I wrote this in 2015, and never put it anywhere but on my hard drive. I ran across it again today, combing through my files to make sure my CV was updated before a personnel review. I think it’s time for it to come out in the open.

I’m one of those technical writers with an untrained, unskilled, but passionate artist hovering behind my words – a writer who writes the words of others, a musician who sings what others compose. I used to do more; like most of us, it was scorned out of me in college, but in my case by fellow queer folk who thought my work wasn’t queer enough. Putting it out here now isn’t so much courage as exhaustion, and the thought that perhaps someone else – even one person – might need to see or hear this.

Warning: This one is raw.

Content notice: Abuse, mental health, sexual assault/abuse, child loss


I am mad.

Or so they say.

Those people who have the power to define, to diagnose, to name, to label, to medicate into oblivion,

to incarcerate.

Yes, incarcerate, another kind of prison

With better beds and better food. Or so I understand.

My whiteness and my class privilege have protected me from the other form of incarceration.

And the fact that I never laid a finger on my abuser in self-defense.

I am mad, they said,

but they never could decide what that meant.

I was illegible, the victim of abuse by a woman, the victim of emotional abuse,

my only visible scars self-inflicted.

Abuse, I said. ABUSE. They soothed, shushed,

Flushed the poisons out of my gut.

Was it the child sexual assault, they asked,

as they handed another bottle of pills to my abuser because they didn’t trust me with them.

Maybe it’s depression. Anxiety. Low self-esteem? Maybe bipolar! Anyway, it’s congenital.

There must be someone mad in the family, somewhere. Like there must be someone gay.

That would explain everything.

After all, the assault wasn’t penetrative – she can’t have any trauma from it.

And the optometrist? He just had to lean close to see her eyes. She’s imagining things.

And the doctor in the ER needed to see all her wounds. That’s why it was okay

for him to strip her clothes off, alone and scared in a room by herself.

She must be mad.

Up the dosage.

I am mad.

And I treasure that madness.

It’s my brain, trained under fire, trying desperately to save my life, my sanity, my safety.

Scold me in the kitchen and I turn instantly compliant.

The next second the rage begins to grow. And the next second I remember I’m safe with you.

I thank my brain for trying to keep me safe, and tell it to stand down.

Touch me in the wrong place, without warning, and I turn into a snail,

pulled tightly inside my shell and hoping you can’t get to me.

My brain protects me before it takes the time to think about who you are. Because maybe, just maybe, I’m under attack again.

This protection, this safety mechanism, they tried to medicate away.

Thinking they were saving my life, they very nearly caused my death. No protection, no safety.

I am mad.

I am queerly mad. If I’d been born a few decades earlier I’d have a police record despite being white, despite never fighting back physically against the abuse or the assaults. If I’d been born a few decades earlier the diagnosis would have been different, the medications too.

Or shock therapy.

Or lobotomy.

Or “curative” rape (or was that what all those sexual assaults were?)

I am mad for all of my forebears who didn’t make it.

I am mad for all of my contemporaries who’ve been crushed.

I am mad for those coming up behind me and things are no better.

Am mad because some things don’t get better.

I am mad because they can’t figure out who I am.

“Thank you, Sir,” says the nattily-dressed elderly man in the post office. I smile wordlessly, hiding my soprano voice in the hope of retaining this rare moment of human connection.

He senses something, double-takes, and stares. I walk out alone.

“You’re in the wrong one,” says the little girl.

“That’s the women’s!” screams the theater-going matron from across the lobby

crowded with my students and co-workers.

I am mad. Too mad for a teachable moment. Too mad to be patient. Too mad to set a good example.

I am mad.

I am raging mad, screaming mad, howling fury-bansidhe-thunderstorm-volcano-tornado-destruction mad.

Monstrous mad.

Ignored about abuse equals

Diagnosed with congenital madness equals

Inappropriate parent equals

Signing papers that legally bind you never to be alone with your son

who you are protecting from your abuser.


Restraining order without evidence (because you can do that in Washington State divorce law) equals

never see your son again equals

no chance to say goodbye equals

no one grieving or even sympathetic because you never lost a child.

You walked away.

Walked away because she was hurting me in front of him.

Walked away because that hurt him and I couldn’t bear for him to suffer.

Walked away because I thought – stupidly – that having one abusive parent would be better for him than having no parents.

I never walked away from him. I walked away from her. Not for me. Never for me. I was too destroyed to care about me.

I walked away for him. And I lost him. And I am mad.

I am mad.

I am spitting, clawing, fighting, burning mad.

Diagnosed with congential madness means

no pregnancy for you

until someone believes you when you scream that you’re not mad, that the doctors are.

Doctors, you will learn, are never mad.

Even when the neurologist says that because you said you had PTSD and were frightened of surgery you need to see a psychiatrist before he will fix the spine injury that is beginning to paralyze your hands.

Because knowing about spinal cords makes you an expert on sexual assault and abuse and defense mechanisms.

As though the psychiatrist knows any more than that.

Ignoring abuse equals

diagnosing madness equals

refusing to see the strength and agility of survivors equals

refusing the see the strength encoded in complex PTSD equals

No kids for you. And no grandkids for your parents.

And more and more failures piled on top of each other

until you expect nothing of yourself except failure

and you don’t think anyone else expects anything better

and the failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am mad.

Shouting into the wind mad,

alone in an open field mad,

in an empty room mad,

no one listening mad,

no one hearing mad,

no one caring mad,

silenced mad,

writing this anonymously out of fear for my career mad,

shunned out of my workplace mad,

seeing other survivors not make it mad,

back against the wall mad,

ground into the dirt mad,

injustice mad,

grieving mad,

isolated mad,

mama mad,

crip mad,

queer mad,




Author: Melissa M. Wilcox

Melissa M. Wilcox (any pronouns) is Professor and Holstein Family and Community Chair of Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Wilcox is the author or editor of several books and journal issues, and numerous articles, on gender, sexuality, and religion. Dr. Wilcox's books include Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community; Sexuality and the World’s Religions; Queer Women and Religious Individualism; Religion in Today’s World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives; Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody; Queer Religiosities: An Introduction; and (with Nina Hoel and Liz Wilson) Religion, the Body, and Sexuality. Dr. Wilcox is currently working on a new research project on religion and spirituality in queer and trans leather and BDSM communities.

One thought on “Mad”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: