3 Myths About Gay Men & Trauma
The word “trauma” has become more common in everyday language, but what actually is trauma? And how does it show up for gay men?
If you search for a definition of trauma, you’ll find a bunch of different answers. All this different information is part of what can make understanding trauma difficult. So I wanted to clear up some of the myths about gay men and trauma.
Some common myths about trauma:
1️⃣ Trauma looks the same for everyone
2️⃣ There’s something wrong with you if you’re negatively affected by trauma
3️⃣ Trauma only results from large and singular incidents
Okay, now that we’ve named them, let’s dive deeper into these myths:
Myth #1: Trauma looks the same for everyone. Trauma does not look the same for everyone.
It would make things a lot easier if specific experiences could be slotted into categories and have exact “trauma scores” attached to them. But this is simply not how trauma works.
The term “trauma” can also feel contentious or shameful for some people to identify with, especially when they compare their lives to what other people have experienced and how other people seem to have been affected.
But the reality is, trauma is personal. What can affect one person negatively might not affect another person at all.
This gets to the core of how I define trauma:
Trauma is any event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.
This definition is intertwined tightly with next myth.
Myth #2: There’s something wrong with you if you’re negatively affected by trauma. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re negatively affected by trauma.
The belief that there’s something wrong with you if you’re negatively affected by trauma can actually be a result of trauma itself. Ironically, this false belief can then get in the way of someone identifying the effects of trauma and seeking suitable help.
However, let me be clear: things can go wrong, but that doesn’t mean YOU are inherently wrong.
Trauma does not change your inherent worth. You deserve to be treated with care, respect, kindness, and love by yourself and other people regardless of how you’ve been affected by trauma.
In fact, trauma actually just means your brain might be “stuck” on a past event that was traumatic. This is why trauma can feel like some of your responses are stuck in the past.
When you’re triggered, your body often tries to mobilize by going into a “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” response. This response is actually a good thing when it’s working properly. It’s a response that’s been evolved to protect us from immediate danger.
But the problem is, unprocessed trauma often lays waiting, ready to be activated, or “triggered,” when we encounter some current experience or reminder of our past. Our brain and body kick into overdrive thinking we’re experiencing that past event again and tries to protect us, even though we may not be in any present danger.
Myth #3: Trauma only results from large and singular incidents. Trauma can result from “big,” “small,” singular, and continuous events.
There’s a concept in counselling psychology called big “T” and little “t” trauma. The idea is that a trauma like a life-threatening encounter is big “T” and something like emotional abuse might be little “t.”
Yet, I think that trying to put traumas into categories like this doesn’t actually reflect what matters with trauma: impact.
As we saw in myth #1, different experiences will affect different people differently.
Although trauma will show up differently for different people, I’ve also noticed gay men commonly seek trauma counselling for some specific experiences:
➡️ Rejection or ridicule by friends, family, or a religious community
➡️ Past experiences of homophobia, racism, or other discrimination
➡️ Past coming out experiences
➡️ Growing up gay in a straight world
You might’ve read some of these and wondered how they could be considered “traumatic.”
But the truth is, trauma can also occur through exposure to repeated distressing events, no matter how “small” or “big.” And growing up gay in a straight world is exactly the type of repeated exposure to distressing events that can lead to trauma for some gay men.
It may be obvious, but it’s also important to say that in addition to this list above, gay men can also experience traumatic events that have nothing to do with being gay. Add all these up, and gay men are at a much higher risk of being negatively affected by trauma.
So how do you get unstuck from trauma?
There are a number of ways to get unstuck from trauma. Because trauma shows up differently for different people, a counsellor can help you determine what might be the best approach for you.
One of the main approaches I use with clients for working through trauma is something called EMDR. You can read more about EMDR in this article.
Trauma is such a critical thing to talk about because so many gay men are affected by trauma and might not even be aware.
I hope that by breaking some of these myths, it might help you to reflect on how or if trauma could be keeping you stuck and preventing you from enjoying the fulfilling life you deserve.