Gender Stories

Gender and Trauma

September 06, 2020 Alex Iantaffi Season 3 Episode 41
Gender Stories
Gender and Trauma
Show Notes Transcript

This episode was originally recorded as a Facebook live in June 2020 by your host, Alex Iantaffi. Here are some of their thoughts and reflections about gender and trauma during Pride season.
CN: Mentions of domestic violence, systemic violence, and racist and transmisogynistic violence when discussing the case of Cece Mc Donald.

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Hosted by Alex Iantaffi
Music by Maxwell von Raven
Gender Stories logo by Lior Effinger-Weintraub


Everyone has a relationship with gender. What's your story? Hello, and welcome to Gender Stories with your host, Dr. Alex Iantaffi.

Alex Iantaffi:

Hello, wonderful Gender Stories, listeners and welcome to the Gender Stories, Facebook group community. At the moment the community is for Patreon supporters only. And I know not all in fact, most of the patreon supporters have not made it over to this group. But when you do a play this live will still be up unless I really mess it up and decide to delete it and therefore it will no longer be here. I hope you enjoy getting to see me doing a live rather than just listening to me on the podcast and you get to see my wonderful t shirt that one of my nesting partners got me. It says 'because trauma' and the back that says 'because gender' you can't quite see that but there and and that's because that's pretty much all I do most of the day. Talk about trauma or talk about gender, both in my work and my personal life. And so that because trauma because gender T shirts seem very appropriate. And that's also why I chose to marry two of my favorite topics in this life. And the episode that I did about complex PTSD. Last year already, I believe time flies. It's one of the most popular episodes on the podcast. So I think that people really do want more information about trauma, and that there is so much to talk about from from the lens of gender. Wow, this is so much more unnerving than just recording an episode on podcast for you all that's very good to notice anyway. So why trauma? Well, we're in the middle of a pandemic, the Coronavirus pandemic is still going on and that has brought up a lot of trauma responses for people. I think there's been a lot of kind of fight, flight, and freeze and fawn. And we'll talk about all of those responses in a moment that have come up for people. And then we're in the middle of uncovering another pandemic that's been going on for a long time in what we call the United States, which is the pandemic of racism and of course, that is a much more global pandemic. But I'm kind of focusing in on where I live, which is under Anishinaabe land, currently known as Minneapolis and I live in South Minneapolis, actually where, which has been the center of the most recent uprising, and also the skripals that have been created about prison abolition, which also has a lot to do with trauma. And the next episode of gender stories, is actually a wonderful interview with Deanna Ayers, about prison abolition and so much more. It's really about relationship. And so this seems like a really good time to talk about trauma because most people are really noticing that they're struggling, a lot of people are noticing that maybe what might be called their executive functioning, so their ability to get day to day tasks done has really been suffering during the pandemic. And then also during that period for lots of good reasons. And also our bodies are being impacted differently by this traumatic events, depending on our position and our location, right, not just our geographical location, that the ways our bodies are gendered the ways our bodies are racialized, our, you know, geopolitical location, or socio economic status. There's just a lot going on for a lot of people. And on top of all of this life still goes on, for everybody and even just everyday life under settler colonialism and under capitalism is pretty traumatic. So I thought that talking about trauma would be a really good topic and of course, I really want to acknowledge also that when we talk about trauma, this is not necessarily a one time event, but some people have not been free of historical trauma or cultural social trauma for for a very, very long time or, you know, for hundreds of years, still. And so really wanting to acknowledge that often when we think about trauma, we think about something that has happened in the past but still impacts us in the present. But for a lot of black, brown and indigenous and Latinx bodies and Trans and Queer bodies, that trauma is ongoing on an everyday basis. So it is not something that is stopped but it's something that our bodies are continuously supposed to in different ways, depending on our location, right. So what is trauma? I mean, there's a whole other episode on complex PTSD, which I invite you to go check out if you haven't listened to it yet. But often a lot of trauma experts in air quotes and I say in air quotes, because a lot of trauma experts have taken materials from wisdom that that that has existed for a very long time and a lot of it is also indigenous wisdom that has existed for a long time and global wisdom. Most of the folks who work with trauma, let's say talk about trauma as an unresolved response in our body. When something happened to us, which is traumatic, our nervous system, our bodies, have this beautiful trauma responses that help us to survive, right. And