on #kava-NAW, sexual trauma, and & trying to live your damn life

CW: sexual assault, Kavanaugh confirmation

 

you know what’s surreal? trying to go about your day while being constantly re-traumatized by the news cycle.

full disclosure: i haven’t yet watched the kavanaugh hearings, and i’m beginning to doubt i ever will. and actually what i mean is i haven’t watched kavanaugh’s part of the hearings. i stumbled upon Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonies at the laundromat – i hadn’t even realized the hearings were happening. i loaded my clothes into the washer and stared up at her face, imagining the sea of white men she had to look into as she bared her trauma to the world. imagining the fear, and the simmering rage, and the knowledge that unless she kept absolutely cool, calm, collected throughout, her emotions would be weaponized against her, against all women.

because #yesallwomen. yes all women have experienced harassment. yes all women have experienced assault (in some way). yes all women are subjected to (some form of) gendered violence. and yes, that includes transfemme folx, it basically includes all of us but cishet men.

anyways. i was at the laundromat, i hadn’t even realized the hearings were happening that morning. i hadn’t even realized i was about to be asked, yet again, to feel the things i do about my own assault. about my sister’s assault. about my mother’s. about my friends’ assaults. about the many named and unnamed assaults that have happened and do happen and will continue to happen because the problem is not that the world won’t #believesurvivors, won’t #believewomen. it’s that the world doesn’t care. the people in power do not care. cishet men do not care. why should they? to care is to acknowledge that their power rests upon centuries of violence against womxn, that entire societies exist only in the way that they do because some people — women, people of color, indigenous people — are oppressed, while others are awarded undue amounts of power.

i was at the laundromat, and then i was home, and then i was applying to jobs, and then i was walking to meet my girlfriend. and then i would open twitter, and then i would see the news, seemingly the only news, and then — racing heart, panicky, on the verge of tears, because y’all, it’s just so fucking unfair. how can this be real? how i can be sitting here, years and years of womxn’s activism behind us, and still Dr. Ford will not receive recognition for her trauma? still, there are tens of qualified men who could be put on the supreme court (which like… the matter of whether that court should even exist is a conversation for another day), but still, the GOP and the government will uphold this one man, this one man who is proven to have assaulted, proven to have a blackout drinking problem, proven incapable of addressing past mistakes — still, he will end up being judge to us all.

how can it be that i was raped and i spent two years denying it, how can it be that i blamed myself when later i learned that my rapist was a serial offender, how can it be that so many of us are sexually violated, brutally violated, our brains and emotions and bodies breached, and still, this? it’s fucking unfair. it truly is.

and to be asked to continually process all of this, right now? i’m trying to apply to jobs. i’m trying to date someone. i’m trying to be happy. i’m trying to get my shit done. i’m trying to remember to take my iron pills, for god’s sake, i don’t have the time or energy to be pulled into rehashing my own trauma, but still i am, we are, asked to.

i think about the idea that people pose, that abusers necessarily dehumanize their victims. i don’t think it’s so. dehumanizing isn’t the right phrase. we aren’t being dehumanized. it’s just that our humanity weighs less in the that of cis men. our humanity means less, our humanity counts less. we remain utterly human in the eyes of our abusers, and that’s why they abuse us. their abuse of us would mean less and carry less power than if we were less than human.

standing with all survivors this week, and sending my most loving, strengthening vibes. we need it. ❤

Mental health in the U.S. requires structural change, not individual action. (CW: mention of suicide)

In the wake of last week’s news of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who died, back-to-back, by suicide we are left to grapple yet again with mental health in America and what it means about all of us when even seemingly hyper-successful people struggle to stay afloat and stay alive.

