Recently I found myself thinking about disappointment and how we go about handling it after learning of two separate mental-health professionals who specialize in working with the queer and trans* communities having been implicated in unethical, violating behavior toward their clients. Throughout our lives, we come to expect a certain level of disappointment about the world at large: When an appalling bill is proposed in some state’s legislature, when a public figure uses slurs with the greatest of ease, when people seem to remain willfully ignorant or uncaring. Ideally, we learn to cope with what I am thinking of as “outside” disappointments relatively well. Sometimes we rage, sometimes we become active in the name of a cause and sometimes we decide we just have to ignore the outside world for some indeterminate amount of time.
But what about when we are disappointed by the people we have come to trust, by the people we consider to be on the “inside”? When a community leader is exposed as having acted unethically, when people we trust are shown to have violated those we care about or when the institutions on which we rely for support and care show themselves to be all too human and therefore fallible? When I have seen people (including myself) experience these “inside” disappointments, a dangerous process has potential to get to work if we are not mindful. The trick about the “inside” disappointments is that they make us think: What is wrong with me that I could have trusted this person? How could I not have seen it? All too quickly, outrage at the person/entity/institution’s wrongdoing becomes self-directed negative feelings. “There’s something wrong with them” becomes “there’s something wrong with me.” This has the benefit of maintaining an important lie we tell ourselves: If I do everything right, everything will turn out right. The cost, though, of developing a negative self-story can be far too high for this small gain.
So, what do we do with our disappointment? I am convinced of the importance of sharing these experiences, of not keeping the silence that perpetuates the idea that we ourselves are somehow responsible for harboring a disappointing entity in our community. As with so many truths, these are best handled by speaking out and not being ashamed. For me, a first step was writing this article — it turned out to be harder than I thought. Further, we must be careful to check ourselves for negative feelings that will only lead to self-harm and limit our ability to move forward to prevent other disappointments from happening in the future. Yes, our community is wonderful and special and filled with wonderful capacities, just like us. And yes, it is also capable of being blind, of missing the boat, of failing us when we need it most. If we are careful in these moments to stay strong, I believe that we will be able to bounce back from these disappointments and arrive on the other side stronger and better for it.
Jessie Timmons is a licensed clinical social worker practicing psychotherapy at the Camac Center at 12th Street Gym. Jessie specializes in substance abuse, LGBTQ-related concerns including gender transition, anxiety and depression and living with HIV/AIDS. For more information about Jessie, visit jessietimmons.com or 12streetgym.com.