Did it Help?: The Aftermath of Shame

My childhood was marked by obedience. I was willing to do whatever I was told, or I was not to be seen.

From the time I was born, my family went to my grandparents house every single Sunday. When I was three, I was expected to greet every member of my family with a warm smile, a hug, and a “hello.”

But for an autistic child, or really any child, this can be a big ask. Not only are you asking a toddler to have the social skills of an adult, but you aren’t allowing them any boundaries or time to adjust.

If I didn’t immediately say hello to everyone, I would be placed in a back bedroom.

“You can come out when you’re ready to say hello.” I’d be in there for hours.

I did not have body autonomy as a child, and it only escalated as I got older.

No weird hair. My biggest complaint as a young teen was that I was not allowed to dye my hair purple. I had already been accustomed to the neglectful yet controlling nature of my parents, and this was the first time that I had found fault with one of my mom’s rules.

What difference did it make what color my hair was? Why did she even care?

I was also not allowed to show negative emotion. One day, while we were out to lunch and it was starting to get dreary, I said to her: “You know, I really like the rain.”

“That’s because you’re depressed,” she snapped.

My brows furrowed. I was so confused. How could she be angry at me finding joy in the rain? And how did that make me depressed?

My body was not really mine. It was as though my mother was lending it to me, but it really belonged to her.

She also was not a huge fan of how I adorned my flesh vessel. If you could see the birth mark on my chest, that meant my shirt was too low. But that did not mean that modest, masculine clothing was suitable, either.

When my best friend, one of many my mom never liked, took me to a store to buy a men’s t-shirt, my mother threw a fit. “Why would you buy that?” She asked. I never it in front of her ever again. Eventually, I threw it out.

What a shame. I miss that shirt.

Anything could be too slutty. My team-issued cheerleading uniform was too slutty. Wearing shorts with knee-high socks was slutty. Wearing fishnets was slutty. The slut-shaming was there as soon as I was old enough to dress myself, but when I became sexually active, my mom switched to sexual abuse.

“Come in here,” she yelled from her office.

“Yeah, mom?” I said, in my sweetest, highest pitch. I was going to my boyfriend’s that night. I needed her in a good mood, lest she change her mind and make me stay home.

“I don’t want you being alone over there. I want to make sure that his parents are home, and if you are in his bedroom, the door stays open.”

“Yeah, mom,” I said. “His parents have the same rules. Door stays open at all times.”

“Good,” she said, scanning me. “I don’t want you two having sex over there.”

After all of the blood bleached from my face, I said: “I know.”

“Oh, so you’re having sex, then?”

My eyes widened. How did she extrapolate THAT from what I said? In a double bind, terrified of being in more trouble for lying I told her the truth.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Are you serious? Are you joking with me right now?” Her voice rolled out of her mouth so low, she was practically whispering.

I nodded.

“You know you could be pregnant, right? You’re going to have to take a pregnancy test.”

“Ok,” I said, knowing there was no choice.

“I could throw up right now. I don’t even want to look at you.” She spun around in her office chair, in a move that was so dramatic I almost expected her to be kidding.

My mother’s ownership of me ruined my sense of self and freedom. She tracked my car, even though I told her every place I would be. Everywhere I go, even today, I feel as though I’m being watched.

When I go to the store, I rush there and rush home. I feel like someone is waiting for me, pissed off that I’m out somewhere and not sitting in front of the TV or cleaning the house.

The constant shame didn’t change my behavior. I never stopped having sex. Like most adults, sex is a pretty normal part of my life.

Shame didn’t prevent me from sex, or even sex-work. If anything, sexual trauma pushed me into it. Embracing my sexuality on a stage or in front of a camera is blissful for me now.

The shame didn’t stop me from dating women. It didn’t prevent my transition to a non-binary man. It didn’t change my style of dress, or my wacky and queer friends, or anything about myself. All it proved to do was cause me lifelong anxiety and force me to cut all contact from my mother.

Sometimes, when I go on walks with my dog, or if I’m running errands, or even if I am just out to walk, I’ll take a few deep breaths. I ground myself into the moment. I look at the buildings around me, in my favorite city in the world, the place I always wanted to live.

I take a few more breaths.

And I remember that I have nowhere to be. I have nothing to do. I am my own person, in my own clothes, in my own body that I control. Nobody gets to tell me how to use it, how to dress it, or how I’m allowed to feel. My life belongs to me.

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