Whose Black Life Matters?

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I was born in 1969, just as the UK switched from Imperial to the Metric system.  One half of my old family were stuck with inches, yards and shillings.  The other half of my family used millimetres and kilograms.  I was stuck exactly in the middle. I learned how to be familiar with both, but I was never really comfortable.

This kind of straddling two worlds reflected itself in other ways.  The place I was born had a huge Black Caribbean population, but I still felt like a minority because the white voices were very loud and pretty racist. I was not supposed to mix with white kids.  I was not supposed to make friends with them.  I seemed to have missed that memo however, and so I was called “Coconut” from the time I was five all the way until I was in my forties.  I was never considered a “proper” Black person.

Feeling unwelcome in either world was something encouraged by my violent and abusive family – it seems a common thing that many survivors experience.  Having no trusted friends meant having no source of help or support.  I was totally dependent on the people who made my life a misery until I ran away from Tottenham.

I realised I was bisexual after a memorable episode of Star Trek the Next Generation.  As I took in the bridge crew of the Enterprise, I knew I was sexually attracted to almost all of them – men, women, alien and android.  My initial joy was short lived though. Bisexual was an orientation that was unwanted by everyone: from my straight white boyfriend to the rest of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Gay and Gay) communities.  Black and fat was unwanted by most of the white bisexual community too. It was almost five years before I met a Black bisexual woman on holiday.  I tried to straddle two worlds once again, however I was considered too straight by Black gay men to even hold a conversation with, let alone be friends.  I was downright shunned by Black lesbians, presumably for ‘sleeping with the enemy’ twice over.  White queer folks were openly racist.  Once again I belonged nowhere.

I became an activist a few years after coming out.  I fought against racism in the LGBT communities.  I joined DIY groups that wanted fat liberation.  I put a word to my romantic feelings: Polyamorous.  I became vegan. I felt like a powerhouse!  And then the bricks started to crumble away.  Racism and Fatphobia in veganism was massive – and still is to this day.  Fat liberation was a complete blizzard when I joined, and remains so in the UK.  I was treated as if Black people were not really human in the first place, unless it involved sex.  A high percentage of the white bisexuals and polyamorous people who were accepting of me, became distant and cold outside of the bedroom*.  There was no place I could feel at home.  

Now in 2020 I see everyone on this planet stating Black Lives Matter.  Countless numbers of Black Trans women and Black sex workers are brutalised and murdered around the world every day. The perpetrators sometimes include Black men.  Nobody goes on marches for them, or  acknowledges that they were even part of the Black race.  Black women are mistreated and murdered, by racist violence, the police, and often times by Black men they know.  Very few people say their name.  Even less want to look at the reality of living in a body that is supposed to shut up and put up with everyone else’s pain.  Black Lives Matter, but as a fat, bisexual, nonbinary, disabled Black person, I have rarely felt like my life held any worth.  I have lived with trauma, abuse, violence and my own self-hate for most of my life.  I have been so desperate that I self harmed as a way to cope being an abuse survivor with several mental health illnesses.  My first suicide attempt was when I was eight years old.  Everyone says Black Lives Matter, but the reality is unless you’re a cisgender straight man living in America, your Black life doesn’t mean that much at all.

I do not feel hopeful for the future.  I have seen the way older people without a family are left to rot by systems that are supposed to care.  When I was last in a mental health hospital, the fact that I had no family meant I was destined to stay there for good, despite being assaulted twice by other patients in just eight days.  It was my white friend with a posh accent, who called the secure ward and convinced them to let me out and into their care.  As grateful as I am to my friend, it saddens me to know the hospital medics would rather listen to a white middle-class person they had never met, than listen to my pleas to be discharged before I was assaulted again.  Medical racism, biphobia and fatphobia is literally life threatening for me.

Does my Black life matter to you? If you are white or a non-black person of colour, are you only concerned with Black folks murdered in the U.S, while ignoring those Black people being killed the next street over from you?  If you are Black, do you only care about other Black folks who look like you?  Do you ignore the most vulnerable Black lives because they are also queer, old, fat, disabled, homeless, or a sex worker?  Do you pick and choose which Black lives matter to you?

