The Repetitive Trauma of Being Othered

A rainbow Gay Pride flag painted on a brick wall

I see and experience all the ways people with brain injury and post-traumatic stress are dismissed in society. How many times have we been dismissed or written off for having an invisible injury of TBI or PTSD? How many homeless or incarcerated veterans and civilians have untreated brain injuries? Some estimates are that more than half of all homeless populations and 60% of incarcerated individuals are living with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Imagine getting a TBI and having a moment of uncontrollable anger only to be locked up or lose your job and housing. It happens every day. What would happen if we stopped judging and started helping instead?

I have hidden my true self for a very long time. I hid my nerdiness. I knew geeking out about my special interests was of no interest to most folks. I was bullied for being smart and especially for being a smart girl. There was no way I was smarter than the boys, and certainly no way I was better at video games than they were, but I was. I won the Tetris championship at summer camp one year. Then, at school, I was a band geek and president of Students Helping Other People (SHOP), Students Against Violation of the Earth (SAVE), and Young Democrats. Talk about a nerd alert.

When I was a young child, my favorite teacher was Father Al, who taught us the best song with a Cookie Monster puppet dressed as a friar: “I’m Saint Francis of Assisi and just because I wear a dress doesn’t mean I’m a sissy.” I never realized how much that impacted my worldview. It’s simple really: don’t judge others. Father Al would end up leaving the church because he was gay. I left the church because of its stance on homosexuality.

I tried to hide myself as much as I could through college and into my early career but always felt off. I could never show my true form in military spouse circles. We all had to be that housewife waiting for our service member to come home. I was never happy at all those “ladies’ lunches” or “force-fun” midday squadron functions. I had work! And goodness, when I told them I worked in the arts, forget it. I was usually in a corner or talking to the one other working mom who also had to take leave to attend this Air Force morale nonsense.

Then Russ retired and we no longer had functions to attend. We found our circle of nerds, our geeky family. We stick together because we understand each other. And we’ve all been “othered.”

Recently, thanks to the VA Caregiver Support Program and the Fenwick Foundation, Russ and I were gifted tickets to AwesomeCon 2023 — a convention all about fandoms: science fiction, comic books, fantasy, superheroes, actual science, you name it. More importantly, they catered their programming to be inclusive of everyone, especially those with disabilities or on the neurodivergent spectrum. They even had sensory-friendly and calm-down areas when the crowds and stimuli were too much. Accessibility was front and center with accommodations and sign-language interpreters. Another highlighted area of inclusion was “Pride Alley,” a section all about the LGBTQIA+ community. It featured queer organizations and creators and they hosted activities and special events, especially for the queer community and allies. I have always found sci-fi conventions a safe space for the queer community and AwesomeCon really does it right. 

June is Pride Month! I don’t need to dive into the history of Pride but I will say the first Pride was a riot. And for good reason. No matter how inclusive and accepting one’s family or community, coming out is almost always difficult. 

My recently departed daughter, Elizabeth, was queer. When she came out to us in high school I think she wanted a bigger reaction than “Oh, we know and we love you very much.” As she learned more about herself she would come to say she was pansexual but the bi flag is prettier so she was bisexual. We were grateful to live in a community that supports and includes all people and their identities while she was growing up; I think that made coming out for her a lot easier. She certainly faced her share of backlash but was confident in herself, at least when it came to her sexuality.

I, on the other hand, did not have it as easy. I am queer. I haven’t really felt safe saying that until quite recently. And truth be told, I still don’t feel 100 percent safe. I am bisexual. I just happened to be in love with and married to a man. I dated women in the past. Then Russ and I found each other and fell in love. I have been assaulted for being bi — by men trying to “teach me” how much better it is to only like their gender. And many of my queer friends have been assaulted as well. Some close friends had to change their life plans due to recent legislation across the nation.

Being “different” — or “other” — becomes exhausting when the trauma is repetitive. The constant barrage of anti-queer legislation in the news and rhetoric on social media. The pure hate and vitriol for my friends and family just wanting to live their lives. It is too much. I am tired of having to defend our rights as human beings.

I need to be more open about who I am. All of me. I cannot be afraid. I won’t hide anymore. Now, I will be my true self. And I’m ready to stand with anyone else who feels the same.