Beyond the Pleasure Principle (CW: domestic violence)
FLECTERE SI NEQUEO SUPEROS, ACHERONTA MOVEBO.
Many people can’t see the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy. Growing up in whitewashed spaces that specifically repressed and denied exposure to anything outside of the mimesis of whiteness resulted in obfuscating a full understanding of it in my life for forty fucking years. Just a quick exploration of only two of the drawers of my old notebooks made it painfully clear to me how I’ve spent all of my life being abused by white men and at the same time being very, very unclear about what was happening to me. I was especially confused about what to do with myself, what to do with my feelings. A haze, a fog, covered me, obscured my clarity. Where there should have been lucidity, coherence, and cogency there was hiddenness, circuitousness, and sorrow. I did not know how to understand my experience. The best I could do to understand it given the resources I had available to me was to say that I was wrong. I struggled against myself.
The damage caused by not naming the truth is immense. Perhaps as much or more than the damage of being oppressed by a white man itself. I don’t know, as they have always existed together in my experience. So much of the therapeutic work is in undoing this damage. Is speaking and believing the truth, understanding the truth to be real. In understanding the abuse as abuse, the hatred as hatred, the internalization as internalization, and the resulting self-hatred as self-hatred. Naming it and refusing to carry it anymore.
Fear of cishet white men’s anger is a powerful force, one that is not allowed to be named. It prevents the speaking of truth. Fear of the anger of white men. This restraint, it comes to pass, doesn’t matter in the least. The explosive rage erupts with and without a spark of self-assertion or requests for accountability. It blows up on its own.
I am asking myself to:
- Notice when a white man (or anyone) is abusing me, harming me, insulting me, belittling me, telling me lies about myself, trying to be the narrator of my story, telling me a narrative in which I am a bad person, putting me down, suggesting hateful things about me, assigning untrue negative attributes to me, underestimating my intelligence, underestimating my skill, underestimating my strength, devaluing me.
- Put a stop to it when I notice it. It often cannot be confronted or worked through with the person doing it. I mean walk away. This is very difficult. There have been many times when I have thought that a white man understood what he did wrong, took accountability, apologized, and took steps to repair the harm, and we moved on. I considered it resolved. Yet somehow it became pernicious anyway, the events more frequent and more severe, the processes of reconciliation truncated until they were nonexistent. Until suddenly the fullness of blame for the entirety of the cycle was on me. It happened so slowly I did not notice it.
- Most of all, not internalize it and turn it into more self-hatred and shame.
Now I return to my ongoing and original wholeness. Now I engage in healing spirals and spirals of creation. Now I pull in unconditional love from trusted sources who know how not to blame me for having been harmed. Now I work to name the patterns, name the structures, and name the difference between the truth and the lies for anyone who needs to hear it.
Hate for women of color and internalized hatred of women of color most often and most prevalently evinces itself as an unwarranted positive regard and reverence towards men and especially towards white men. White men are treated with such kindness, gentleness, patience, and understanding, unlike how everyone else is treated by each other and especially unlike how I have been socialized to treat myself. You know the look—the glowing look in the eyes, the subservience—everyone in their vicinity is trained to treat them with. As though the white man were everyone’s most precious child. I came into this world full of fire and fight and ready to stand up for myself. The people closest to me and my extended social environments trained me to not stand up for myself, to get used to being abused and bullied, and to hate myself for it.
Time to undo all that. Time to reverse all that. Time to cut out each and every influence to the contrary. I should be angrier. I should have self-respect. I should have boundaries. I should care about my own feelings more than I care about my abuser’s. I should care about the love I receive more than the love I give.
The truth is all of my romantic relationships with white men have been abusive. If not abusive, then at least bad. The one that was not abusive, but may be best described as inconsiderate, was with a white man who struggled with severe mental illness and went through multiple psychotic episodes. Did you catch that? The one diagnosed with the most “severe” mental illness did me the least amount of harm. I have had other romantic relationships. Relationships with white women, women of color, white trans women, nonbinary people of color, men of color. One relationship with one white woman was abusive, but that was the only one among the queer relationships. I am not denying the reality that queer relationships among people of color can be an arena in which the white supremacist patriarchy is enacted. Let me be more precise, the white supremacist patriarchy is enacted in any and all relationships within our society because it is internalized in every single one of us. The difference is, the further from the source, the better folks seem to be at using consciousness to prevent its enactments.