There are some worlds I can straddle, but many more I cannot when I am shoved between the cracks.  If the only way my Black life matters is to keep my sexuality a secret, ignore my gender presentation, and pretend I’m just like you, then my life never mattered to you in the first place.

If you learned something from this piece, consider making a donation to my tip jar at Paypal.me/ACrystalGem

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Trauma and Time Travel

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Trigger Warnings: Ableism.  Non-detailed brief mentions of childhood abuse and incest.

a felled tree in Muir Woods, San Francisco, showing (mostly) Settler conqueror moments throughout its 1,000 year history.

Trauma and Time Travel

I used to be obsessed with time travel stories in science fiction and fantasy.  From H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, to multiple episodes of TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate SG1, time travel and time manipulation was something that beguiled me. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I knew I would do anything to make it into a reality; to go back and change the past so I was never abused.

When I was diagnosed as having Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I realised that flashbacks were a form of time travel, and a very effective one at that.  There was no Steampunk inspired device, no futuristic faster than light machines, and no way for me to control when my mind would yank me back into the traumatic past.  Flashbacks were not only sights, but tastes, temperatures, and a myriad of senses that moved past the five I only thought existed.  My flashbacks were in high fidelity.  In one moment I would reach for a door handle, and the next I would find myself stepping into the back seat of an Austin Cambridge, travelling down the North Circular road.  My journeys to the past were not flashes of memories, but slow exposures that retained absolutely everything that happened at that time. Events repeated itself over and again.  I was forced to experience my fears, yet feel unable to change even a fraction of it.  I was never prepared for when flashbacks would occur, and this was especially the case when it came to flashback-nightmares, when I would time travel whilst asleep.

Where C-PTSD dragged the adult me into the past without notice, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) transported a fragment of me forward in time from the past to the present day.  This fragment had never aged as I grew up. My fragments were stuck in 1972, 1984 or a nebulous slice of time, depending on which Alternate Personality came to the fore, with a different name, a different gender, and a lack of understanding that the host body is alive in the twenty-first century.  This isn’t time manipulation, but a very real type of time travel that is cruel because i have little choice but to embody that part of myself as a child, with a child’s voice, vocabulary and mannerisms.  My youngest Alter, Lizzie may look nothing like me, yet she is part of me, separate and often confused as to why her family are not around and so much has changed many decades later.  

Dissociative identity disorder and the presence of Alters is something shown in science fiction, horror and fantasy, but which is almost always seen as a negative.  The Stargate SG1 episode, Life Boat, is one of the only positive examples of a character with this condition.  But a single episode can do little to counteract blockbuster films like Psycho or Split, which has caused even more stigma.

What happens when part of me refuses to grow up?  How do I manage to exist when an Alter will not move forward in time for long periods, and then pop up thinking they are still in the same era they were created?  Since I was diagnosed with DID, that my Alters each hold a section of my trauma that I as the host body could never manage unaided.  One of the major causes of DID is long-term repeated trauma starting at a very young age.  My brain was still developing when the abuse started, and it was unable to grow in a typical way.  Parts of me split off and became independent, defusing bombs in my mind that had a high chance of killing me outright.  With such dangerous work done by young parts of my personalities, it is no wonder they were never able to grow up with me as time passed.  Instead they settled in their own pockets of time until I as the host learned to speak about the past – not only of the abuse, but of the way I knew skills I had never learned, displayed traits that made no sense to me, and how my voice would change many times over the course of a single conversation.

I had my wish it seemed; time travel and time manipulation were real, and I was part of it. I was my own mechanism for this transport. But having C-PTSD and DID are more than ways to trace the road back to the past. They are both ways to cope with trauma, and a way to cope with the threat of trauma happening again.

On occasion, I feel adrift in time and space.  My host personality once surfaced when I was on a train travelling to where I used to live thirty years ago.  I had no memory of how I had come to be there, but I as the host knew I had to get off the train and make my way back to my present home.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lived several lifetimes, when in fact part of me was stuck in the 1970’s for over forty years. The BBC series Life on Mars comes to mind when I feel like that.

