Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'surviving abuse' Category

Monday, July 25th, 2011

(Cross-posted at the Scarleteen blog)

I want to tell you something very personal about me. Not because I want to. I really don’t want to. But I’m going to do it anyway.

It’s one of those things where even though it’s incredibly uncomfortable for me, I feel like sharing despite my discomfort might be able to make a positive difference. And since this has to do with something where I believe others have been making a positive difference in a way I, myself, have not also been able to, it seems the least I can do. I’ve been largely silent around the Slutwalks. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest one of all is that what inspired them simply struck me much, much to close to home. So, my silence has not been about nonsupport of the walks. In more ways than one, it’s been about my stepping out of the way of them in part based on my own limitations.

If you’re triggered by candid stories about sexual or other forms of assault, this may be triggering for you. I know it still is for me, very much so. Telling this story in this kind of detail remains incredibly difficult for me, despite many years of healing, help with therapy, help and healing found through helping others and a lot of support. It’s not a story I tell often, because even just typing it out or saying it all out loud makes my hands shake and my heart race and turns me into a bit of a mess for a bit of time after I do.

I keep hearing or reading people say things like that no one really gets told the way they were dressed makes them at fault for their assault, despite about a million evidences to the contrary, and knowing far more than one person personally who has had that experience.

Conversely (and oddly enough, sometimes from the same people who say that first thing), I keep reading people stating, despite so much great activism around this lately, that how someone dresses IS what “got them raped.” Or that they were raped because of their sexual history, their economic class, where they live, how they talk, how they do or don’t respond to men, how they identify or present their gender — anything BUT the fact that they were in some kind of proximity to someone who chose to rape them, which is exactly how, and only how, someone winds up being a victim of rape.

A few months ago, I had an apparently politically progressive blogger who would not stop talking to me on Twitter about the “rape outfit” of an 11-year-old girl whose rape case I had linked to. He, without my asking him anything about it personally, expressed he felt she would not have been assaulted had she been dressed differently. He called whatever it was she was wearing a “rape outfit.” Hearing about the fact that I had my own “rape outfit” at 12, or that, when my great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her home at the age of 76, her “rape outfit” was a housecoat, or that the “rape outfit” of young boys sexually abused by priests was often their super-salacious Sunday best; equally not hearing my firm requests to please not keep tweeting me with misogyny which I found deeply upsetting and hurtful seemed to only make him more excited to keep saying what he was. Even reminding him I was a survivor myself didn’t slow him down. Only blocking him worked. I’m quite certain he left the conversation with exactly the same beliefs as when he started it.

These things we read and hear don’t just come from one group of people: some men say them, but so do some women. Social conservatives say them a lot, but progressives say them, too. People who assault people, of course, will often voice things like this or other things to do all they can to avoid responsibility. But even people who have been victimized themselves will sometimes say things like this. Sometimes — and, I’d say, probably most of the time — that’s about internalizing the messages they got. Sometimes it’s about feeling a need to have another victim be at fault for their assault so that they can feel less like they, themselves, were at fault for their assaults, even though no victim is at fault for being victimized. More unfortunately, than I can express, rape culture is one of the most globalized kinds of culture there is.

I keep reading and hearing and seeing people who, so far as I can tell, and intentionally choosing to misrepresent or deny the core issue of what the SlutWalks are about: activism working expressly to try and counter deeply harmful and endangering attitudes expressed about rape and rape victims like those of Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who, in January of this year, speaking on crime prevention at a York University safety forum said, “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” (This is why the word “slut” is so prominently featured in this activism, because it is this comment which directly inspired the first walk.)

I wish I had never heard a police officer say anything like that at all. I also wish that if I was going to hear that, it had been the first time I had.

In seeing so much nonsupport for the walks and people who have participated in them, I started to worry that being silent might be interpreted as being nonsupportive, which is the last message I’d want to send. I’m going to talk a little bit about the walks in this blog post and another in another few days, but I want to start by telling you what I’m about to tell you, if for no other reason than to do what I can do in support, because there are things I can’t do yet, things which others can and have.

When I was 12 years old, I was sexually abused for the second time in my life. The first had been a year before, when I was 11. Then, I was molested by an elderly man who cut our hair in the neighborhood. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t even totally sure what had happened to me, nor what to call it. It was 1981, I was 11, and all I knew was whatever it was felt horrible, scared me intensely, and was not okay. But I also got the message that telling anyone about it wasn’t okay, and seemed to feel some message that because it happened to me, it must have meant there was something not okay about me, too. The home environment I was living in enabled these kinds of messages constantly and was itself abusive in other ways, so I did not feel safe at that point saying much of anything, let alone disclosing something like this.

A year later, I was alone cleaning up the art room of the day camp where I was a junior counselor at he end of the day. Because the building was still open, someone was likely at the front deck, but that was very far away, and otherwise, the place was a ghost town. The only reason I was there so late is that I’d often stretch out those days as long as I could in order to avoid having to go home.

I’m going to tell you what I was wearing now.

What I was wearing wouldn’t matter and wouldn’t have mattered, to anyone, in a much better world then I lived in then and we still live in now. But it did matter to someone at the time, in a way that messed me up just as much as my assault itself did. In our cultural context right now, or perhaps in someone else’s view, it would seem clear that what I was wearing had nothing at all to do with my being assaulted. In fact, now, in our cultural context about what is and isn’t “slutty” dress, what I was wearing may be seen as indisputable proof that I did NOT ask for rape or deserve rape, even though nothing anyone wears or doesn’t wear proves or disproves that in actuality, which is clear when people are rubbing more than two hateful brain cells together in their thinking process.

It was summer in Chicago then. It’s hot in summer in Chicago. I was working at a camp, and I also had to bike back and forth, so I needed to be work-appropriate, even at 12, but also able to move around easily and not pass out from the heat. If it had been totally up to me, I’d probably have been wearing less than I was so I was more comfortable on the ride home.

But as it was, I had on gymshoes. I had a fairly loose white t-shirt on with the sleeves carefully rolled up, my typical uniform of the time (because big t-shirts are more cool if you roll up the sleeves, everyone knew that). I had on red chino-eqsque shorts that ended just above my knee. I was an early bloomer physically, so whatever I was wearing, there wasn’t then, as there isn’t now, any hiding that I’m a person with an hourglass shape and curves. Would that there had been: after what happened the year before and having been teased at home about my development, I often tried to hide parts of my body as I could. I probably had on some lip gloss. I had chin-length feathered hair that year, gone blonde from being out in the sun.

A group of much-older teenage boys, probably in their late teens, came into the art room started talking to me, and asked what I was doing there. I told them, then they asked how I got back and forth from the camp to home. I remember that as I said I rode my bike, I’d wished that I could take it back. I could feel a lack of safety in the air right then. I wished I had said someone picked me up. They asked if I wanted a ride. I said no, thank you. They asked a few more times, making a bit of a game of it, but a very pushy game. I said no a few more times then said I had to go get something and ran out.

I went and hid in a bathroom stall down the hall for what felt like hours but which was probably only minutes. I didn’t go to the front desk and try to ask for help. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest was probably that I had already learned in my life that being in danger was normal and that not being helped in being safe was what I could most typically expect from people. I had also learned already that sometimes telling when I was in danger only got me hurt more.

When I came out of the stall, I went to the bike rack to get my bike, planning to speed away as fast as I could and unlocked it in a hurry. But those boys drove up behind me in the van they had, physically attacked me and dragged me away from my bike and into their car. (Typical perhaps of a tween mind, I remember having a hard time later figuring out if I should be more upset I got hurt — assault or rape were not words I had at the time — or more upset that in the midst of all of this, my bike had been stolen because it was left unlocked.)

I have very hazy memories of what happened next, memories I have never fully either formed or recovered, that only show up in mushy, jagged pieces in night terrors I have had about this over the years. I will honestly say I am glad I have only hazy recall of what happened in that van, and that while parts of my body have always made clear they remember, much of my brain never has. A day later, a big, nasty bump welled up on my head, so I’ve always figured I got knocked out, and the rest of my lack of memory can be attributed to shock.

