“I think the first time I felt depression was when I was around 12, not long after we had moved to New Zealand from Australia. I knew that I was fat and ugly. I knew that we were poor. I knew that the church I part of was an embarrassing secret, but also a fear-driven faith I was very committed to.”
NAME: Pamela Hart
Derealization is an alteration in the perception or experience of the external world so that it seems unreal. Depersonalization is a state in which one’s thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself, or in which one loses all sense of identity. Symptoms of depersonalization-derealization disorder may be related to childhood trauma or other experiences or events that cause severe emotional stress or trauma.
I think the first time I felt depression was when I was around 12, not long after we had moved to New Zealand from Australia. I knew that I was fat and ugly. I knew that we were poor. I knew that the church I part of was an embarrassing secret, but also a fear-driven faith I was very committed to. When I think of my depression’s cycles, I think of those early years in NZ and my eating disorders; my late teens and all the body hate and sex shame; my early 20’s and the rape, coming out, the alcoholism; my late 20s in Canada and the difficult relationships, the community call outs. By my early 30’s I had finally decided to try anti-depressants – and they worked.
When I was 18 years old, I left the church I had grown up in. This church was a kind of born into, marry into, no-gays kind of space. I had learned that I was a chosen one, that I could only have “real” relationships with people in the church and that this community was my destiny. When I left the church, the heavier weight of my teenage depression set in. I started experiencing derealization and depersonalization as a response to the trauma of losing my community, my family and my faith systems. Stepping into the world as a free agent with all the guilt, fear and shame I could fit into my chubby virginal body. I walked blindly around the streets of Christchurch, not able to work out how to get on a bus.
When I was 19 I became a born again christian. I was still in a chubby body but no longer a virgin. I’d had sex 2 times; the first time was with Henry. He was a set maker for Lord of the Rings and in the two days I knew him he would point at things and say “I can make that out of styrofoam”. We had sex in my single bed, we didn’t use a condom and I was on my period. I didn’t know that meant I wouldn’t get pregnant. The second time I had sex it was a threesome with a couple attending broadcasting school. They were named Anna and Alexi and they had a “modern” relationship. My best friend Jemima (who I lurrrrrved) had become a born again christian right after having a relationship with her brother’s friend Tania – a lesbian from art school. Her testimony spoke of the shame of her dabbling in gay sex. Jemima’s brother raped me, and that was the third time I had sex. She came from a family of 8 red head children. When I told my best friend what her brother had done she told me to go away and not come back for at least 2 weeks.
When I was 20 I was still a born again Christian but ‘dabbled’ in gay friends. My best-friends now ex-girlfriend Tania was one of them and I took the time to inform her that being a lesbian was wrong, under god. Two weeks later we became girlfriends …. About 2 months after that, I became the coordinator of an LGBTQI* youth advocacy group. In those first few months I came out to all the Christians as gay and they all left me, they told me I was wrong, disgusting and blah blah blah, except for Warren. One of them even wrote a song for me – a kind of new metal style song that was about my filth and choosing the right path again. He recorded it on a cassette tape and put it in my mail-box.
My Dad had just cheated on my Mum when I realized I was gay, so at my suggestion he was told to leave. Mum decided to move with the dog to the other side of New Zealand. Dad moved first into a trailer park then into an old house that “used to be a brothel” on a busy street, in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ that was a few doors up from the gas station he worked at. I took my dad out for Indian food one night (I was an enthusiastic vegan) and told him I was gay. He said he was relieved I wasn’t taking men up to my room for money. The next morning my Mum called me in hysterics, saying that god was very very disappointed and disgusted in me.
I dropped out of art school somewhere around there, in fact I had also not received my high school certificate. My history teacher was a total dud; never teaching us the curriculum, always commenting on my body. Once in a class on “Elizabethan England” my teacher declared that “back in Elizabethan days Pamela with her wide hips and large bosom was attractive, these days (the late 90’s) women like Deborah with slim hips and small breasts are attractive”. My design teacher had a blond Rod Stewart style mullet, he was considered generally to be young and handsome. I have to say, I am a fan of Rod Stewart’s – especially once I found out he had been such a good ally to Tina Turner but I was not a fan of Mr Coleman the ‘handsome’ design teacher. He had accused me of trying to distract him in class with my breasts. As a fat girl, overwhelmed with both her faith, and her potential sexuality I had suppressed all notions of any sexuality and being accused of such a thing was extraordinarily uncomfortable. I do remember that I had laughed that day, moving up and down with my giggles, and I do remember that my clothes didn’t always fit me that well.
