by Deborah Romero
As a queer woman of color, I am used to being viewed as ‘other’ by mainstream culture. I have built strong identity-affirming support for my worldview, simply to move through society intact. But there is a core area of my being that has not found a refuge; and I do not accept this status quo. I am a woman of color, Latina daughter of immigrants, that is living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and other related mental illness, the result of childhood traumas. I am a survivor of violent hate crimes by white men, incest in mi familia and a childhood of racial hostility from growing up foreign, dark and Spanish speaking in the South of the 1960’s – 1980’s. At 52, I am just starting to own these various threads of my life tapestry and begin a sort of coming out to people around the special needs and issues they bring. And while I am claiming my space within the trauma recovery movement, I wonder, where all the other women of color are; and have they told anyone their stories?
There is no identifiable space within trauma recovery services and support networks that is focused on women of color. Perhaps this is due to the fact that trauma recovery is understandably an intensely personal process, so it tends to promote an apolitical attitude. Trauma recovery is also a very expensive process; so the most vocal and out survivors engaging in this community will reflect those that have the ability to pay for treatment. There are other contributing factors, but it is my belief that that these two factors are the chief reasons that we do not find a trauma recovery community that reflects racial and cultural parity and why so many of our issues remain unaddressed.
The sad fact is that many women of color are living with PTSD or CPTSD resulting from childhood traumas but are simply not receiving the diagnosis and do not get the appropriate treatment. We struggle with mental illness that is treatable and has a higher than average positive prognosis. We move through life with a host of secondary symptoms ranging from substance abuse, compulsive habits, depression, self-harming behaviors, chronic illness, etc. But often, our superwoman mantle prevents us from identifying with our wounded selves. Our family and community loyalties prevent us from airing our dirty laundry. Or we get treatment for those secondary symptoms only when they are out of control, but never address the underlying causes. I do not mean to imply that white women do not go through these forms of denial as well; they do and it is also tragic. But I am addressing women of color here specifically, because I believe that when we make it to the table for trauma services, we will have to jump over cultural and racially based barriers in treatment and support.
BGD is a reader-funded, non-profit project. Please GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
Throughout the last several decades, I’ve made the rounds through all available community mental health agencies in two large metropolitan cities, as well as interviewed and sought out a multitude of mental health professionals to work with. I am also actively involved in national support networks of survivors living with PTSD/CPTSD from trauma. And the universal answer that I encounter when I raise racial or cultural issues is of a ‘we do not see race/culture, we see a wounded woman’ type sentiment. Well, that is fine and dandy, but if my race is not acknowledged as a key component of who I am, then language is not going to be an issue that you prioritize, then racial and cultural parity among provider staff at health centers is not a priority, then a political understanding of how racism works is absent and you won’t understand why I find it difficult to speak of incest or my hate crime experiences in racially mixed settings, or why some therapeutic models in existence may not be universally applicable to women from other cultures. It does make a difference.
It is not surprising that women of color who are working on these issues usually do not become active members of existing trauma related peer networks. The racism and white privilege in these networks keep you invisible and unleash guilt-laced anger on anyone who points out any racial inequity. I say this from experience.
I understand why we don’t want to join white women there. But this is where I challenge my sisters of color trauma survivors: we need to organize, girls! We need to start dialoguing about our childhood traumas. These secrets are killing us and our communities. I believe we can learn from the support and services that exist and help develop appropriate systems within our own communities. We need to do it for ourselves.
I know mine could not have been the only case of hate crime by white men in the South, yet I have not found sisters talking of their similar experiences (and I have looked, oh how I have looked). I want us to be counted and witnessed. Incest and childhood abuse happens across racial and cultural lines, yet our major cultural and racial political organizations do not acknowledge it as a key threat to our communities. We need to change that. We need to start talking amongst ourselves and /or seek appropriate help to heal from these wounds. I am saddened to think we are all just bearing it, perhaps getting support for some or all of it from a therapist or a few friends. But more than likely, most women of color survivors of these types of abuses do not get the specialized healing they need to live fully authentic lives. And we are all the worse for that.
Whether you do it through churches, around kitchen tables, in secret online Facebook groups or with a therapist, I urge my fellow sisters of color to push through minimizing attitudes about your own personal traumas and begin a discussion about healing. Begin to visualize a community that validates our past wounds and what tangible forms that would take. Be open to the possibility of a better life, and risk leaving the comfort of your own self-limiting thoughts. We do not have to be superwoman all the time, we can admit our frailty and vulnerability and still be indomitable. Start telling your stories. I want to hear you. I want to see you.
BGD accepts writing and video from queer and trans people of color! SUBMIT your work.
Do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.
Deborah Romero is an artist and writer living in South Florida. She blogs about living with CPTSD as a woman of color at mermaidrising.wordpress.com