“Trauma Bonded” Creator Chloe Burns on Reclaiming the Narrative as a Survivor, Flawed Characters, and Rejecting the Tropes

Written by Malin Evita

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and context.

TW: Domestic violence, violence against women | Support.

Chloe Burns is an artistic actor, writer, and survivor currently based in Los Angeles, where she is working on her upcoming web series Trauma Bonded. This show will tell the story of Casey and Kate, who live in the same body. One does not remember the abuse she went through, the other does. In this exciting adventure, with assassins, love triangles, and truthful humour along the way, grief and healing are explored in a way that centres honesty—not exploitation. In addition to this, the current production team consists of 100% women and non-binary industry professionals.

To talk more about all of this and her therapeutic process writing it, showrunner Chloe Burns sat down with Making It: Women in Film for an open and enlightening conversation. Keep reading, and don’t forget to donate to the Trauma Bonded Seed&Spark fundraiser if you have any money to give!

Malin Evita: Could you explain what this is a story about in your eyes?

Chloe Burns: Personally, it’s about living with dissociative trauma. It’s like an autobiography, but not at all in a literal way. These events did not actually happen to me, but the cycle—the emotional undercurrent of the whole thing—that’s the really personal part. It’s that feeling that you are constantly caught in this cycle of thinking that you have it all under control and then kind of losing it all and thinking you’re coming back and then losing it again.

There’s this thing that you are avoiding that—especially with dissociative—you might not even know that you’re avoiding. And you kind of have to get forced into facing that. And so the story kind of acts as a catalyst to force the characters to acknowledge this thing that they haven’t. That they’ve been running from, potentially their whole lives.

ME: There are lots of fun and exciting elements embedded into this show. You wrote that many of them came up on their own, but when you tried to mix in your own story of surviving domestic violence, all life would evaporate. How did that change through story development?

CB: I had to make a decision early on because—especially at this level of filmmaking—there’s a lot of opportunities for people to have judgements and tear things apart. So I was thinking ahead to, What do I want to stand by with the project? Like yeah, you can say that this point wasn’t good or whatever, but what do I want to highlight? And I just wanted to make sure that I was being honest. I wanted to be able to say [that] I wrote something that felt true to me, and that’s really all you can ask for.

That’s how you create the throughline… Especially when you’re dealing with comedy and drama—I think in real life we pair those all the time. Everybody who has been through something painful, most of the time, find a way to laugh about it. I think the purpose of humour is to let us look at something truthful that’s also painful; it gives us this benefit of distance. So you have to be truthful when you are writing it.

So that’s the way I kept [drama and comedy] together, like, How are these characters using humour to diffuse a situation? And then, When do I need to stop them and get real? 

Chloe Burns

ME: How have you experienced the writing process of Trauma Bonded? There’s alter egos, assassins, a love triangle, and more, but do you still feel it is your story at its core? Or has it transcended?

CB: It’s still my story, but it has pushed past me a little bit because I kind of took my story and put it into extremes. When I am talking about this feeling of living with dissociative trauma, part of my struggle was that I could not deal with the fact that I felt like there was the person I was before the trauma happened, and then there was the result of the trauma. Those two things seemed so incompatible. I was like, I literally don’t know what kind of person I am supposed to be, moving forward. I don’t understand how that is supposed to connect. So [Trauma Bonded] was an exaggeration of that feeling. It’s a new challenge, but there’s still that personal aspect that keeps it grounded.

ME: I know that you’re a fan of Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. I love that show as well, and I watched an interview with her where she spoke about how she felt liberated in telling her story. Have you felt anything similar to that?

CB: I hope to. I hope so.

I’ve done projects before, but I have never had this level of commitment. So I have never done things like reaching out to press and actually trying to get the word out. Ideally, I wouldn’t have chosen something personal like this to tell everyone. The day I made the project public—to just my Facebook friends and family, just like a small soft launch—I thought I was going to throw up all day. I was so anxious. Because it’s not… I don’t talk about it.

But it’s liberating in that now I can talk about it. It’s like a vehicle for me to talk about it. But not in a way where I feel like I’m putting myself at risk—it’s a really safe space for me. And it has been really liberating to create it, to write it. I do think making it public is part of that process, but it is the most intimidating part. Everything else was just a thought experiment—now, it’s real. So it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I do think that, on the other side of it, I will feel better than I feel right now.

BBC: Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You

ME: Trauma Bonded is about taking back the narrative as a survivorwhat do you find to be the most significant issue with the way film/TV portrays stories about violence against women?

CB: Every time I take issue with this being portrayed, the thing that bothers me about it is that I can never identify with the intent behind it. I don’t know what the creator was going for—or, I should say, it feels like it doesn’t align with the experience of going through it. In general, if you want to show that it’s a bad neighbourhood, if you want to show it’s a dangerous world, this is a thing you use for that. Or you have a character where it’s like, She’s young and innocent, but we need her to be tough and scary, then this is what you do to push her character forward.

