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. ❤

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.*