Reliving trauma is more commonly seen in cases of severe mental illness. It’s associated with PTSD and can hinder the pursuit of a normal, productive life.
Well, imagine choosing to do exactly that: to relive past trauma as a means to survive, both financially and physically? Sounds like something someone might do only under extreme duress.
That wasn’t exactly how I saw it when I first considered moving back in with my parents. But given the current state of political affairs, I find myself re-analyzing my predicament. I was raised in an extremely conservative town about two hours east of the bustling cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. My town is not unlike many outside the liberal cities. Most of those are extremely family oriented, Christian AF, and the core demographic is a nuclear white family of four or more, generally upper middle class.
When you are literally at the opposite end of the spectrum (multiracial, single, queer, not religious, interested in creative work) there’s this weird sort of assimilation where people either look past certain things or only embrace the parts they’re willing to accept about you. But God forbid you stray too far into unknown territory.
For me, this meant that I was safe — in a way. I could be all of those things, so long as I didn’t speak up about them or bring up the fact that I was, in essence, lesser-than because of it. And perhaps I leaned into that too much, possibly unknowingly. For most of my time in high school, I identified as gay. I was your stereotypically effeminate gay man and everyone couldn’t have been more delighted by my presence. I was friends with everyone — until, of course, you came around to most of the straight boys who would talk to me in class and kind of ignore me outside in the quad. My “otherness” was always there, I guess, but never fully addressed; sometimes it was kind of chuckled off, or seen as novel and good in theory but less so in reality.
This sentiment may have been fine with me, because it was sort of how I felt at home too. Even at a young age, my “otherness” was extremely apparent. I think my parents thought their slight disapprovals of some of my choices went unnoticed. They may have, to an extent, but looking back, I realize they didn’t go unnoticed. I just never knew how to process how I felt about the constant feeling of not belonging to my own family. How do you process your parents essentially telling you they don’t like you because you weren’t what they expected?
I’ve lived my life under people’s expectations. When I was younger, I was in a few accelerated programs, often told I was “bright” or “gifted.” The burden of those words would take shape in middle school and just barely carry me through high school. I remember a study session in sixth grade that ended with me getting the right answer, but because my path to the right wasn’t the prescribed method, I was told I was wrong. I would constantly be told that although my writing was evocative and effective, it didn’t answer the prompts. Or I was told that I managed to grasp the concepts and would do fine on tests, but never turned my homework in.
I spent a good chunk of my academic life evading other people’s expectations and perceptions of how I was supposed to perform and what I was supposed to be, because it’s honestly exhausting. In the end, I learned it’s better to control others’ perception of you, even if that perception of you is less than, than it is to become a slave to them. So that’s what I did. I became the underdog. I began to use this method to slowly show people who I was, in the hope that they could finally accept me for my humanity, “flaws” and all.
Related: Gender Questioning: A Coming Out Story — Maybe
When I moved to the Bay Area and left that life behind, I realized that what I had been doing was extremely toxic. I also realized that I could be the person I’d always wanted to be, and people — not even people I’d grown up with, but just people — could do more than look past my flaws in order to see me as human.
Unfortunately, I was introduced to the toxic culture that is capitalism, the housing market and the health care system (including a nasty autoimmune disease that was essentially killing me slowly). I discovered that I’m ill-equipped to handle the mental stress of those things (no doubt in part due to the exhausting, near constant self-hatred that resulted from my upbringing). I was forced to move back home with my parents.
For anyone who has had to move back home after experiencing independence, I don’t have to tell you how long the depression seems to last. My mother has depression, among myriad other health quirks (low kidney function, sciatic nerve issues, fibromyalgia), and I’ve seen what it can do to someone. I’d never realized how much it affected me on a deeper genetic level until I had to move back.
Moving back may have been fine, had I not spent the previous four years living in a city that offered me a view into so many different walks of life. I educated myself by having discussions with Berkeley grads and San Francisco State college kids, community leaders, older queer folks, people seeing the bad in this world and telling me that there were solutions if I was willing to sit down, study up and learn something new.
Moving back home has made me realize that not everyone gets to experience what I did. Not everyone has that thirst for knowledge and new perspectives. They like the thoughts and views they have, as they’ve never been questioned. I’ve never felt more stagnant, nor have I cried more or been more in pain than I have back in my parents’ privileged, palatial province.
I am extremely privileged to be able to move back home. I don’t deny that for a minute, and I do my best to thank them and give money when I can. I also cook, buy groceries, and try to keep things orderly at home.
The sense of debt that I feel to my parents is immense — not just because I’m thankful, but also because I’m sorry they’ve had to put up with such a disappointment of a child.
Never mind that I was multiracial. The combination of gay, extremely effeminate, inquisitive, compassionate and empathetic to a fault meant I wasn’t the boy they’d signed up for. On top of that, my ideals and sentiments have always leaned left; I’m the polar opposite of my brother, a marine hating his life in the military — but not too much, because he’s still a cisgendered, heterosexual racially ambiguous-yet-white-passing young man who’s the apple of the entire extended family’s eye.
I’ll never be that. My plans for happiness have seemingly never mirrored my parents’, though it’s been my goal to impress them with my “lifestyle” by dating white guy after white guy, hoping to supplement my parental love while appeasing them at the same time.
But it wasn’t moving back, or the chaos of our new Commander in Chief (a man that my father has so sanctimoniously lauded time and again), that made me realize I’m not OK. I never really have been. I don’t feel safe, and my parents do. It’s always been like this. It’s this discrepancy that’s made me feel both more and less crazy at the same time.
I’m beginning to unlearn the things I learned while living in this house, and it’s been a battle. My health fluctuates drastically, both physically and mentally. It’s a battle that will continue to test me in new ways. I’m still in the thick of feeling trapped. The news of the election could have contributed to that feeling, but I can’t help but feel it’s something else.
That I am worth more than what I’ve been expected to be. That even though it may seem like the world is stacked against me, I can manage to rise to the occasion, shrug it off and live to fight another day for those who have it worse than I do.
I encourage anyone who is struggling to find support in people you trust and love. If you have family or classmates or coworkers that make you feel like you’re less-than for being different, know that, statistically, there are people who are going to love ALL of you. If you can, talk to a therapist or call a support line — or just try to educate yourself. There is true power in knowledge. Never forget that.
To my millennials and the next few generations to come: the systems currently in place were not meant to benefit a lot of you, but there are good people working to change that.
And to the baby boomers, older folks, and even younger generations who have been poisoned by our culture of oppression: your silence will not go unnoticed. Your actions have not gone without massive repercussions. And I hope you’re all willing to withstand the psychic karmic backlash that awaits the depravity this nation so willfully decided it represents this past week.
This psychological trauma has been building for generations, much like the fictitious wall that our President-elect will pretend to build until he leaves office. We must try, hard as we can, to break down both — not for ourselves, but for the generations to come who will forever be affected by the events we’re seeing today.
My mental health has suffered severely, but there are so many young people with fewer resources who can be protected from the kind of self-hatred I’ve suffered. And there are too many others who will never know what they could have done because they chose to end their life.
Please take this seriously.
Not for me, for them.
And please help these organizations:
- The Trevor Project
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Human Rights Campaign
- Planned Parenthood (which offers testing to LGBTQIA youth)
Mikell Petty is a writer, stylist and social activist based in Southern California. He identifies as genderqueer and welcomes a multitude of pronouns. His background as a QPOC in the fashion industry and world of social activism in the Bay Area (2013-2016) has made him aware of the diversity that exists in the world and it is his mission to share that rich, diverse beauty with the world through activism and expression.