A really outstanding article on trauma survivorship and setting boundaries with children (and with yourself!):
Referenced in the article, btw, is one of my new favorite resources for parenting, Janet Lansbury.
It’s amazing how expanding one’s family puts relationships and familial interactions into perspective and allows people to really assess where they’re placing their energy. This realization feels rather timely with the holiday season upon us.
One of K’s uncles has always been a total ass on every possible level. He’s an equal opportunity, offensive, abusive jerk who holds the family hostage with his intentionally shocking words and actions. At Easter, when he found out that I worked for an agency that provides prevention education about and services for people who have experienced domestic and sexual violence, he made a wide variety of rape and abuse “jokes.” He then went into a tirade about finding prostitutes via Craigslist, using colorful language in front of all of us (including his 86-year-old mother), like “shlob the knob.”
He regularly makes racist, ageist and homophobic statements, treats all women as his personal servants, and makes really lewd sexual innuendos. It’s no surprise that this loudmouth has been ejected multiple times from planes before takeoff. The entire family seems uncomfortable with his actions, but no one really confronts him. They take the approach of “that’s just Uncle So & So…” Of course, in true WASPy fashion, they all talk about his inappropriateness behind his back.
Before our wedding, K’s uncle told grandma that he didn’t think he’d be able to take our wedding seriously (whatever the hell that means). When K’s mom heard that he’d said this, she went all mamabear on his ass and told him that if he feels that way, he shouldn’t come to our wedding and basically disinvited him. Things in the family have been especially tense since that point.
When K was little, his uncle acted the exact same way as he does today. He was never shy about using disgusting and offensive language in front of little ears. After the Easter incident, K and I came to the conclusion that we will not be celebrating Christmas at his uncle’s house, where his family gathers each year. We made the decision to confront his behavior when it occurs at future family gatherings, but don’t feel like it’s appropriate to tell someone to change his behavior in his own home. At the very least, we feel that his uncle could use the fact that he’s in his own home as a justification for using whatever language he pleases.
We met K’s parents for breakfast on Sunday and one of the main purposes was to inform them that we will not be at the uncle’s Christmas celebration. We (K especially) were anxious about how this news would be received because, in the past, K’s mom has said hurtful things about how she feels like K doesn’t care about his extended family when he was unable to attend a family function. K outlined all of the above concerns and told his parents our plans. To our relief, his mom expressed her immediate support, saying that it’s our job as parents to protect our little one from influences we deem toxic. She also mentioned that she had tried to confront her brother on several occasions when K and his sister were little and that the uncle just became more obnoxious as a response. K’s mom pledged to confront his behavior at future events in hopes that multiple parties expressing their lack of acceptance for his words and deeds would help to shift the family culture and dynamic around this problem.
I’ve had my share of tension with K’s parents in the past, but after this conversation with them, it’s fair to say that I’ve never felt closer or more protected by them. It was a wonderfully empowering experience.
I have a standing weekly meeting with our new director and yesterday was our day to meet. At the end of our meeting, she said, “So tell me more about this baby!” I had previously mentioned that K and I were expecting but didn’t have an opportunity to speak to her more about the details. It has also been really difficult to bond with her and develop a sense of trust. I decided to take the plunge with her perfect opening and just told her the rest of the story. She reacted wonderfully, asked really thoughtful and sensitive questions, and seemed genuinely excited for me! This was a breakthrough in our very new work relationship and I think I learned a lot more about her in the process.
Later that day, when I was processing and acknowledging donations, I saw that our reproductive endocrinologist had renewed an annual gift from him and his wife, and added a $1,000 donation from his clinic. When sending out major donor appeals about a month ago, I made the decision to write a note on his letter:
As survivors of domestic and sexual violence, one of the reasons why K and I felt inspired to come see you for our care is your generous support of [organization], where I work. We greatly appreciate your commitment to the women and families we serve! Best, C, Mama-to-be BECAUSE OF YOU!! 🙂
My supervisor was so excited to hear about such a major donation and directly attributed his increased generosity to our relationship with him. She even joked, “Falco is already engaged in philanthropy while still in utero!”
Also on the topic of winning, while not entirely work-related, I had an epically good hair day yesterday. Those who know me well know just how exciting this is for me!
I was married before. My ex, also a transguy, was (and still is, from what I can tell) a terrible, abusive person. He isolated me from friends and family, constantly put me down, and made me believe what he was saying – that I was a worthless whore. He stole my money, literally took my paychecks and spent them however he wanted, took my debit cards, ruined my credit, and refused to hold down consistent jobs, while I meanwhile worked two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. He told me that he would leave me or kill himself if I didn’t try to have his children, that I “owed” him that as his partner. By that point, in the depths of despair and isolation, I believed him.*
We couldn’t afford to use a donor through any of the cryobanks he researched (remember? my ex couldn’t be bothered to hold down a job), so my ex decided that we would use a known donor: his loafish, virgin, socially awkward, pothead friend. We’ll call him Benny. Benny’s hygiene was somewhat suspect and even before my ex coerced me to be inseminated with Benny’s DNA, just being near him made my skin crawl. Each attempt to conceive was horrific. I felt violated and completely dissociated from my body. After several revolting, unsuccessful at-home ICI attempts, my ex finally gave up.
It took about six years of deep depression, isolation and sheer terror at the hands of my ex husband before I finally began to realize that I was the victim of domestic violence and that I deserved better. With the help of a local domestic violence agency’s toll-free hotline, as well as the support of K, who was becoming a dear friend at the time, I made a plan to safely leave my relationship with my ex.
It has been seven years since I left and I wish I could say that the past horror is behind me. It is not. A part of me struggles with it quite literally every day. Luckily, I am more often reminded of the fact that I am now safe, with a partner who respects and encourages me, and have a wide net of loving friends and family.
Looking back, I am certain that I found a way to will Benny’s sperm to leave my body so that I wouldn’t conceive my ex’s child. I’m also certain, while I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, that my initial and longterm boundary of being child-free throughout the majority of my relationship with K was very much tied to the trauma of being a survivor of domestic violence, especially as it relates to reproductive coercion. Even though I felt safe with K, it took me many, many years to truly believe and feel it. And let’s face it, who wants to (willingly) build a family with someone when they’re not sure they’re safe?
* Everyone deserves to feel safe with their loved ones. If you feel like your partner exhibits any of the traits I describe in the first paragraph or any of the ones listed here, you may be experiencing abuse. Domestic violence takes many forms and can happen to anyone of any age and identity group. For confidential help and hope, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).