Trauma at a young age can often affect how a child’s brain develops. One of the brain’s functions is to process the passing of time.  This process got rather messed up for me.  As an adult I realise that my desire to change the past – to stop my parents from ever meeting, is a sad fiction.  I would need to be born in order to create a way to go into the past.  Plus my obsession with time travel made it so I could sidestep facing painful truths and realities that I as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse have to live with every day and with every tick of the clock hands.

Some of my favourite science fiction episodes that involve time travel and time manipulation:

Stargate SG1:  Window of Opportunity 

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars

Triggering words as a Survivor of Abuse

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Trigger Warning: non-detailed mentions of the affects of surviving ritual and/or spiritual abuse

Note 1: I see the word Ritual used a lot in Black & POC community healing.  There are people including survivors of abuse, who use this word as a way to celebrate and empower themselves and others.  THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THEM IN ANY WAY.

Note 2: Ritual Abuse is not only Satanic Ritual Abuse, despite what we read in the media.  There is a good webpage that explores the different kinds, and the help that is available for survivors.  https://information.pods-online.org.uk/demystifying-ritual-abuse/. PODS – Positive Outcomes for Dissociation is a site that also provides resources for people with Dissociative Identity Disorder and OSDD 

Words and their meanings change over time – that’s a feature and not a bug.  Reclaimed words however can still wound me if I have spent most of my life hearing them in certain contexts.

As a survivor of abuse, the R-word is incredibly triggering to me, even in safer spaces.  For example: I joined a healing group meeting on Zoom a few weeks ago, and had to leave about five minutes in, as the facilitator kept using the R-word to describe what we would do.  I could have spoken up, but to do so would make me feel even more vulnerable than I already was. In addition, I am often unable to communicate normally when I’ve been triggered.  I have too many memories of abusive people using the R-word to mask their physical, sexual and spiritual violence to vulnerable adults and children in my past, for it to be a neutral term to me now.  Other words like Spells and Magic, don’t bother me as much, but Witchcraft does.  I know other survivors may have different connotations to these words.  I am writing from my own lived experience.  

In decolonised healing practices, R-word and W-word are reclaimed from a time where indigenous spirituality was outlawed or at the least mocked and disparaged.  The whyte Halloween/Hollywood version of W-word that many see as a bit of harmless fun in the media, isn’t what I personally feel when I hear them.  I see sinister ways to control people in a non-consensual manner.  I see practices that are distorted from their original intent, often mixed with Christianity (or other dominant religion) to make a truly toxic mix.  

Words can carry a lot of weight to people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and other types of trauma-related mental health issues. There may not be another word but those above that encapsulates a process involved in healing in a non-western way, but checking that others are okay with these words, is a way to be more inclusive. Speaking for myself, I’ve already been cut out of most healing practices because of my size, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.  And I’d like a chance to feel better too, without being triggered by the things supposed to help me

Reduce, Reuse, Re-animate!

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Why upcycle clothes?

  • Less clothes heading for the landfill is a good thing.
  • Buying less clothes means saving money
  • Upcycling can bring new life into old items of clothing.
  • Upcycling is great when the fashion industry doesn’t cater to your body shape/gender/disability
  • You can create unique items that reflect your style

BUT…

Most of the upcycling tutorials and vids I’ve seen seem to run along these lines:

“Buy an ugly oversized garment, and then cut a pretty dress out of it!”

This kind of thing counts on the upcycler  being thin, having access to sewing tools, and money to buy a garment in the first place.  

Making new clothes from old & worn out clothes you already own is a better way to do things in my opinion.

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I made this dress out of 3 t-shirts.

You can use alternative fabric you may already have at home like:

Net curtains make a cheap source of lace or mesh

Fabric from broken umbrellas to make waterproof items

Tea towels, tablecloths.

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I did sew this piece of cloth on a sweatshirt, but fabric glue would work just as well.

I can’t or am unable to sew!

