The day started out as any other day in 2021 with me putting the finishing touches on an article I was working on about microaggressions and the label “Karen.” But instead of it ending with the now familiar disappointment in myself for not finally feeling like I could publish the article, I was tasting the faint acidic flavor of vomit in my mouth and covered in red velvet cake crumbs.
That’s because as I was transitioning from the peaceful tranquility of a quiet house to the morning cacophony of teenagers complaining about online school, I decided to head over to Twitter and check in. There, I notice the word “womxn” is trending, so I click it.
Scrolling through comments, I see a certain corporation released a statement about inclusion to kick-off Women’s History Month and they use the word in their social media campaign. I have no reason to think anything about it because, by definition from Dictionary.com, “womxn” is “used, especially in intersectional feminism, as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women.”
However, and here’s where the nausea starts building: several women in the trans community are very upset because the word has been used to negate the woman-ness of transgender women by implying they are not actually women. So, this corporation is facing a trending online backlash to do better.
Oh. Dear. God.
As I continue to doom scroll, I feel my heart race and my chest collapsing in on itself. The adrenaline surges through my body, followed by the lactate that makes my hands feel numb and useless and my head dizzy.
Why are the alarms being pulled you ask? Well, because in a few short weeks, my first book with a publisher is due to hit the bookstands. And right off the bat, the readers will be greeted with a one-page preface about how the book is written for – wait for it - all womxn.
Can you see why I’m freaking out now?
I got myself in this perceived pickle because in the 11th hour of writing the book, I had thought about what if someone decided to the literally judge the book by its cover and not read it, they may draw conclusions that this was written with a narrow viewpoint on gender.
And because I didn't want anyone to think I held narrow definitions on gender, I felt a preface was important to make sure it was clear that I wrote a book for all women or people had been labeled as women, and even men who wanted to see inside our worlds. And I truly thought I’d nailed it, especially after sending my preface to a therapist who works with trans and gender-questioning teens and adults to review.
Yet here we are – right where I didn’t want to be, and I feel myself entering the top of a death spiral of catastrophic thinking.
I send an email to a friend and ask if I should hit the panic button and stop the presses but the joke’s on her – I’ve already hit the panic button! I’m freaking the fuck out.
I decide to put a sincere question out to the largest, most loving group of women I know, a Facebook group I’m a member of with over 25,000 brilliant women from around the world, some who use the word in their own business copy, and I ask them what’s up.
I find that I’m not alone in terms of not knowing some of the misuse of the word “womxn” includes it being a dog whistle for TERF’s or trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and can be misgendering, meaning that it doesn’t correctly reflect the gender with which a person identifies. So, in conclusion, I and other well-meaning people, should probably stop using it.
That’s when my panic slowly simmers to the warm heat of irony and embarrassment as I realize that “womxn” might also be considered a form of microaggression – the everyday remarks or behaviors that happen so casually, most people don’t notice them unless you are the marginalized group that is targeted.
Talk about my day coming full circle.
This then grinds me to halt. Doubt and fear creep in and add to the doubt and fear I already had pooling up in my system for weeks. Who do I think I am, telling people how to be better people when clearly, I’m not doing as well at people-ing as I thought?
I end my day curled up in my papasan, nicknamed “The Hug,” while binging on Marvel movies and the cake my daughter made. And then I go to bed.
Stirred awake at 4:50am by anxiety, I realize I need to restore my confidence and refill my ego battery a bit. So, I decide to start Day Two of Women’s History Month by re-watching an interview I did in 2019 on a show called “Real Men Feel.”
Coincidentally on Day One, the show’s host, Andy Grant, had reached out to let me know that the YouTube video of our talk had been shared on Reddit last December and so it’s experiencing a bit of a social media coming growth buzz with presently over 27,000 views and growing.
Being an abuse survivor as well as covering many forms of abuse with therapists, authors, and other survivors on my show, I reached out to Andy to suggest we discuss the taboos around men being relational abuse victims and how gender stereotypes can prevent men from getting the emotional support they need.
As I scroll through the hundreds of comments, I notice my chest is tight – my personal cue that I’m in survival mode. I think to myself that it must mean I’m girding myself to be ready to re-experience trauma and abuse again from the Trolls.
But then I realize I’m not in the mindset of a strong, adult woman ready to defend myself. I realize I’m “Little Ameé” - the small girl who doesn’t want anyone to be mad at her and has figured out that sometimes the safest place to be is alone. The little girl who is only trying to help but still can’t seem to make everyone happy.
“Huh. That’s weird,” I think to myself. And now the past few weeks are starting to make sense.
Knowing that there is a lot of PR work for a book launch, I’ve had an amazing plan, full of contacts, links, and so many, many tabs in my spreadsheets it’s impressive. I have sub-plans of plans and I have several kick-ass ideas for articles, videos, and social media posts all parked and ready for me to go to town on them.