The longest of my romantic relationships, though, and the ones most impactful on me, have been with white cis men. I have had children with white men. I have raised children together with white men. I have been abused in all of these relationships. Every. Single. One. This picture is not a mistake. It is not an accident. It is not a fluke or something that speaks to my individual psychology, personality, or way of being in the world. I am not responsible for it. I did not make it or choose it. I did not perpetuate or in any way enhance or worsen it. I am not to blame for it. It is not about me as a spirit who came to this earth into this body for the purpose of healing and reducing the suffering of all beings. It is about what happened after that. It is not even about me as a third-generation Mexican-American woman. It is about me as a third-generation Mexican-American woman growing up in a primarily white suburb of southeast Michigan during the 1980s and 1990s in a whitewashed culture that obscured, denied, and refused to engage with the white supremacist patriarchy in which we existed. It is about my Mexican Catholic immigrant grandparents and my Polish-Irish Catholic grandparents. It is about my mother’s family moving from Detroit to the suburbs when my mom was a teenager. It is about the imperative for my mother’s family to assimilate and participate in consumerism and capitalism to prove their worth and their existence. Its name is assimilation. It is about my grandparents withholding Spanish and speaking only English with their children. It is about the unspoken imperative for my mother and all her siblings to marry white, to live in whiteness, to make white money and white friends. It is about the way in which the words “race” and “brown” and “color” were never, ever spoken but the words “Mexican” and “culture” were acceptable only for my white father to speak and only in very limited contexts. It is the way in which my white father praised my “olive” skin and brown hair, in contrast to my siblings’ melanism.
My father was the first white man I knew and the first white man to abuse me. The abuse was physical, sexual, primarily psychological, and began when I was about four years old. These were the first of my excursions to the underworld and the way I learned the path to get there. White men grabbed me, pushed me, chased me, physically blocked me from escape, threw things at me, violently destroyed physical environments around me, belittled me, called me names, screamed at me, cursed me, denied my worth to them and in the world, controlled my actions in the social and economic world, tried to control my sexuality, tried to control my reproductive choices, threatened my life, threatened me with weapons and vehicles, threatened my livelihood and my sources of support, locked me into economic poverty, tackled me, groped me, raped me, drugged me and raped me, exposed my children to abuse, abused my children, and more—while denying all of it. A favorite refrain among many of these white men, when it came to the active abuse part of the cycle, which followed the request for accountability, was “eat shit and die,” adding “cunt” or “bitch” when seeking additional flourish. They said my only worth was my sexuality and then they denied the worth of my sexuality. Their “love” for me existed only within a framework of subjugation. When I insisted on breaking free from this frame, the love disappeared, and they claimed to be wounded by me. They denied doing these things privately, in the therapy room, and in the courtroom. Lawyers denied it for them and declared me (more or less) hysterical, worthless, scrounging, and wicked. In other words, a lazy, dirty, loudmouthed, manipulative Mexican woman, who was meant to be and couldn’t help but to be poor and covered with children in her natural state of being.
When I spoke up or fought back, I was accused of being abusive to them. I was blamed for doing what they had actually done to me because of my determination to name it and to produce accountability. To this day none of them has been held accountable. To this day not one has admitted what they have done, either privately or publicly. They still blame me for the reversed harm that they imagine. This illusion being one of the most difficult gates back to the world of the sun to pass through. Hades the Unseen. My existence is not about, but my story became one of, persistent consecutive colonizations, marginalizations and abuse because, instead of being named, the story of the white supremacist patriarchy was repeatedly enacted through the receptacle of my body and my life.
I slowly began to understand this. I slowly learned to name this. I slowly pieced together the aspects of the truth of what I was living. It could not be told until the picture became whole. It could not be spoken until I was able to hold the entirety all at once. It could not emerge until the personal and the political came together as one continuous and clear image, different aspects of the exact same psychology. The analyst who created the transitional space in which to perform and to view my repetitive underworld journeys was not Freud or an actual psychotherapist but other women-of-color writers telling the truth, setting the truth on paper for me to read and resonate with. Speaking their words of truth to me through my headphones. Black women writers, Latinx women writers, Arab women writers, AAPI women writers, Indigenous women writers, brown women writers, and brown nonbinary and trans writers. Thank you.
