When people hear the phrase “coming out of the closet” they often think about coming out as queer or trans.
But the closet is so much more expansive than that. There are infinite closets to come out of because, ultimately, the closet is just shame. Shame can only exist in hiding 👀
When you learn it’s not safe to be queer or trans in society, the shame protects you by keeping you small. Humans are a social species - we need each other to survive. Straying too far from the collective puts your safety at risk. So shame lets you know which parts to show and which parts to hide to increase the likelihood of your survival.
Yesterday I came out of the closet about being in poverty over the last four years. Since coming out as trans, I've been through major life transitions one after the other - moved across the country, started a new career in a completely different field, changed my name - twice, started hormone replacement therapy, and got top surgery.
The changes have been, both, liberating and also destabilizing. What I learned from that time period is that slow and steady change is much more sustainable. But during that time, I was struggling with addiction and suicidal desires. So even though the big abrupt changes were de-stabilizing, they're ultimately what I needed to stay alive. It was big changes or death for me. And I’m grateful to be here today. I'm proud of who I am and what it's taken to get here.
Since coming out as trans, I’ve been surviving through financial and housing insecurity. Just over the last three months alone, 70% my income has been going towards rent, which barely leaves enough for me to take care of my primary needs for me and my dog, Amor.
But within Capitalism, I felt that revealing the vulnerabilities of my financial and housing situation would put me in even more danger. I mean, I’ve been building a career from the ground up - I wasn’t just gonna let people know I’ve been living in poverty. Then they wouldn’t take me seriously and nobody would hire me and my career would be dead forever... Or at least that was the story I was telling myself.
The internal narrative ultimately came down to “if people find out you’re just barely surviving, then your career is over and you’ll be poor forever.”
Within the Capitalist paradigm, vulnerability is associated with exploitation, so it's common for your nervous system to feel less safe when you're needing help. Only the strongest survive under this dog-eat-dog system. So, despite really needing the help, I hd been hiding my poverty status from my public persona on social media out of fear of survival.
But, ironically, the shame was isolating me in my struggle...which was only deepening the struggle. Asking for help is ultimately what would alleviate my situation.
Shame can be a helpful survival tool by giving you feedback that you’re straying too far from the collective. Shame tells you what is socially acceptable and unacceptable so that you can move back towards alignment with the collective and remain within the safety alliance.
But when shame stems from systems of oppression, the feedback about what is socially acceptable is not driven by what keeps the community safe, but by what keeps the dominant class in power. Keeping my financial struggles a secret was internalized Capitalism. Internalized oppression.
Yesterday I came out of the poverty closet, and boy, do I feel the vulnerability hangover today 😰
I started by sending an email to 500 of my contacts. The email lays out a timeline of major events over the last 4 years of my life along with statistics and graphs that show my income and expenses. It took me five days to draft up the email.
I didn’t anticipate how emotionally confronting it would be to:
a) stare my own poverty statistics in the face and
b) allow myself to be so seen, without any filters.
It wasn’t an easy decision to come out. But I realized I would need to take a leap of faith if I wanted to change my circumstances. I'm starting a co-op with chosen family on May 1st and I would need help to make the leap.
After sending out the email late Sunday night, I felt sick to my stomach Monday morning - like I wanted to vomit. Now that my "dirty" secret was out in the open, I felt exposed. Like a worm drying out in the sun.
...And then the donations started to trickle in one by one. And that brought another layer of intense emotions I wasn’t anticipating. Feelings of shame (“oh no, that means people actually read the email. I’ve been exposed!”), guilt (“I’m such a burden to the community”), and feelings of unworthiness (“I don’t deserve help. How am I supposed to accept this money? I didn't earn it”).
I’m not committed to those narratives. They are echoes from the critiques I would hear my dad make about houseless people growing up. “They don’t deserve help. They’re lazy.”
The Capitalist association with self worth and financial worth implies that if you’re poor, it’s because you’re not working hard enough so you deserve it. It’s the same hierarchical ideology that European settlers used to justify genocide of the native peoples of Turtle Island. It’s a bloody narrative.
Before colonization, the native peoples of North America were living symbiotically with the Earth and understood that rest is part of the cycle of life. If you exploit the Earth by asking her to overproduce without resting, she will ultimately get sick and die - just like humans. But through settler colonial eyes, rest was something defective that needed “taming.”