The next thing I remember was finding myself back on the curb near the bike rack, scruffed up, shirt ripped feeling incredibly sore and strangely soggy in places. I went back inside to the bathroom and was bleeding from my rectum. I think I managed to wash my face, but that was all I could manage. I was incredibly confused, disoriented and still scared to death, not knowing if anywhere was safe,if those boys had left, nothing. I went to the pay phone and called my mother, who also called the police before she came over. All I was able to voice was that I was very scared and hurt and needed someone to come to get me now.

I went back outside and sat on the curb in front of the park where a lot of people were, hoping I’d be safe there and that my mother would find me. She arrived about the same time the police did, who I didn’t know had been called. I know I was completely incoherent, and I don’t believe I was able to express anything anyone could understand. I suspect what I said was something to the effect of, “Guys. Said no, no ride. Hid. Came after me. Grabbed. Van. Scared. Hid in bathroom. Woke up on curb. Are they gone? What? Are they gone?” I know, though, however incomprehensible my words, it could not have been missed that I was in shock, nor that I had clearly been attacked in some way. Over the years, I’ve looked for rationale and reason of why I got so poorly served, but I always give up, knowing all too well how very, very many victims of sexual assault have had the same experience, and that it isn’t something with rhyme or reason part how poorly sexual assault is treated in most of the world.

While my memories of my attack are very hazy, my memories of what came next have never been. I’ve often wished they, too, were hazy.

The police and my mother talked for a while before anyone even talked to me or asked how I was at all. I sat shivering on that curb, holding my knees, watching a crowd form around us, people at the park starting to pay more attention, feeling more and more freaked out. My mother came over and asked if I was just scared, if the van was still there. I looked around. It wasn’t. I said no, I thought it was gone, I hoped it was gone, please let it be gone. For whatever reason, she said more than once “So, nothing happened? You just got scared?” and I remember not being sure how to answer that because it felt confusing, and like there was some kind of cue about a right answer hidden in there. Then two of the police stepped over, and talked with my mother again, instead of me, and I heard one of them say, half-looking at me, half-away, that I really shouldn’t be wearing shorts that short because if I did, I could expect to have trouble with boys.

I also know and remember that with those words, I suddenly got a little more clear, the clarity you get from having just felt unsafe, thinking you might be safe, and then all the more acutely recognizing you are not, and determined to say absolutely nothing to them or my mother about anything. I agreed that okay, sure, yeah, I just got scared, I was fine, please just get me home, fine. You’ll just make a note about the van, and I should call you if I see it again fine (and yeah, right). How on earth could I have felt safe saying to any of them in that space that I was bleeding from my rectum and I didn’t know why, something already incredibly vulnerable for me to share in the first place? How on earth could I say that I think what just happened to me was like what had happened the year before that I’d told no one about? So, I didn’t say anything. Not to anyone, not until a handful of years later when ever so slowly, I started telling people, scared to death every time I did.

That I didn’t say anything at the time and for a long time shouldn’t be surprising. It’s about all the same kind of things that keep most survivors from reporting or disclosing.

Here’s the part where I think it’s very, very important that anyone reading anything like this knows three vital things.

These are not opinions. These are facts. I can’t stop you from denying they are truths and facts, but you have to know that if you do, you do so from a place of bias or ignorance because we have all the evidence in the world that they are true. We have not just the story of someone like myself but mountain of stories from survivors like myself and survivors different than me, from sound studies and research and loads of “rape prevention” tips that made so many people feel like they were safer who learned the hard way that those tips didn’t do a damn thing to protect them. All they did was control them, make them feel more scared of living, more distracted by all the things they felt they needed to think about to be safe and then and they just wound up getting hurt anyway.

The only factual part of disputes to what I am about to say is that it is absolutely a fact that we still have a long, long way to go when it comes to the way most of our world and many of the people in it treat rape and those of us who have been assaulted and abused.

1) I was not assaulted because of how I was dressed. Those long red shorts and sneakers were not why I was assaulted. But. The person who was wearing a short skirt and heels when she was assaulted wasn’t assaulted because of how she was dressed, either. Even if I had been wearing something else entirely — like the housecoat my great-grandmother was, a burqua, a nun’s habit, overalls, skinny jeans or business attire; even if I was not a woman with a vulva, but a woman with a penis dressing in the clothing I felt was representative of my gender as a woman, but some of the world disagreed with me, and felt I was cross-dressing, how I was dressed would not have been why I was assaulted, nor would my assault have been prevented had I just dressed differently. That’s not because there is one way to dress that “gets you raped” and one way to dress that doesn’t. That’s because the thing that “gets someone raped” isn’t a thing, it’s a person who chooses to rape you and what you do and don’t wear is something we know does not matter and have loads of hard data that has made that clear fro a long time now. People have been raped wearing everything in the world people can wear, and the vast majority of the time people are raped, they aren’t wearing what those who blame them consider “provocative” clothing in the first place.

The idea or statement that how a victim was dressed had anything to do with their being raped does not reflect the realities of rape and rape perpetration, only the realities of victim blaming and rape culture.

2) My rape was a “real” rape. It was not a “real” rape just because my attackers were strangers to me, because there was physical violence involved, because I was so young and had not yet chosen to have any kind of sex yet outside of furtive kisses and some clueless dry-humping with a girl friend at 10, because I struggled and probably yelled no, because I was a girl, because I managed to be assaulted in ways that now, at this point in time, most people recognize as “real rape.” It was a real rape because people really did something sexual to me without my consent and against my will because they wanted to do it and either didn’t care I didn’t, or wanted to do it because I didn’t want to. That is why my rape is a “real” rape, and is also why someone who is raped by their husband at home after church has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is out at a party in clubbing gear, drinking cocktails, who says yes to something sexual, but no to something else but whose no is ignored has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is worn down by verbal coercion and finally gives in to sex they do not want has experienced a “real” rape; why a man who is sexually assaulted, whatever the gender of his perpetrator, has also experienced “real” rape.

Rapes are real in all the ways rape can happen, not just in the ways that some people are most comfortable acknowledging, or the ways which do not challenge people to have to consider that rape culture is not only real, but more pervasive, widespread and more a part of anyone’s life, ongoing relationships, and perhaps even personal behavior than anyone would ever like to have to acknowledge.

3) All I have said here has a whole lot to do with Slutwalks and the aim of slutwalks. All I have said here has a whole lot to do with who gets impacted by the kinds of statements and attitudes the walks aim to call out and challenge, how deeply we can be impacted and how those statements and attitudes not only do not help people protect themselves from being victimized, but how they hurt victims and can even put people in greater danger.

All I have said here is exactly about telling women that if they dress a certain way, like sluts (or hos, or harlots or loose women, or whatever word du jour of similar sentiment fits your era, culture or community) they deserve to be raped or are asking to be assaulted. All I have said here is not some kind of strange exception where the woman involved was treated that way but wasn’t dressed “like a slut,” because all I have said here is a textbook example of the fact that the idea of what “asking for it” is is completely arbitrary except for the part where so incredibly often, the mere fact of having been raped means, to someone, if not a lot of someone’s, that a victim must have been asking for it.

I want to finish today by saying one more thing I think is critically important, and another big part of why I’m sharing what I have with you here, despite it all being so difficult for me to say so visibly.

I didn’t attend any of the Slutwalks. I probably won’t. I’m nearest to Seattle, and had some personal issues with some of ours here that were part of what kept me from it, issues I really think are personal and individual enough not to be relevant or important to anyone but me, especially with the bigger picture in mind. I also have some more political issues, but that’s something I’ll talk about more in my second post about this.

What I want to mention now is the one big thing that kept me from attending any of the walks, and that is a lack of courage and resiliency. I need to acknowledge that I have lacked a level of courage and resiliency around this which some other people who have attended these walks have had, and which I cannot possibly express my great admiration and respect for. When I see photos of them, read their words, think about them — survivors like me, who probably have similar or even the same wounds, but went all the same, some even wearing what they wore when assaulted, I am overcome with awe and humility and gratitude.

I know: I have talked about being a survivor very publicly before. In many ways, I am very strong around this, especially since my most harrowing assaults are hardly fresh: they happened a long time ago, and I’ve had a lot of time to heal. But in some ways, I am not strong around this. In some ways, I am still broken in places that haven’t yet become strong or whole. In some ways, I am not brave around this in ways that others have been or can be — or heck, know they aren’t but are so amazing, they do it anyway.

I thought about attending a walk wearing something as similar as I could find to what I was wearing that day when I was 12. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t open myself up to even one person, saying or writing in a place I could hear anything at all about the way I was dressed and my assault, whether the statement would be that I deserved to be raped because of what I was wearing, or that I didn’t, but some other woman did. I am just not that strong, mostly because hearing what I did, when I did, how I did wounded me just that deeply, that almost 30 years later, I can’t even put on a damn pair of shorts to wear in public without a meltdown, even though I can easily get naked in front of, well, pretty much anyone, or wear almost anything else I might want to with emotional comfort.

I need to say this twice: there are women who attended Slutwalks who DID wear exactly what they were wearing when they were assaulted; who did wear what someone told them made their rape their fault, despite it undoubtedly being scary and painful, because they recognized how powerful it could be for them and for others.

I had to stop for a few minutes after I typed that again, because the bravery and integrity of that action literally makes me breathless. There are survivors who did what I could not do, cannot do, because they know how important it is, to them, to people like me, to everyone. There are those who did what I could not do, who I firmly believe have done something that might seem small, but which is, I think, major. Something that will make it less and less likely a 12-year-old girl, wearing whatever it is she is wearing, who already has been done the grave injustice of rape, will never, ever hear anyone say that their clothing — that ANYTHING — made being raped their fault.

Any of us can have whatever options or ideas or feelings about this activism that we like. We can disagree about some of it, or the way a given person has or hasn’t executed it, but I just don’t know how it’s possible not to recognize the potential power of what so many people have been part of with these walks, nor to ignore how much participating must have required of some of the speakers and other attendees.

So, if there is anyone out there who organized or attended a walk who interpreted my silence as nonsupport, I hope you know now that it wasn’t. If there is anyone out there who feels worn down or unappreciated by the critiques or the resistance, know there is someone right here whose s/hero you are, in a way that someone who usually has no shortage of words has a hard time even articulating the depth of. If there is anyone out there who was brave in a way I couldn’t be, and who got torn down for it or spoken to in exactly the ways that I feared I would, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that after all the courage you probably had to muster up, anyone around you couldn’t manage to have just a fraction of the integrity and care and inner strength you do.

But know, too, there is someone sitting right here who believes that while you should not have ever had to take yet one more hit around this, I believe that in taking the risk you did, you’ve done something that not only will help make it less likely others have to, but you’ve humbled someone who sometimes arrogantly thought she was as brave around this as someone could be by raising the bar.

(P.S. I ask that you please tread gently in the comments on this, if you’re going to leave one, and in whatever you might say if you’re going to blog about my story at all. Like I said, this is something where I feel incredibly vulnerable. I think it’s safe to say it’s something where anyone would, so I’d hope anyone addressing any candid story from any survivor would be sensitive, cautious and thoughtful. I hate to even have to ask something like that at all, because, you know, we shouldn’t have to. But like all too many survivors, especially those who tell their stories and speak up, and as someone who has been burned before when being visible and vocal about her rapes, I know that we do have to ask, and that even then, sometimes even just asking winds up resulting in harassment. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen this time around, but feel the need to make that ask. Thank you.)

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen Blog)

I moved to Seattle around four years ago from Minneapolis, where I lived for six years after leaving my hometown of Chicago. Growing up in Chicago, living in Minnesota and after an early childhood on the east coast, I was used to old things, to history, to a total lack of shiny-and-new. Growing up poor and in a number of far less-than-ideal living situations, my normal in how and where I lived was often pretty rough around the edges, and often involved a lot of effort from me, typically more than my fair share.

Seattle, however, is kind of the land of shiny-and-new. Almost every place I looked at when I was apartment-hunting felt sanitized and kind of like Barbie’s Dream House to me: without my kind of character and so already-finished that I didn’t see where there was room for my own stamp in them. The allure of the fixer-upper was nowhere to be found. I’ve always liked fixing places up that anyone else would see as hopeless: it’s a challenge, and a situation where I might have the ability to feel like I’m awesome because I took something shitty and made it fantastic. I’ve always felt more at home in places that were a bit of a disaster, probably because that’s just what I was used to, but whatever.

As it turns out, I found this house to rent that seemed amazing: it was over 100 years old, and in a neighborhood that at the time, had more old character and charm than new stuff. It had a ton of kooky little quirks I found really charming. It needed a bunch of work done to potentially make it nice, but it had the raw materials to be something awesome with work. I didn’t think twice about how quickly the landlord rented it out to me, because I wanted it, so that just seemed like serendipity. Like this was meant to be my house, to the point that I had this idea that had anyone else tried to rent it, it would not have been so easy for them.

I did do a lot of creative work with it, though not as much as I’d have liked to. I just didn’t have the time or the resources to do so much of it mostly on my own. As well, even from the start, I should have seen some red flags I just didn’t. For instance, while I was so into working on it, my housemate wasn’t as invested in that as I was. I should have recognized that when a landlord says you can just do whatever you want with a place with no limits, they’re either not being truthful or just don’t care much about the place. I also had to pay some of the costs of fixing it up, rather than the landlord paying me to do labor he should have done himself.

As the years went by, more things kept falling apart and breaking. I tried to keep up with them mostly on my own, especially since when I asked for help, what was given was either substandard or radio silence. Within a year, my lease also got shifted to a month-to-month lease, meaning that the landlord could ask me to go pretty much anytime with very little notice. Having survived that exact situation more than once in my life, and so barely, that felt horribly unstable, but I just accepted it instead of trying hard to assert my needs. Still, I felt more comfortable here than I thought I would have felt moving, both because moving or any kind of big start-over is so hard, and because this place felt so familiar, not just with its style and age, but with it’s whole vibe: I’ve lived almost all of my life in places that were falling apart or neglected. I was used to that, and however uncomfortable that as, something about that did feel like home.

Last year, it finally became clear that I could drive myself batty trying to keep this place liveable and it just wasn’t going to happen. I spent a winter without working heat in half the house, wrapped up in blankets all day working in front of a space heater.  The basic fixtures kept breaking. There were leaks, including one that nearly took down my kitchen ceiling, and a lack of insulation that cost me more money in bills than I have to spend. One day, I was so frustrated with two things that broke that I just gave up, went to get myself a glass for some wine, and when I opened the cabinet, the door fell off in my hand. On top of my house falling apart all around me, I didn’t even like the city it was in very much, and my neighborhood had also changed radically during the time I lived here in ways I did not like at all, and was not going to change back. I sank to the floor in a pile of tears, already upset due to building stress from managing work and some other huge changes in my life. It all felt so hopeless, and I so felt trapped in it, especially since at the time, moving wasn’t an option I felt I could handle financially or practically.

But why was I staying in a city I didn’t really like in the first place? Why was I staying in a house that was falling apart all around me more and more? Why did I keep trying to convince myself I could fix everything when I knew I couldn’t, or that my landlord would suddenly do all kinds of things he’d never done? Why did I keep focusing on the small things that I loved about the house when the big things were so awful? Why was I investing more and more money, effort and love into something where getting a real return on that investment was about as likely as a million dollars falling from the sky? Why was I staying so focused on what this house could be, rather than focusing on the way it actually was and was most likely to remain? Why was I accepting a total lack of help from the people who should be helping me with it while ignoring some potential help others could have given me to be somewhere better? I’m a smart person: why on earth was I being so stupid?

Ultimately, I think it came down to the fact that I was so bogged down and overspent with a lot of things in my life, including this damn house. On top of everything else I was dealing with, the idea of feeling displaced from any kind of home at all, even a poor one, just seemed like too much. I had taken part in digging myself in deeper and deeper into a pit: having to take responsibility for the place I was keeping myself in was harder than being unhappy, but being able to pin it entirely on what the house was doing, what my housemate and landlord were not doing. I had gotten attached and stayed so attached to the “what-ifs” and had invested so much time, money and heart into this place: I was having trouble accepting my hopes for it were simply never going to come to fruition because it seemed like such a waste. I had gotten scared of making a change, and had strangely managed to forget that I was capable of making it and had done so many times before in my life, even when it was harder than this was now. I had become comfortable in being uncomfortable.