But I haven’t hit Post or Publish on any of it. I’ve started a lot and then have found myself down a rabbit hole, stalled out by wanting to say everything the right and best way possible.
I’m reviewing every tidbit and idea from every possible angle to make sure I’ve covered it all. A 750-word article grows to an unpublishable 3,000 words. A quick bit of hygiene content is now three weeks old, collecting metaphorical dust in my Saved Designs folder because I want it to be perfect.
Now, what’s really weird is that for years I have been the proponent of the MVP or minimum viable product. Hell, some of the coolest products and businesses I have started, I have launched with “good enough” and know full well that it works out in the end. And when someone tells me about their affliction with “perfectionism,” I’ve always felt grateful I didn’t suffer from it myself.
But now that I am the product, it feels different. I’m different. And until today, I couldn’t figure out why.
I mean, for a couple years now, I have been putting myself “out there” with One Broken Mom, my podcast but until today, I realized that the show was still a shield to tuck myself behind. On my show, I’m not the expert. In fact, I remind the viewers and listeners of that. And guess what that’s been doing for me all this time and I didn’t realize it?
Keeping me safe.
Yes, I am beginning to see who’s been running the show in my head for the past few weeks.
“Safe from what?” my adult self asks Little Ameé.
From being bullied. From being teased. From being told I’m too much. From being told I’m not as smart as I think I am. From unintentionally hurting someone else’s feelings. From accidently making someone feel as small as I do sometimes because that sucks.
“Huh,” I remark to myself, “I didn’t realize I was doing that this whole time.”
I continue to sit with this thought as I scroll through the comments on the YouTube video, looking for my name. I see several comments of gratitude. I see many men share their abuse stories and now feel seen. In fact, most of the comments are exactly what I hoped would come about as a result of the talk – a safe and gracious space for others to know they are not alone.
But then I see a couple of men call me intellectually lazy. And another say my tattoos are an indication that I’m a female who thinks she should conduct herself as a man.
I don’t even know what that last comment means but you know what? It doesn't matter. I’m okay.
That’s when I realize what it was Day One was supposed to help me see:
No matter how much work I put into trying to see every position from everyone’s point of view and making sure I never step on any toes or hurt someone’s feelings, I’ll never do it.
Sounds good doesn’t it? I could have ended this article right here. But I didn’t. This is where my analysis skills work in my favor most days.
Because as I was writing this, when I re-read that statement, I knew I needed to call myself out on my own bullshit because - news flash - I already knew that, or rather Adult Ameé knows that. That’s not what’s been slowing me down. And I know that because that's been the mantra I've been playing in my head for weeks, trying to use it to motivate me.
“Try again, Ameé,” I goad myself.
So, I ask “If you really do know all this, then why are you still not doing what you’re supposed to be doing?”
I give myself a few quiet minutes to replay the last several weeks as well as the triggering event from yesterday, feeling around for the subtext.
And then, in the soft, timid little voice that now only lives in my memories, I hear “Because I’m afraid.”
Bingo! There it is.
As the big day of my book release neared – the ultimate most vulnerable expression of just me - Little Ameé saw that we are heading into a new, unfamiliar chapter and she’d been letting me know she was getting scared and wanted more time to get ready.
She wanted it to be perfect first so that she would be safe.
Knowing the truth, I reached out to her, pulled her in close like I do with my own daughter when she’s hurting, and allowed myself to cry with this scared little person who has been in my care for awhile now.
I felt sorry for her pain and suffering she’s been through and I remembered with her the disappointment, grief, and fears from rejection & abandonment she’s been through. And I told her I understood why she’s been so hesitant for these past few weeks.
I validated her fears. My fears.
I am swimming deeper and deeper into unchartered territory for myself with each passing day. While I’m doing exactly what I want to do, I have to remember, with compassion, I’m in a place I’ve only dreamed of being but have never truly been.
So, of course I’m experiencing new feelings. I’m breathing in smells I’ve never smelled and tasting tastes I’ve never tasted before, including the acrid flavor of throwing up in my mouth a little yesterday from stress.
That feeling yesterday wasn’t because I’d unintentionally used a word incorrectly and someone objected so now, I was being held accountable. No one has even read it yet!
It was the raw, deep fear that all of me was going to be rejected if I made a mistake. It was the memory of my fears.
And so, I put my hand over my heart, where Little Ameé will always be with me, and told her it wasn’t her job anymore to protect us. I got this now.
And I’m quite capable of owning my mistakes and have learned through life that not everyone will like or understand us, and that’s okay too.
So, to ease her fears of what could happen to us, I promised her that as we try new things and go new places, we might fail but we will always do our best to be kind. And fierce.
#womenshistorymonth #traumainformed #traumainformedbusiness #traumainformedleadership #genderstereotypes #genderroles #perfectionism #mentalhealth #selfawarness #childhoodtrauma #adversechildhoodexperiences