I Never Wanted to Be a Stereotype

A Sociologist’s Narrative of Healing

by Cindy Brooks Dollar (Author)
©2021 Monographs X, 200 Pages


Trauma and its consequences are social phenomena. Coming from a working-class family and raised in a small, rural Southern area, this author's narrative offers a unique style of life history reporting whereby the author uses her academic standpoint to situate her life experiences in broader macro-social and cultural contexts. Weaving scholarship with personal narrative, the author highlights connections between self and social awareness, which is crucial, especially in a modern, Western context where the rhetoric of excessive individualism is prioritized. Discussing various issues, including objectification, violence, isolation, stigma, trauma, shame, integration, healing, peace, and love, she illustrates the application and significance of sociological knowledge to individual life. Many chapters include and conclude with excerpts from the author’s diary entries, which she has maintained for over 30 years. These provide a relatively unfiltered glimpse into her personal and social consciousness throughout various life stages, including adolescence, teens, young and middle adulthood. The book closes with a summary of existing research on trauma and recovery, which often promotes the use of body-based therapies. The author argues that these findings have important implications for sociology given the body’s symbolic socio-cultural status and how it is used to maintain existing inequalities and inequities, which (re)produce shared forms of trauma and differential access to recovery.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. What Is This?
  • Chapter 2. Memories of Mine
  • Chapter 3. Incitements from a Young Girl’s Mind
  • Chapter 4. Tiptoeing Out … and Back In
  • Chapter 5. On the Way Out, But Still Very Much In
  • Chapter 6. I’m Ready for a Conclusion
  • Chapter 7. No More: A Ritual
  • Chapter 8. Whose Stereotype Is This?
  • Chapter 9. Abstracting My Healing Processes
  • Chapter 10. Final Thoughts
  • Appendix: Summarizing Trauma-Related Research to Promote Understandings of Social Trauma
  • References
  • Index

←vi | vii→


This work is a representation of much encouragement. I should first thank the staff at Peter Lang, including Michelle Smith and Ashita Shaw who worked steadfastly with me during the acquisition process, and Jackie Pavlovic and Sarath Kumar, who made the book production process relatively straightforward and manageable. I also thank the anonymous peer reviewers who provided critiques of the work and suggestions to improve it. Even in its early iterations, they recognized the value of this work despite its difficulty “fitting in” to a clear genre.

My colleagues at UNCG, some who still roam the hall and others who have retired from in-office visibility, have been instrumental to the publication of this work. A special thank you to Saundra Westervelt, Steve Cureton, Ken Allan, Steve Kroll-Smith, Dave Kauzlarich, and Ting Wang. All of you have been shockingly supportive, thus reminding me of the acute power of help. I also wish to thank Carol Stack for her insightful comments as I worked my way through writing this book.

In 2018, around the time that this book idea came to me, I proposed a new course at UNCG titled Considering Ourselves Offenders, Victims, and Survivors. The name has been disparaged as too long and the course content as unpleasant by some university folks, but the students who I have met through the class ←vii | viii→are magnificent. They are capable of grappling with ostracized ideas related to violence, cruelty, love, and respect. In our coming together and discussing our visions of the world, my questions about humanity have been reignited and my commitment to “us” has been renewed. To those of you who stay with me through this course, I appreciate your honest, complicated dedication.

I am fortunate to have a life partner, Kevin, who offers me unwavering reassurance and is perpetually patient and understanding of my interests and goings-on. Living just wouldn’t be the same without Kevin being beside, in front, and behind me. I am grateful too for my family and the amazing friendships that they provide. To Kevin, Brenda, Newell, Cheryl, and Tony, as well as the countless other teachers and friends who continue to appear in numerous forms, more than words can communicate, I thank you for making this life possible and this work imaginable.

←0 | 1→

· 1 ·

What Is This?

“Get a piece of the rock!” Andrew Brolin1 said as he grabbed my backside. I tightened my legs and fixed my gaze at the head in front of me hoping to hide my humiliation. My thoughts screamed with sadness until Murry Browning’s laugh transformed them into stifled rage. This happened at least once a day, nearly every day of the school year. When we left the classroom to go to lunch or outdoor play, the teacher instructed us to line up alphabetically, putting Andrew directly behind me and Murray behind him. Hoping to remain hidden, hurt bubbled from my stomach into my throat, but I would push them back down with an inward stare. Why do we need to line up like this? Each time that line formed, my body stiffened. Nothing’s happening. Just stand still. Don’t move. If I pretend like it’s not happening, no one else will see it. Not moving was my power because Andrew’s grip threatened to weaken me so deeply that the only other possible reaction was dropping to the ground like lead. Instead, my body didn’t seem to flinch. No words came out of my mouth. No tears rolled down my face. I was as stiff and quiet as a corpse. In many ways, I was just that.

