Art by Kazeki
I often become paralyzed with fear, not because I’m afraid of being hurt, but because I’m acutely aware of my ability to hurt others. After everything that was done to me, I don’t want to hurt anyone else. So I hold my tongue, I stay in bed, I avoid any possibility of hurting other people. In order to cope with my fears of becoming an abuser, I disown my power.
The problem is that nobody is completely powerless.
Power dynamics are inescapable. I have power as a white person, whether I like it or not. I have power as someone who grew up in the upper-middle class. I have power as an adult. I have power within the vulnerable sphere of personal relationships and I also have power to affect strangers. On a grander scale, I have power as a human being over other animals and over the planet itself. As a living thing I have power to shape the inanimate world.
In denying my power, I hurt myself while inadvertently hurting other people. Denying white privilege leads me to hurt PoC, when in my mind I’m lashing out in self-defense. Denying my power over people with less willpower leads me to use that willpower to lash out at them over perceived attacks. Denying my power means I never let myself get close to other people, including those who love me. Which hurts them.
In short, I’m so terrified at the prospect of hurting people that I hurt people. Which confirms my paranoia, which drives more denial and unintentional harm. As an adult human being, I have the capacity to hurt others, even when I have the best of intentions. Running from that power isn’t helping me. It isn’t making me a better person, and instead it’s preventing me from living my life. It literally paralyzes me.
My abusers ingrained within me the belief that I am like them. That I am an evil, hurtful thing. They explicitly tried to make me into one of them. They were reavers taking over my ship. I was taught that sex is rape, therefore to like sex at all makes me an abuser. I was taught that I’m disgusting and perverted. I was made to hurt others under threat of violence, to prove them “right”. Intellectually I know I was acting out of self-preservation, no different than anyone else would. But that doesn’t change how it affected me emotionally. I still don’t trust myself enough to be spontaneous and open around other people.
Being yourself is its own form of power. We get strength from being in tune with the core of our beings. I am female and feminine but assigned male at birth. Everyone assumes being put in the male role is empowering no matter what, but when you aren’t male yourself, being forced into it is disempowering. I became afraid of my femininity, afraid of my femaleness, because in owning it I gain a great deal of personal power. My femaleness also encouraged them to abuse me more, so the obvious solution was to make myself into a boy. That would stop their additional abuse, and it disempowered myself so I couldn’t hurt anyone else like I feared I would.
This is rooted so deeply that whenever I empower myself, my body fights back. It shuts me down. It literally puts me to sleep. That drug-like haze I fall into is my body simultaneously trying to protect itself from further abuse, and protecting other people from me. The irony is that, if I really was like my abusers, I wouldn’t have the conscience to worry about hurting others. So it’s basically just self-flagellation. I know that intellectually, but confronting the emotional reality of my power and confronting my own ability to hurt others is a lot harder.
I keep ramming up against it and falling back down. It has taken me months to write this post, and I still have a lot more I want to say. I’m in a battle of tug-of-war between this deep, almost primal drive to protect myself and others, and the desire to live openly and spontaneously.