In a few weeks, I’m moving out.

I’m leaving this house and this city for one of the beautiful small islands just outside of it. For many years no, I’ve talked about how I’ve spent almost all of my life in very urban areas, yet when I needed peace, it’s rural areas I’ve gone to to find it, and so I felt I might actually be a lot happier living rurally. The way my workday most often is, I can actually get away with only needing to go into the city a few times a month for work, so it is doable. Because it’s just a short ferry ride into the city, I can be rural here while also having easy access to the city. I found a place to move to with almost the exact same rent as I’m paying now, but where everything works and nothing is broken. Sure, it’s only 20 years old, so that feels and looks unfamiliar to me, but it’s beautiful inside and out. I will literally get to wake up every day and walk out into the forest, which is heaven on earth to me. As is often the case, if we can shake ourselves out of our miasma, we can usually identify not only ways to get out of it, but ways that getting out can be part of pursuing more of what we’ve wanted and had as goals all along.

Of course, this means my having to pack up everything and move again. It means money spent on moving and resettling, which is always a major strain. It means all the practical, tiresome crap you have to do to relocate. That means risking that a new place or space may or may not be better than the old one in some ways, even though it most certainly will be in other ways. That means having to deal with change, which even when it’s positive, is often uncomfortable and scary.

You may perhaps be wondering why I’m going on here at Scarleteen about my move. I’d be wondering, too.

I only just realized one of the big things that got me to these realizations about my house were conversations with some of you about your unhealthy, abusive or otherwise crummy relationships. So, I figured the least I owed you for that epiphany was the possibility of doing you the same turn, especially since your bad relationships have the capacity to screw you and your life up you a whole lot more than my bad house has the capacity to screw me and my life up.

We often have users come to Scarleteen who are in abusive, unhealthy, dysfunctional or craptastic relationships. Most of the time, you do know they’re bad before we talk with you about them. Sometimes, you don’t realize how bad until we talk, or have been trying to hold unto denials or the hopes that the relationship will just get better, either by some kind of magic, by someone who has never made any effort miraculously starting to, or by you, yourself, going nuts to try and make something bad into something good alone. Just like me, with this house.

I could stay here. My rent would keep going up and the house would keep costing me more and more while it all kept falling apart around me. I could put in continued effort while my landlord kept putting in less and less. I could freeze through another winter, trying to keep myself warm with the memory of the heat that used to work, the way the house probably was 50 years ago, the beautiful changes I made that could never quite get all finished but still might, and the hopes I had for this house, when it felt like nothing but lovely and positive possibility. I could stay here and risk the whole ceiling caving in on my head, which has become a real possibility.

You could stay where you’re at, too. You could stay and, at best, things would stay just as bad or as substandard as they are now or, more realistically, you could stay and they would keep getting worse. You could stay and keep investing more and more while getting less and less. You could freeze through another winter, trying to keep yourself warm with your hopes, those past feelings of possibility, and the time when things did seem okay, shutting out the reality which has made clear that those hopes will only ever be hopes. You could stay and risk someone abusive and unhealthy doing you the kind of harm that you can’t come back from, which is often a real possibility.

I could stay, and so could you. But I can also go. I can take the chance and the risk of something better, remember or learn what I’m really capable of. I can get the hell out of here and do the grieving I need to about what could have been, but wasn’t, and move forward, putting my time and effort and energy into something or somewhere much more likely to be worth that kind of investment. I can move into something that doesn’t need fixing now or right from the onset. I can step outside my comfort zone and likely wind up feeling more comfortable once the dust settles, rather than less. So can you.

I know that it’s hard as hell to leave a bad or abusive relationship, especially the longer you’ve been in it, the more hopes you tacked on to it, the more promises you believed, the more your whole life got sucked into it and tethered to it. It’s harder still if you have managed to convince yourself or allowed yourself to be convinced that any or all parts of the abuse are love or some kind of natural and unavoidable consequence of your existence.

I could tell myself that he floor that is wasting away in this house was once so, so beautiful, and old things just need my love to be better. I could convince myself that if I made more money, or chose to do something else with my life than I do, I’d not be in this house, I’d be able to have kept it running better, or able to have been more assertive with my landlord. I could figure that all of this would be something I could handle if I had done things differently and had more to fall back on. But I didn’t, so this is why this is happening, right?  This is what I am solely responsible for and stuck with, right?

Wrong. My house is falling apart because before I even got here people who were supposed to take care of it well didn’t. It’s falling apart because it needs a kind of help that my love or my residency can’t provide. For sure, I have some responsibility in what happened here: I could have moved out earlier if I’d have asked more people for help, if I’d taken some positive risks earlier — and maybe even put myself in a temporary space to be able to do that that wasn’t great, but helped me get closer to being able to make positive changes. All the same, while I’m responsible for not changing my circumstances when I could, what I’m not responsible for is for this house not housing me well, just like you’re not responsible for any way someone abused or mistreated you. You’re just responsible for doing all you can to get away from it to a place that’s safe, sound and where your love, effort and care will be returned in kind.

Am I going to miss things about this old house, this neighborhood, this city? Absolutely. There’s an old clawfoot bathtub here that is divine, even though the faucet never stops leaking. I made a great garden here and a meadow up front. I painted things here that are very creative and cool and have my unique stamp: I hate to leave them, they feel like part of me. I have routines here. I have a couple places I go here that I really like. I’ll be further away from a couple of friends. But I’ll deal: new places offer new things to value. When I’m honest with myself, it’s impossible to deny that what I’ll be missing the most was how things were when I first moved in, when the bloom wasn’t off the rose. When my feelings about everything were painted with the exceptional spackle that a sense of possibility is and the desire for something great can be. I had hopes for this house, but they didn’t come to fruition.  That sucks, but it also happens in life, and usually more than once. You accept it, your brush your knees off, and then you find new hopes, hopefully getting a little better each time at identifying where those hopes are more likely to become realities.  You also accept that we’ve got to take risks for the good stuff.

It may be that the change I’m about to make, the next place I’m going, turns out similarly. I’m pretty sure it won’t, because I’ve applied some lessons I learned from this. I’ve set it up, for instance, so that I have a long-term lease: I made clear from the start I refused to sign unto something month-to-month, because I know that doesn’t provide me the stability I need and know I deserve to have my needs met. I recognized that getting a better place, a more functional place, meant the screening process and the way in took more time and was not quite as easy as getting this place was, and I accepted that. I’ve made sure that nothing needs to be fixed by me: walking into this new place, everything already works and nothing is already broken. I’ve asked for help and support from the people around me in my transition, and they’re glad to provide it. I’m leaving things behind here that I just don’t need or that I know hinder me.

Sure, it’s more shiny-and-new than I’m used to, it’s somewhere I haven’t lived before, and I’m going to have to learn to do some things well I’m not yet good at. And maybe the forest that has always felt like a great refuge for me won’t feel the same when it’s where I live instead of where I visit.  It’s totally possible. If and when we do things differently, apply what we’ve learned and make choices based on goals we’ve had for ourselves… that’s when we tend to net different results, better results.

While my move comes with some question marks, continuing to stay here comes with few. The trouble is, the certainty in staying is all about being sure that, at best, things would stay exactly as crap as they are. What’s even more likely is that they’d get crappier. When we’re honest with ourselves, we all know something falling apart is going to stay falling apart once  we’ve done all we can to try and repair it with no results. I have to recognize that things would get worse if I stayed: more things would fall apart, and I’d get more and more hopeless and trapped, especially since the longer I stay, the tougher it is to go.

Am I scared? You bet. Big changes are scary, even when they’re potentially good ones. Even as someone who has taken many big risks in her life and gone through a lot of changes, big change never really stops being scary. I’m nervous and scared and I feel a bit unsteady on my feet, even though I’m moving toward something I have wanted and dreamed about, something that very clearly is far more likely to be positive and better.

So I keep reminding myself that this is living. Trying new things, taking risks that seem likely to be beneficial, stepping outside my comfort zone in pursuit of personal growth and positive change, is all of what being alive is all about. I shouldn’t feel stuck in the ground until I’m six feet under, after all. Staying stuck, sticking with anything that clearly isn’t working, avoiding what’s new and unknown is the antithesis of living: it’s refusing to be fully alive. That’s not who I am, and I’m sure it’s not who any of you are.