There are plenty of no-sew resources and tips to use. Fabric glue can withstand a washing machine, and hemming tape can work wonders on altered garments.

Anarchy in the UK!

Go for a late 70’s punk look and slap safety pins on everything you wear! And if your Priest/Rabbi/Imam gives you an odd look, don’t worry. I’ve got pics of them in a mosh-pit at a Poly Styrene concert back in 1979 before they found their calling! Blackmail is the accessory of the season!

Iron-on patches are your friend.  And if you don’t own an iron, I’ve seen a YouTuber put her hair-straightener to good use. It was an ingenious way to get into awkward spaces on clothes.

Adding studs to clothes are another great no-sew way to revamp items. As a teenager, I would pin cheap costume jewellery earrings over my old jacket.

Are you a Hippie at heart?

A bleach solution is a cheap way to decorate clothes. If you carefully pour the bleach into an old squeeze bottle, you can be more accurate in your designs.  A less hazardous way to upcycle your clothes with colour, is to use natural dyes. Beetroot will stain every light-coloured garment with ease.  Wild flowers and acorns are just some things to try.  And if you have money to spare, you can buy fabric pens, paints and dyes online or in most general and fabric shops.

Are you a poor fashionista?

Distressing denim and other cotton-based garments means your creations can look like designer pieces that cost a bucket load of money.  I’ve seen Upcyclers use graters, scissors and knives to distress denim.

For a truly versatile garment, there are a zillion ways to use a scarf as an outfit.

Link to scarf video https://youtu.be/682n6XGAEHg

Make the leap into Upcycling!

T-shirts are a good way to begin, as they’re generally cheap, and the fabric doesn’t fray when cut.

Make a crop top from a regular t-shirt by simply cutting the garment in a straight line through both layers.  Start at where your navel begins.  If you want it shorter, cut another inch/2.5cm off.  You can always remove more until you reach your desired length, but it’s a lot harder to add more fabric on if you chop off too much.

Once you feel more confident, try something else, from halter tops to waistcoats, all no-sew

A good example is below:

13 ways to upcycle a t-shirt: https://tinyurl.com/yama6448

T-shirts can also be made into no-sew cloth bags.

This link has a tutorial, as well as 38 other ideas!

https://www.personalcreations.com/blog/upcycle-your-t-shirts

 

Fat-Positive upcycling

Buying plus-size clothing in the UK is expensive, and the choice in the high street is limited at best.  There are more online options every day, but you can’t try these on to see if they suit, unless you want to pay return fees if you don’t like it.  Charity/thrift/second-hand shops are rarely our friends either.  I’m a size UK24/US20/EUR52.  In over thirty years of going to these shops, I’ve only found five items that fit me.  But when you shop with the mindset of upcycling, charity shops suddenly look a whole lot more interesting.

Gender is a construct, and that goes double for upcycling. Go to the Women’s section and take flowy skirts and dresses that are too small, and cut them into manageable lengths of fabric to use in an upcycling project. Go to the Men’s section for smart outerwear, t-shirts and jumpers.  Ties can be used for your own genderqueer looks.

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I cut the circle from a t-shirt with a big stain on it. I then attached it to the back of a waistcoat.

Online articles for Fat thrifting and upcycling

https://tinyurl.com/yaxajpwx (in English & French)

https://tinyurl.com/yb2457nc

https://tinyurl.com/ycgtekgl 

 

Youtubers

DIY STYLE ON A DIME

Jessica Kelly

 

Instagrammers Who have great upcycling posts

@emlhayden

@wobsisobi 

@blueprintdiy

@genderswap_

@why_b_

@imdrewscott

 

Websites

Pinterest is good for ideas, but is very skewed toward fashion for young, thin white women.