The imperialist obsession with output and growth is a violent fetish. The entire system of Capitalism runs on coercion, not consent. Living out of balance with the natural cycles of the universe (striving for eternal summer, demonizing winter) is a form of enslavement.
Nobody needs to work 40 hours a week to survive. They only agree to that structure because their employers will starve them if they set boundaries. There is no actual choice. Overworking and under resting is oppressive in that it deteriorates physical, spiritual and social health. But if society were living in balance and getting sufficient rest, how could the capitalists hoard the excess production? Who would generate their wealth?
So, of course, when I exposed my financial vulnerabilities to the greater community, my nervous system was preparing me for death. The sickness in my stomach was telling me “you’re not safe,” even though my logic brain understood very clearly that opening myself to receiving help was the ultimate path to safety.
It became clear to me that morning that I would not be as productive as I sought out to be. I looked at my to-do list and grieved the day I had planned for myself. After all, I had bills to pay and shit I needed to get done to make the next rent cycle. But my animal body was going into panic mode and so I redirected my attention to regulating my nervous system. How productive could I even attempt to be when my nervous system is preparing me for death?
How I Regulated my Nervous System
I just so happened to have my biweekly therapy session that morning (bless 🙌🏻). It helped me identify which parts of my physical body were sending me warning signals. My tummy felt empty and boundless, as if my whole center was floating off into space. And my throat felt tight, constricted and achy.
So I drummed my hands on my belly in a steady beat while I took long, deep, rhythmic breaths, moaning out all the tension with each exhale. With each repetition I could feel the energy moving through me. By the end of the session I felt light headed and tingly. I could feel that I had loosened up the trauma energy that was stagnating my throat and tummy.
After the session, I pulled out my guitar and sang my heart out. All of a sudden, the same songs that I had been singing everyday for years sounded completely different to my ears. I could feel that the energy around my throat had been cleared out. Instead of striving to “hit the right notes", I surrendered to the energy pouring out from the depths of my belly, which felt like it was loosening even more tension from my throat. My channels were so open. I could feel spirit moving through me. I was consenting to life. To the human experience.
I went outside and touched my feet to the Earth. It always grounds me. Then I did some stretching to help loosen up that constricted energy - the remnants of shame that were clinging to me for safety.
Now that my nervous system was feeling more regulated, I went back inside to post the request for help on Instagram. And then boom! Minutes after I posted, my instagram account got hacked.
My nervous system went spiraling into another trauma response. I felt stretched like an accordion - being pushed to the edges of my comfort zone, bringing myself back to center and then being stretched again, and again. It was an emotional marathon.
And I showed the fuck up for it.
During periods where I struggled with addiction, I would turn to substances to escape the discomfort of my reality. When you're in survival mode, it's easy to cave into the temptation to escape. But this day, I was surrendering to the experience. Leaning into the discomfort, breathing through it and doing what I know to do to regulate my nervous system.
Receiving those back-to-back email notifications - that first my password, and then my email were changed on my Instagram account -made me feel helpless in a time where I was already feeling so raw and tender. I felt like I was being stabbed in an open wound.
In a state of primal panic, I raced to change all my passwords to my financial accounts despite feeling like hands were gripping my throat. Time felt like it was crawling. My neck radiated with tingly heat. I could feel it stiffening like wood as my airways narrowed. It took all my emotional and physical strength to force my lungs to take deep breaths.
Then I went out for a bike ride and touched my feet to the Earth, once again, as I talked to one of my beloved chosen family members on the phone for an hour.
I’m so grateful that the only thing that got hacked was my Instagram profile and not my financial accounts. There was so much scarcity in my body, fearing the financial help I had just received moments ago would slip from my control too.
Then I went home, showered, smoked a strain of indica, massaged my feet with lavender-infused lotion and smudged my room with rosemary from the garden. I muted all notifications after realizing that each new notification was sending me into a state of panic and hyper-vigilance. My nervous system needed a break.
Those last 24 hours felt like three days. I mean, what even is time - really?
I literally feel like a different person today.
That’s why coming out of any closet often feels like a rebirth. When you allow yourself to be seen in your truth, you begin to experience the world differently. Your flesh-body hasn't changed, but you’ve shedded layers of shame that were keeping you disconnected. You will only reveal your truth if the environment feels safe enough. When you haven't trusted the community in the past, choosing to trust is a leap of faith. That’s why coming out feels simultaneously terrifying and liberating.
