on trauma, ‘spillover’ and the basis of survival in black and queer bodies

February 1, 2019

My coping mechanisms and my acts of self-care tend to cross wires a lot. Sometimes they elicit emotions from complementary families. And then there are some days where they are basically the same fucking thing. I’ve noticed the dopplegangtry and the gross overlap before, but it tends to jump out in times of tragedy. Like with what happened with Jussie Smollett. I said I wasn’t going to really write about him or that specifically and that remains true. His is an experience and a violence (that is, being a queer/gay Black man) that is ultra-specific and something that I may never experience in that particular way. And I’m comfortable and secure enough in my mind and abilities to know and say that much and step aside to make space for the voices that matter on this subject. With that said, that doesn’t stop what I call “the spillover.”

What the fuck is “the spillover”? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because it’s a fair question.

Oxford defines it straight up as a “the instance of overflowing or spreading into another area.” Psychology refers to parts of it as “the spillover-crossover model” and uses the example of bringing complex work emotions and problems back home to the point that they can negatively or positively affect your partner, friends, and family in a completely different environment. And alter those interpersonal relationships in ways you don’t like. And where the scientific method is concerned, it states that spillover is when there exists “an effect on subjects not the direct target of the experiment.”

This is perhaps my favorite definition, because it already starts to dig at what I mean by “spillover” in my case. If science describes it as unintentional consequences that are felt by a subject who didn’t feel the brunt of the full “experiment,” then I define it as a trauma by association. Trauma that can manifest in someone who may have not been the direct target of said traumatic event, but who shares identifiers with said target that make them just as physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally vulnerable, as said target to similar trauma.

The experiment and the trauma, in this case, are racism and homophobia/queerphobia.

But that’s just one part of “spillover” though. The second part is how easily said trauma — this second-hand trauma — can spill into other areas of your life. Take up all free head-space and heart-space that you have. Immobilize you. Paralyze you. Become part of all and every waking thought to the point that you cannot even begin to think, work, or exist straight. Deadlines be damned. And self-care too.

If you’re like me, you get really angry. Perhaps it comes it in you “doing too much” or having ample “jokes.” Maybe, you even disappear for a tad bit and pretend to be “napping”, when in actuality, you’re, like, probably somewhere in secretcrying. The crying is because of the trauma, of course, but the secret is probably because you don’t think you have a right to be doing so. And you definitely don’t want to have to explain yourself. I definitely don’t like having to explain myself when I get like that. Because it’s too sad and in my mind, too much to deal with. But what’s a queer Black bitch to do when you get like that a lot? Jussie was one instance, sure, but I remember my other “spillover” moments when I heard about Sandra Bland. Or Akai Gurley. Or Aiyana Jones. Or Mike Brown. Or Tamir Rice. Or Korryn Gaines. Or Timothy Dean. Or Gemmel Moore.

There is a specific type of panic that you experience when you see people who look and live like you getting brutally and systematically exterminated. And the panic becomes even greater when these people who have died tick off every little box that makes you different too. These boxes that we are told to celebrate. That we want to celebrate, but in actuality, paint even bigger targets on your back that can’t merely be wiped away by moments of  joy or even the coveted, but supremely misunderstood thing we all know and recognize as “visibility”.

But it’s not supposed to affect me, because it didn’t happen to me, right? I’m supposed to forgive and love it away as if that’s ever going to be enough to combat a case of flammable bleach and a fucking noose, right? My life is supposed to continue. My world is supposed to spin on. And all in service of people who don’t see my full humanity, who want to split hairs over what makes me the most vulnerable (It’s definitely being Black! No, what about how gay you are? But then again, think of the abuse you get for being dark! Or even fat!) in a MAGA-endorsed world, but want to draw inspiration from my strength, my will, or my tenacity. And I laugh, because what am I, a queer Black bitch, to do and think when my existence and my words allegedly energize and encourage and speak life into the respective intersections and groups for which I belong to, but these same groups can’t be bothered to acknowledge the full range of humanity when a bitch has been harmed, down, or can’t get up. I often wonder what the point of this is: that is the ways in which my Blackness and Queerness intersect. How they complement each other in ways and violently oppose each other in other ways. How easy it is to turn one or the other into a cause that forgets the human. Never both. And when will be the exact moment that my usefulness and my entertainment value to these respective groups will finally expire.

I am uncertain about all of that. I am uncertain. But one thing is certainly for sure, right now. As a queer Black femme, I don’t have anything inspirational to say about my existence at this moment in time. I am merely preoccupied with surviving just one more day. That’s all I got. Dassit. And that’s okay.


CLARKISHA CLAPS BACK is a weekly column that humorously and honestly claps back at the world around writer Clarkisha Kent, from culture, politics, sexuality, gender and her personal life.