Table manners- (not) waiting for the plate

Between 2008-9, my second and third year in my doctoral training, a few things happened:

  • A colleague was raped
  • A close family friend was robbed and left (for) dead
  • A family member sat on a cliff threatening suicide; I was the only family member who knew; I was visiting this part of my family for the summer with no license or skill to drive
  • I attempted to switch anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications
  • I decided to come out
  • A colleague got divorced (if not more)
  • A colleague developed breast cancer
  • The economic recession was threatening the validity of my department
  • At least three trans- and or homophobic hate crimes took place on my graduate school campus
  • A colleague got married and had a son
  • I worked with a knowingly undertrained therapist
  • My family and closest friends did not take coming out well
  • Therapist, supervisors, family and friends told me to wait for acceptance
  • The medication I was trying to take to alleviate emotional health issues were driving me insane.
  • I lost 10 pounds within a period of two months; the quickest I had ever lost weight
  • I cried for ten minutes each day I had class, doing my best to wash my face before I returned to teach
  • I didn’t sleep more than 3 hours night from January through July
  • I cleaned out the mess undergraduate students hanging out and napping in my department’s lounge often left

Most of the aforementioned (save the death, breast cancer,  and the questionable divorces), happened between the summers of 2008-9. It remains difficult to write the story of how all of this overlaps and affects Title IX or demonstrates forms of internalized gendered violence in higher ed, still it sparks outrage to those who do not know what carrying this means.

Giving a shit means this gets carried.

In that year, specifically that spring, other colleagues and even faculty tried. Tried in ways that reeked of benevolence and infantilizing behavior that I only accepted when I began to internalize the stories created by what I would not say and what I did not challenge. Women of color were overextended and worn out, as graduate student-mother-wife-daughter roles pulled them in a dozen directions. Going home, none of them understood, was not a viable option. Coming out was the worst thing I could do there, much like it was the worst thing I did for the needed emotional labor of the moment. I was mammy to white queer undergrads in ways that a couple acknowledged but most dared not admit to themselves.

I carried it for years. My internalized mental illness didn’t know what else to do. I say internalized because as a late nineties adolescent, doctors gave me drugs in response to the story of being raped as toddler. Classmates and teachers treated it like a contagious disease. Coming out as queer in light of other graver traumas cost me the respect and integrity of my work, thereby echoing the isolation and social rejection experienced in high school. On the night before my birthday, my current joy resents my past self-righteous self-deprecation and the refusal to hold others’ accountable to an exhaustion that should have been eased by love. Not love in the Disney sense, no.

The love of sharing our extensive burdens together.

Most academics don’t do that shit. Save those who know that cliff and have decided to walk away from it. Save for those who had to figure out who to call when they couldn’t drive to that cliff. Save for those who knew they needed to stop “medicating” in ways that numbed not healed the pain.

What’s been happening since Fall 2016:

  • Writing
  • Walking
  • Singing
  • Resisting isolation
  • Working to live well
  • Building intuitively grounded friendships (fuck time)
  • Sharing parts of this story with students &/or colleagues when it’s politically necessary
  • Thanking old/new friends for the gift they are to my life
  • Leaving the door open, while letting go of the handle
  • Allowing the anger to pass through not stay
  • Walking away from others’ unacknowledged messes
  • Telling these stories until
    • laughing drowns out the memories of tears
    • having lived through every last moment of it can be considered beautiful

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