Repeat victims of S.A and C.S.A

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Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, Sexual assault, Rape, child sexual abuse survivors

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Repeat victims of sexual abuse/assault are often left in an isolated place.  Few enough people (including medical staff) want to discuss it happening once. Even less want to acknowledge that it has happened multiple times.  I agonised for decades over the fact I’ve been sexually assaulted by several different people & groups over the course of my life.  It was only a little while ago that I heard so many survivors of child sexual abuse grow up conditioned to be compliant/not make noise/not kick up a fuss about things.  This conditioning often follows us into adulthood, where it is difficult to to judge other people’s intentions and our own safety.  We have learned to ignore our instincts, to not question others who behave inappropriately to us.  Other things like body language can get screwed up when growing up in with sexual abuse.  Body language is not a conscious thing for me, but other abusive people pick up on my wish to not be seen, and my ability to shrink myself so I’m less of a target.  These are all things I did to survive as a child.  I shouldn’t have had to do any of this, and we survivors should have grown up being protected and loved.  All of this isn’t to say that survivors will inevitably be assaulted again, but rather to say: if it’s happened to you many times, it’s still not your fault.  You can refuse to hold the guilt and shame.  You can be there for yourself, not matter how physically and emotionally isolated you are.  You can know that you are not alone.

I’m sending you all my love in your journey to heal.

The following articles go into this in more details: https://tinyurl.com/t3ay5ex

And this one by the World Health Organisation has lots of further links

 

 

Self Harm as Survival

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TRIGGER WARNING: Self Harm, Suicide, Mentions of sexual abuse.

Below is a small zine I made whilst on a secure ward in a mental health hospital.  I wanted to create something about self-harm in an honest way. Self harm often has the stereotype of only being something done by white, young, cis het women/girls.  Well I’m old, Black, bisexual and nonbinary.  I self harm, and it’s very difficult to talk to anyone about it who understands about how living with multiple marginalisations, as well as being a survivor of long term sexual abuse, affects me.  My experiences are different, and not the typical discourse you will see.  So here we go: I hope you get something out of it.

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Rare Racism topic: Colourism

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951515C8-388F-4C03-9228-2F2A60838E94Colourism could not exist without white supremacy, internalised racism, and the lust for proximity to whiteness.

Colourism often includes the following:

  • Skin bleaching, using products often banned due to their toxicity, but readily available in grocery shops and pharmacies anyway.  Often these products are endorsed by celebrities.
  • Powerful chemicals used on children’s hair to appear straighter.
  • Dark-skinned babies being unwanted/abandoned
  • Descriptive terms once used during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, used by POC in the present day.  ‘Nappy hair’ is just one example.
  • Dark-skinned people who are Jewish or Latina denied their heritage because they’re ‘too dark’.
  • People of Colour with darker skin treated less favourably than white people or those with lighter complexions.  This treatment includes jobs, dating and relationships, systems of law, and victims of crime to name just a few.

Colourism occurs when POCs with lighter skin tones and straighter hair are called “Fair” whilst POC with darker skin tones and/or untreated hair are called N—.  This happened to a relative in my old family who was darker than the rest of us.

Previously-colonised and enslaved countries are often the worst at perpetuating colourism, and it’s often due to the introduction of European/White beauty standards as the only acceptable way to be.  ‘Uglification’ ties into colourism when POC are encouraged to hate their very beings.  Uglification is a concept first introduced to me by Vanessa Rochelle Lewis (@the.ugly.black.woman on Instagram).  Her tag line “Reclaiming our bodies/ freedom from Uglification! Centering our joy, pleasure, expression, and creativity. Exploring the potency of sensuality for Art” fights against colourism, racism and other types of hate directed at POC for being who they are.

Colourism isn’t just how your skin and hair looks, but it often becomes entwined with other forms of oppression like ableism, fatphobia, hatred of disfigurements and classism.

Colourism is cruelty on a global scale.  It’s not just poisoned skin and damaged hair, but toxic attitudes that impact on our mental health, hurting already-vulnerable people.  All of this for a dream that POC will be treated better, go further in life, and be happier because they gain proximity to whiteness in all its forms.