As I write this, I experience the same shameful feelings these encounters inspired over 30 years ago. I wish I could say that this was the only time I felt sexually violated.←1 | 2→

Feeling ashamed and angry towards myself and other people continued through most of my youth and young adulthood. In fact, blistering feelings of humiliation are not foreign to me. At gas stations, at work, driving down the road, and doing a myriad of other routine things, I would close my throat, dull my gaze numbly or pierce my eyes in such hatred that I wondered if I might ignite fire. I wondered why I got so much unwanted sexual attention. I don’t understand how I’m asking for it. What can I do to not be seen? Please just let me pump my gas. Please let me just drive to work. Can’t I just walk to class? Please, stop seeing me. I am not asking for you.

Tied to my experiences of being sexualized as a young person was an avalanche of further objectification, confusion, and loathing. Perhaps incongruous, I grew up with parents and siblings who were caring and supportive; they loved me in the ways in which they knew. This is true despite my writing and implying various issues of familial dysfunction in our relationships. To be sure, that dysfunction is and was experienced alongside affection and enjoyment. It’s funny – or perhaps not funny at all – how a sense of dread and loneliness can overshadow love; the opposite rarely seems the case. Some evolutionary scientists explain this by suggesting that adverse events threaten our existence, and thus, are given more attention. Social philosophers, such as Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, bell hooks, Cornwell West, and Patricia Hill Collins, suggest that over time an attentive standpoint toward adversity can wound our spirits and catapult us into a barren existence. For a healthy life, we must balance a recognition of our difficulties, sufferings, and pain with our opportunities, empowerment, and anticipation.

I became well-versed at compartmentalizing my life into sections of this and that. Participating in the world as a fragmented self seemed easier to manage. By my teenage years, I had become dedicated to reading about patterns of criminal offending, criminal injury, and victimization, and in the years that followed, I began completing my own research on these topics. I have toiled over data previously gathered from health, commerce, and law enforcement agencies as well as directly observed and interviewed hundreds of people about their lives in various settings and about various topics. All of this work, and what I read in preparation for and interpretation of it, helped me gain an awareness about the ways in which pain, trauma, and crises may encourage distrust, withdrawal, and a-sociability as well as a disassociation with one’s body. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also influenced and influences what, who, and how I saw, see, heard, hear, felt, feel.←2 | 3→

I Never Wanted to Be a Stereotype purposely blurs genres. This book centralizes my own life experiences and otherwise deviates from the convention of social science, so it is likely to be heavily criticized by social scientists for both its content and structure. (And, others may, of course, criticize it for a variety of other reasons.) I value the knowledge that scientific designs and frameworks can reveal. In fact, I value them so much that I make use of them in some of my own studies. But these are not the only way to discover and understand. In 1980, Clifford Geertz wrote about “genre mixing in intellectual life,” noting that it makes “difficult either to label authors … or to classify works.” Regardless of the difficulty, he welcomed such blending and suggested that it could deliver novel conceptions of human life. In the following pages, I write about how problematic objectification, hyper-sexualization, and socially encouraged silence can distort our experiences and our sense of who we are. I write about how I, over a lifetime, questioned myself and my world, especially in frustration, anger, and shame but also at times of contentment and pleasure. I write about how that felt. I write about how the relationship between me and the world both stabilized and changed as a result of confrontations, sometimes hinting at and sometimes explicating my need for balance between individuation and socialization, remembering and forgetting, and autonomy and reliance. In writing about these things, like in living, things get blurry.

The story I share in the following pages illustrates a myriad of things – how modern social arrangements may encourage alienation, trauma, or opportunity, which can result in disjointed visions of ourselves and other people and things around us; how the harassment of women is dismissed as normative under patriarchal conditions; how a sense of home, including geographical residence and class background, can root us in safety or unrest; how physical attributes, including gender displays and skin color, might limit and encourage certain life opportunities; and how persistent confrontations to (dis)empowering encounters are personified: loudly, quietly, and throughout the life course.

