Identity: Reflect, Reclaim & Self-Care
As individuals, we are all made up of parts that interact to make up the whole of who we are. Who we are as a whole individual and within each of those parts is often developing, growing, evolving, and becoming throughout our lives. At the same time during this process of becoming and entering into who we are, we are interacting with the larger collective of life all around us as an individual – which also has it’s part in our developing, growing, evolving, and becoming.
The society we live in and systems we function in represent a value or devaluing of many different parts of identity that make up who an individual and collective of people are. This can have a positive or negative influence and impact on identity development and expression at all ages and in all walks of life.
Facing three core parts of my identity
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, there are not enough words to describe the heaviness, pain, sadness, fear, anger, and more. Watching and reading the news has been another lived reminder that I and my family and other black and brown friends and communities know daily of what it means living in a society with deeply embedded covert and overt racism.
My identity as a biracial black man was formed with this understanding at a young age growing up in predominantly white schools, with experiencing fall-out estrangement of family relations due to my parents marrying outside of their race and having children. The racial trauma and data of what it meant to be black and brown in our society was passed down to me from the grandmother, mother, and our family at the same time of racial slurs, maltreatment, and discrimination being dished out in our neighborhood, communities, schools, when seeking assistance, and more.
I internalized and wrestled with the consistent messages that I was an abomination just because my parents got married and decided to have a child. I internalized the consistent messages that my physical disabilities were the punishment for that and an everyday reminder of the proof for the messages of who and what I am according to others. So, growing up there was not a place I felt safe in or a place where I knew I could be myself and was loved.
This became an interactive, complex, deep lens for which the racial part of my identity developed. It was a surreal moment to be back in that community I grew up in that was a source of so much pain and part of so much that needed healing. To be in that community with my wife at a protest for George Floyd and the black lives lost to police and other racial based violence against black and brown individuals. It was surreal and very emotional, still inexpressible by words to see all the crowds, hear the speeches, march in protest and gather because the violence needs to end, it should not be a crime and death sentence to be born black in the United States and because All Black Lives Matter.
It took me a long time to include myself in believing that my life also mattered when I am saying “All Black Lives Matter” as a brown-skinned biracial black man who is also transgender with multiple disabilities. These three parts of my identity never really blended well together and rarely received messages of kindness, worth, love, and value – rather they received the opposite which assisted in the development of self-hatred truly believing I was an abomination and a mistake while growing up and into adulthood because of 1) being black and biracial 2) being a transgender man and 3) having multiple disabilities.
Reclaiming my identity
Rolling in my wheelchair called Freedom, next to my wife during the protest – my very first protest – I was overwhelmed and I was reclaiming my identity, power, and value on my own terms. I was participating for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and all black and brown people including the millions of those who have lost their lives to violence including police violence and hate crimes, social injustice due to lack of equity and access to quality services, living conditions, and medical care/treatment, and more. I was participating for my family and friends. I was participating for accountability and social justice. I was participating for myself.
All Black Lives Matter. Systemic racism needs to change. Systemic oppression needs to change. All Black Lives Matter and any messages and treatment received that suggest otherwise previously, currently, and in the future were and are wrong.
I am not an abomination. I am not a mistake. I am not less than. I have worth and value. I am human. I am irreplaceable. I matter. My life matters. All of who I am matters. This always has been true of me and every black and brown life. What will always remain true is that All Black Lives Matter; period, without any questions or conditions.
Lalah Delia said “Self-care is how you take your power back.” Along my self-care journey, I have found that I never know what the next moment will bring. Sometimes it might be a challenge or a series of challenges waiting for me. Sometimes it might be the greatest gift or series of special moments. With all areas of my health – chronic conditions, on my good days and bad days, within the unknown and unpredictable, self-care matters and is essential to my well-being. Ultimately, self-care allows me to be the best person I can be for myself and for others while helping to create the greatest opportunity to live the life I want to live – my best life.
However, the question of how does the concept of self-care relate and look when it comes to the area of 1) being black and biracial 2) being a transgender man was one weighing on me, especially in the midst of the current events and unjust in our country and lives.
I was brought back to what I learned in my previous trauma therapy, as a trauma survivor self-care is necessary to process, express, mend, transform, and heal from traumatic experiences. This includes racial trauma and trauma experienced due to my gender identity. Racial Trauma has acute and chronic impacts. According to Comas-Diaz, Hall, & Neville (2019), these acute and chronic impacts include but are not limited to anxiety, chronic fatigue, chronic stress, depression, hyper-vigilance, inflammation of the body, internalized racism, and other symptoms connected to post-traumatic stress disorder. While navigating these impacts strategies for holistic self-care are vital and include:
- Engage in spaces and with people that are sacred and feel safe for you.
- Take some time and unplug to make sure the media is not an avenue for increasing anxiety and stress connected to the traumatic experiences.
- Pause during the week and each day if you can from work and/or school to help allow more space and less of a mental load you have to deal with during the day and week.
- Communicate and express yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions in a safe, healthy way that provides a release. Connecting with a therapist or licensed health provider who has trauma-informed experience, and experience in the specific area of trauma especially with ability to create a safe space for those of us who have experienced racial and/or LGBTQIA+ based trauma can be helpful in this area as well.
- Engage in self-massage to release pain and tension stored within your body.
- Engage in physical movement activities to release the stored up energy and physicality of the emotions stored within your body.
- Engage in activities and practices that bring you to release, increase connection, expression, and provide you with an outlet and feed you in a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and/or social way.
- Take time to reflect and meditate, especially in connection to remembering how much value and worth you have in the divine within yourself.
- Reclaim who you are by engaging in activities that build up and assert a sense of pride in who you are as a whole person, including the different parts of your identity.
- Engage with and support your local anti-racist organizations and your LGBTQIA+ organizations and programming such as protests and more that help you feel a sense of empowerment.
- Take time to make sure you are showing yourself extra love and space.
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