The Closet as Sociopolitical Trauma

This project contends that the psychological distress of being a closeted LGBTQ person in a heteronormative society is a form of sociopolitical trauma.  Sociopolitical trauma refers to the ways in which “oppressed people are routinely worn down by the insidious trauma of living day after day in a sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, [transphobic] and ableist society” (Burstow, 2003). PTSD symptoms can arise simply by belonging to a cultural group that has experienced sociopolitical marginalization and discrimination in history and present day. Sociopolitical trauma can lead members of marginalized groups to feel “overwhelmed, feel existentially unsafe, and find the world profoundly and imminently dangerous,” which is accompanied by “such feelings as terror, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, despair, distrust, rage, and oftentimes guilt” (Burstow, 2003). Individuals belonging to oppressed groups may experience traumatic symptoms simply as they go about their days.

Sociopolitical traumas not only affect individual members of marginalized minority groups, but society as a whole, whereby PTSD symptoms also manifest at the collective level. Sociopolitical oppression traumatizes society by destroying the “basic tissues of social life,” fracturing community bonds with a painful sense of alienation and mistrust that ripples across the society.  Sociopolitical traumas that are untreated and without reparation often trickle down the generations, perpetuating future societies steeped in cycles of violence and traumatic symptomatology.  Untreated sociopolitical traumas can become “embedded in the cultural memory of a people and passed on by the same mechanisms by which culture is generally transmitted, and therefore becomes ‘normalised’ within that culture” (Atkinson, 2010).

Since PTSD is political, trauma recovery must occur not only on an individual level but the sociopolitical level, in cultural forums where public testimony, collective mourning, and social action can occur. This project seeks to provide one such forum, as a public testimony to the sociopolitical trauma of being oppressed by the LGBTQ closet.