinity as I knew them. They had long, silky hair and had a penchant for floral prints and prairie dresses. They were soft spoken and gentle. I thought this was the kind of person I’d been looking for my entire life, whose qualities I’d always wanted but had never been able to fully articulate. The sex was amazing. We had so much in common. Their family was great. It all seemed like such a good decision.

The night before we were supposed to move in together, I caught them in a pretty big lie. A close friend of theirs told me she and my partner used to have a sexual relationship. This wouldn’t normally have bothered me, except that I had asked them about it before and they flat out lied to me. When they came to my apartment that evening, we argued and I asked what else they had lied to me about.

This is the part where everything I thought I knew about this person completely came unraveled.

They told me that in their not-so-distant past, they had raped not one, but two of their female friends. My ears were ringing as if a bomb had gone off in my living room. Given what I had known about this person before, if they had told me they liked to put puppies in a blender for fun, I could not have been more shocked and sickened. Writing this now, it’s hard to put into words how horrified and perplexed this news made me at the time. I still  haven’t fully made sense of it. We talked about it for hours. I sobbed and yelled. They told me the particulars of what happened, which, for the anonymity of their victims, I won’t repeat, though I still remember it word for word. It still haunts me as much now as it did then.

They told me that in the years since, they had gone through extensive therapy. One of their victims had forgiven them and they’d made amends. One said she never would, and they accepted this reality as part of her healing and their reformation.

Now, dear readers… I can tell you this is one of those things for which there is no “right” way to react. The guide book of life has a blank chapter where this situation ought to be. I sent them out of my apartment that night. I needed time to think. Mind you, we were supposed to move in together the very next day. Our boxes were packed, our lease was signed, our truck rented. I had to make a snap decision about whether to dump this person, or forgive them; whether to invest in this relationship or reject this person I had grown to love. It put everything I know and knew about myself to the test. What kind of feminist would I be if I were to continue loving this person who had so grievously wronged two young women? Then again, in terms of accountability, this person had made attempts to better themself and move on. Is every person who commits sexual assault disposable? At what point do you have to stop outing yourself as a sex offender?

These are questions I can’t say I could answer differently today. I don’t believe in disposability of human beings. Many women and trans people in communities of color have long-held traditions of holding their friends, family, and loved ones accountable for their actions, rather than relying on ostracism or the prison industrial complex. I want to believe in people. I want to believe in the power of transformation. No person is the sum total of their most heinous act. We can be much more than that. Even in my pain and anger, I wanted to show compassion.

I made the choice to commit to them, to remain in their life and become a part of their family. I believed them that they had made attempts to change themself, but I hated that they had lied to me. I told them I wanted them to enter into therapy with me. We saw a couple’s counselor for many months. We made plans to move to the west coast together, and were even handfasted, with the understanding that if we were to marry someday, it would be well after we had worked through some of the shared trauma of both of our histories. Being a survivor of sexual assault, this news about this human being I thought I knew so well was not exactly something I took in stride.

During this time, I felt very alone. I have never known someone for whom this has happened, before or since. I sought counsel in the one person I believed I could trust, who would really “show up” for me — my mother. I told her what my partner had told me, that they had raped two women, and that I wasn’t sure what I should do. My mother is also a survivor and a feminist (although we subscribe to vastly different philosophies). I had shared with her so much about myself over the years. She was the first person I came out to as a teenager. We told each other everything. We had experienced so much collective trauma that I believed she would be the only person who could possibly understand. I don’t remember much of our conversation; only that we drove around at night, and I was drenched in tears the entire time.

Despite the fact that my mother had been abusive to me my entire life, made me frightened and made me feel small, she was also frequently my only confidant. I knew she would be there for me in a crisis, even though it became increasingly difficult to rely on her as an adult. I likewise became increasingly aware of her shortcomings and the undiagnosed and unacknowledged mental illness that caused her to lash out violently, angrily demean complete strangers in public, and disown almost every person in her life who failed to meet her standards. After recovering from decades of alcoholism, the other diseases that had been muted by liquor came to a head, and she was left with little to no coping skills to deal with them. I always felt that I was exempt from being cut off as she had done with other family members and friends, having come from her own body, being half of her just as I am half my father’s child. I felt that sharing with her this immense burden would be safe, and that I would be supported.