Prior to this journey, during this journey, and even now as I write, I blamed myself. I hated myself. I was ashamed of myself. This is the way the white supremacist patriarchy works. Me blaming myself, hating myself, and not believing in myself was it doing its job towards my subjugation, destruction, and (if it had its way) ultimate non-fulfillment of the reason I exist on this earth. Instead of writing, I am cleaning his house. Instead of sharing my words, I am caring for his children. Instead of making my own money through my writing, I am waiting tables and cleaning hotel rooms and giving all my money to the babysitter while he controls the finances and his work gets published and widely acclaimed. He hides this income, too, from Friend of the Court. These are details and particulars that speak to larger pictures. They have everything to do with me but more importantly everything to do with us. You telling the truth made me whole. You telling the truth helped to place me in a healing spiral. My dearest wish is that telling this truth helps to make you whole, that my telling the truth helps you see the truth you already know and to tell the truth, too, and to set you in a healing spiral.
Imagine us all in a healing spiral together. Imagine us all telling the truth. The white supremacist patriarchy does not hear us and does not care, denies the truth, blames us for naming it, rages and thrashes and gnashes its teeth. But we hear each other. We believe each other. We uplift each other into healing spirals and we begin creating worlds with values other than the values of the white supremacist patriarchy. Values like truth, recognition, listening, and accountability. The liberation of the world begins here with our liberation of ourselves and each other. With what we create when we see the whole truth and decide not to participate anymore in the white supremacist patriarchy that has done so much harm. Engaging with it, challenging its power, requires us to enter the underworld. Requires us to make ourselves shadows of ourselves and to use its own weapons against it. I want instead to build a new and different life up here on earth, up here in the daylight, up here in the sun. I want us to focus on ourselves and to build new things. Let it come and fight us on our turf, if it insists on fighting. Let it be judged by our judges. Let it engage with fair rules and with real compassion/empathy. We already know we will not make an inverse image of it, a mirror, another receptacle. We already know there are so many more and better ways of being than subjugation, colonization, imperialization, theft, abuse, lies, projection, and denial.
This work is about the past, my personal past, and its relation to a year that was pivotal and transformational for me and for the whole world, the year 2020. I am a writer who by default and through this winding path of subjugation to the white supremacist patriarchy also became a psychotherapist. I am blessed to work within a Black-woman-owned, queer-owned, spiritually enlightened, and feminist/social justice-oriented private psychotherapy practice. This is significant because so much of the psychotherapy industry is based on white supremacy and enacts great harm on women of color and people of color. In fact, most of the industry is not about liberation and healing but is rather about conformity and internalization of the white supremacist patriarchy. Most of the industry is about pathologizing and blame for that pathologizing, disempowerment. I am blessed to be nestled in the (not uncomplicated) all brown-woman matriarchy of my immediate family. There are many, many more blessings that have made my continued existence possible.
I am not academizing this. I am not smartening this. I am not making this palatable. I am not hiding any aspect of real feeling no matter how shameful it feels to share because I am not the only one to feel this. I am not the only one who needs to hear this. I have spent my whole life swallowing the training to be apologetic. Too apologetic to fucking function.
Watch me become unapologetic. Watch me retrieve my soul. This is a map. This is a map of the underworld. This is a map of soul retrieval.
White men did everything except permanently maim and kill me. If you know me and you don’t know this it is because there has never been a way for me to say it.
There has never been a space. There has never been a time. There has never been an opportunity. There has never been a way for me to tell you what I am telling you and that is not my fault. Never a trusted invitation to come forward. Come forward. Most coming forward in this world is only assuming blame. Confession of sins towards absolution of sin, confession as needing absolution, telling as an admission of guilt. Most coming forward in this world amounts to nothing but a declaration of guilt.
mercury in aquarius
I work as a psychotherapist. I have been failed by psychotherapists. They failed me in individual therapy, family therapy, and especially in couples therapy. Psychotherapists fail women of color. They fail people of color. They fail queer people. They fail us because the industry of psychotherapy does not engage with its white supremacist past and present. The curriculum is completely lacking in critical race theory, abolitionist theory, social justice reading, even a more than basic history of the field itself. For example, even a basic, white-man-authored text such as Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, which outlines the history of the development and use of intelligence testing for eugenic purposes in the United States, is not taught. Usually, there is a course or two in “cultural competence,” in which white supremacy is likely never outright named. The mood and content is more like, “Hey, did you know not everyone is white?!”
That said, there are a few basic tools therapists could use in the context of abusive relationships that would reduce harm and reduce the suffering of the abused person.