Versus something like I May Destroy You—which, you can tell, is about her. It’s not about what happened to her. It’s not about the guy that did it to her. He’s not even a key player. It’s about her dealing with it afterwards. And I’m not trying to say that you need to have gone through it personally to be allowed to write about it, but you can tell when the time has been put into it, or people have been considerate of what they’re actually doing with it. [Where] they’re moving beyond it being a device of some kind.

ME: Absolutely. There’s definitely an issue of shock value or shows like Game of Thrones where it kind of became nothing at a certain point because it was so overwhelming. That’s where the character gets lost in it. With Trauma Bonded, I know that there were specific things you absolutely wouldn’t do to avoid these tropes and harmful things like that.

CB: Yeah. The big ones I’ve kind of mentioned as the selling points is that there is no graphic violence, there is not even a character of the abuser. But then, in addition to that, when I looked at the characters I were playing, I really wanted them to be flawed in specific ways that went against the tropes that you see all the time.

On the one hand, I didn’t want to fall into Good Twin/Bad Twin [trope]. I didn’t want it to be like, Oh, the one that doesn’t remember her trauma is a good person and the one that does remember is a bad person. I wanted them to be flawed in the way that I felt flawed on both ends.

I feel like in media, we try to make survivors perfect people. Otherwise, it’s like we won’t feel bad enough. The problem with that is that if you have been abused and you watch that, then it’s like, I’m not perfect, and she is perfect. That’s why I feel bad for her. On some level, I think it makes you think that you did deserve it because you aren’t a perfect person.

Chloe Burns

And then sometimes this kind of violence and trauma is used as a way of toughening a character up. Like, Now she’s gonna be super focused, really committed, and she’s gonna go kill all these abusive men, and she’s gonna be a superhero! And that was not my experience of trauma. I did not identify with that—I wanted to be like that, but I didn’t identify with that. 

That was the main thing, making it clear that this is an injury. That’s how I think of trauma: You are injured. It’s something that’s not going to fix your problems, and you can’t out-trauma your way out of it. You still need to face the issue and heal from it.

ME: Do you think the standard portrayal has created a stigma/policing over how survivors digest their trauma?

CB: Yeah, I think so. And that’s me speaking from personal experience. I couldn’t—I still, actually, can’t call what happened to me by its truthful name, which is domestic violence. I still have a really hard time [with that]. Even though if you look at the dictionary definition, there is no argument. That’s what it was. But I still have this hang-up because I’ve never felt represented by domestic violence when they show it. I don’t identify with the character; I don’t identify with the situation. And it makes it really hard because it closes you off to coping with it.

Because if I identified with a character but thought some of the details were off, then I would think, She deserves all the grief. She deserves to feel all the things. I don’t deserve that. Only one of us can have it, and she gets it. But I have also noticed that I don’t talk about this with people on a personal level. I haven’t for a long time. I can’t ascribe motive to anyone else, but what it seems like when I tell someone, This is what I’ve been through, they are almost just confused. I think that’s what it is—confusion.

There’s something about me, and then there’s something about domestic violence victims in media, and it doesn’t mesh. And they can’t figure out how to put it together. So we don’t talk about it in person, and this is kind of the only window we have into that world—through media. So, of course, it would color the way you look at that.

Behind the scenes.

ME: What has this project meant to you?

CB: What I’ve gotten from it so far is the process of writing it. It was a way to make everything I felt okay. I was so at war with myself because everything I felt felt wrong, no matter what it was. It was really exhaustive; trying to police myself, make myself think the ‘right’ things. As a survivor, there is no perfect way to be. We think there is, but there isn’t.

I wrote [Trauma Bonded] going through therapy, so the process of showing up intentionally and going through these horrible things that have happened, that I never wanted to think about again… This made it possible for me to do that. 

It’s been really empowering. I no longer feel like this is something that happened to me that just took away my life. That’s how it felt. It felt like I was living with it and never got to be a person again. This was almost like tying a rope between before and after and just letting it ground me.

ME: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readersabout this project or otherwise?

CB: When people told me this, it did not land at all. So I don’t expect it to, but the thing that I want to tell people is that you can move forward.

If you identify with this project in any way, just know that the person who created it has been in that place, and they are now somewhere better. So if that is at all helpful for people to hear who are still in that chaotic space, that is something I want to put out there.

It is possible. It is something that you can heal from.

Keep up to date with Chloe and her project: chloeelizabethburns.com | IG: @itschloeburns | Seed&Spark

Written by Malin Evita

Evita is the host and producer of the podcast and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and recently received her HNC in Professional Writing Skills. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.

Website: malinevita.com | IG: @malinevita

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