Rare Racism Topics: Targeted Harassment

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People of Colour are often punished or harassed for the same things that white people can and do get away with.  From things like being arrested, imprisoned and ‘mysteriously’ dying in police custody (very U.K specific example), to being targeted for harassment online.  This is a sometimes-subtle way that POC receive racism.  And the further down in people’s estimation we are, the poorer treatment we receive.  I’m going to concentrate mostly on online harassment, although these are often played out offline too.  The more life-ending examples are too painful for me to write about right now.

Example 1: A cisgender man of colour makes a post on social media about fighting racism.  He will get the inevitable pushback and defensiveness from white people, the “what about..?”, the “Not all whites,” and “You’re the real racist,” alongside some other horrible responses blaming him for the situation.  A few days pass and things will mostly die down.

Example 2: An Asian person makes a post on social media about fighting racism.  They will get all of the above, plus accusations of being a terrorist, Islamaphobic slurs (whether they’re Muslim or not), and in some cases they’ll have their photo, if they used one, altered in photoshop so they appear to be carrying an explosive (yes, that’s happened).  Some respondents will send DMs to the poster, with pics of atrocities against Muslim people (I’ve also had that happen to me).  Things will take a very long time to die down.

Example 3: A black woman who is heterosexual and cisgender makes a post on social media about fighting racism.  She will get all of the above two examples, but in much higher numbers.  She will get these reactions from people of all ethnicities and genders.  Her DMs will be full of thinly-veiled, or outright death threats, rape threats, details of personal information that go on to be shared (doxxed).  She will be hounded off social media, live in fear for her life and that of her family &/or friends.  She will receive very little support.  The police (U.K example) will not help unless she is very famous, which isn’t that likely.

Example 4: The most subtle and insidious example is of people who are not often considered human by bigots in the first place.  People like me: Black, nonbinary, fat, disabled and bisexual.  So I’ll use my own personal experience here:

I don’t make a post about racism.  I only press the “Repost” button, or maybe I respond to a post on racism with, “Thank you for this.”  Bigoted people of all ethnicities and genders inundate me with horrible responses, using many of the things in the three examples above.  The original poster does not receive anything near the volume of abuse that I do.  I wonder why this is the case, and then remember that I am open about who I am online.  I have photos and posts about fatness, blackness, gender, disability and bisexuality.  The abusive respondents have taken a few minutes to have a look at my online presence.  I am deemed to be “bottom of the barrel,” or an “Easy target.”  They know, and are often correct, that nobody is going to support me or respond to their public hate.  I also receive sexually violent images and threats in emails outside of the social media platform.  Many people will blame me for my own harassment.  I am told to “Ignore them!” Or “Don’t feed the trolls.”  The original poster will often ignore what is going on in their mentions/replies/comments section.  This has happened to me so many times online and offline too.  Things don’t move on until months or even years have passed by.  I leave social media, or at least leave for a very long time before I return, scared in case anyone still remembers me.

In the first three cases, the original poster will experience stress, worsening mental health, fear, and physical reactions to trauma, whether potential or not.  In the fourth example, people like me, who are often the most vulnerable in society, experience thoughts of suicide, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, desperation, and all of the things experienced by the victims of the first three examples.

Racial Harassment is not equal.  Even within minorities there is still a “pecking order.”  Bigoted people of all ethnicities and genders carry out this kind of thing.  So called Progressive people carry out this sort of thing, particularly when it comes to Fatness, especially if that person is fat and black.  It is a soul-destroying thing to be on the receiving end of.  Social media is often the major means of communication for vulnerable people like me.  When we leave, our world becomes infinitely smaller.  More needs to discussed about this.  But for now I just want you to acknowledge it as an often hidden racism topic that is far bigger than it seems.

The Forest Inside me

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This isn’t Epping Forest, but a pic of Muir Woods that I took on my visit to San Francisco in 2013.

Thanks to @DualityDreamers on Instagram for reminding me of this poem, written by several of my Alter Personalities: Forest Jacq, Larry, Munro, Shadoe, and Outside Jacq (me, the host)

This is probably the most open I’ve been about Dissociative Identity Disorder, and it’s no coincidence that this illness is one of the most demonised in mental health (along with Psychosis & Schizophrenia).  Before I was diagnosed with DID, I only knew about it through horror films by its old name (Multiple Personality Disorder).  People with DID are not the evil villains in life – if you want to see that, look at the people who hurt and abused us when we were so young.