A year or so went by. My couple’s therapy sessions with my partner were going nowhere. Our relationship was poly and I had been dating people who were a much better fit, and I felt that it was finally time for me to move on. I could never fully accept or process what they had done, and other red flags were present that I couldn’t ignore. It was a lot messier and more complicated than all this, as it so often is. A few months after ending things with my partner, I met someone new. I met someone I would go on to be with for years, someone who was very important to me.

My mother, however, was far from supportive. You see, it was also around this time that I began coming to terms with my gender dysphoria and my desire to transition. I didn’t have the language for it, but I began telling friends and lovers that I didn’t identify fully as female. I started crossdressing and using masculine names, searching for a better fit. I visited trans support groups to gain insight into my identity. I met and dated others from these support groups, and the person I wound up with after my painful breakup was someone AMAB and identifying as genderqueer/NB. (Name and pronouns here again withheld for reasons.) I knew my mother as a TERF before the term was coined. She always expressed her disdain for trans women and crossdressing men, and I wasn’t sure how she would take my transition. Still, I refused to keep myself or my relationships a secret.

It was important for the people in my life to get to know this new person, and I wanted my mother to get to know them. I warned my partner, and they agreed to meet her. Around this time, however, my mother’s symptoms were getting worse. She became steadily angrier. She sometimes had good days and sometimes had bad days, and it was hard to tell what mood she would be in at any given time. She often dredged up and blamed me for things I had apologized for years earlier. She remembered an email exchange we had some years before that had ended in my telling her off; she remembered a time when I didn’t hug her the right way; she kept score for every Christmas and birthday where I didn’t give her the right kind of present and made me bitterly aware of how much it hurt her. She had a way of making me feel inadequate and inconsiderate in my every breath and fiber of my being. To this day I struggle with gift giving and the general feeling that I am somehow a disappointment. Even after I apologized repeatedly for all of these things, she never forgave me and would find new times to bring them up. Whenever we fought, it was always my job to take the blame and to be the one to apologize, no matter who had done what to whom.

She had started dropping subtle hints that she didn’t approve of my past relationship. I’d imagine any mother would have their concerns about their child dating a known and admitted rapist. I’m sure I’d be afraid for my child’s safety and would express my qualms as well. My mother, however, blamed me for staying in the relationship, as if by participating in the relationship, I condoned their past actions — as if I was colluding with a rapist, as if I were to blame for something they did before I knew them. She seemed to take it as a personal offense. I was already out of that relationship and had started a new one, but my mother wouldn’t let it go.

I made plans to move out of my hometown with my new partner, back to their home state. On my partner’s birthday, I asked my mother if she would give us a ride to my employer to pick up my final check. I had sold my car in preparation for the move and didn’t have a way to get there. During the ride, the tension in the car was palpable. I hated to ask her for a favor because she always found a way to make me feel like shit for asking. She would remind me of a time when I couldn’t do a favor for her, or if I had done something for her, I hadn’t done it the right way. This isn’t the stuff of cutesy sitcoms of a nagging mother, but feeling like being trapped in a car with a live snake. I hoped having my partner in the car would help act as a buffer. I was wrong.

My mom was texting at a red light, and it turned green. We sat there for a few seconds when my partner mentioned the light had turned green. My mother snapped at my partner for this, what she saw as an unjustified correction to her behavior. Even though I always found it hard to stand up for myself, I wasn’t going to let her extend her abuse of me to my partner. We began to argue. It lasted until we were out on the highway. Finally, she dropped the bomb she’d been saving for just such an occasion — the words no amount of time will ever help me forget: “You’ve been dead to me since you married that rapist.”

I don’t know how many of you are still reading this admittedly quite lengthy story. But if you’ve ever been told by your mother that you are dead to her, you know it is something you can never forget. I still hate her for saying it. I hate her because after she said it, she dropped me and my partner off at the next exit, without money or a way home. I hate her because it was my partner’s birthday and we had to walk to the nearest bar, call a friend for a ride, and in my embarrassment and grief, accept a ride home from her husband, whom I didn’t know terribly well.

I hate her most of all because after she said it, after she pulled over to the side of the road to drop us off, I leaned into the car. I looked into her eyes, totally dry to my tear stained and pleading, and said, “Your mother died when you were young and you haven’t had her around because of it. You’re opting out of my life now.” She nodded with a “fuck you” look on her face and drove away. The last time I heard from her, she emailed me to ask if I wanted my baby pictures back or if she should destroy them. In her email, she told me how much she missed me and how hurt she was by what had happened, and wondered how I could be so cruel.