so some of our survival responses are to fight, so pushing back on whatever is happening there might be. To freeze or to just kind of, you know, an animal kingdom, you might see as kind of smaller animals playing dead when there is a larger predator that they cannot escape from fast enough, and who is too big for them to fight. So freeze is kind of a exactly what it says in the body. There is flight, which is trying to get away from what is happening. And then of course, there is fawn, which is much more human, I don't, I have not seen that response in animals, which is often people use animals as an example of survival responses, often in trauma training. And fawning seems to be a pretty specific human response, which is really about people pleasing for survival. And that response is pretty familiar to me personally, I know, it's been one of my preferred responses to childhood trauma, for example, and it continues to be one of my responses that I need to watch out for. And that's not uncommon, especially for people who are brought up in households where there might be abusive behaviors. It is not uncommon to go into fawning for some people, which is, if I'm very, very good, if I do everything, right, if I walk on eggshells, maybe terrible things won't happen. That's kind of the summing up of fawning. And we'll talk in a moment about how gender is so relevant to all of those responses, right? So you may have already recognized that you might have a preference or those responses are available to us at all times. And we might have a preference for one or other responses as well as fawning, I also have a little bit of a preference for fight. And so kind of I tend to alternate between fight and fawning, not so much freeze or flight, although I do pretty well with functional freeze. So when something bad is happening, just shut it down and push through at least get what you need to get done, which serves capitalism but doesn't serve our bodies quite so well, right. So those responses are really a way for, for our nervous systems for us to be able to respond to traumatic events. And the idea is that they once the traumatic event is over, we can discharge whatever it's in our body and then come back to safety come back to a baseline but what if there is no coming back to safety because the world is not a safe place for us. And I think that's something that we're experiencing on a global scale with the pandemic. But it's also something that black and brown and indigenous bodies and Trans and Queer bodies have experienced for a long time, which is also no accident in the way we're talking about trauma during, you know, Pride Month, pride was a riot that was led by, you know, black and Latinx trans women who said no more to the systemic violence that the were experiencing from the police. Right. And that is trauma. That is a collective response that says we will no longer be silent to this trauma that gets inflicted on us by the systemic violence that the police are perpetuating on our bodies, we're going to fight back, right? That's that collective response and fight is often what we want because it helps us to mobilize, it helps us to do something right rather than freezing or or fleeing, or kind of fawning and trying to go along with the status quo. There is so much more that we could say about that. And a freewheeling a little bit about gender and trauma today and just really wanted to share some some more general thoughts. So of course it's never just about gender right? Sorry, it's really warm right now where I am so it's never just about the the ways our bodies are gendered because the ways our bodies are gendered cannot be separated by the ways... From the ways in which our bodies are connected to land, our relationship to indigeneity, our relationship to ancestry, whether we've been displaced or not so whether we're indigenous to place or not, to intergenerational trauma that might come from that displacement, from the trauma of our bodies that are racialized, and how some of our siblings might be experiencing the levels of anti blackness that exist in the world, and especially in this world, where I live. And so all of those things, it's kind of cycled, this attribute tributes to a river, I think it's called, you know, like the smaller streams that kind of go into this bigger river of trauma, that then we're kind of bathed in all the time. Wow, that sounds really bleak, right? That the good news is also their body's incredibly resilient, which is why we have those survival responses and the goal of trauma healing, is not to get rid of triggers is not to get rid of our responses, like fight, flight, freeze, or even fawn. Actually those help us survive, is to make sure that we're not responding in the present to situation in the past. So it's being able to put the past in the past and to be present to what is present. And also to be able to mobilize in the present, you know, in a way that's kind of appropriate and relevant to the present and that doesn't bring all the past with us, hopefully. And it's also impossible to truly heal from trauma in a world that is still so oppressive, right? So we can do a lot to support our nervous system, we can do a lot to support ourselves and our siblings in the fight, to have access to full full rights and the right to existence, the right to, to breath them. Fortunately, it's being taken away from far too many of our black siblings and especially black trans women really want to uplift just want to uplift