On Self-Silencing

I’ve always taken a lot of pride in not being an angry person. I brag about how I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt truly angry. I grew up in a household devoid of open expression of anger. Its absence in my socialization led me to believe that anger was an inherently violent and abusive emotion. Feeling angry didn’t mean that you were experiencing a healthy and normal emotion; it meant you were out of control, internally disrupted, otherwise incapable of calmly expressing unhappiness or upset. I never acknowledged my anger, let alone articulated it. I got scared at the way the feeling roiled through me, and I would block it out of my system. Angry people were violent people, angry people were emotionally stunted. I was zen and calm and collected.

Suppressing any kind of upset eventually led to me becoming depressed. This suppression was at its strongest in my romantic relationships, particularly with male partners. With the exception of my current, supportive, all around wonderful partner, every guy I’ve dated pressured me–subtly or overtly–to conform to subordinate female stereotypes.

It’s worth noting at this point that I do not currently and have never, really, identified as a cis female. I like traditionally feminine clothes and makeup but I’ve never felt like a girl; I’ve always been boyish, gender-ambiguous. I got teased for this a lot, growing up, always getting told that I was “too ugly to be a girl” or that I “didn’t deserve to be a girl,” and this led to me perceiving cisgendered females as superior to me. To be seen as feminine and girly was my ideal; it was the highest compliment I could receive. My struggles with gender identity are manifold and complex and could take up several posts, but the gist of it is: for a long time, I viewed myself as inferior to cis females because I didn’t identify as such, and I strove to get the heteronormative attention associated with traditionally attractive cis females. This desperation for approval led to me dating a few misogynistic shitheads who made me feel horrible about myself, but I never felt comfortable voicing my unhappiness with their treatment, because voicing dissent struck me as distinctly “unfeminine.” I wanted to be the kind of girl guys dream about; I wanted to be lovely and fragile and unceasingly acquiescent.

With the last guy I dated, I let him pressure me to lose weight, to touch me in ways that triggered my gender dysphoria, to dress like the coked-up alt-grunge chicks he loved to look at on the internet. I wasn’t comfortable with any of these things, but he would act hurt and passive-aggressive and unhappy when I would voice dissent, so I just let it go. I figured that a “normal girl” would just play along, because “normal girls” enjoyed those things. That’s how relationships worked. That was a mantra I’d repeated constantly, even though I knew it wasn’t true; I was uncomfortable and insecure, and I thought I was so ugly and irredeemably fucked up that no one would ever be attracted to me, so I’d better take what I could get. So I suppressed my discomfort and my sadness and my anger about the way my ex-boyfriend was treating me, and I ate less than 1200 calories a day, and I let him touch my breasts even though it made me want to throw up, and I wore bustiers with high-waisted Goodwill shorts circa 1991.

Unsurprisingly, it made me feel awful. I grew even more depressed. I’d gone from a verbally abusive, controlling, manipulative relationship into one that was exactly, but more subtly, the same. I’d never expressed my unhappiness with either partner, because I was scared to; their reactions made me feel guilty and horrid and I feared their anger. Eventually, I grew closer with my current boyfriend, my best friend of 3 years, and he treated me with respect, and taught me that it was okay to be unhappy; plus, he had always respected my gender identity and my physical boundaries. He thought I was beautiful as I was. I left the guy who had wanted me to fit that unrealistic, internet dream girl mold. And here I am today.

I’ve gotten much more comfortable and confident, and I am beginning to work on expressing anger and unhappiness and accepting them as healthy, normally occurring emotions. My boyfriend is immensely supportive, and I help him with the same things. My gender dysphoria is less present these days, but when it flares up, I am comfortable articulating it. I no longer fear violent reactions. I’ve ditched the disordered eating; I’ve started working out and eating healthily because I want to and because it makes me feel great about myself, not because I want to fit into some useless dude’s oppressive fantasy. I’ve stopped dressing in the godawful costumes of a Whitesnake music video extra. As a result of all of these changes, my depression has really come under control. Venting and open, comfortable expression of my emotions has loosened the valve that was keeping my emotions under high pressure. Suppressing and repressing anger really does allow it to fester inside, to infect and poison you. Draining that metaphoric pus keeps your emotions regulated and free-flowing and healthy, and no one should resent you for being level with them when you’re uncomfortable. That keeps relationships communicative and safe; it brings you closer together, and helps you learn. No one should shame you for being a functioning human being.

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