Within a world shaped by systems of oppression, liberation is always outside of the comfort zone. And you'll need something to anchor you as you enter the stretch zone.
That's why liberation is unattainable without the ability to regulate your nervous system. Otherwise, you’ll fly out into the panic zone, which takes immense time and energy to recover from. In the words of Sonya Renee Taylor, “the body is the technology of liberation.”
If you need help cultivating tools to regulate your nervous system,
Members of the Love & Liberation Network get $15 off.
Lessons I’m Integrating
Safety and violence will always co-exist simultaneously. Safety is not a destination, but a fluid state of being that you keep coming back to through regulating your nervous system.
When shame motivates you to build a wall around yourself, nothing can get in to hurt you, but nothing can get in to nurture you either. Letting your guard down to receive help while simultaneously shielding yourself from outside intruders is truly an art.
The art of living is shedding binary ways of thinking and being. Embracing the multi-dimensional reality of the universe. Both safety and threat co-exist simultaneously. You don't trade one for the other.
Just last month, my bike got stolen as I was simultaneously having one of the most beautiful nights of my life. One doesn't negate the other.
I'm no longer chasing safety as a destination, but learning to cultivate safety within myself by building self trust. Trusting I can regulate my nervous system , trusting I can ask for help when I need it, and trusting that I will be received in my request.
Making this vulnerable public request was a deep moment of trust building with myself. And as people responded to my call for help, I could feel my trust deepening with community too.
Relationships are ultimately safety alliances.
The more authentically you show up, the deeper the potential for your safety alliances.
And authenticity requires courage! Revealing your truth will inevitably spark disapproval, but it will also create the opportunity for alliances to form. You are not responsible for people's emotional reaction to your truth. That's there's to hold, not yours.
Seeking safety by submitting to dominant systems of oppression is rooted in scarcity.
Seeking safety through interdependence with community is rooted in abundance.
Seeking safety through scarcity is surviving. Seeking safety through abundance is living. Often times living is not accessible to folks who are systemically under-resourced through the very systems of oppression they rely on for survival. They get stuck in the cycle by design.
When you grow up in a world organized by systems of oppression, the subconscious animal body defaults to seeking safety through scarcity. Even when systems of oppression are inherently harmful, submitting to them gives your nervous system a predictable outcome. There is comfort in familiarity.
Trying something new will dis-regulate your nervous system because your brain has less data points to reference in order to predict the outcome. (This is the stretch zone.)
Imagine you're hiking in the woods and you see a big cloud of wasps buzzing up ahead. Even though you're avoiding immediate danger by veering off the trail, your animal body goes on high alert.
Even though the new path is safer, you don't know what to expect with each step because you're paving the path as you're walking. But with each repetition, your body is able to relax more and more as the path becomes clearer over time.
The neural pathways in your brain are much like pathways in the forest. You have the ability to create new ones with care and patience.
Making the leap from scarcity to abundance is a privilege. It requires community support + the ability to regulate your nervous system.
There's no shame in doing what is accessible for you to survive. What matters is that you're alive.
I'm humbled and grateful for the privilege I have to heal from scarcity and transition into abundance. I couldn't do it without my beloved ecosystem 💜
Thank you, Alexis Charney (they/them), for being a force of play, nurturance and grounding for me yesterday. I love the way you love me 🥰💜
Thank you, Mika, for being such a sturdy, loving anchor in my life. For celebrating my courage, for witnessing the depths of my soul as it undergoes radical transformation. It’s the deepest form of intimacy I can experience. What a gift to be in partnership with you 💜✨
Thank you to everyone who donated money, who shared words of compassion, encouragement and celebration of my journey and of who I choose to be in the face of struggle. Thank you to everyone who has helped spread the word that I’m needing financial help right now as I enter this next chapter of housing security.
For the "dirty" deets of my survival journey over these past four years, read this doc I put together and help spread the word.
Forest (he/they) facilitates the Love & Liberation Network, an online community of non-monogamous folks learning to develop secure attachment without relying on hierarchies.
We meet weekly on Zoom to celebrate, inspire and support each other along this courageous path. Community is resilience 💜