- Work through one agreed-upon issue at a time, rather than jumping from issue to issue to subvert and elude.
- Ban “turning it around on the other person.”
This is one of the most common and pervasive tactics. It is not to be tolerated, period. It is to be named and called out each and every time it is implemented, immediately. These are closely related tactics. If turning around is used, the therapist can say, “Listen, even if you really believe she does that to you, too—she is the one who is talking about when you do it, or what you did, and that is the topic of discussion at this moment. We can add your topic of discussion to the list, certainly, but first we’re going to address what was raised.” These are basic rules of fair engagement. The point is to demand that basic rules of fair engagement are followed. When they are not, their lack of being followed becomes all too easily obscured. Psychotherapists themselves enact these tactics with their clients. It is not only about naming them and noticing them in relationship dyads, but also in the therapeutic dyad itself.
I bring this up because, in good faith and rightly so, psychotherapy is being normalized and encouraged by and for people of color and in communities of color and queer communities. “Talk to your therapist about it . . . Bring it to therapy . . . Get therapy.” This is, in an ideal world, wonderful. It is imperative that services be provided to historically and currently marginalized people. But offering and providing the services in and of itself does not transform the field. That’s just tokenism. That’s just a course in multiculturalism instead of a full, embodied, let alone lived experience of systems of oppression. Psychotherapy is a vast, capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal institution deeply entwined with other similar institutions such as academia and healthcare. Yes, psychotherapy needs to be normalized, but its capacity to harm, to whitewash, and to pale the experience of marginalized communities even as it is normalized, is not to be underestimated. Thankfully, this danger can be avoided, and many are already aware of strategies that can be used to enter and remain in the spaces of psychotherapy with empowerment.
Please do not forget that therapists are agents of the state. This is how we get our legitimacy, but it also means we are beholden to the state. We are engaged and entangled with the state. The more of us in these positions who look like us, who think like us, the better. It is good to have an agent of the state who can also support true transformative healing instead of applying multiple band-aids which serve to further the internalization of self-blame and self-hatred. Still, at the end of the day, we exist within the structure of the state that endows us with licensure. There is no brown-woman, so-called “empirically supported treatment” for the subject of this work. There is no manual for avoiding, recognizing, or healing the intimate abuse that results from systemic white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchic hegemony. Not yet.
Such an approach begins with dismantling and complicating white supremacist ideas and notions about psychological health, wellness, and healing. Let me complicate it. Let me bring my borderland-straddling identities and invisible identities to it. Healed people do not heal people. One can only heal oneself. One does not need to be “healed” to facilitate healing. One can decide to look to others who are in healing spirals of their own for support and uplifting. However, listen, no matter the strength and force of the healing spiral one is engaged in, there will be attempted harm and harm imposed upon one. One does not seek out abusive relationships due to something inherently “un-healed,” wrong, or bad within one. Similarly, abusers target anyone, from the most “harmed” to the most “healed.” White supremacy does not care how much you love yourself.
Mutual empowerment, mutual healing, mutual vulnerability, mutual opening of the heart which engenders more hearts opening, is a choice. Always a choice. It is never automatic. There is no magical process by which someone else’s healing spiral is going to drag you into your own. You have to decide to do it. Yes, there are maps, there are openings, there are invitations. There are helpers and guides. Anyone who is engaged in their own healing spiral who creates an opening and an invitation for you to engage in a healing spiral is deciding to give care. Sometimes this care is paid labor. I can be in a fully abusive personal relationship while helping a client enter a healing spiral and get free from their own abusive relationship. This care and labor is no less or more effective or valid due to my suffering. Neither do hurt people, as a rule, hurt people. Most often hurt people hurt no one except for themselves. I see this every day. Very often abusers have not themselves been abused. I see this regularly. Yes, there is wisdom in acknowledging intergenerational trauma, intergenerational violence, and the many cases in which learned patterns of harm are unreflectively reproduced. There is mercy and generosity of spirit in stepping into the experience of the one who engenders harm and exploring where the wound exists within them. Everyone has wounds. Inflicting harm on others is neither explained nor excused nor usefully understood by reflecting on the woundedness of the harm doer. Their woundedness, while possibly connected to the harm they impose, is a separate situation, with separate pathways, separate variables, separate origins, and separate explanations. Their woundedness is their own deal. Using that woundedness to inflict harm is a decision to hate. This is worth repeating. Using woundedness as an excuse to inflict harm reflects a decision to hate.
