This won’t be so easy to write. I can’t think of an image to go with this – I was tempted to post a photo of Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from whose lips were uttered the words of the splendid title, but I don’t feel like joking this thing up (though she is easy on the eye, sorry).
I want to write something about shame, as it’s on my mind at the moment. I’ve become aware of how pervasive it is in my life, in a subtle way. I’m going to spare you the inevitable dictionary definition (ooh, therefore evitable!), since I think it’s reasonable to assume you already know what shame is – a product available almost everywhere.
Anyway. How to write about this without sounding like a whiny victim? Excuse me: why would you think that writing about being made to feel shame would make you sound like a whiny victim? Good point, self. Yes. So here’s the thing: shame isn’t innate, it’s acquired.
I have been encouraged to feel shame: for not being heterosexual; for not being gay; for being Jewish; for not being Jewish enough; for being a Buddhist; for being short-sighted; for having sticky-out front teeth (back when I had sticky-out front teeth); for missing some muscles; for being middle-class; for having been sexually abused; for being a man; for being a woman; for not being masculine enough (back when I was trying to be a man); for being too masculine (as a tomboy, “letting down” femme trans women); for being afraid to swim out of my depth; for being afraid of wasps; for being too tall; for being transgender; for doing drugs; for not doing drugs; for having a “mental health issue”.
Oh, hang on, that last one… well, I’ll come back to that one, because that’s interesting. But first… doesn’t this seem ridiculous to you? It does to me, writing this list, and watching it get longer and longer. This has all actually happened to me. People, and society at large, have between them gone out of their way, at certain times and in certain places, to encourage me to feel shame for all these different things. That’s just stupid. Why are we doing this? What have I encouraged others to feel ashamed of, knowingly or unknowingly?
That last one on the list, the “mental health issue”, it’s interesting because it’s clear to me that I’m the one encouraging me to feel ashamed, there. Well, okay, the culture I live in does habitually attach a stigma to mental health issues. But I haven’t had any trouble from anyone about my PTSD, except myself. Why am I doing this?
I think I’m feeling ashamed because I’ve learned over the decades how to feel ashamed, to assume I should feel ashamed. It’s been soaked into me since I was abused at 6, and in all those different ways that I listed above. So I have the habit, I have the knack. Shining my shame about mental health through a prism, I see: my inner Dad-Clone telling me I’m never good enough; my inner Society-Clone telling me I’m only “valid” when I’m doing stuff I can’t do at the moment; my inner pseudo-Buddhist-Clone telling me I should be able to overcome everything through meditation, so I’m clearly just lazy/weak; my inner Lover-Clone dismissing me as unworthy lover-potential.
Well, they can all go fuck themselves. If I’ve learned one thing over the last few months (and yes, I have learned this one thing), it’s how to keep company with the parts of me that hurt, that I’m more used to fending off. So this is just another layer of learning to do that. What my shame needs, more than anything else (and certainly more than it needs being ashamed of), is my arm around its shoulders.
Oh, and I get to win because in spite of shame, I still know how to be loving, and am willing to take the risk to act on it, over and over.
If you’re reading this and suffer with shame, I wish you freedom from it – but first, I wish you the freedom to comfort it.
Here is an image to end with, after all – a deeply warm painting by my friend Srivandana. I don’t know the painting’s title, but let it stand for this: Love trumps shame, in every game.
[…and of course, I feel really self-conscious about all the above, now. But so be it… And I know people for whom shame won, it’s important to say that. Love is kind of acquired, too, we need to learn it, be taught it well.]