I Never Wanted to Be a Stereotype is a personal narrative that recounts provocations and attempts to overcome the sense of shame, unworthiness, confusion, and misperceptions associated with being objectified and feeling isolated. You’ll follow me through my adolescence, teens, young and middle-age adulthood, the latter of which I still reside. I write to you directly, detailing my memories while also providing some context about when and where certain events happened. I understand the limitations of memory. Sociologists ←3 | 4→and historians have discussed these problems at length. In Peter Berger’s Invitation to Sociology, for example, he mentioned the on-going processes of (re)interpreting the past to fit our present judgments of what is important. Others, including Maurice Halbwachs and existential sociologist Jack Douglas, have raised similar points as have more contemporary scholars such as Eviatar Zerubavel and Jeffrey Olick. Suffice it to say, because speaking directly about our memories is veiled by post-hoc rationalizations and perceptions, I include some “raw” or unfiltered journal entries and other creations I had previously composed to cope with, and arguably elicit, my sense of impending dread, angst, care, and hope. In doing so, I seek to bridge the equal importance of scholarship, imaginative expression, and embodied existence.

I began imaginative writing following a poetry assignment in junior high school. I found freedom in it. Around this same time, I started recording my dreams as well. I was attracted to the vividness of them. Fascinated by their content, I sometimes wrote them as short stories as if they were fictional narratives. Using my hands to hold the ball point pen or wooden No.2 pencil, seeing the lettering form on the brittle page … there was a lovely quality to it. In those written words, I was somehow apparent and absent. The phrasing seemed to come from a part of me that I hadn’t entirely met yet. But I liked her, that person I described. She was a bit disturbed, but enticingly familiar.

In my early 20s while a college student at a community college near my Southern rural hometown, I learned that some psychologists viewed dreams as representations of unconsciousness or latent memories. While different in their stance on dreams and dream interpretation, many well-known social scientists, including Jacques Lacan, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Erich Fromm, viewed dreams as disclosure, a way to vent some hidden part of our Self. Erich Fromm, for example, argued that dreams were a means by which we are connected to ourselves from ourselves. He proposed that failing to analyze or trying to understand one’s dreams was a missed opportunity to uncovering a deep knowledge about ourselves, including how we manipulated our social world. Emphasizing dreams’ relation to psycho-social life, Rosalind Cartwright concluded that dreams help moderate negative or problematic emotions. Cartwright explains dreaming as a means by which to connect new memories to old ones, which helps the dreamer negotiate a healthful waking identity. A long-term dreamer, my curiosity about potential links between dreaming, problematic emotional disruption, well-being, and waking social identity has long been piqued. Although many people commonly mock rather than tout the virtues of dream analysis, I was never keen on dismissing dream ←4 | 5→analysis as a therapeutic endeavor. Although I began journaling my dreams many decades ago, I start using them for self-analytic purposes several years after the initial recordings. My dreams became a way that I got to know myself, or, at least, who I thought I was in relation to others. Over the course of my life, I have spent a lot of energy and time chronicling my dreams and thinking through their interpretations.

Perhaps it is important to note that lucid dreaming seems natural for me. Even as a young child, I could make myself spend more time doing or observing certain things while asleep and dreaming. I would direct myself to repeat certain scenes or to focus on certain areas, items, or actions so that I could better retain details about them upon waking. I used lucid insight many nights as I slept, especially if I was trying to gain insight on a waking issue or decipher the meaning of a particular event. It wasn’t until my early 40s when I started speaking about my dreams with other people that I realized that my relationship with dreams may be unusual. Dream researchers indicate that about 20% of the U.S. population dream lucidly on a somewhat consistent basis. I include some of my dream journal entries in the following pages to candidly reveal myself without the confines of conventional writing style. I provide only a small amount of contextualization of them in hopes of minimizing fallacious or inventive logic.

While compiling my writings for this book, I realized that there were several years in my late 20s and early-to-mid 30s where I had virtually no recorded writings. Tongue-in-cheek, I refer to this time as “my years without words” as my mind was far from silent (although silence speaks too). In trying to make sense of the lack of written records, I realized that this period coincided with the time that I was heavily involved in my college studies, so I continued to write but the writings were intended to meet degree requirements, not to record reflective thoughts and emotions. Compartmentalization rears its head again. I began a structured yoga practice when I was 25, studying at a local studio and reading Classical and Hatha Yoga texts.2 Through a physical yoga practice, I found glimmers of peace, but to tap into my creative spirit, I intuitively began painting and creating mosaics. Thus, I continued to seek myself through artistic expressions, but the form of expression changed.