This time, I refused to apologize. I didn’t even respond and haven’t spoken to her since. It was over five years ago.

I’d like to say my life has been instantly better as a result of her departure from my life, but that would be untrue. The hate I feel today is something that sometimes makes me feel ashamed, and sometimes wanes to a sad, detached compassion. I wish I could purge it from my heart, but I’m not there yet. I still have strange dreams where she and I fight, or we hash it out, or we abandon each other all over again. I still miss her, or at least things about her. I miss having a mom, even if it’s not necessarily the same as missing her specifically. I miss having someone there to witness my milestones. My mom has missed my name change, my life in a new gender, my entire undergrad career and graduation, my moving out of state twice, my marriage, my divorce, my business ownership — all of it.

The last five years of my life have been an amazing time of self discovery. I’ve grown and flourished as a person. I’ve pushed myself to become the best person I can be. I’ve become a gifted public speaker and educator. I’ve shared knowledge about self, sexuality, race, gender, and a plethora of things which are of immense importance to me; many of which she is responsible for inspiring. I’ve become a more committed feminist and activist, moving from volunteering part time at Planned Parenthood, to working as a team lead on marriage equality campaigns, to traveling out of state to act as a medic at anti-KKK protests. I’ve become a stronger and braver person in so many ways. In short, she’s missed out on a lot, and I’ve missed out, too. I wish I had a mother to hug me and tell me she’s proud of me and who I’ve become. I’m very proud of myself and I wish I could tell my mom, “It’s because I had a mother like you.” In some ways, perhaps it is. I have grown up both because of and in spite of what she has taught me.

If you are without a mom this Mother’s Day, or your mom isn’t able to be the kind of mom you deserve, know that I am here with a big, wide open heart for you. Our kind of loss is seldom talked about, but know you aren’t alone. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship with a parent, sibling, or any family member, let me state this for you in a way that perhaps no one in your life has told you: You don’t owe your misery to anyone. Remember, love isn’t abuse, eternal resentment, disavowal of who you are, or constant anger. If you need to break away, and can do so, feel free to. I give you permission. It might not be easy, and it might hurt quite a lot, but your sanity is worth it. You are worth it.

For a nice exercise in surviving this upcoming holiday, check out this awesome post by Barbara Carrellas.

Take care of yourself, and do what is best for you.


Image credit: http://www.photographywest.com/

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“Seasons change and so did I…”

“Seasons change and so did I…”

CW: Intimate partner violence, sexual assault


You know how you do that thing where you start a blog, prep a few posts to be released in a timely fashion, then start a new job and completely run out of steam? Yeah, sorry rest-of-the-month-of-August-and-beginning-of-September.

I’m back to write about something that feels very important, something weighing heavily on my mind as this new season begins.

This time last year I was debating whether or not I should leave an abusive relationship. We tried couples therapy, we attempted to rebuild intimacy and trust, but ultimately we couldn’t make it work. My ex gave up all interest in trying to work things out, and I knew there was nowhere to go from there. Still, I was reluctant to leave the relationship. We’d been married for just shy of two years, and had moved into an apartment with friends last summer. I was in my final year of college and working on my thesis. It seemed impossible to end this relationship and pick up the slack by myself financially speaking. It all seemed too hard. Around the time I was contemplating all these hard choices, the #WhyIStayed hashtag was making the rounds, and it brought to light that situations like mine take place all over the world all of the time. Survivors of IPV feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, and finances are often a leading cause.

Completely distraught, I met with two of my mentors (to whom I will forever owe my gratitude and undying respect) and asked their advice. One gave me the kick in the ass I needed to move forward, and the other assured me my future was bright enough to stand on my own. I began the difficult process of extricating myself from this miserable relationship. As I recently wrote on the subject:

I had to face the fact that not only had my body been violated time and time again, but my belief in another person I once adored and with whom I’d planned to build a life and family had been completely eroded. I decided to get out in order to survive. Sleeping next to someone whose touch made me feel nauseated became too much to bear. I felt fraudulent, pretending to be content when instead I felt absolutely numb. It’s only more recently that I’ve been able to deal with the pain the actions of others caused me, and with complications stemming from the decisions I had to make as a result. Some of those decisions, particularly the ones where I opted to take care of and stand up for myself, resulted in estrangement from other relationships that either had to be temporarily suspended or walked away from completely. It’s been incredibly hard. The domino effect from these choices reverberates through me in countless other ways to this day. Things keep getting better, but slowly and often painstakingly.

It’s never easy to leave. This is particularly true if, like me, you are female assigned at birth and perceived as masculine of center. Though I identify as femme, my identity is fluid and over the years I’ve ID’d as butch, transmasculine, and mostly trans and genderqueer. I’m perceived as male about half the time now, and that comes with innumerable privileges, but also detriments. There are many reasons why FAAB trans, genderqueer, and masculine-of-center (MOC) folks might not report their abuse or seek out help. Some cite their abuse as emasculating — this is similar to why cisgender men don’t report abuse, but when you’re trans, other aspects of your identity can come into play. As survivor Joe Ippolito writes in his article on trans men/MOC folks and IPV:

[T]he trans men/MOC people I talked to seemed, like myself and many other trans people, particularly vulnerable to such abuse because the perpetrators would often use our trans identities against us to further assert power and control over our lives. Other trans-specific abusive tactics include, according to trans advocacy group FORGE: threatening to ‘out’ someone to their employer, friends, or family members; voicing anti-trans epithets and negative stereotypes; and utilizing knowledge of police abuse geared towards trans people to further discourage targets from seeking help.

Someone newly establishing their identity as masculine can be particularly vulnerable because our society teaches us that to be victimized is to be weak, and that only women are raped or abused. Masculinity leaves no room for victimization. Even if we know better it can be tough to overcome that stigma. Some of us might even ask for help but be denied, humiliated, or otherwise invalidated in our identities in the process. We might not be believed, because no one might think a MOC person can be raped or abused. But as this fact sheet on IPV in LGBT communities states, “Abuse is NOT about size, strength, or who is ‘butch’ or more masculine. Abuse is about using control to gain power and control regardless of a person’s gender or sexual identity.” In some cases, we might even fear being further traumatized — or worse. Ky Peterson, a black trans man who defeneded himself against his rapist, has spent the last three years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.*

When you are being abused by another trans or genderqueer person, especially someone male assigned at birth, there is the added pressure to not demonize or imprison a trans woman (or someone who is perceived as such). Similarly to abuse in cisgender lesbian communities discussed in the landmark piece Suffering In a Silent Vacuum, we might feel guilt for bringing more bad press to an already maligned community. But I firmly believe that we will only heal through truth-telling and acknowledging that there is nothing shameful in being abused, and that those of us who have been through it and those of us who perpetrate violence against others have the ability to recover.

Let me be clear: I believe in accountability and rehabilitation for those who cause harm to others. I believe a community can hold folks accountable through love and good faith effort. I know people who have been earnest in their desire to get better and have committed themselves to accountability — one such person put themselves through the process of their own accord and “outs” themselves on first dates as someone who has caused harm. However, when one refuses accountability, or continues to perpetrate harm, (as I learned my ex has,) I also firmly believe in the rights of survivor/victims to warn others and keep their communities safe. The missing stair analogy works well here, and I believe keeping one another from tripping is vital. If the “stair” can’t be fixed and the person who causes harm isn’t willing to get better, we as survivor/victims have every right to call bullshit. I also believe in the rights of survivor/victims to take care of themselves at all costs. For me this meant securing a protection from abuse, filing for divorce, and limiting my exposure to toxic relationships in order to give myself the chance to heal.

I also firmly believe we own our stories. Our stories are powerful. Every time I tell mine, other people share theirs. Sometimes the most powerful thing someone can say is, “yeah, me too.”

In that spirit, I will conclude this post (which turned out to be much, much longer than I thought it would be) with something I shared elsewhere:

If you’re struggling in an abusive relationship, do what you can to save and protect yourself. You deserve to prioritize yourself. If you have to avoid certain people and situations, that’s okay. Learn to trust your gut again. In all likelihood, you’ve been avoiding listening to that tiny voice inside of you for a really long time. You aren’t alone. The more and more I talk about this stuff, the more others open up to me that they’ve been through it, too. You’re not alone. You. are. not. alone. Whenever you feel like you’re completely isolated and wading through the day to day all by yourself feels too hard, take a little piece of me, maybe the words you’re reading now, and keep it with you. You’re strong enough to do what you need. I promise.

For more information on how to get help as a trans person experiencing IPV, check out this link: http://forge-forward.org/

*To learn more about Ky’s struggle, please visit https://freeingky.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: the author