I know that my house isn’t exactly your relationship, particularly since, as an object, it doesn’t have the ability to have the kind of power over me another person could have, and I also couldn’t get as attached to it as I could to another person.  While the conditions of my house are awful, my house itself can’t manipulate me or try and control me. My house isn’t doing anything maliciously, nor does it know it’s treating me horribly and trying to rationalize it or someone make it’s actions seem like my fault. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to fix itself, unlike whoever you’re in a relationship with.

My house isn’t calling me names, isn’t telling me I’m stupid or a slut, isn’t accusing me of things I haven’t done or trying to control where I go or who I talk to. My house isn’t trying to keep me from my friends, family or other people who care about me and would make sure I’m always safe; my house isn’t trying to limit me in what I do in my life so that it can feel superior to me or make it tougher for me to go. My house isn’t destroying my cherished belongings on purpose. My house isn’t hitting or punching me, isn’t raping me or trying to coerce me into sex or pregnancies I don’t want. My house isn’t doing horrible things to me and telling me I asked for them. My house, itself, didn’t actually make me any promises it knew it couldn’t keep. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to choose what it does or doesn’t do, and isn’t actively choosing to treat me badly. It earnestly can’t help or change the state that it’s in, unlike the person who is failing or abusing you who has chosen not to work on themselves to get better and to stop hurting you, others and themselves. My house isn’t telling me that I couldn’t do better, that it’s as good as it gets. My house will let me leave a bad situation without trying to trick or force me into staying in something where I’m going to continue to be harmed.

My house isn’t your relationship or your partner. If any of those things are happening to you in your relationship, your house, as it were, is in a much worse state than mine is. Which begs the big question: why are you staying when I’m leaving?

Like I said, I know leaving a bad relationship is hard, and that leaving an abusive relationship is even harder. I’ve been in that spot (which is some of why I feel so bothered by how it took me so long to recognize the problems with this house), and have had friends there, too. If you need help in leaving, come and ask for it. You can ask me or one of the staff here and we’ll be happy to help you find local resources to help you out, you can call any number of hotlines, look up your local domestic violence/intimate partner violence shelter or support group or you can ask the people you know really love and care for you for help, being honest with them about what’s going on.

But if you don’t want to freeze through another winter, have the roof cave in on you or wind up more and more trapped in your interpersonal version of this sad, crumbling house, then you’ve got to take at least one step that’ll get you to the kind of space that will earnestly be a good home for your heart and your spirit, even if those first steps feel shaky or your knees knock when you take them. I deserve and am worthy of that. So are you.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I’m sorry to have kind of left the ball in the air when it comes to my health.  I’m not great about that, as a general rule.

Here’s the deal as of right now: what the physical therapists identified was a big, swollen mass of muscles around my c6 and c7 vertebrae.  They don’t know why yet this is — pinched nerves, who knows — or what is causing it and some other spots in my body, because until we get that mass down, it’s going to be tough to tell.

Doing some traction and some manipulation of that area with the physical medicine  team and some basic at-home stuff to get the swelling down has been helping.  While my index finger on my left hand is still numb, the numbness of the surrounding fingers is gone.

They’re still thinking they’d like to have either or both a spinal x-ray and/or an MRI done.  They don’t see any need for an immediate rush to this, and this team is a bit more understanding per my lack of health coverage than the last, so are suggesting the spinal X-ray first since it’s cheaper, and think that’d be the best place to start anyway.

I have to say, this earnestly is the worst city I have ever lived in when it comes to public health, and given public health in Chicago, that’s seriously saying something.  I’m tremendously lucky that Bastyr both accepts cash payments and offers a really generous discount (50% for my income bracket).  It’s not cheap, but I can manage it. Thankfully I have (over)worked enough in the last year, and often at decent pay, that this actually is one of the few times in my life where something like this hasn’t completely wiped me out.  I can remember so many other times when a health or some other crisis has literally felt like the end of the world, and I had to sit down and figure out which utility to let go, or how to cut a meal out of each day.  I’m so grateful that I’m not in a space like that right now, but having spent so much of my life like that, and at a time of economic decline, it’s just a bit bizarre.  I keep thinking surely there is some shoe about to drop I’m just not seeing but  — knock on wood — I don’t think that there is.

My Dad is really freaked about my not being well.  He’s in this headspace where he’s sure he will outlive everyone: he found out most of his old friends died when Googling the last time he was here, and it really did a number on him.  I’ve explained that no one has even suggested the vaguest idea that this is because of anything terminal: the worst possible diagnosis remains MS, which doesn’t have anything to do with death or dying.  My guess is besides the connection to the friends some of the freakout is about me sharing that I was scared, sharing that I was upset, sharing that I really, really didn’t feel well.

This would be, perhaps, some of what happens when you take up permanent residence with the people closest to you as Ms. Stiff Upper Lip too often, I think.  I really, really need to work on doing less of that, and also less of sharing something big, then taking several steps back or going quiet because I felt exposed in the sharing.  It’s no good for anybody, myself included.  I swear, there are areas in my life in which I feel so enlightened, but others where I feel like the the wild child of Avignon.

* * * * *

Blue is coming back this week, and will be here from Wednesday night through Sunday.  We’re going to be staying at my friend Pam’s in West Seattle, hanging with her a couple nights, then housesitting while she’s away for two more. On Friday, Blue, Mark and I are finally having a dinner that is long overdue: they still have not met due to distance and poor timing every time we try and get it together.  Mind, at this point, it’s not the same sort of dinner we’d have had six months ago, but it’s still important.

It’s a bit nervewracking.  I think we have some good ground rules set, and I’ve made sure there is time for Mark and I to take a walk alone afterwards so we can process anything we need to.

Our shift into a platonic relationship, as I’ve said, is still shifting and shifting, and not be cliche, but it’s complicated.  There are solid steps and missteps on both sides almost constantly.  I think we’re figuring it out, and are helped by what a gradual shift this has been in many ways.  But there’s always that thing when relationships really start to move to a different place:  you can feel out-of-sorts or out of step with the passage of time.  Now and then, you have to press pause and remind yourself of both where you are and where you’ve been, then get it all sorted into the place it is now.  It’s disorienting sometimes.

At other times things feel just right, more right than they have in a while.  Mark has learned not just to cook, but to love cooking while we’ve been together, and Heath and I got him a couple cooking classes for his birthday he’s really stoked about.  Listening to him be excited about that or some of the more relaxed gabbing we’ve had around a couple of the dates he’s been on: it all feels as if it’s where we all should be.  We both think that for right now, living in the same space is still okay.  We still feel like family.  My guess is that it’s going to get more awkward for Mark as time passes than it is for me, since I’m not back in the dating pool like he is, but we can see how it all goes as it goes.

He talked to his family about our relationship changing a week or so ago (we’d decided that while his father was in a health crisis, it was best we not put any undue burdens on them), and they were really lovely about it, making clear that I’m still a member of their family no matter what.  Such fantastic, loving people: I love them dearly, so I was worried about that.

I really hope the dinner on Friday goes well and that everyone feels good about it.  I hate the notion of anyone walking out of it not feeling loved and fully loved, and that’s my biggest fear.  Ideally, of course, I’d like everyone to love each other, that’s always my ideal in everything, but even with the change in our relationship here, I think that’s asking a bit much of a first meeting.

* * * * *

Circling back round to what I was saying about closeness and some of my barriers to getting close,  there are some facets of getting very close again to one of the people I have been closest to in my life, ever, especially someone who was present for one of the most heavy and confusing times of my life, and who I probably did more stumbling with, made more mistakes with, than anyone.

I am reminded, with various things, that I have had a lot of forward movement in a whole lot of areas.  Sometimes, I almost forget what a wreck I was in so many ways back then, especially when the shit really hit the fan.  It’s really weird, and also pretty weird to kind of have this person who holds some memories for me that I don’t have myself, or which are really fuzzy.  One unfortunate result of having a lot of trauma in your history, especially in early life, is the lapsing memory tends to do around times of trauma.  There are some moments in my life I honestly barely remember now, and having someone else to reference them and remind me about what they really were like is a gift.  Too, I sometimes forget — not from trauma, just from absentmindedness, age or giving myself less credit than is due me — what the lead-up was like in terms of what I have done with my life to date: I forget how much foundational stuff I was building back then for what I do and who I am now.

