I’ll never forget the first time I was called a ‘faggot’ in that summer of 1979. I was eight years old. It wouldn’t be the last time someone called me a ‘fag,’ spat on me, or punched me in the face. And that all happened before I’d made it out of high school. By the time I’d transitioned my body at twenty-three, I’d been humiliated on the street more times than I could count. My body was numb to sexual assault. And I’d had a john pull a knife on me.
Throughout all of it, the thing I wanted most was love. Community. A place I could feel safe where the world wasn’t treating me like garbage.
Those were the experiences that taught me about Otherness. And that’s what guided me to become a counselor, an educator, and eventually, to write The Healing Otherness Handbook. What’s more, my history taught me how to be sassy; to show up in spite of hate, to take pride in being Queer, to choose the life I wanted even though I was forging paths where I’d never seen anyone else who was like me.
Maybe I can help you do the same.
Your Story as the ‘Other’
If you’ve been cast out for some aspect of your gender or how you present it, your skin color or cultural background, body size or shape, the way your brain processes information, your sexual identity, or some other part or parts that makes you you; you know what I’m talking about. You know how Otherness feels if, in your blended or adopted family, you were the child of a despised biological parent that others in your family didn’t want to remember. You’ve glimpsed Otherness each time you were the new kid in school and felt like a target for school bullies. Maybe you didn’t just glimpse it. Maybe you were their target.
Whatever your experience of being bullied, targeted, oppressed, overlooked, and erased, you understand what Otherness is and how it hurts.
You understand also how this stuff can show up in present day. You reexperience exclusion. Or you have a brush with a hate crime. Maybe you experience the vicarious trauma of seeing someone like yourself in the news who was murdered for that thing about them that’s just like this thing about you. A part of me dies each time I learn about another transgender person murdered. As of the date of this writing in the second week of April 2021, there have been twelve so far in the United States. And those are just the ones we know about.
Even as real as the psychological trauma of Otherness is for us, it’s not the endgame. There’s a lot more to us than what our oppressors attempted to instill, or that are maintained by our inner oppressor—the distorted beliefs that we hold which tell us that we are small, unworthy, and weak.
And whereas I can’t take away the hatred or oppression that exists in the world today, that inner oppressor is the part that I believe I can help you address.
Spend a few moments making space in your life for this work. When you are comfortably seated without the distractions of your phone, email, or other tasks, breathe with me. Deeply. In the through the nose, out through the mouth. If breath focus isn’t something you can do just now, contemplate instead your folded hands, the comfort of the chair in which you’re sitting, or something else in your physical space.
If you have interrupting thoughts about the to-do list, tonight’s dinner, homework, or other business of the day; label them ‘thinking,’ allowing them to drift away.
Give yourself several minutes of this practice.
And with intention, notice the part of you in which, as long as you can recall, you’ve most felt Othered. This is probably the part that’s separated you from the dominant group, or the first thing that someone’s attacked in an effort demoralize you. You know what Otherness is in your life, and whatever comes up in this moment is the place for your focus.
Notice its role in your life, and the instances where it’s shown up.
Notice as well what it left you with: the anger, the hurt, the betrayal, or whatever else; and the places you’ve held pain in your body. Notice how Otherness worked its way into your belief systems about yourself, leading you into negative thought spirals about your worth and even your rights to human dignity.
Breathe this in.
As you encounter the destructive beliefs that Otherness instilled—this inner oppressor who’s done the heavy lifting of dominating your thoughts even when there was nobody else in the room but you—it is time to consider a different path.
Return to your breath and clear your mind of the distraction. See the inner oppressor attempting to convince you that you are and shall always be Other and therefore less-than. Recognize the inner oppressor for what it is: an illusion. Not real. A manifestation of hate that came from someone outside yourself who sought to gain power over you for their own sick needs.
See the part of yourself who allowed them so much mental real estate. What would it mean, as well, to sass back to this inner oppressor, to reclaim mental territory and life space?
Take a few moments reflecting on the experience of releasing this part of you. Sass back at it now. Verbalize this or write it, sing it, or whatever feels most real to you. But pack your power behind it and reclaim the space that was taken from you by something so oppressive and harmful.
Remember to sass back at it each time it tries to even enter your thoughts to convince you that you are less-than.
And as you do so, go easy on yourself. You may grieve time lost to your inner oppressor. You may be angry over feeling duped. Whatever comes up for you though, remember that this small activity you started today can be reignited each time the inner oppressor shows up.
Stacee L. Reicherzer, PhD, is a Chicago, IL-based transgender counselor, educator, and public speaker for the stories of the bullied, forgotten, and oppressed. The San Antonio, TX, native serves as clinical faculty of counseling at Southern New Hampshire University, where she received the distinguished faculty award in 2018. She travels the globe to teach and engage audiences around diverse topics of otherness, self-sabotage, and imposter phenomenon.