their lives because too often we just lift up their deaths. And we need to really lift up black lives not just as mattering, but black lives are sacred, and they're beautiful and they enrich our lives and black trans fam lives are amazing in our community, and they deserve to be uplifted and celebrated and protected, right. And so partially why I talk about trauma so much is that as we really uncover trauma in, in our communities, in history in our own bodies, we can hopefully become more present with one another, more connected and stronger in the face of kind of settler colonial, racist white supremacist, cis, hetero patriarchal, dominant discourse that really hurts all of us. So let's go back to gender now for a minute. So because trauma because gender right, what does gender have to do with all of this? Well, let's think for a moment now we all have those responses, fight flight freeze fawn by how some of those responses are seen, more acceptable in some bodies than other bodies, depending on how those bodies are gendered, right. So for example, fight might be seen much more appropriate when it's a masculine bodies than when it's in feminine bodies, right? It can almost be seen as inappropriate for feminine folks to go to a fight response, because femininity in this cis genderous kind of dominant discourse is supposed to be seen as nurturing, as protective. And that is why, for example, in the criminal justice industrial complex, we often see women have much harsher sentences than men when it comes to violent crimes, right, because it's not supposed to be in their air quote 'nature', to commit violent crimes. And so those responses are often viewed through the lens of gender, by ourselves, by those around and by the systems that govern our everyday life, like the judicial system, the educational system, and so on. Right? And families. Often a fight is not seen as an appropriate response in family and of course, that is very cultural too. I don't really think even though there are some issues in my own Italian culture too, I really felt the pressure to be softer, more soft spoken, to have the higher pitch voice, to be more airport feminine when I lived when I moved to the UK first and then to the US. So when I lived in Angola in Anglo Countries compared to when I lived in Italy, which is fascinating. And I think we could have a conversation all about that but we're not having that conversation we're talking about gender and trauma today. So fight might be seen as kind of a more appropriate response for masculine folks in dominant culture. Whereas flight or freezing might be seen as more appropriate. Even though, for feminine folks, even though then feminine folks are in this double bind, right? You are supposed to be like, small if you're assigned female at birth, and make yourself like, small and quieter and take up less space. But then when some folks are assaulted, often there is this kind of dissonance that happens, you know, people are like, 'Well, why didn't you fight back' by our alias, we've been told not to fight back and to take up less space and then also when people fight back, it is not seen as feminine behavior. So there is kind of no winning, right? And then if we look at that intersection of gender and race, that then becomes even worse, right? We take for example, the case of CeCe McDonald is a local, young African American woman who several years ago, was assaulted by some people outside the tavern, which is actually just down the road, from where I live. And she defended herself, she had scissors in her purse, because she's a fashion student, so that that's not something unusual for her to have in her purse. And she had glass, she had already had glass smashed in her face by one of the white folks who were outside the tavern and then somebody ran after her. And she, she defended, you know, she was standing there with the scissors and the person ran into the scissors and died. And this was a white man as this white man with a long history of violence and the history of white supremacy and yet, CeCe wasn't seen as a young black woman was protecting herself, she was seen as an aggressor, who had exhibited inappropriate amount of force in defending herself. Now you can see how that intersection of our body is gendered and our bodies racialized, really played into that story. Right? If it had been a cis white woman? Would that have been seen as a legitimate self defense? You know, and I often even when people were saying, 'Well, you know, we really need to look at all the different perspectives and we need to look at the facts'. And I said, Great, let's look at the facts, how they've been kind of laid out in the city pages and other places. Let's look at the facts. And she, you know, and now let's imagine this was assessed why young woman in her early 20s, being assaulted and ran after by a man, especially black man, this would probably never have gone to court, she probably never would have been prosecuted. So that this is why it's important to look at that intersection of gender and trauma. Because our responses, the responses that are in our body to keep us safe, are not always seen as legitimate, depending on our bodies are gendered and our bodies are racialized. I'm sorry, I know that it's really heavy story to share. But I think when talking about gender and trauma, we can not shy away from how the way the bodies are racialized as well as gendered is really important to look at, because that's the trauma in itself. And it's