Here I Am
Created on September 30, 2023
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HERE I AM
AN EXPLORATION OF INTERSECIONALITY
by Nate Harper
Reflections and Considerations
As you look at this page, click on the titles to explore each of my intersecting identities which offers insight into my experience of being a member of these groups. After exploring, click on Reflections and Considerations for the final synthesis.
I grew up in the era of "boys don't cry". I had an emotionally unavailable father who constantly made comments to me about needing to "man up" because it is what he was taught by his father and in reality, due to the trauma he faced as an adolescent, was a coping strategy to deal with the distress he had been facing his entire life. I was always considered "the emotional one" because unlike my father who had completely shut down, I felt everything, and because I didn't have parents who helped develop coregulation strategies I was left to feel everything without any way of knowing how to manage it. Although I didn't have good models for how to deal with all the emotions I was feeling, instead of shutting down I became easily dysregulated. I developed an anxiety disorder in the process and became an extremely angry young person. Only later did I come to realize that this anger was a base emotion for depression that started to creep in around the age of 14. Instead of dealing with my emotions by attending therapy, I put all of my focus into developing my artistic ability. Art helped me to express the things I had no understanding of, or language for. It helped me to process feelings that were quickly becoming self destructive.In a very real sense, art saved my life.
This is the danger of toxic masculinity. Had I not developed my artistic abilities at a young age I dont know if i would even be alive today to tell this story. Men have been shamed into feeling like showing any emotions is a sign of weakness. This is echoed in the language that men use when talking to each other. "Man up", "quit being a bitch", "you're so emo" were things I was told told over and over growing up, and even more destructively, were internalized and spewed back at any guy I knew who was showing vulnerable emotions. Not only was I a victim of toxic masculinity, but was perpetuating it, continuing this destructive cycle.
This only changed as I began to analyze this destructive influence on my own life. Instead of running from my emotions I began to accept and integrate them. By intergrating this shadow side of myself I began to see this epidemic in all of the men. This has had an immense influence upon my worldview and my mission in life and is one of my main focuses in working towards becoming a therapist. Not only do I see the destructiveness of and have personal experience with toxic masculinity, but I see the way out of this vicious cycle. I want to work towards helping other men who may be caught up in this idea that emotions equal weakness because in reality, they are sign of strength. To become fully integrated as humans we must understand ourselves better and part of that understanding is that we are emotional beings regardless of sex or gender. If we can move towards helping men integrate this vulnerability, the world has a greater chance at being a better place.
My identity as a White American is an extremely salient privileged identity, especially as I grew up in a very diverse lower-class community. There has never been a time in my life when I was not aware of the advantages I have been given because of my cultural and racial heritage which originates from North Western Europe. Even though I have been raised in this cultural identity which is part of the dominant culture of the U.S. I was poor and was not always afforded the opportunities that some of my White upper-middle class friends were given but even still, because I grew up in a community that was mostly Latinx I witnessed first-hand how much advantage I had when it came to access to basic services like healthcare, quality education, and job opportunities. My two best friends through middle school were the children of immigrant field laborers. They were constantly faced with Western systems of oppression causing them to have to work much harder than I ever have to secure basic necessities for their family. Even though I was impoverished growing up I have never faced the adversity that my friends and their families faced due to their cultural backgrounds. Not only were they dealing with a lack of access to basic needs and services but were constantly faced with racism from White folx, authority figures, and police. I grew up poor but I was still White. I never dealt with harassment, I never experienced racism and I never have had to understand how much of a struggle it truly is just to exist in a culture dominated by White supremacy. These are the realities of my privileged identity as a White American.
These experiences have had an immense influence on the way in which I view the world and the values I hold. There is this notion in this country that the attainment of the American dream is the pinnacle of success. What is not talked about, the veil that is pulled over the eyes of many White Americans is that this dream is only meant for White America. This country has been built on the backs of immigrant labor but we continue to condemn anyone who does not fit the construct of Whiteness as others who have no place in a society that only values White Christian nationalism. Because of the things I witnessed and my exposure to diversity at such a young age, I realized early in life that I have an obligation to fight oppression and uplift the voice of those who have been robbed of the opportunity for a fair chance. It has pushed me to advocate for those who have been continually swept aside by the dominant culture based on the color of their skin or cultural heritage. It has shown me the importance of cultural humility and awareness and celebrating diversity as an integral part of our human experience. It has also instilled in me a greater appreciation for the needs of oppressed minority groups and for complete and open access to services and opportunities that will make their lives better. Assimilation is destructive, equality is not enough, we must work to establish equity amongst every group regardless of perceived differences. These experiences have shaped the way in which I see my place in this system, especially the advantages I have been granted based on the color of my skin and leaves me with one question I continually ask myself: "How can I use my privilege to uplift the voice of those who have been systematically oppressed by the culture in which I am a part of?"