Trigger Warnings in the poem: Mentions of child abuse, but nothing graphic or detailed.

The forest inside me

People like me at 12-step groups

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People like me aren’t supposed to ask for help when we have problems.  Black people are supposed to be resilient and strong.  According to the Bisexuality Report (Open University, 2012) Bisexual people are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than straight, gay and lesbian people.  Biphobia and racism inside and outside of LGBT+ communities can also lead to worse mental health outcomes than others in the groups above (Bi’s of Colour report 2015).  

When I’m told by well meaning people to “Pray on it,” or “Get support from the family and church,” this advice is not so useful for me.  I’m an ex-runaway who fled their family of origin almost 30 years ago.  Most churches in the U.K are not welcoming towards LGBT+ people, and if by chance they are one of the few queer led congregations, they definitely are aimed at lesbians and gays only.  Detox and Mental health services in the NHS have little experience or willingness to learn about the intersections of ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion: one size fits all is what I’ve been offered in the past, but their little boxes of recovery can’t hold all that I am.  So I looked to group support in 12-step groups.

I’ve attended three 12-step groups in my life: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA), and Overeaters Anonymous (OA).

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organisation I had heard about in media growing up, but I had never heard of the other two groups until I was floundering around in libraries for information, long before the internet really existed.  The AA groups I attended were always overwhelmingly straight, white and male.  S.I.A and OA were very much straight, white and female.  I was usually the only black person in the room, and I was often made to feel unwelcome, but I persisted with each group, sometimes over the course of years, until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I exist at the intersection of many marginalised identities.  People who are in the cultural majority often find it difficult to understand why this affects everything I do, including how I heal and work through issues.  In most 12-step groups, differences are ignored in the most part, and the baseline is simply a “desire to heal”.  But I can’t heal if white straight people talk over me, ignore my hand when it’s raised in meetings, or laugh when I share about how oppression affects me.  

In the last AA meeting I attended, I shared about racism I’d faced in previous meetings I’d attended in various locations in London.  As I left the building, a white man approached me and said, “Maybe we should all wear boot polish next week, then we’ll be the same.”  He walked away quickly after my retort of, “I can’t believe you just said that!”  

At many OA meetings, people had the tendency to hug each other before leaving.  As a survivor of sexual violence, it has taken me decades to be comfortable with hugging people I don’t know well, unless they ask if it’s okay to do that first.  At the end of my last OA meeting, a man launched himself at me with arms wide and a big grin on his face.  I stepped back and said, “No thanks.” 

The man looked at me with eyes wide in shock and said in a very angry tone, “I wanna hug you.  I’m not gonna hurt you!”

At a different OA meeting, someone brought their dog, and left the animal free to wander around the small room.  When I asked them to keep their dog away from me, as I’m scared of most animals, I was met with an aggressive white woman spitting words at me, and stating I was at a ‘dog-friendly’ meeting, and I should ‘get used to it or just go’.

These outbursts left me scared and upset.  We all have different ways we interact with the world, but because of how I look and am perceived, it’s assumed I can handle everything thrown at me without a word of complaint; the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope is alive and well it appears.  I’m rarely seen as a human with feelings, but just a jumble of stereotypes.  Also, I’m nonbinary.

Disbelief, silence, a lack of respect toward boundaries, sexism, biphobia and general racism before, during and after meetings, were an everyday occurrence in the groups I attended.  London is a multicultural city, but when I went to meetings, I may have well been in the most isolated rural settlement.  There was nobody to speak to about my problems I encountered in meetings, as 12-step groups don’t operate with a system of leadership or even culpability.  I simply found myself alone and unwanted everywhere I went.  I no longer attend any group and it saddens me, because I can see how much they have helped white people; I can see the potential that could exist for me too, if I wasn’t the person I am. But I know I should never feel forced to change or ignore who I am, in order to get the help I desperately need.