When I was in my mid-30s, I restarted recording my dreams with regularity. During this time, I also began note-taking about my yoga practices. These notes centered especially on visualizations that came during meditations, which I ensured daily for at least 15 minutes but sometimes they lasted up to 3 hours. By my early-40s, I had started making notes following physical ←5 | 6→exercise because I found that it was sparking thoughts, emotional sensations, and visualizations.

At the time of this writing, I am 45 years old and have accumulated a lot of written notes. This book recounts some important moments of my life, some painful and some pleasant. I rely on a direct narrative format to speak from my current point of view. This form of writing is important for demonstrating the perceptions of my lived experience. However, considering the restrictions of a single perspective from a single time point, these narratives are only part of the book. The book also includes reference to some of the academic literature that helped me make sense of my experiences, including my place in and relationship with the world. Finally, the book includes some of the imaginative expressions I’ve journaled, which occurred mostly through dream recollection but also through other forms of creative writing as well as painting and mosaicing. Pulled from notebooks, journals, and computer files, I include these raw expressions to illustrate my thoughts and feelings expecting that they may more genuinely share the harvests of my self-exploratory methods. It’s my way of trying to transparently reveal how I’ve lived, including my search to understand who, what, and where I am and have been, which can tell you something about my perceived place and connection to our world.

Each of the following chapters is named to narrate a specific idea. I include writings from my dream or yoga journals throughout nearly all of the following chapters, but at the conclusion of Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10, I include additional entries. These are generally presented in chronological order and may give you a fuller glimpse of my life stage at the time they were written. Because I have literally thousands of journal entries, I include only those that are the most memorable and significant. As I mentioned earlier, I refrain from providing extensive interpretations or specific context about the imaginative writing and art that I share. This is deliberate. When interpreting thoughts and emotions, especially ones that occurred during past fantastic states, like dreams, we can easily infuse our current situations into them and become overly identified with them. When we want to fit a certain presentation, inaccuracies are probable. My writings served a purpose, and although I include some journal entries throughout the narrative, I do so to be illustrative of certain points at certain periods of time. Providing the opportunity for more open-ended interpretations of some of my writings and creative pieces, I would like you, the reader, to review them for (ir)relevance based on your own interpretation of the narrative. You may note patterns, divergences, or even familiarity among the thoughts and emotions that I have neglected to discuss.←6 | 7→

This book isn’t entirely about me even though my narrative is centered in it. I’m not sure that anything can be entirely about a single person since our relationships and their existence occur within the world in which we all live, but I also admit that I don’t know exactly who may feel included or excluded among us. Our social position and categories shape our life experiences, so those are important to acknowledge. They certainly influence what I relay in these pages.

I could be described as a White American, able-bodied, childfree, cis-gender middle-aged woman (Generation X), married to a White, cis-gender man. We live in a mixed-use neighborhood filled with residential houses, a local grocery market, and a handful of restaurants. The house I reside in is located a short distance away from the university where I work, so I walk to my workplace. I have degrees in sociology and have studied and practiced various forms of yoga for nearly 30 years. As a child, I lived in trailers and single-family houses with siblings and at least one biological parent. Until I left for college, I lived in the same rural Southern area as extended family members, including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Mama and deddy3 worked outside of the home for wages, although they also spent a lot of time each week helping with tasks at the farmland or store. Grandmama and granddeddy operated a tobacco, vegetable, and fruit farm later-turned wholesale plant nursery. Granny, who lived with her mother and father, worked for wages in textile mills about a half-hour away until her retirement, but she continued to grow quite a bit of food for the family. I mention all of this to give some context to what follows and to acknowledge my countless, politically relevant blind spots.