The salience of this privileged identity cannot be overstated. We live in a patriarchal system that continues to oppress anyone who does not fit this narrow and specific identity. My whole life I have been afforded opportunities that others who do not fit this construct do not and this has become extremely clear as there is a push to dismantle the cultural narrative around the binary assumptions about gender. I have been very fortunate to have close friends who do not ascribe to this narrative of binary gender conformity and have taught me the nuance and complexity of not only the issues they face but also the things I don't face as a cisgender male. This helped me to see some of the long-held biases and blindspots I have had towards people who are gender nonconforming and made me reflect on my privilege. Many of the things I do throughout my daily life I realize I often take for granted, simply because I present as the sex I was assigned at birth. I can use public restrooms without the fear of being harassed, judged, or even arrested in some states. I can walk through the world and blend in without others staring, pointing, and judging me for not fitting into their ideas of what a woman or a man should be. I have the ability to access gender-exclusive clubs or spaces like fraternities. I don't have to worry about being denied services like securing a loan or renting an apartment. If I end up in the emergency room (which I just recently visited), I don't have to be worried about being denied care because of my gender identity. I can easily find role models and mentors to emulate based on shared identities. I can buy clothes more easily because of the binary that exists within fashion design. I don't have to worry about people being confused, shocked, upset, or even angry because they don't know how to identify my gender easily. I don't have to constantly remind people of my gender identity or correct people for misgendering me. Or simply being able to fill out forms that ask about my gender and not having to feel othered when there is no option for my specific gender identity. All of these things I once saw as basic functions of life become much more complex when you don't conform to the binary suppositions about gender. I am forever grateful for the conversations I have had with my nonbinary friends who helped me to see just how privileged I am because of my cis identity.
Because I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to these ideas when I was young, this has really helped me to shape my values and worldview in a much more inclusive way. I see how much of a need there is for more representation of people who are not cisgender and to normalize something that shouldn't be put in such binary terms. I have come to understand, just like most things in life, that gender itself exists on a spectrum and is a social construct that's rooted in a deep history of hatred and bigotry. It has helped me to also see how much of a role I have personally in advocating for people who are trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming because as a member of the dominate society, I have the power to uplift their voice and challenge damaging and negative stereotypes. I also see that I have a duty to support inclusive policies and legal protections in the workplace, school, government, or community organizations especially when it comes to anti-discrimination policies.
Being a single parent at the age of 26 presented a lot of challenges in my life I never knew I was going to have to face. Little did I realize how much stigma I would face that would lead to feelings of isolation and frustration as I faced negative stereotyping, especially as a single father. This part of who I am is a salient part of my identity because my selfhood is intrinsically intertwined with this role. My daughter is my life and my role as a father is one of the most important aspects of how I identify and who I am today. Society has always seen the "nuclear family" as the model of how families should be run, single families seen as dysfunctional and broken. Studies have indicated some of the issues faced by single parents, " (1) school personnel did not perceive the single-parent family as normal, (2) school staff assumed that any problems children experience were related to being from a single-parent family, and (3) teachers perceived the school behaviors of children from intact homes more positively than they did behaviors of children from single-parent homes." (Chima, 1999, p.5). I have been no stranger to this form of gendered societal oppression and stigmatization. It has been assumed that I am an absent father with little to no involvement in my daughter's life. This has been exemplified by comments I have heard such as "Wow, it's really great to see a single father so engaged in their kids life!" or "You're so nurturing". While these on the surface seem like positive affirmations, many of the comments I have heard as a single father were in actuality just backhanded comments with the primary assumption that all single fathers don't have the capacity or are emotionally ill-equipped to nurture or be involved in their children's lives. The gender-based assumptions of being a single father have had an immense influence on my worldview and the values I live by. I feel like not only do single fathers, but single parents as a whole deserve more representation and and support by society. Single parents have to juggle work obligations while also trying to figure out childcare and education all while being denied basic rights to housing and employment opportunities while simultaneously being ostracized and pigeonholed as uneducated and lazy. This could not be farther from the truth. In reality, we have to work much harder to make ends meet in a society that favors Christian family values and patriarchal systems of oppression.