My girlfriend was a musician and an artist and pulled me into her world of experimental noise and art. We created a collective and rented a huge building that we turned into a home, a gallery, and show space. This building had also been a brothel and strip club and still had the pale pink fleshy high gloss walls to prove it. There was a big room with poles in it and little cubicles with windows looking into the room on two sides. After about a year together Tania fell in love with someone else and left me for her. We stayed living there – I walked in on her once, I think maybe we were still together at that point. I just offered to make them tea, and they said yes, so I made them tea. It’s bizarre to think back to that pain, I know and remember it. I remember being so scared to take up space with my anger and hurt. I remember all the violence in that space, the alcohol and drug abuse.. but I also remember feeling loved by Tania.
When I was 25 I moved to Canada to meet my family and ‘start a new life?’ My partner Edie of 3 and a half years had fallen in love with Tania (my first girlfriend) and I had cried non-stop for 2 weeks. My Canadian family were liberals! Radicals! Union supporting activists and pride attending allies! “Who knew?” I exclaimed! My first week in Canada was pride week, and my motorcycle ridin’ long grey hair and leather sportin’ Aunty and Uncle asked if I wanted to go to the parade with them. “Sure,” I said. When we arrived at the parade I realized that we weren’t there to watch and support we were there to march. My Uncle quickly ripped off his shirt, put on his leather vest and poured a bottle of water down his hair and hairy body.
Not long after that I met Dani, my dreamboat. We used to say that we weren’t lucky to have met each other but “cosmically blessed”. We met when I was on tour with Mozarts sister, as a singer and synth player. We were opening for the TRUST tour and playing predominantly gay bars and goth venues. Dani worked the queer venue in North Carolina and came in for the show that night. We saw each other straight away and made out later that night. A month later I visited again, a few months after that they visited me. A year or so after we took a six month trip to New Zealand and 2 and a half years into our relationship Dani moved to Montreal and we got married. The queer choir I had been running for a few years sung at our wedding, my sister stood beside me at the alter. Our little chosen family got so strong around us. Our friends all seemed to like each other, our dog and cat had their territories in the house and I was on a mission to have a happy family. Me, Dani, the animals, our friends, our future kids, our extended families. I threw Dani’s Mom’s birthday party, I sewed Dani’s Dad’s buttons on his tweed jacket. I strung lights and made food for Dani’s brothers wedding and I welcomed all their friends into our home for long visits. I sponsored Dani to live in Canada, I paid for them to live in Canada working extended hours to afford it…and I loved it. Somehow the family I had lost in those early years of leaving the church had made its way back to me, but this time it loved ME, my queerness, my fatness, my trauma, my values.
One of the powerful points of bonding in the queer community is the often shared pain. For so many of us we have come from family traumas, body dysmorphia, religious trauma, sex trauma and this knowledge, spoken or not drives us to create environments that foster our safety. One of the powerful points of tension in the queer community is the battle of survivor versus survivor. What do you do when two survivors end up in a conflict and each’s trauma and baggage is piling onto their behaviour.
In July of 2018 my life started ripping open, again. I had identified as a SURVIVOR: past tense, done deal. “I survived, I am strong, I have built and rebuilt myself, I am safe and these are my allies, this is my chosen family”. The rug I thought was a rock foundation was ripped out from under me. The waves of new trauma caught wind from the old traumas and took me down. The loss of truth and safety brought the loss of my stable mind and the comeback of suicidality and a nervous system crash. I found myself in the most profound experiences of depersonalization; not knowing if I am real, if this is real, what is happening. I started having panic attacks, then I was having them so often I just started twitching, all the time. I cut myself, I hit my head and body in fits of self hatred and confusion. I was scared to take public transit, I was scared to go to the store, I was scared that everyone hated me and I wasn’t worth anything.
The thing about gaslighting is it makes you crazy – like actually crazy. Then you are so crazy you are no longer able to self advocate and people can just keep fucking with you. The other thing about gaslighting, about a lot of bad behaviours, is that folks aren’t necessarily doing it to hurt you. Maybe it’s all they know how to do. It doesn’t mean it’s right, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it. But here we are, a group of beings with enough baggage to overwhelm the planet.
I am grateful for the people that stayed with me through the suicidal moments. I am grateful for the people that held me through the panic attacks and to the people that didn’t touch me through the panic attacks but stayed nearby. I am grateful for the epic phone calls helping me pars through shock. I am grateful for the help in moving my little apartment of things into a new little apartment of things minus all the things that make me feel so bad. I am grateful for the little bits of money sent my way that helped me move. I am grateful for the stamina of my smaller chosen family that still have energy for my pain. I am grateful for the access to therapy, medications and psychiatry that I have had. I am grateful that my Mum has come the long way of calling me out when I was 20 for defying Jesus to holding my hand in the lawyers office as I try and get gay divorced without being completely destroyed.
So 38 years in and I AM a survivor, but I am also SURVIVING. I am learning to accept what is happening and what has happened. Accepting it doesn’t mean liking it, doesn’t even mean tolerating it but I gotta look it in the eyes, I gotta call it for what it is. So this was a few anecdotes from my life as a queer fat crazy divorcing survivor; some truths about the things I am looking straight in the eyes and surviving.