I think that in the last year and some since we’ve been talking again, some of that reminding has shown up in the work I’ve been doing with the teens and young adults: there’s something you take from someone who knew you so well in (in my case, some of) those years, who keeps the you-of-yore from then real, not idealized.  In my teens I was holding and hiding so damn much, withholding a lot of stuff from so many (and myself) that would burst the dam, and Blue was there for much of that bursting.  It’s a whole lot of why we burst, both of our personal cloudbusting happening in a whoosh all at once.  It’s kind of fascinating to see the things we each worked out separately, grew through or past, as well as the things we’re both still working on.  It’s also really amazing to see how much we really moved for each other back then, how we still do that now, and what that experience is like with more awareness, maturity and sensitivity around it.

I also have a visit from Mya coming up the night Blue goes home.  What I’m hoping, what I need, is that save Thursday’s clinic, then my outreach morning at the shelter next Monday, I can just go ahead and take much of the next week off.  So many things have been happening all at once, and Dr. Tiller’s assassination and the flavor of the world in its wake have just left me toasted.  I feel much less sharp, a little numbed out, delicate and certainly worn down. I wasn’t able to get out and ride for a few months due to my dead bike: having a new one and being able to go ride in the early mornings and do my morning sit on the dunes or at Gasworks Park has brought me to feeling where I’m at right now more acutely.   Without a lot of movement and being outside, my meditation is never as good.

I think I need to do that thing I know I am allowed to do but never quite feel justified in doing: I can take time off.  It’s ridiculous that I can’t figure out that when you go weeks working seven days a week, that means that now and then you do get to make up for that by taking more than one or two freaking down days.  There are really only 10-15 hours of work in the next week I absolutely have to do, so it’s actually a good time to take some downtime.   I’m hoping for a nice day to take Mya kayaking when she’s here, get a Discovery Park hike in, a few other things I think she’d enjoy.   And for the love of Jaysis, being able to just mellow out with Blue this weekend would be great. For real mellow out: seeing one another in person often requires a good deal of time spent sorting out a bunch of heavy stuff, especially because his transitions are bigger, more complex  and have had less room made for them in his life than mine have in many ways.

I’m babbling, I know.  See?  Told you I needed some downtime.  I’m off to physical therapy, and then a full at-home workday.  Tonight and Wednesday I can get a pile of things done, and then Wednesday night I can pretty much bugger off for a week besides the few things I am scheduled to do.  If you see me working, snap my fingers in the laptop, will you?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

(Heads-up: parts of this post are fairly explicit when it comes to detailing rape and abuse.)

One of the more interesting (and by interesting, I mean ridiculously ignorant) responses I have seen in a few places discussing the I Was Raped project and my input was my statement on the news that the first time I was assaulted — at the age of 11 — I did not know what had happened to me and was without any language to even express it.

This is being met with some measure of disbelief by a few folks, or the assumption I was on drugs or had been drugged or that I was simply stupid. My personal favorite was that I’m a young girl who only called my rapes rape after being brainwashed by Jennifer and feminism, a newfangled notion she apparently just clued me into. Who knew I was such a late bloomer, and that I was somehow able to grow up in the 70’s in a progressive Chicago neighborhood with a single mother, an activist father, and managed to never hear about feminism? Wowza.

I think people forget that in the early 80’s and before, we were without SO much awareness about rape and all other kinds of abuse. (And other things: I also had attraction to women before then, and a girlfriend before I knew bisexuality was a term for what I was. I was actively dating both men and women for a few years before, as detailed in one of my teenage journals, there was an entry that simply says, “Huh. It seems that I’m bisexual.”) That’s hardly to say we’re living in an acutely aware world now, but that things really have changed pretty substantially in a relatively short period of time. I was an exceptionally intelligent child, in many ways precocious, and also being a compulsive reader, I knew a whole lot about a whole lot, including having some knowledge and understanding about sex.

However, even for plenty of people who know something about sex, who are smart and relatively informed, figuring out what sex is and what rape is aren’t so easy, particularly when you’re raised female. Even if we look at classical literature - much of Greek mythology, all sorts of folktales, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Bronte Sisters, you name it, and this was the kind of reading I did as a kid — it doesn’t take a genius to notice that usually, when rape happens, it’s often presented as sex or, at best, “sex by force.” It’s rarely, if ever, called rape. In that literature, in religion, in common parlance, in romance novels, in films, in family gossip young women have for eons been taught, more than not, that we are passive sexually, that sex for us is something a person “takes” or we “give” (rather than as something shared), and that often enough our sexual awakening is supposed to be about men deciding to indoctrinate us. Many of us were, have been and still are taught, overtly or covertly, that rape is only rape — and even then may not be — if we’re screaming no at the top of our lungs, if there is a knife at our throat, a scary-looking stranger who is scowling (not getting off and smiling or laughing), a dirty alleyway. Even then, we hear about what women in that situation did to deserve it, ask for it, incite it. As I’ve said before, with my rape that came closest to that, at the age of 12, I heard that kind of backlash from the mouths of the police.

My first assault happened with a man I trusted — my family trusted — the man who cut our hair for years. When he asked me to go back into that shampoo room with him, I earnestly thought nothing of it. When he told me how pretty I was getting, I was marginally uncomfortable, but then I always had been with compliments. When he started getting closer and closer to me as he said this, then started talking about my breasts and my legs as he backed me up against the wall, I became very quickly and acutely uncomfortable, but I was taught by one of my parents and all of her family that you trust adults, and that’s just that: that when you feel uncomfortable around them, you don’t yell out or tell them to get out of your face, or tell them how much their breath in your face makes you want to throw up. I was taught that it was more likely I would misunderstand the well-meaning actions of adults than be correct in knowing when they were doing something wrong. When his hands went everywhere he could possibly put them, I was in such a state of shock that this was happening to me. Part of that was that while I had developed a bit early, for the most part, I did still feel pretty childlike, and what was going on very much did not feel like what happened between an adult and a child. Another part of that was that from everything I knew, this was not unlike how, when sex happened, it was described. I didn’t want it, I didn’t feel aroused — I felt incredibly repulsed and before I walked home, wound up throwing up in the alley several times — and yet, it’s not like anyone had ever talked to me about how sex was supposed to feel, emotionally, or like I hadn’t seen enough representations of sex where it clearly was not about the woman’s wants, initiation or boundaries. What I was looking for, later that day and for years afterwards, was a rationale of why that happened to me, how, somehow, something I said, did or wore would have given the impression I wanted that or was available for that. For a couple years, I blamed my developing body: pulled hair out of it that had grown in, tried to make it go back to my childhood body, cut it up with a razor.

I did not tell a soul what had happened to me then. I was cut off from my dad at the time, and I was living in a household with a stepparent who was verbally and emotionally abusive, and who, since I had started puberty, had used that to humiliate and torment me. One of his favorite taunts during those years was to tell me, in lurid detail, how he might cut my breasts off. I think it’s also entirely possible — remember, these are memories which are now 27 years old and which are also made murky by a lot of trauma in a short time - I was worried that having my stepparent know this man had done this to me would give him or any other man the feeling they could do the same. Telling my mother would have meant he was told — my privacy was never respected in that home (the only place I could assure that was a closet I rigged to lock from the inside, where I spent a whole lot of time for a few years), and I was often treated as the interloper to what would have been, apparently, an otherwise idyllic existence. I had no idea what telling anyone else would mean, but I didn’t think it would be helpful. I was already a bit of a misfit at school and we had just moved, so all my friends were very new friends — and didn’t want to say anything which would cement my status as a freak further.

Again, there wasn’t any precedent for this back then, when it comes to telling. There were no talk-TV shows, no magazines, no books, not hotlines, no PSAs telling you to tell, or letting you know that telling could be a big help. There were only an onslaught of messages telling you to shut your trap and pretend nothing happened. My clear assumption at the time was that I must have done something to deserve this or make this man think I wanted this: I was often blamed for so much I did not do in my childhood that I had no reason to think otherwise. I was used to being found at fault. I wasn’t about to tel anyone about this thing which felt so wrong and get sorely punished for whatever I did.