It’s proof of how far the capitalist mentality has seeped into the American consciousness that the immediate reaction to any death by suicide is to agitate for increased individual responsibility “reach out to your friends, check in!” becomes the national cry, as well as consistent invocation of the suicide hotline. The onus remains squarely on the individual for the mentally ill person or the person who has died, the implicit accusation is that health and recovery would come if only they could do more work to reach out and get help. And, despite what the more able and compassionate among us might say (or tweet) about being available to support their suffering friends, in reality, most of the time most people are too bogged down in the day to day emotional strife of living in America to be able to extend their emotional resources to a friend so seriously ill as to consider suicide. People have limited emotional capacity, and that’s okay the trap we’ve fallen into is thinking that the primary responsibility of healing mental illness in this country is on individuals.

In actuality, all of us are struggling constantly to stay afloat some have the resources to do so more easily or successfully. Individual resources are finite, community resources may stretch further, but truly the state has the greatest capacity to effect change for the most people. Universalized access to additional supports such as therapy and medication, access to jobs that pay enough for folks to eat and live well, access to free time and nature, safe housing, and so on, would immensely improve mental health in America.

We can’t ignore the fact that there are many overlapping structures that disallow mental well-being reasons that folks who are already prone to mental illnesses will experience them more severely, and reasons that situational mental illnesses abound as well.

Marginalized groups experience discrimination and micro- and macro-violences that degrade their mental well-being this includes racism, ableism, and homo/transphobia, among others. Poverty is a big contributor to mental illness, and includes not only the fact of being poor, but also the things that prevent people from gaining wealth or financial stability. Access to jobs is connected to houselessness, which is connected, for example, to addiction, to homophobia and transphobia in the home that force queer youth into the streets, and also to racial, homo/transphobic, and classist discrimination in the workplace. Also connected to joblessness is lack of access to higher education due to the exorbitant and ever-rising costs of college, and lack of access to even primary education in areas with high high school dropout rates. And all of these individual factors contribute to mental health problems too. Social support that would allow folks access to education, job training, mental health services, medical care, and so on, do not exist or do not function in a way that meets a massive need for them.

When people are in a place to reach out and ask for mental health supports, they often face continued discrimination in trying to seek therapy people of color are selected against by therapists in America, who as a group are largely white and tend to select white and female clients. Queer and trans people face a dearth of therapists who are affirming of their sexualities and genders, and may end up avoiding therapy to avoid the invalidation and emotional violence they might suffer. Mental health medication is prescribed by psychiatrists who, if you have health insurance to begin with, are frequently out-of-network, making their hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour costs a huge barrier to those who need medications to manage their mental illnesses. There is very little state support or subsidies for mental health medication.

Structural change is necessary if we truly want to improve mental health in the U.S. This is not an all-inclusive article mental health is complex and layered, and there is no simple “fix.” But there are factors we can begin to address with policy and programs that would up the baseline for mental health in the U.S. Focusing the conversation on individual actions to prevent suicide obscures a greater need for conversations about what will truly help mental illness on a national scale structural change and social supports.

Consider, too, whose deaths we see and whose deaths we do not see, and remember that American society has been intentionally constructed so that this is the case we don’t see the homeless, we don’t see the mentally ill, we don’t see queer people, we don’t see people of color, we don’t see the poor so when people who are high in the public eye die by suicide and open up this important conversation, remember whose voices are left out and bring them to the table.

Post-#MeToo: restorative justice & reconciling abuse done by survivors of sexual violence

I wrote the piece below for the blog of the non-profit I work for (name redacted) and despite initial support from the organization, they decided not to go ahead with publishing it because of the very upfront way it portrays a current spokesperson. The spokesperson, mentioned in the final paragraphs below, is a survivor of child sexual abuse who has spoken very honestly and very publicly about the ways his trauma played out, including decades of abusing women. He is currently undertaking a run across the United States to, ironically, “break the silence” around child abuse and encourage more open, honest conversations about it. 

