The FBI recently released its most recent hate crime data that shows more than 10,000 people reported being the victim of a hate crime, the most during the last 12 years.
“I want people to understand that it happens all the time,” said one woman who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation for the hate that has been directed at her. “These people who you talk to every day and associate with every day; they don’t look at you as an equal. They definitely look at you like you’re lesser than them.”
This woman, who we will call Martha for the purpose of this story, is in her mid-30’s and is Hispanic. She says ever since she was young prejudice seeped into nearly every aspect of her life, and the pain has been felt generations deep.
“When my grandma was younger, she was born here in New Mexico. When she went to school, she would get beat for speaking Spanish. And so, she didn’t teach that to anybody in the family,” said Martha. “She and my grandpa decided not to teach anybody Spanish. So, I don’t know Spanish.”
“I was shoved into lockers. I was dumped upside down into trash cans. I was a rag doll for people,” added another woman, 52, who also wanted to remain anonymous.
Seven years ago, this woman who we will call Kelly for the purpose of this story, came out to her then-wife and told her she was transgender.
“It led to a violent assault,” she said. “If you’ve never had it happen it doesn’t seem as important but it’s like they’re trying to deliberately upset me, and it feels threatening and that happens periodically.”
Data supports what these women feel. A study by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies found 68% of people who were the victim of hate speech or a hate crime said they experienced PTSD symptoms like numbing, avoidance, and re-experiencing.
The effects also go deeper since it is not just an attack on belief, it is one on identity.
“I would look in the mirror and say what the hell are you? It was like I didn’t believe in who I was,” said Kelly.
“When you’re younger, you don’t realize what’s going on and you feel bad about yourself. What can I do to change? What did I do?” said Martha. “But it took me being out on my own, and making my own friends, and living my own life to realize that it isn’t me. Whatever their problem is with me, and the way I look, and the way I was born, literally; it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s their own biases.”
It is there, that simple yet profound realization, where transformation can occur. It doesn’t always come, say these women. It took Kelly 35 years of suicidal ideations to understand it and Martha more than 20 years of living with fear. But when they got there, they said it was as if decades of trauma, inferiority, and pain began to slip away.
“What led me to where I am today is euphoria, bursts of euphoria that were very intense,” said Kelly. “I would just hit the ground crying because it was so powerful, and it was so beautiful.
Perhaps this is why we call those who endure this kind of hate: survivors.
“In a way, I feel it has kind of made me a better person because I don’t hold those same types of judgments toward people,” said Martha.
“There’s no way any of this harassment could drive me back. I’m stubborn and it only makes me more determined,” said Kelly. “It’s why I’m sitting here, because it only makes me more determined to push forward.”