There’s something else people seem to forget. I was more educated in many ways than a lot of girls my age, but I work in sex education right now, not in 1981. And every single day we get questions from people of a wide range of ages, from a wide range of nations, who very clearly would not — or do not - know, either. We hear from people who do not know the names of their own body parts, or do not know what the most “basic” forms of sex are. We hear from people all over the globe in their teens and twenties who do not know the basics of reproduction, or when sex has even happened. We work with a population who is frequently told that ANY sex is wrong for them, and so they tend to expect sex — wanted sex, sex of any kind — to feel wrong. We hear from people all the time who have been forced into sex or other kinds of abuse and do not know what happened to them; know that it was rape or abuse and it was not something they asked for or are responsible for. In other words, things have improved, but we still have a loooong way to go, and there are lots of things which inhibit people from knowing they have been abused which have little or nothing to do with rape at all.

Back when I was running my alternative pre-kindergarten and teaching in other classrooms, the few times I had a student I discovered was being abused in some way, figuring it all out was very tough, because children normalize whatever their normal is, and they are also very easily manipulated by abusive adults into believing that when they say a given thing is okay, that it is okay, even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t feel right, even if every part of them initially — in time that intuition is often worn down to nothing — knows it isn’t okay. I had a student once with a babysitter who, as it turned out, had a husband who punished the children they cared for by burning their mouths with a lighter (you can guess, sadly, when this all played out, how little happened to this man — as I understand it, the only consequence of all of this was that the woman doing home daycare got a limit placed on how many kinds she could have, and stupid DCFS told them who made the report, so the child and his mother were harassed by phone at their home for weeks by these people). I only found this out after my young student had told me all day his mouth and throat were sore. I had given him water and juice, and finally took him in the bathroom to look back in his throat… and saw that the roof of his mouth was literally charred black. I knew well enough by then that you have to be careful how you talk to kids about this stuff — again, it’s very easy to lead or influence them — so it took everything I had to try and ask questions cool as a cucumber when I was mortified and heartbroken, knowing something awful had happened to this child. In asking where he’d been lately, what he’d done over the last few days, he finally volunteered, with a shrug, that “Maybe that happened when Mike put his lighter in my mouth. He does that sometimes.” He said it as if he were saying, “Maybe I’ll have eggs for breakfast this morning.” Mike put a lighter in his mouth, sure, and it later came out that Mike liked to physically “discipline” him in other ways, but Mike also played ball with him, told jokes, was his friend. These kinds of situations are confusing for children, confusing for teens, confusing for adults.

See, sometimes we don’t know we’ve been abused because the person who raped (or otherwise abused) us isn’t supposed to be someone who can harm you: a boyfriend, a teacher, a parent, a clergyperson, a friend. If people who are supposed to care about you, who say they care about you, who others you trust invest trust in assaults you it surely must have been something else, because people you love aren’t supposed to do you harm. Sometimes we don’t know because the person who is assaulting us tells us, quite plainly, while they are doing so that we like what they are doing, that everything feels so good, that we are so special, that they are our friend and would never hurt us. They’re smiling, the way we see them smile all the time, not looking scary or yelling or calling us bitches or sluts. Sometimes we don’t know because what we are told or shown in sex and what we are told or shown is rape so closely resemble each other: my personal feeling over the years is that one thing that makes healing so hard for a lot of survivors is that so much of the consensual sex they are having is still pretty rape-y in a lot of ways. Sometimes we don’t know rape was rape because we have heard so much more about how women are temptresses (or, for male survivors, how men and boys always want any kind of sex from anyone) who lead men into the things they do to us, who cause men to lose self-control — this kind of talk loomed large among my mother’s Irish Catholic parents, for instance — or we hear about how dirty and filthy and bad we are from birth, no mater what we do or don’t do, no matter what is or is not done to us by others.

Let’s also not forget that often, our psyches do us a profound favor with traumatic events where they can kind of turn off and tune out our minds so that our memories of a traumatic event are murky and even nonexistent. This is not some kooky idea people came up with in order to prove imaginary traumas, it’s something very well documented, and one very typical aspect of PTSD. In my case, while I remember much of my first assault very clearly, my second is one where a whole chunk starting where I was forcibly grabbed and pulled into the van and ending where I somehow had gotten myself back into the bathroom of the ice rink where I started, shivering and shaking and bruised, is just missing. I’m very well versed in this point of therapies for missing memories, things like RMT, and of the big flaws in them. Before I even knew how flawed approaches like that could be, I had no interest in trying them (and the one therapist I had who I stuck with in my teens was very down-to-earth and never suggested them): I never wanted those acute memories, nor did I, personally, need them to know what happened to me and to work through it. All the same, when you have memory loss with trauma, it can make figuring out what happened right at or around the time it did a challenge, especially when you factor in the very typical desire for denial of trauma.

One of the biggest bummers of the last couple of weeks is that I wish so many of these conversations could have been had only with rape survivors, in spaces that felt safe, where survivors could really talk and where those who were not could just freaking listen. Every time I read one of these bouts of en masse ignorance, it was usually dovetailed by comments about how we don’t need rape awareness, how everyone knows all they need to know, and how anyone who wants to talk about their rape can with no problems and full support, which is an obvious and sad irony. If we didn’t need that awareness, survivors would feel and earnestly be safe to share their stories and all the prototypical myths — like the idea that everyone knows when they have been raped and knows that’s what to call it — wouldn’t be anything we still had to counter. If people could just listen to survivors — and put aside that sometimes, what we have to say is going to make people feel uncomfortable and is going to challenge certain worldviews profoundly — we’d have come a lot farther by now both in reducing rape and in having a better environment for survivors to heal in. It’s really tough sometimes to even figure out which is more traumatic: a rape itself, or the aftermath of rape, living with rape, trying to work through it all in a culture which is so hell-bent on enabling rape and blaming or silencing survivors.

So, no: I didn’t know that two of my rapes were rapes for the first few years after them, or even when they happened. I wasn’t drugged for any of my assaults, nor was I on drugs or any other substance. I have never been stupid a day in my life. They were not wanted, consensual sex which I only decided to call rape when a bunch of feminist women brainwashed me. I was not atypical in this respect, even though my not-knowing isn’t universal, either. The biggest reason I didn’t know is that, like many, many people then and many now — including some getting the message loud and clear from some of the discussions which have happened over the last couple of weeks — I was taught in a million different ways not to know.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

My plans for last weekend were pretty mellow: I was going to work on my taxes, do a little housecleaning, maybe get started on my garden now that the sun is back out, hang out with my sweetheart, finish some writing, practice piano and play some Scrabble. I was going to tend to myself, for the most part.

The weekend I would up having was quite a bit different.

Last Wednesday, I raced against the clock — I had to go work at the clinic the next day — to get everything up for our focus this month on sexual assault and abuse as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That included getting together a page and other materials for the “I Was Raped” shirts which months back, I’d agreed to help Jennifer Baumgardner distribute as part of a project to increase rape awareness, both through these t-shirts and the conversation we’d hoped they’d start, as well as through her developing film of the same name, which will focus on first-person stories from survivors.

The New York Times first covered the project, using a photo of Jennifer — which was appropriate, since this is her project. Then Gawker and Jezebel hit on it, using a photo of me in the shirt without my permission or even a request for it (and still have yet to respond to my requests to remove a copyrighted image they have no permission to use). A few more sites followed suit. Later on Friday, KOMO-4 news contacted me, telling me they were doing a story on it that night and asking for my participation. As is my general practice with television, I declined to be filmed, but did finally agree to have a phone interview.

Before that interview, the reporter and I had a discussion about using my image where I explained why I was not comfortable with my face being put on the television as a survivor. I explained that when I went to get coffee this weekend, I needed it to be up to me if I was “that woman who is dairy allergic, so don’t forget, soy only,” or “that woman who was raped.” I explained that as a counselor for an abortion clinic half the week, I didn’t want to make anything of my personal life so broadly visible that any of my clients might recognize me and doubt that it was their issues which were of the utmost importance in my office. I explained that choosing to show my face with this in one context is not permission for anyone to make that choice for me in others, and that I’m the expert on how much exposure I can handle and want. I was told they don’t show rape “victims” faces on television, anyway (and then wondered, if that was so, why we were even having that conversation in the first place).