The idea for this book came to me in meditation. Meditation is a central part of my daily life schedule, but on this particular day, a voice seemingly pierced the top of my head telling me to write about my personal experiences by including some of my “raw” work. Even as I write this, I remember the sensation of an electrical impulse charging me from what seemed like an infinite vertical line of energy that entered the top, center of my head and stopped in the middle of my chest. It was weighty. I was captivated by the idea. It seemed like a book that I would want to read, but when I began to comprehend what this meant I must do, I wasn’t sure if I could. I had gotten used to objectifying myself and the world around me so that I could scrutinize it, so writing openly as an emotive subject seemed strange. Even though my research and teaching maintain an appreciation for the subjective and relative, sociological training directs us to hold personal judgments at as much of a distance as we ←7 | 8→can, lest it limit our scope of the problem. But what if my life was the social phenomenon from and about which I was observing, investigating, and publicly writing? Taking on this book project meant that I would need to engage myself differently. I would unequivocally be the observed and the observer. I was paralyzed with ignorance. I was going to write the book, that much was clear, but I didn’t know how. A 2017 entry in my meditation journal indicates this friction.

Meeting Being
A gold fish on its side, face up towards the sky
Its tail stands down with a large pine tree
Smoke rises and a large river flows
This is not to be watched by outsiders because intimacy can’t exist there.
It could be misunderstood as sadism or masochism depending on which angers you most.
Miniature octagons obscure my reflection, but I know I’m here.
What is it with this between-state that seems to be my breakthrough moment?
This is for me. I need to get one with myself.
I am trusting you. You can trust me.
It makes me irritated to think of how conventionally stereotypical the image is.
My eyes are gray and sensitive to light. But I’m alive. Am I okay?
Confused by the boundaries, I question the extent to which I am a gazer and being gazed upon. There is no “her” or “she” when you’re examining yourself.
People arrive here if they can break the hold.

Several months after that electric mediation, another voice entered my meditation. Things will flow if you move. I followed the advice and created an electronic file where I chronologically compiled several years of my “raw” writings into a single document. Once I arrived at 314 pages, it was clear that I needed to be more discerning about what to include.

I spent weeks reading my old notes. As I read through the compilation, I was struck by common themes among many of them – water, longing, death, confusion. What began as mesmerizing and nostalgic became boring, and then revolting, and then boring again. I can only liken it to what it’s like to hear a song that you like, wanting to hear it again, purposefully replaying it … over and over and over … until you are so tired of hearing it, your body jerks in dissention. Maybe your voice starts to protest against it. Turn that song off! Your heart pounds, your chest tightens, your temperature rises, and your arm jolts to push the music away while shaking your head side to side. I wanted the song to stop! I effectively turned the receiver off.←8 | 9→

I’m not sure exactly what made me come back to the 300+ page electronic file, but once I opened it, I noticed that the content seemed largely informed by time period. I noticed themes – inquisitiveness, hunger, achievement, paradox. Some of the themes were time-relevant, which should not be surprising. Social scientists have studied life course patterns intensely, and I had read some of that research, but I had never examined my personal notes collectively. Patterns glared obvious. Yep. I am the observer and the observed. After reviewing the time-ordered notes once more, I began writing my direct narrative around these expressions and the memories that reawakened around them. I wrote and I wrote, every day, several hours a day, until I was exhausted by my own openness. What follows is where I am … as of now.


←10 | 11→

· 2 ·

Memories of Mine

By high school I was consciously aware of my seemingly endless history of sexualized maltreatment. When I was 15 years old, someone – I’m still not sure who – referred me to a therapy group held at the high school I was attending. The group was for teenagers deemed “troubled.” The only similarity I could determine amongst us was that we all used some form of illegal drugs, some of us thought it recreational; others, problematic. The group met during one of our class periods and it was led by Angela, a counselor who traveled between schools doing these group talk sessions.

Our meeting place was in the school’s administrative quarters near the school counselors and principals’ offices. During the meetings, the 5–10 of us sat in a circle, the tall ceiling giving us vertical space but the stark white walls impinging on our ability to feel free. There were only three “real” walls to this meeting place because one quarter of the room was bordered with a musty accordion screen. Sure, the make-shift wall provided a smaller, more intimate space, but it also provided a lower sense of protection than the thick plaster walls. I remember the sound of that screen being pulled right before group started, a hummed flutter of thumping as the pleats unfolded. Things are about to change here, I think, giving the walls a voice. In case it isn’t obvious, I found the room suspiciously blunt.←11 | 12→


X, 200
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. X, 200 pp., 10 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Cindy Brooks Dollar (Author)

Cindy Brooks Dollar is Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from North Carolina State University. Her research on inequalities, control, stigma, and harm has been published in numerous sociology, criminology, and interdisciplinary journals and books.


Title: I Never Wanted to Be a Stereotype