a trauma for all black women, trans are not often people, you know, Black Women's Gender and femininity gets questioned. For example, let's think of some of the wonderful of black women athletes. And think about how many articles white journalists have written where there was a questioning of their femininity, because of their athletic prowess. Right? And so this, this tight connection between gender and race cannot be ignored when it comes to talking about trauma. And if we look at some of the stuff, we with freeze, we can get a lot of confusing responses. Of course, you did what you did to survive, but couldn't you have done something else? We see that also when people talk about domestic violence, and some folks question some folks, why didn't they leave? But this doesn't apply just to folks who are assigned female at birth. Also, folks who are assigned male at birth can be hurt by those stereotypes too. A lot of boys are subjected to violence or expected to fight, they are exposed to violence much younger, they're expected to prove their masculinity through fight, through violence, which then perpetuates even more trauma in the bodies and you know, and again, there is an intersection there around socioeconomic status, around race, around class, and so many other factors. And of course, if we look at fawning as well, you know, our flight or fawning, you know, running away, as can be seen as more or less acceptable, depending on somebody's gender, right? Again, this idea of who is supposed in air quotes to be able to stand their ground and fight, and who's supposed to actually try to run away right, there are gender stories around that. And there are gendered stories around fawning, this idea of like, who is it that tends to go on to people pleasing? First, the Bible, you know, if you're assigned female at birth, in a lot of cultures, I know I was brought up definitely to think about putting other people before myself and putting other people's needs before my own. And my colleague and friend Meg John Barker, is actually fairly recently written some a wonderful blog post about trauma and fear and shame, and offer them often they feel this tension between having to choose themselves and their safety, or having to choose others. And this can be in big or small ways and if they choose themselves over somebody else, you know, out of fear, then there is kind of shame of having chosen chosen self. But if there is a choice of other than there's fear for the safety of self, right? That often when we're in a trauma response, we feel that polarity, between fear and shame, we feel that polarity between self and other, it's kind of impossible to be in a place of connection and community if we are being traumatized constantly. How can we connect if the other person can be a threat to ourselves, which is why Community Safety also requires Community Justice. We cannot be connected and take care of each other, and look out for each other safety if our bodies are being traumatized by some of the folks in community, then we go back to this idea, it's a choice between myself and the other, right. And that's why trauma healing cannot be separated from this idea of liberation, this idea of justice, this idea of consent, the idea of accountability, all of those are ideas that are so so essential when it comes to trauma healing. And I'm kind of going a little bit all over the map. But I was hoping that this live, it was really an opportunity to just kind of share some thoughts with you around those habits. So let's see. What else do I want to say about all those topics? Well all those topics are pretty big and one of the things that maybe I want to talk about for the last few minutes of this live is, so what can we do? We live in an incredibly settler, colonial capitalist, sis, hetero, patriarchal, Christian centered world, a lot of us not, not everybody, but a lot of us do. Also a world that's full of white supremacy, that's full of racism. It can feel really dispiriting, right? Well, if it's all trauma all the time, and we have this rigid gender binary, which is in itself a legacy of settler colonialism. And that is really messed up and it hurts people. What can we do? Where's the hope? Right? Well, I think, first of all, the hope is in our bodies, right? Recognizing that, that fight, flight or freeze, and even fawn is like, our resilience, how our need to survive, our body knowing that, what do I need to do instinctually? I don't even have to go through my neocortex, right, what do I need to do? Essentially, sometimes it's called the lizard brain to protect myself. So we have the ability to protect ourselves. And we also have so many tools for which we can become in deeper relationship with our body so that we can recognize the difference, for example, between safety and comfort. That is something that is so essential to recognize in this historical moment where a lot of you know finally, prison abolition, which is something that a lot of black folks and indigenous folks in London ex folks have been working for for a long time. This idea of prison abolition is become recognized by dominant media is rippling out and there are a lot of folks, a lot of white folks mostly were very uncomfortable. And so let's recognize that discomfort is that discomfort or lack of safety? Or is it discomfort, and it is through really being in deep relationship with our body and being relationship with, with healing our histories, that we can start to recognize those lenses. What is