This is the third article of the series: “Coming Out, Going Within.” Published with LinkedIn Articles and Medium. And the Second Article in the sub-series “Positive Masculinity and the Men in My Life.”
Learn More about “Coming Out, Going Within”: I think we can all agree that the queer / LGBTQIA+ community needs more resources for our self-healing and spirituality. And ways to communicate our lived experiences and truth. Coming Out, Going Within chronicles my journey toward self-love as a newly out bi-racial gay / queer woman. I share my day-to-day life not just as a personal journey, but also as a communication coach and cultural storyteller. I hope with this series, I can hold open a space for the LGBTQIA+ community–and all of my intersections as BIPoC, API, womxn, Jewish, and neurodivergent–to grow toward wholeness and success. Please join me in my storytelling, and feel free to share your own story in comments.
I was 30 and still closeted when I first realized I was walking around dissociated. I was an active alcoholic at the time and partly living with my raging alcoholic bodybuilder boyfriend in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I attended grad school. I sat at his kitchen table as he paced in front of the sink slamming dishes and pots as he berated me. For something so small, I can’t remember.
As I sat there, I had a flashback. And I was no longer 30 years old. It was like a hallucination. Only I was experiencing it. First hand. I could feel my body shrink. I was sitting at the table wearing a white dress with poofy sleeves. And the Strawberry Shortcake patches on the pockets sewn on by my mother. And my feet hung there because they couldn’t reach the floor. I felt so small.
And I was crying because, not my boyfriend, but my verbally abusive alcoholic father was hurling insult after insult at me. For being different. For being talkative before he had his coffee and while he was probably dealing with a hangover. And for being a very precocious little girl with a wildly creative and active mind. Who “JUST. WON’T. SHUT. UP.” I was about six years old. When I spoke to my then-boyfriend, my voice had changed and I sounded about that age.
I was six years old in 1981 and I was six years old in 2007. And each time I sat there triggered from an adult male’s verbal abuse and intimidation. And although this original event had happened over 25 years before. I was reliving every single word, emotion, and physical sensation I had experienced back then.
Another 15 years would have to pass until I could recognize from where my hurt and trauma derived. And that this very place where I sat at six, being yelled at by my father. In my homemade Strawberry Shortcake dress and Mary Janes. Would be both the place I re-experienced when I had these types of heated conversations with men or masculine people. And the place where I would retreat from, and would “check out” and become effectively dissociated. Over and over again.
Last week, I sat with my friend Sandra whom I’ve known for 30 years and recounted the story. And then talked about how I realized after I came out, that I had been walking around dissociated most of the time. As a closeted person especially. And even as freshly out.
“It’s like I’m walking around doing everything I do during my day. But I’m not really there. I’m…like…out of it.” I said to her in our Californian valley girl accent and slang, that we spoke so often in high school. And fall right back into when we get together.
“I think a lot of people are walking around like that.” She said back unsurprised.
“Really?!” I said back.
I then told her about the work I was doing primarily with WoC, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and QPoC. And how more and more, these clients admitted to me and recounted parallel experiences of dissociation. Especially when they were asked to speak formally or informally at work or as a spokesperson for their company.
These are the phrases I hear often:
“I just freeze up.”
“My mouth gets so dry.”
“When I open my mouth, my worst fear comes true. Nothing will come out!”
“I start to sweat profusely.”
“I get numb.”
And “I float above myself on stage and see myself. And I can’t get back.”
When we speak about these “panic” responses to public speaking and diverse people. I do not give them a “suck it up” or “bootstrap” lecture. “No pain, no gain.” Or “Let the anxiety invigorate you!”
With over 20 years experience teaching public speaking in university and non-profits with marginalized populations. I don’t know if this advice EVER truly works…with ANYONE! But I can say that most definitely it doesn’t work with people from historically subjugated groups. Putting further stress and isolation upon them. Won’t motivate them from debilitating panic attacks. So instead of putting them through more trauma. I help my clients by showing them how to use a somatic approach to respond to the panic.
Oftentimes, my diverse clients trace their sensations. Purely, their somatic response. To a much earlier time. When they were teased at school for appearing as the opposite gender, is a common experience. But directly having to do with speech, oftentimes they were told “you sound like a boy” or “you sound like a girl.” And either that is not the gender they identify with at the time, or they were not assigned that gender. And the comments are mean spirited and very painful to recount. For those of us who are PoC and WoC and QPoC, we have these stories too. Sometimes compounded by living within the intersection of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia combined.
Knowing an earlier pivotal moment that may have shaped a negative mindset script. Can help you trace back who you know yourself to be now. And the disconnect that happens when you feel dissociated and fearful to speak up. You know that you are an empowered, beautiful, generative, caring, extremely hardworking badass. And potentially, a community-building superhero! But you don’t know why you feel like this. And from where or whom the anxiety started.
