“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.”
-Socrates, classical Greek Philosopher
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
-James Baldwin, African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic
“Fear is the only true enemy born of ignorance and the parent of anger and hate.”
-Edward Albert, film & television actor, Golden Globe winner, 1972
Dear Dr. Kane:
I am a 34-year-old black male, and I belong to a black church that my family has attended for four generations. My great-grandfather was one of the founding members, and my grandfather and father have served faithfully as deacons for years.
I attend church services regularly, I pay my tithes, I play the piano for the choir, and I sing. I am also gay. I am in a loving monogamous relationship, but my family has asked that I keep this quiet from other church members. As a result, when I attend church services, I do so without the person who brings joy to my life.
I have accepted the fact that they don’t want to see me as gay. My parents and their church community are traditional and conservative people, and I know that there is nothing I can do about the way they think.
Recently, however, I encountered a news report about an act of hatred that has devastated me. One black man poured boiling hot water on two other young black men while they were lying in bed together, asleep. He said he did it because they were gay. Both men were terribly disfigured, and they showed the pictures. I couldn’t stop crying.
I went to my family, the pastor and the church’s deacon board with the hope that the church would speak out against this act of hatred within the black community, reach out to them in public prayer and offer them financial assistance from the congregation, but I was stunned by the response. My family was silent; the pastor said he would pray privately for their salvation, but nothing public, and the deacon board decided that taking an offering for the victims was not within the guidelines of the gospel.
I continue to read and hear about the horrors these men have endured. That could have been me—asleep one moment, and then awake and screaming in agony the next. It plays over and over again in my mind, and I can’t sleep. I have nightmares that the same thing could happen to my partner and myself. I can’t eat, and I have taken time off from work to stay in bed.
I have spoken to my pastor, but I feel he has now forsaken me. What would you recommend I do?
Sleepless and Invisible in Seattle
My Dear Readers,
Lupita Nyong’o, in her acceptance speech for her 2014 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film 12 Years A Slave, observed:
“Slavery is something that is, all too often, swept under the carpet. The shame doesn’t even belong to us, but we still experience it because we’re a part of the African race. If it happened to one, it happened to all. We carry that burden.”
Slavery was about exploitation, the buying and selling of human being as chattel. However, it was also about hatred and the despicable acts we can do as one human to another.
And today? Although African-Americans are legally free and among the most successful members of the African Diaspora, we psychologically remain traumatized; a shame-based community hidden in black silence.
The story being told here is an excellent example of this. Here, we have a young man who is traumatized by an act of hatred and the horrendous suffering that has ensued. According to reporting by the Associated Press:
- On 2.12.16 Martin Blackwell, a long-haul trucker who stayed at the home with his girlfriend, the mother of one of the victims, when he was in town, walked in and saw the two men sleeping next to each other.
- Blackwell went into the kitchen, pulled out a pot, filled it with water and set it to boil. Moments later, he poured the scalding hot water over the men.
- Then Blackwell allegedly yanked one of the men off the mattress, yelling “Get out of my house with all that gay,”
- In the police report, he stated “They were stuck together like two hot dogs…so I poured a little hot water on them and helped them out.” He added,” They’ll be alright. It was just a little hot water.”
- Both men were severely burned. One must now wear compression garments 23 hours a day for the next two years and attend weekly counseling and physical therapy. The other male was burned even more severely, was placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks, having 60% of his body burned. He will have to undergo skin grafts surgery to repair damage to his face, neck, back, arms, chest, and head.
- The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before finding Blackwell guilty of eight counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Mr. Blackwell deserves to be punished for what he did. Imagine the premeditation of the act, placing water on a stove, as it boiled, watching the two young men as they slept, peacefully in each other’s arms and just as calmly pouring hot scathing water upon them as they screamed out in pain and agony. Mr. Blackwell committed a despicable act. He deserves our contempt.
Instead, the community rewards him with silence. We see ourselves as helpful neighbors, as in the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” but in this situation, as well as in hundreds of black churches throughout this country, we openly and consistently reject and shun those in our community who are gay and lesbian.
In the same breath that we seek to hold white people, the dominant racial group in our society, accountable for their abuse of the rights of people of color afforded them by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, we consistently deny those same rights to our own children if their sexual orientation does not mirror our own, or what we have come to believe is “natural,” or “right.”
The same 13 subtypes of cumulative complex traumas that African-Americans experience due to our race/ethnicity are the ones we inflict upon those in our own racial and ethnic groups because of differences in gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Specifically:
- Macro-aggressive assault-threat of violence/death (e.g. pouring scathing boiling water on two sleeping men)
- Micro-aggressive assault-brief, daily insults and dismissals (e.g. derogatory name calling)
- Invisibility Syndrome-being unseen (e.g. feelings that one’s talents, personality and worth are not valued or recognized)
- Just World-the shattering of the belief of the Goodness Principle (e.g. “I do good things, I deserve goodness and I will be rewarded with goodness.”)
And then there is Betrayal Trauma…..
One can only imagine how our gay and lesbian children must feel when the people they trust the most—their parents, siblings, extended family and church community turn against them upon learning of their sexual orientation.
Betrayal trauma is the violation of implicit and explicit trust. Betrayal in general is traumatic. However, the closer the relationship, the greater the degree of betrayal and therefore the more devastating the traumatic impact.
In the situation of our writer, his situation is even more appalling. His trauma was increased as he visualized the same horrendous act occurring to him. He was psychologically wounded. He went to those he trusted to provide assistance for these two men whom he identified with, and instead, received silence from his family, private acknowledgement from the pastor, and rejection from the deacon board. In all three ways, they unknowingly abandoned him when they abandoned the two men who were attacked.
To add further hurt to a psychological wound individual, the family and church still wants him to remain committed to attending the church and not only contributing his tithes, but also as a choir member and instrumentalist. In essence, they want him to share his life and talents with them, but only those aspects that they have chosen.
I recommend that our writer:
- Seek individual psychotherapy or other forms of mental health treatment
- Heal the psychological wounds: understand that trauma is a permanent fixture that can be carried and with work, can become lighter
- End the shackles of invisibility: become your own advocate, bring balance into your internalized self and calmness to your external environment
- Finally, should he desire to stay as a member of the church congregation, be out and free completely. “I’m gay, I’m here and I am not going anywhere.”
As stated earlier, there are 13 sub-types of cumulative complex traumas that can impact African-Americans on a daily basis. Of these, betrayal trauma can be the most devastating due to the vulnerability and the open exposure of the victimized individual and the nature of implicit and explicit trust.
As a clinical traumatologist, my consistent message has been that trauma is a permanent fixture within the psychological self. The psychological scars may eventually heal, but the experience and the proceeding trauma is forever. It will never ever go away.
Betrayal trauma is devastating, and healing and recovery from it is extremely difficult. However, healing and recovery is possible. The individual must want to embrace the trauma and in doing so, own and honor the experience. The result can be a life in which the incident lightens and becomes carried by the sufferer, instead of a weight that lies upon his back.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence by the good people.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…