12 March 2012

After Their Traumas

(I know there are now thousands of women in the US Armed Forces.  However, for the purposes of this post, I'll use male pronouns in referring to soldiers.)

A soldier returns home from combat duty.  He's among family and friends, in places that were familiar to him before he went off to fight the war. 

Yet he is still angry, confused, scared or simply anxious.  Although his brain tells him that the family car isn't booby-trapped with explosives, his nerves are still programmed to expect the car to blow up if he opens the door.  Or some smell that he once associated with pleasant experiences--of breakfast, of a walk through the woods--reminds him of the way he lost one of his buddies. 

Or he simply cannot be close to the people who always knew him; he cannot touch his wife or girlfriend.  And his children can be decoys, or victims of a roadside bomb.

As far-fetched as these scenarios might seem to some people, I have heard or read of ones like them.   Just as a wound is still open, or at least present, even as the person with it is in the best hospital in the world, so are the psychic scars of those expereinces with the soldier even as he's among those who have always loved him.

Most of you will recognise what I have described as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  It is common, not only to members of the military who have served in combat, but also to others who have suffered physically or emotionally traumatic expereinces.  I am talking, of course, about people who have been in abusive relationships or dysfunctional homes, have been the victims of violent crimes or who have survived some sort of terrible accident or natural disaster.

However, I have come across some literature and websites that have referred to PTSD and transgender people.  It doesn't surprise me that the incidence of PTSD is higher among trans people, as well as L's and G's, or people who are simply perceived as such.  We have, after all, experience violence and discrimination directed against us more than most other people.  And many of us who were perceived as incongruent with the expectations of the gender to which we were assigned at birth, or to people's ideas of heterosexuality, also incurred bullying and, sometimes, physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children.

But there are those of us who cry or simply sulk over those past traumas even after we have successfully transitioned into lives in our spiritual and psychological genders, or found the kind of love we have always wanted and needed.  Someone who had her surgery around the same time as I had mine was talking about that just recently.  Yes, she is happy about the life she has now, and wishes only that she'd begun her transition sooner.   However, no matter how good our new lives are, we never quite forget about our old ones.

In Christine Jorgensen's time--and, until not very long before I began my own transition-- doctors and therapists recommended, not only abandoning one's past, but re-inventing it, making up an entirely fictitious personal history.  Doing so, of course, complicated whatever issues those transsexuals may have had. 

Now I can understand why it's entirely useless to tell someone who's been traumatized to "just get over" their pasts.  I don't care whether that person suffered abuse from his or her family or spouse (current or former), or whether that person carries the residual effects of being called "Nigger!" or seeing her uncle hanging from a tree.  (A student of mine, who returned to school at age 58, related such an expereince to me.)  There are some things you just don't get over.  And maybe you need not to "get over" them if you want to move forward and create the kind of life you envisioned for yourself.

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