Caution: Discussion of personal trauma. Abuse, physical and otherwise. Also, cliched thoughts about walls and me being a dork in general.
I’ve been thinking a lot about walls this past week, both the physical and emotional types of walls. I hate that they’re such a cliche, but if you’ve survived trauma, you know about walls. I’ve always been somewhat enamored with them. I’ve seen a lot of walls during my stay here in the UK. When I was up north, it was Hadrian’s wall, bits and pieces of it, all throughout the countryside. Every day when I walk to work in the morning, I get to pass the Tower of London and the Roman Wall. Here are these labor intensive constructs built to keep someone out or in. I can’t help but admire them, the dedication to build, the dedication to guard, the dedication to maintain.
My mother, who I haven’t spoken to in nearly two decades, would tell this story about how before I was five or so, I was this happy, smiling child. And then sometime around my 5th birthday, I stopped smiling. She would always tell this story to some friend I brought home, I’d sit there and roll my eyes, repeating in my head “hide it behind the wall….”
What she didn’t know, and probably still doesn’t realize, is that I remember, very clearly, the very day I stopped smiling, the day I put that first brick into the wall I built around myself. It was the day I finally groked that, no, I wouldn’t grow up to be a woman like my mother. That my newborn sister, lying on our kitchen table, with her diaper being changed and me discovering that, “No, she’s not broken, that’s what girls have downstairs” (I wasn’t a very bright kid around this), would inherit my mothers womanhood. I learned how to make very good bricks that day.
As I grew older, the bricks came more rapidly. Elementary school finished off the courtyard walls, built the earthenworks. There was this game that was played from 4th to 5th grade. I still remember the names of everyone who played it. It was before homeroom. I would sit in my seat and just about every boy in the class would slap me across the back with a ruler. It was a hysterical game apparently, because I wouldn’t flinch, wouldn’t move. wouldn’t give them the pleasure of a response. I sat behind my walls, protected, as the barbarians stormed the gates, making bricks, adding mortar. When I was hogtied and beaten in a school van. More walls. More bricks. The constant barrage of abuse. Fag. Girl (like, that’s an insult? WTF?) More walls. More bricks.
More walls got started on sometime after a close relative around my own age started to molest me. More bricks. More walls. Those walls got finished up when I was in my 20s and reported it to my parents only to be informed by my peach of a mother that “Little boys do that to each other”. I was 15 when it started, 17 when it ended. More walls. More bricks.
I’m really good about maintaining my walls. During my divorce to my ex, when I had to make the choice, give up custody of my daughter in order to ensure that she had only supervised contact with the relative who molested me, or have joint custody with my ex allowing my abuser unfettered access, I put that pain behind my wall, made the only choice a responsible trans parent could have made in the situation (1990’s rural America. It was the best I could have gotten.) and made more bricks.
Raped on a consulting gig. More bricks. More walls. Loss of my family. More bricks, more walls. By the time I was in my 30s, my walls were solid. Words would bounce off those walls like the puny arrows they were. The constant barrage of shit heaped on trans women in this culture wouldn’t even phase me. Nothing was getting through those walls, good or bad. Not even me.
The weird thing about walls (and cages come to think about it?) is they keep you in just as much as they keep others out. I have real problems sometimes making long term connections with people. It’s not as if I try to keep them out, it’s just that my walls are so solid, so old, so imposing, that I don’t know how to guide others through that maze sometimes. Usually, I can get them past the first bit. Into the first set of walls. I think part of me just thinks that that is close enough and I can wave from them from the parapets of the inner bits. Or maybe I’ve just lost the map.
I guess the reason I’m thinking about walls is something that happened only once in my life happened again recently. Someone was able to navigate those twisting passages, without a map, without my purposefully letting them in, like those walls were never there. It’s kind of a terrifying feeling to be honest.
When that happened the first time in my life, I sat there, frantically, building bricks, trying anything, to block those passages ways up, to keep that person out. Even during our relationship, I was making bricks, building walls, because, well, when you’ve been doing it for so damn long, you don’t know what else to do.
This time, I’ve stopped building bricks.