on dissociation and trauma in texas social justice organizing

one of my greatest epiphanies during allied media conference 2016 were the words, “dissociation is a survival strategy”. that, coupled with sessions on queering martial arts and decolonizing christianity, made me realize that i had been repressing so many parts of myself, so much deep pain and trauma in my past and present, in order to be present enough to do my social justice work in texas.

texas is a hostile environment for anyone who is positioned outside of the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy. it is a place where because there are few government structures in place to act as a buffer, the violence and hatred from people within the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy can be felt immediately and distinctly.

ever since returning to texas, and witnessing the policing, poverty, and racism in my neighborhood on a daily basis, i’ve been engaging in measures of self numbing. first it was alcohol, then it was netflix, now it’s sleeping. until the mass shooting in orlando happened, forcing all my emotions to the forefront, i had repressed the fact that i literally feared for my life and well being as someone who does not subscribe to heteronormativity. and that, instead of naming this fear that seized my brain on a daily basis, it was easier to sleep. it was easier to come home from a meeting with an extremely racist person in power and watch netflix, than it was to cry out the weariness in my body. this was because if i cried at that, i would find reasons to cry every day, and my body and work would not be able to bear it.

as someone who has been managing intergenerational, familial, and societal trauma my entire life, i’m only starting to realize that trauma has always affected the ways in which i can be involved in social justice movements, and that i’ve always felt a pinge of resentment at those who work in this space untouched by the trauma of structural violence (white people, this is why you get the side eye). i am also highly aware in my current practice, how much more slowly my work progresses because i spend so much time managing trauma, and how much of a better and more capable person i am when i am in safe spaces that don’t require such degrees of repression.

related to this, i had an incredibly healing conversation with a friend from seattle on effective ways of practicing transformative justice. these words of hers really resonated with me, “transformative justice is a process that takes years, and the way it’s practiced means there’s not any huge success stories that you can refer to.”. can we relate this to the healing we need to see in our communities, and in ourselves? and can we relate this to a critique of the charity-nonprofit industrial complex?

working in collaboration with charities and nonprofits, it seems that those who can, do. but those who can’t, don’t because they are the most affected who are too busy engaging in survival practices of managing trauma. and yet it is imperative to center the experiences of those who are most affected and this is something that i struggle with practicing within a charity-nonprofit industrial complex context.

people managing trauma require different forms of care and consideration, but we are not powerless. it is a testament to our power that we’ve already survived this far. reflecting on the texas context has taught me that we need to build better spaces for holding the ways in which we cope – whether it be through numbing or through catharsis – because there is so much hostility coming from every direction. we also need to build understandings that we are capable of grieving and being, coping and doing within the same lifetime. it just might take a little longer or look a little different from how we traditionally construct narratives of social change. maybe there is no heroic turning point or outcome. our trauma should not be the reason that we are barred from working for social change. if anything, our trauma holds the wisdom to our liberation.

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