When I look back to my own origins as a person–as Shannon as I know her. And as a little girl. I can trace much of who I am now. And what I learned about being a woman. And a good person. From my mom. Who was an occupational therapist. And I believe, a healer par excellance. Who, like a superhero (how I saw her as a kid after I visited her at work) gave her patients back control of their arms and legs and physical functions. And their lives. Similar to what I do now, with helping my clients regain control of their physiological responses to trauma through somatics, breath work, and meditation. My mom helped her patients get their lives back. To put them back into the driver’s seat.
When I look back to my origins as a person, as Shannon as I know her–as dissociated. And also as a little girl. I look back to my dad.
I spent a lot of my life, trying to prove myself to the men around me. To be liked and to respond correctly so I could avoid potential microaggressions, abuse, sexual harassment, and punishment from male bosses, collaborators, and partners.
And to navigate patriarchy as a good daughter whom I was never allowed to be with my dad. As a good girlfriend whose self-imposed domesticity drained me! And as someone whose “nurturing” personality, made it so I overcompensated in college and work. And I did a bulk of the work in any group project. At the expense of my personal life. And my health and wellbeing.
Getting back in touch with my dad. And breaking my 20+ year estrangement from him. Was a difficult decision to make. But I knew I wanted to give him a chance to show me the “new and improved” person he had become. He has been going to Alcoholic Anonymous for 30+ years and has a strong home group. Today, he sponsors 4 people. And he does the work to be accountable and present with those in his life. As I get to know him again, slowly I can let my authentic self come out and speak my truth to him. As someone who has done the work of being present with my own demons. Who is learning how to trust my feelings and bodily sensations. And who is looking beyond my demons and the torment they brought me to see what is really there. So I can acknowledge it. And so I can let it go. Getting back in touch with my dad has been an important step in my own recovery. And to coming out and speaking out authentically.
It has been about 2 years. And I am letting our relationship unfold on its own. He has been very supportive of me in my projects and coming out. We have had dinners and holidays together with my mom and my partner, Mirah. And when something comes up, I sit with it. Just like I do each day on my yoga mat during meditation. And I listen for how I feel. What physical sensations come up. Numbness, oftentimes. Other times, my face gets hot, and I know I feel rage. And I watch those sensations. And those feelings. So I can process them. And so when I speak. To my dad. Or to any other man or masculine person in my life who might trigger this dissociation. I don’t have to escape the moment. Or leave my body to go to an earlier time. That might have been truly traumatic. Or perhaps was safe. I can feel safe where I’m at in the moment. With who I am. And with the person who is in front of me.
BIO: As a longstanding multicultural coach & personal brand storyteller who brings full-service, high-level communication courses to diverse clientele – Dr. Wong Lerner is a 🦄!
She has 20+ years of academic and industry experience.
Across several Fortune 500 companies, engineering and Ivy League universities, non-profit organizations, and U.S. and international government entities.
Her clients have remarkably high success rates as professionals, entrepreneurs, public speakers, and presenters.
As a queer API coach, she meets you from your unique starting place. To better support you as women, BIPOC, WOC, non-native speakers, nontraditional learners, allies, & LGBTQIA+ talent. Inclusive of genderqueer, non-binary, & trans individuals. Dr. Shannon specializes in helping her clients tell their coming out stories at their place of work and as business owners or public figures. She curates her content not just as an expert in her field. But as vulnerable and intimately bound to her topics, to open up spaces for others to speak as their authentic selves.
Dr. Shannon uses a whole-person, holistic method for all and any speaking situation that considers:
WHO you are
WHERE you come from
HOW you orient and identify
HOW you process information
and HOW you sound as a communicator.
So you don’t sound like a version of someone else. But you sound like a better version of yourself.
To help others with their personal brand storytelling to host your own podcast and write your own content to level up, attract new employers and clientele — she enjoys hosting: The Intersection: Diverse Folx Converse, eFEMeral: Voice Matters, and Queer Home Meditation.
**”Coming Out. Going Within” started as the LGBTQIA+ meditation project, Queer Home Meditation, as a private Facebook group airing on Facebook Live. Intermittently, QHM videos are shared to LinkedIn Events and YouTube.
Services: If you are interested in working with a communication coach who values and understands your lived experience, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn through DM. Speak Your Way to Success is Dr. Wong Lerner’s signature program that includes everything you need to become a better communicator in just 3 months. Learn public speaking, personal brand storytelling, intercultural communication, rhetoric and critical thinking, and gain many personal resources. The program is catered to your needs and individualized with supplementary materials and group support. We have spots available and are taking on new clients now.