Chima, F. O. (1999). Fathers with single parenting roles: Perspectives on Strengths, concerns and recommendations. Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology. https://ojs.library.okstate.edu/osu/index.php/FICS/article/view/6971
My identity as someone from a lower/working middle-class family has defined me for all of my life. When my family had first moved to Sonoma County in 1993 we were below the poverty line poor. My father was making less than $30,000 per year which by today's standards is still less than $60,000. My mother was an artist and supplemented my father's income, but still barely enough to make ends meet for a family of four living in California. We grew up on Hamberger Helper and thrift store clothes. This trend continued as I grew up, my parents couldn't afford to send me to college so after I graduated high school I was stuck in an endless loop of low-paying jobs, spending my entire life living paycheck to paycheck. I could not escape my parent's socioeconomic status and was destined to stay in a broken system designed to oppress the poor. In late-stage capitalism, one of the greatest forms of oppression is the lack of upward mobility and I have been a victim of this oppression designed to keep the poor, poor while allowing the rich to get richer. My entire life I have been denied access to quality healthcare and education, as well as opportunities that could help lift me out of poverty and has been one of the main factors in my pursuit of higher education. This affected my mental health in ways that I still deal with today. There was a nebulous anxiety that I felt as a child as a product of the stress my parents were experiencing to make ends meet. This later evolved into major depression and suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors in high school. In order to cope with all of these overwhelming feelings I developed a substance use disorder that started with cannabis, evolving into a full-blown addiction to heroin. My parents didn't have access to mental health services due to their insurance and couldn't afford to pay out of pocket for me to see a therapist. When I turned 18 and reached status as an independent I still could not afford healthcare; I made too much money to qualify for state benefits but did not make enough money to buy insurance on my own. I was perpetually stuck in a system designed to keep me in my place. According to an article by the National Center for Children in Poverty, "Social and economic deprivation during childhood and adolescence can have a lasting effect on individuals, making it difficult for children who grow up in low-income families to escape poverty when they become adults. Because the negative effects of deprivation on human development tend to cumulate, individuals with greater exposure to poverty during childhood are likely to have more difficulty escaping poverty as adults." (Wagmiller & Adelman, 2009). As I grew older and became more aware of the systemic issues facing low-income families including my own. This began to shape my worldview about the disadvantages faced by this group and the need for greater social support to help assist lower and working class folx to gain upward mobility. This not only informed the way in which we need to assist the poor but shaped how I see affluence in society and the systemic barriers that must be addressed to develop equity amongst social classes. It instilled in me a calling to become an agent of change to help others who are experiencing the difficulties I have faced my entire life.
Wagmiller, R. L., & Adelman, R. M. (2009). Childhood and intergenerational poverty: The long-term consequences of growing up poor. NCCP. https://www.nccp.org/publication/childhood-and-intergenerational-poverty/
Growing up as a skateboarder has not always been easy and because of this, had a lasting impact upon my values and worldview. When I started in 1998, you were not seen as someone who could one day make it to the Olymipcs. Even though we see skateboarding being accepted more and more into the mainstream culture of today, we have been oppressed and punished for doing something we loved but through this oppression we found community and a shared sense of being. We were social pariah who were rejected by mainstream society. We were the bad guys. I have countless memories of being chased by police. I watched as friends were harassed, ticketed, and sometimes ended up getting arrested. We were just kids, many from broken homes who couldn't find acceptance anywhere but with this group of misfit rejects. I had found a home in skateboarding because I did not fit into what society was trying to mold me to become. I found confidence, strength, and resilience in skills I had developed all on my own. This was a beautiful, diverse, and accepting group of human beings who came together for one goal and we were united in our struggle as outcasts in a society that was pushing us to conform.
This is one of my most salient identities. This self-concept has informed how I view the world and has an immense influence upon the way in which I engage with others. Although this would be cosidered an that I willingly chose, the experiences I have gained through this identity have given me invaluable insight not only about who I am as a person and my capacity for growth, but has given me compassion and empathy for those from all walks of life, especially those rejected by mainstream society. It exposed me to the diversity of the human experience because it is considered in some circles as one of the most inclusive "sports" in the world. No matter who you are or where you come from, if you are a skateboarder, you are one of us. This from USC gives great insight into the strengths and skills that skateboarding can foster in every individual who decides to pick up a board.