The last post published on the — blog discussed Junot Diaz’s piece in the New Yorker detailing his experience with child sexual abuse and the subsequent decades-long payout of his trauma, especially in his relationships with the women in his life. In the month following that post, a number of women with various levels of association with Mr. Diaz – among them students and readers of his work – have come forward with their own stories of Mr. Diaz’s abusive behavior towards them. Mr. Diaz’s position as both a survivor and an abuser is not an uncommon one – abused people who don’t get help often repeat the cycle. And as a man in a particular position of power and platform, Mr. Diaz’s situation calls up questions around whose stories are being told and how, how we can hold abusers accountable while still allowing them to grow and change, and how we can continue to mindfully center survivors in this conversation as we move forward.

We can hold to be true both that Mr. Diaz displayed a great deal of bravery and strength in coming forward about his abuse, and the knowledge that in the aftermath of his abuse he hurt a great many people in ways that he will never be able to undo or atone for. As he moves forward now in his healing process, he will hopefully begin to own up to the damage he’s done. But really, how can abusers truly atone for the pain they’ve caused? Sexual and gendered violence are woven into the fabric of our culture such that even in trying to acknowledge men’s* healing processes we are willing to subvert the emotional impact their rebounded abuse had on women* and others in their lives as some kind of necessary evil in their journey to asking for help.  

Why are we so willing to exchange women’s pain for any small degree of men’s emotional or relational growth? What does it mean that the bodies of women, children, and other marginalized people are seen as acceptable fields upon which men can act out their violence and aggression and eventually use as stepping stones towards their own emotional growth? Why are women’s, children’s, and other marginalized people’s bodies expendable in that way?

The #MeToo movement has been flawed in many ways; centrally, it is flawed in the way that it privileges certain stories and voices over others. Who was encouraged to speak out? White, wealthy cis-women – people who already exist near, though not at, the axis of power. The entire conversation pits women against men, which ignores the fact that trans folks are subject to an incredible amount of sexual and gendered violence. Immigration status plays a role in who could come forward; undocumented survivors have to juggle fear for their lives and the stability of their families if they have any sort of engagement with the justice system. Whiteness, too, has been largely ignored – and it is not just white men who tend to treat non-white bodies as less than, othered; white women are complicit here as well. And children, whose voices are so frequently disregarded and manipulated, have been consistently left out, as if child abuse and child sexual abuse aren’t significant facets of sexual violence more broadly. And so on. Wealth and power open the door to justice for victims of sexual violence – survivors who exist at the intersection of any number of marginalized identities simply do not have the same access to justice, healing, and recognition.

How do we consider the R*n2Heal within this framework? Much like Junot Diaz, Christian —–, —– spokesperson and the ultra-athlete performing the run, was abused as a child and has owned up to the many ways his enduring trauma played itself out over the subsequent decades of his life, including ways in which he was violent towards women (particularly emotionally and psychologically). Now he’s come forward as a voice for men who’ve suffered childhood abuse – among the many layers of the toxic masculinity rooted in our culture is one that prevents men and masculine people from expressing their emotionality and being vulnerable, and Christian’s and Junot’s honesty defies this stipulation. At the same time, Christian’s role as an advocate does not erase his past behaviors. Both pieces are part of him, and we need to be comfortable allowing him that. Junot both deserves treatment and a path forward, and needs to be held responsible for the women he’s spent a lifetime hurting. So does Christian.

The system is broken and people are still accountable for their own actions. No one forced Junot Diaz into emotionally and potentially physically abusive relationships. Nor did he ask for his trauma; his abuse was not his fault. Restorative justice is complicated and of-yet undefined; how can abusers be honestly and mindfully reintegrated into the communities and families they’ve hurt? Can they be? Is there a point at which someone becomes unforgiveable? These are the deeper questions we need to examine as we move further into this post-#MeToo moment in order to truly begin to heal, treat, and prevent child, sexual, and gendered abuse in our communities.

*“Men” and “women” used here as shorthand for cis men and women; this does not fully account for the experiences of gender-non-conforming or transfolks.*