If there is a quick and easy rule of thumb, a catchphrase, it may be: You hurting me also hurts you. However, when this is the case, it will not be easily brought to light. The abuser denies the harm he causes. He denies that he is harmed by it. He will say that his position, blaming you for the harm, makes him stronger. He will say everything about the situation is a demonstration of his power and of his superior strength. This denial, this blindness, this complete blockage against movement to a position of healing is the result of the self-harm caused by hurting others. The self-harm of harming is a closed loop. The closed loop seeks to create more closed loops, circles instead of spirals. This complex has a name and it is white supremacy. It can exist in anyone. My dad, and many dads of people my age, would spank their children and say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” This was a lie. This was said to cause greater harm. This was caused to blame the child for the harm. This was said to induce guilt, silence, and further subservience. In this way, even the kernel of truth that may serve as an opening to the light is also utilized as a weapon of harm. Think of this malignant hurt as a singularity. It only ever seeks to erase what is other to it. So you see, even my catchphrase cannot simplify and untangle the complexity of the mess of hurt and healing. Imagine trying to get away from such gravity! Imagine what happens when one tries to run. Imagine what happens at the mere thought of running.
What is an opposite type of movement to engagement with a singularity? What is a spiral of healing that challenges a spiral of harm? Connection that builds. Connection that does not destroy. Connecting back to the concrete reality and lived experience of nature. Connecting back to mystery, wonder, awe, to virtuality and to emergence. Connecting back to the ways in which something comes out of motherfucking nothing and how that is tied to doing what feels right and good and noble. It’s a healing spiral. A creation spiral. This is connection. It’s amazing.
I am describing the two realities I am still living in, still oscillating between, the underground and the upper world of real life, the real world. The real, observable, solid world where there is order and there is sense. Where up is up, where down is down. Where real is real.
When mental health professionals and others who you confide in and seek understanding from don’t support you but rather uphold white supremacist patriarchy, try not to doubt yourself. Doubt them. No matter who they are. There is a difference between being blamed for harm that is not your fault and being unwilling to examine yourself, to be responsible for yourself. You already know “your part,” “your role” in “the dynamic.” You know the difference already. Trust yourself. If they underestimate you by assuming you do not already know the difference, they are not free from the veil of illusion, the spell cast by white supremacy. Do not let them blame you for being harmed. Leave them behind. There are others who understand. There are others who will not doubt you and thereby feed your self-doubt.
What would those others who understand and do not doubt you say? They say, “I believe you.” They say, “What can I do to support you? What do you need? How can I help to protect you from more harm?” They work with you to help you find paths back to the sun. They reassure you that you deserve love, care, and happiness not in spite of yourself but just by being yourself, just by existing. Not “once you do the work on yourself to get there.” You are not guilty of “codependence.” You are not engaged in “addictive behavior” in your attempts to love and be loved. You are not broken or faulty. These ideas are tools designed by white supremacy to blame you, to shame you into escaping the worst of situations, perhaps, but still not preparing you to take the best.
Do you hear me? You are not doing anything wrong by staying. You are not doing anything wrong by trying to make it better. There is nothing wrong with you for being unable to leave. The inability is not your inability. The inability is built into the system itself. The inability to leave is the system of the white supremacist patriarchy operating as it is meant to, at your expense, as it is meant to. Your task is therefore not only the Herculean feat of taking yourself out of the situation, but of raising hell itself, overthrowing the system, overthrowing the logic of Hades himself. I know, it is such a weight on your shoulders. But they are not only your shoulders. If you do not have the strength for yourself, use your strength for someone else. I know you have the strength to lift this burden off the shoulders of another.
You can have everything you need, everything you deserve, and everything you want. There is enough to go around. There is enough for everyone to receive more love and care than they are socialized to give. The world of literal plagues and locusts, 2021, in which we can never have our cups full, in which we are always providing and rarely receiving, is based on the exact same white supremacist patriarchy that has created a situation where the only place for you to get the love you need is also a place where you are unable to escape harm. The white supremacist cishetpatriarchy is a lie. Of course it is a lie. You know it is a lie because you are capable of seeing, understanding, and naming truth. You know it is a lie because you know that you yourself are capable of loving without harming. You know it is a lie because you yourself are capable of providing overflowing love, overflowing care, overflowing grace in the acts and decisions of loving. Together we will refuse to enter the underworld of lies. We will invite ourselves and one another into healing spirals which will change the shape of the world.