unsafe and what is just uncomfortable? And also what, and also the difference between what do I feel it's unsafe and what is really unsafe, because maybe I feel a situation is unsafe because of my history. But when I step back and check with maybe people I trust, and specialists, they've done their own trauma healing work, and check with actual facts. Maybe the situation is not unsafe, maybe I feel unsafe because of my own trauma responses, my own trauma history, and so if I can look at the history and understand my trigger, and recognize those moments, where what I'm reacting to is not just what's happening in the year now, but also about what has happened to me in the past, there is a new possibility that opens up to connect with other people. And so what else can we have to be hopeful around? We, you know, our bodies I hope, can bring us that resilience. And also knowing that, no, I touched very lightly on intergenerational trauma, we haven't really gone in depth, in depth around it. But really knowing that as well as trauma, our bodies, our DNA, holds wisdom, there's so much wisdom in our bodies, there is you know, ancestral wisdom in our body.There is a knowing that if we learn to listen, helps us to show up from a place of healing, helps us to show up to connection, helps helps us to show up to the possibility of liberation from trauma, not just for ourselves, not just for our individual bodies, but for our collective bodies. And so in this pride month, in this Pride Month, where we are being called to truly reconnect to the roots of pride, no Brenda Howard, the wonderful bisexual woman started pride as a celebration of the Stonewall riots that were led by black and Latinx trans women. And so you know, really feeling those threads of history, really feeling that what we're celebrated, is rooted in a fight for liberation for all of our bodies. And so when we invite ourselves to heal, we don't do that work just for ourselves but hopefully we do that work so that we can show up more deeply to one another's liberation, because there cannot be liberation, just for some, when other folks are still being oppressed when the world is not safe for them. And gender is such a piece of that, because our bodies are being policed around gender all the time. You know, I can think about so many moments even growing up as a fairly young child, when my parents or my great aunt, or teachers, or even just people off the street would make comments about my gender, and would police my gender. But I can also think about a lot of moments where I experienced gender euphoria. I remember in very short hair, and really loving going to the barber, and my dad was all about bringing me into the barbers because then you have to cash for care, and it was cheaper than going to the hairdressers and so I rejoiced in that very working class approach to cutting hair. And I'll go to the barber as a teenager with my dad. And then when I was on the bus, or out on the street, sometimes people would mistake me from behind, usually, for a boy or a man. And I would feel a sense of euphoria. And I remember even as a little kid, I used to love that in short hair. So even as a six or seven year old child, really feeling happy. When people thought I was a boy on the playground, and I didn't really this way that anybody who thought that was a boy. And then later on, I connect the sense of gender euphoria to being truly seen by gay men in terms of my queer masculinity later on as my gender identity and expression evolved, that sense of recognition, right. So as well as trauma in our body, there is so much joy. There is so much resilience, and often that fight, which we celebrate every every year around Pride season. We're celebrating a fight, we're celebrating a riot for our survival now led by this beautiful blacks black and Latinx trans women, so much gratitude right to the ancestors and to those who were still alive today who fought for our rights, right? So much resilience in we may we really see how that fight response helped us survive, how that flight response helped generations to come. And let's honor our bodies, our capacity to survive, our capacity to heal, and then our capacity to celebrate and feel joy. All of the things are not disconnected from one another. They're really all connected. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this live. And I hope that this conversation was interesting and I was a little bit all over the place. I would love to hear what you think about gender and trauma. If you want to share. Make sure to reach out about things that you would like me to talk about, either in the podcast or on future lives, you know, I hope to do more lives for the community. And if you want to join the Patreon supporters, you can join for as little as $2 a month but everything makes a difference in terms of supporting the production of the podcasts mostly. You can do so on and I will start to also do have more exclusive and some lives that are exclusive just for patrons as the Patreon community grows, but I will also make sure that there are some lives that are for this community which is going to be open to all gender stories listeners from next Friday, July 3, and thank you so much and Happy Pride season. And let's remember that black trans lives matters. They are what allows us to have a pride today. No black trans lives matter black trans bodied lives matter. And let's act accordingly in our community, and uplift and celebrate Black trans femme voices. Thank you.