Below I have linked some studies and articles exploring the diversity and oppression of skateboarding:
Racial diversity in skateboarding: destabilising whiteness, decentring heartlands
How Skateboarding shaped Tyre Nichols
Skateboarders Are Unjustly Oppressed
Reflections and Considerations for Counseling
The experience of both my oppressed and privileged identities have the potential to affect my work with clients, supervisors, peers and faculty. While doing this project I came to identify more with the strengths that have been born from my oppressed identities and the ways in which this could strengthen the therapeutic relationship with my clients. I also came to realize how much my privileged identities could create barriers that might hinder the progress with clients from opposing cultural backgrounds. I have had many experiences in my life that have exposed me to many different people from many different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status' which has helped me to see people for who they are and not necessarily just by the way in which they present in the world. This stands to help me foster greater connections to a wider variety of people and can only help in my relationships, both personal and professional.For my oppressed identities, I see that everyone from all oppressed groups have a chance to find common ground despite obvious differences and because of this we may be able to form a stronger bond because we understand that all forms of prejudice and discrimination have impacts on our mental and physical health. We can form an alliance despite our differences because we have shared experience in our suffering. The caveat to this is people who have not experienced oppression or have not tried to understand the complexity of discrimination. I find that this could potentially lead to feelings of indifference for these clients or peers. My greatest strength that was born out of the oppression I have lived through is being able to take the perspective of others and their lived experience no matter how different it may be to my own. While we usually look at bias creating blindspots in reference to our privileged identities, I have to take into consideration the impact that of my oppressed identity and how that might create blindspots that could potentially interfere with my ability to make connections with others.As for my privileged identities, I feel like the potential blindspots and biases are all too obvious and there is a very high potential for this to impact the therapeutic relationship. Being a White cisgender male is my most obvious and immediate presentation in the world and if I am working with BIPOC or gender nonconforming clients I see how this could present issues from the start. I also see that because I have not had experiences with all cultures, I still hold biases and prejudices that could have a very real chance of affecting the way in which I interact with clients. There may be interventions and ways in which I approach counseling that may not be culturally appropriate or use assessment methods that only apply to WEIRD populations. Because of this I must work extra hard to become aware of these blindspots and inform myself on the approach, trying my best to avoid putting the onus on the client to teach me what is appropriate for their therapy. I try my best to remember this is a life long process of understanding how my privilege creates biases and blindspots but my desire to be a culturally competent and humble therapist is the first step on this long journey.
Diagnosis (Dx) Status
I have spent the majority of my life dealing with a variety of mental health challenges. In childhood I had severe anxiety, which around the time of high school resulted in a long battle with depression. My comorbid disorders of anxiety and depression became worse and due to the stigma and lack of resources surrounding psychotherapy, these issues would continue to compound as I went undiagnosed until my early 20s. I found myself in the grips of my mental health disorders with nowhere to turn and began self-medicating with what began as cannabis and at its conclusion, opiates like oxycontin and heroin. It was only when I finally checked myself into an outpatient drug rehabilitation program did I finally have the resources to understand the complexity of the issues I had been dealing with my whole life up to this point. I was 21 when I got a formal diagnosis or Major Depression (MD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Even after all of the assessments I went through, a formal diagnosis of ADHD slipped through the cracks until this last year. I had known for many years that I was suffering but was suffering in silence and made all of the excuses I could to dismiss what I was dealing with. As a young boy, I was never socialized to talk about or explore the ways I was feeling, I saw it as a sign of weakness, I saw it as a defect in my character or the consequence of a lack of discipline. Little did I know how much of this was a part of the social narrative around mental health, that it was truly out of my control and if I had sought professional help sooner, maybe I wouldn't have had to suffer for so long.
This issue is not so different from what many others suffer from on a daily basis. I have been the victim of oppression due to the stigma that surrounds having a mental health diagnosis. Mainstream society has blamed the victim for issues that are completely out of ones own control. The history of diagnosis and treatment of people with mental health challenges is appauling and at one time you would be locked up and restrained if you fit the description of "abnromal" or "insane". This marginalization and discrimination against people exists even today with the stigma of mental health leading to over half of people with mental health disorders not receiving help for their issues (Borenstein, 2020).
My experience and the experience of many I know who have suffered from these same issues has not only informed my worldview and values but has been so influential that it has driven me to pursue a career in psychotherapy. I believe that no matter how psychologically healthy an individual may be, everyone deserves access to services to help them make sense of their life and the challenges they are facing. Because of my experience with the stigma surrounding mental health, I want to do everything in my power to serve as an agent of change to dispell these destructive myths that keep people from seeking the help they deserve. This includes not only working on an individual level, but extends to working for policy change that can make a difference on a societal level. Not only do I feel the need to be able to provide access to everyone in need but we also collectively need to work to change the cultural zeitgeist surrounding mental health.
Borenstein, J. (2020). Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness. Psychiatry.org - Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination