Finding Safety in Our Identities
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
There were a lot of moments in the first year of my counselling diploma where I went into a dissociative state. It happened either at school or on my way home. In this state, I regressed, lost my memories and concept of Self, and was overall confused. Most of my teachers and some of my cohort told me that it was because I was going through massive shifts. That this was a result of trauma coming up and I was healing because of the experiential learning my college promotes.
But it's fucked up for me to look at those experiences of dissociation as solely coming from my healing. It conveniently denies much of the trauma and pain that came from just being at that school. I was dissociative because I was unsafe.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my experiences at school. Yes, there was much that I learned, loved, and grew through. However, there was also a lot that was either retraumatizing or newly traumatizing for me. Most of which was a direct result of people not being able to give me the basic respect of pronoun use, erasing my gender and experiences as a queer person, and not thinking I was safe enough to ask for my needs to be met.
I was dissociative because I was unsafe.
I was regressing and escaping from my experiences at school because I was overwhelmed with how many people couldn't “get it”. With how many people were saying that they were trying but it was just really hard for them. With how many people were apologizing on another’s behalf (and that person had not made any acknowledgement of their cis/het centrism). With how many people wanted to apologize and get my forgiveness when I hadn't seen any change from them.
It was a lot to hold, the constant censoring of myself and adapting to a cis/het dominant space. I was there to learn, to become a Counsellor, and to do my own healing work. I was not there to learn how to make myself tolerable to cis folks.
I could have stepped forward and demanded change. Educated everyone, corrected everyone, put in hours of emotional labour to find safety. But I was already burnt out from just being in a new environment among people I didn’t know. Of trying to hide a part of myself that was screaming for my needs to be met, but not wanting to reveal it because if they couldn’t accept my queerness, could they accept autism?
...if they couldn’t accept my queerness, could they accept autism?
I was having emotionally dysregulating experiences and dissociative moments because I was trying to figure out how I would hold my queerness and neurodivergence (that I was still trying to understand and find words for). How I would hold myself to be able to at least achieve my goal of learning. I chose to prioritize learning over getting my needs met.
Similar to how when I reflect on my life and find moments of how my queerness showed up before I understood it; when I look back at my life experiences I can see how autism has shown and continues to show up in my behaviour and actions. I am queer, I am autistic, these two parts of me are me. They are linked and don’t show up in vacuums apart from one another.
It was difficult to find the safety I needed in order to be regulated at school. Like most new environments that I've adapted to or made space for my Self in, I spent a lot of time outside of school processing. Reviewing who I was safe around, who not only said they were trying but were doing it. Reviewing what actions from others I was hurt by, gaslit, or traumatized from, and whether I wanted to seek reconnection with or understanding from them. Most people I did not come forward to. I did not think them ready to hear me without defensiveness, without needing to put in a lot of groundwork on learning about queerness or non-binary experiences first.
I spent a lot of time alone, in silence, resting and recuperating from how exhausting it was to just be at school. My experiences at school and in the world as a whole, are a result of all of my parts interacting with each other to create me. Thankfully I have had my whole life to understand my Self, I know how to reorient towards who I know I am. I know how to hold and take care of me.
Understanding my Self helps me to support me better. In a world that isn't accepting of all of me, I have to be my number one supporter. When in spaces not designed for me, or purposefully excluding me, I need to be the one who lifts my voice and experiences. Building that solidity takes time for me in each space I enter, but once I have it, I can act.
I started to care less about masking my behaviour. I came forward more often to correct people because I started to care less about hurting their "feelings," AKA making them uncomfortable when confronted with their own biases and prejudices.
Finding safety for myself, in my identity, will always be a process as I adapt to new spaces and people. Even if new environments bring up disruption as I learn how I want to be in that space, eventually I find my way.
How can you embrace the fullness of your Self?
How can you hold all of your identity, all that makes you who you are?
In a world that wants to silence BIPOC, LGBTQIA2s+, womxn, disabled people’s experiences and more, how do you celebrate these aspects of your identity?
How do you stand up for your identity and the identities of others to be accepted and celebrated by others?
Maverick Lumen (they/them) is a Counsellor & Tarot reader who is passionate about seeing queer, trans, and non-binary clients receive the welcoming and understanding support they deserve. Their practice is founded on lived experience and anti-oppression, all while examining how the body and mind can be connected to uncover the stories that we have heard about and have told ourselves.
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