Apparently, they do, because my face was indeed shown on the news, coupled with the reporter saying I’d requested they did not show it. My words were edited massively — as is to be expected — and no information on the project was even given. The “I Was Raped” t-shirt was compared to t-shirts reading “Yankees Suck,” and “Boys are stupid — throw rocks at them.” The story spread — the tone of it intact — and the video made its way to other stations, and eventually to CNN (which I only found out about after the fact: CNN never contacted me). The story has spread very largely through the blogosphere, and with some notable exceptions, an awful lot of what’s out there is full of a lot of misinformation about me and the project, and in some cases, some really inflammatory accusations. As of today, I’m about one for one between positive emails and negative ones, and while the positives are very positive, the negatives are really negative and many have been incredibly threatening and disturbing.

I’ve been accused of exploiting myself and other assault survivors just to make money, which would almost be comical if it weren’t so vile. Scarleteen gets five dollars from any shirt sold. Five dollars, which to make, means not only my processing the order, packing it to ship, walking to ship them as well as doing all I’ve done to set things up to sell them, the crazy amount of extra bandwidth all the press has brought on (none of which I courted or chose), and all of this causing technical problems with the site, but also includes putting up with all of the crap which I have over the last handful of days. You’d think it’d be pretty easy for a person of any intelligence to realize that if it was about the money, I could do better by setting up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk, make the same dough, and do so without any sort of emotional stress or difficulty. And flatly, if someone doesn’t want $5 to go to Scarleteen, I have no trouble sending it to a different organization which helps with rape prevention, awareness and healing. But since I’m also the one paying the bandwidth bills for all of this, doing a lot of the work, taking care of all the orders and shipping AND being the whipping boy of choice AND since Scarleteen does advocacy work in this area, I’m not sure what the big problem is.

I’ve gotten letters in my email box from those who came to Scarleteen and read some of our rape content, and felt the need to write me and explain to me all of the ways in which any given kind of sexual abuse was not actually sexual abuse at all, be it because the victim asked for it, because the victim apparently really wanted it but was just ashamed of their own desires, because when the victim is male they always really want it; how for “horny” teenage boys, raping is just something they do naturally, how all survivors need to do is find out what we did to get raped, make sure we don’t do that thing again and move on, how in doing what we do at Scarleteen in the first place, we’re setting girls up to be raped by encouraging them to be promiscuous sluts, or enabling rape somehow by educating youth on homosexuality.

I’ve had the great privilege of being patronized, with other victims, by non-survivors, “experts” on rape, or even other survivors letting us know what they think we need to be doing “for our own good,” how they think we don’t know how to protect ourselves, physically or emotionally, how much more it would scar us to take something “private” and make it in any way public…and how all of these concerns are OF COURSE about us, not about them. I have been told what my personal problems are, by people who know nothing about me, and about how I could do a lot more good if I did more meaningful things with my life than I do, or how, if I stopped doing the work I do now, went and took a corporate job, was able to buy a house and car, and then give money to an organization like…oh, the one I run, I could do more for other “victims.” I have been told outright that while a given letter-writer cares for all other rape survivors, they do not care for survivors like me, and feel that it is perfectly appropriate — nay, quite called for — to shower me with abusive invective.

(Might there be some truth in some of them saying this could be traumatic for survivors because of what I’m dealing with myself and how I’m feeling right now? Maybe, save when you realize that most of this is coming from my being shown wearing the shirt in places that were not of my choosing, and where, following the choice they made for me, I have asked not to be shown. In fact, I think how I’m feeling says a whole lot more about how rape survivors are often seen as everyone’s property — since we’ve already been spoiled, see, already ruined — than it does about how my choices to be public have resulted in my getting upset.)

I’ve read about how any survivor who wears this is being a terrible person to other abuse or rape survivors who might be triggered by it. However, I never see the same concerns voiced about, oh, many media representations of sex or romance, people verbally abusing their children in grocery stores, people who enforce ideas that sex is a duty people owe one another in certain social contexts, people using the word “rape” applied in scenarios like “The IRS just raped me,” or… hey, wait! People deciding to verbally abuse a survivor because she breaks silence in a way they don’t like or wouldn’t choose for themselves. Just a word on that? I feel pretty confident saying that many of us who are survivors will not be triggered by another survivor saying he or she was raped, or having that voiced in a pretty sensitive way on a piece of clothing. More to the point, if you think this is the only way in any given day we might be reminded of our rapes, you’ve got to be kidding. The most benign aspects of daily life are often triggers: groups of men crowding close to us in a bus, the street we have to walk down to get home which was the one we were raped on, being quickly grabbed by the shoulder from someone who had no idea that was a trigger, a chair, a doorknob, a broom handle, someone’s hand, a belt, a given way the light looks at a certain time of day, the smell of a cologne, the very skin we inhabit, or someone, perchance, saying something about rape to us like “Don’t tell a soul.”

I have, of course, had to deal with the nasty kinds of feedback we always get any time we talk about rape. I have gotten email which informs me that women are property and that women are raped because men are superior. I have gotten email that told me I am sexist because we largely address rape at the site of men and women which is perpetrated by men, not which is perpetrated by women (which is only because it is perpetrated by women so infrequently, and because we can only respond, in advice queries, to the questions which are asked: I assure you, I have not deleted or purposefully not published any questions about a person surviving a rape by a woman — I simply have not yet gotten any such questions). I have gotten email informing me that I am making a “disgusting display” to get attention and pity for myself — and to help young women, I am told, make false rape accusations — by choosing to put my face all over the news (which again, was very much not my choice, but one made for me against my express wishes). I have gotten email which informs me that if I was raped, I clearly deserved it for being the terrible, horrible waste of breathable air which I am. Of course, I also got letters from people said they would have supported the work that I do and this project until they found out that not only was I, and the site pro-choice, but that I also am a baby killer who works at an abortion clinic (one such letter also informed me that having an abortion would only add to the trauma of a rape survivor, but going through pregnancy or becoming a parent before a person was ready would somehow be in no way difficult or traumatic). I read a thread discussing if I was “hot, for a rape survivor” or not.

For the record, the gender of those with those responses is mixed. These kinds of sentiments by no means only come from men (and when it comes to supportive responses, we’ve had just as many from men as from women). They come from every kind of person you could possibly imagine. This is one of the many reasons why those who have been raped often stay silent: we never know who is going to react to our rapes like this, and are well aware that it’s possible the people we expect it from least may be the ones who react just like this. I can assure you, for the record, that of the people who have sent me the worst of this vitriol, around one of every two is someone who those who know them wouldn’t even suspect the malice they usually keep hidden, save for people like me.

We’ve had server troubles all day which I’ve had to stay on top of when I still have things I need to do which I had planned to do this weekend, but could not do because I have had to spend most of it on damage control, sending requests to people to please stop stealing my face without asking me, correcting tons of misinformation about all of this flooding my mailbox, having to read through piles of hate to find emails from Scarleteen users we need to tend to, and having to try all I can not to have all of this wear on my relationships with people glad to support me, but who also have needs of their own, and things they need from me. Suffice it to say, since we have had many positive responses, many people want the short, and I wasn’t prepared to have to be processing orders all weekend. I have also been reading the positive mails, which are great, but many of them also contain the writer’s personal rape experience. That’s not to say I am not open to being the person someone chooses to share with, and that I am not very glad if I can provide a way for someone to disclose, but obviously, reading those letters is not pleasant or cheerful.

Obviously, this wasn’t my best weekend ever. Many of these responses and results obviously disappoint and distress me.

But what they don’t do is surprise me. I’ve lived as a survivor for almost 27 years now, and I’ve worked in sex education, including in advocacy for survivors and efforts for prevention, for a decade. When I was a teacher, more than once I had to deal with the travesty that was the justice system for a student of mine who was being abused. I am used to people excusing away all manner of abuses, resenting the hell out of those of us who do our damndest to protest that, and am well aware that denial of abuse, and the amount of abuse which exists in the world, is alive and well and living…well, everywhere.

I am used to statements which start with, “If I was a woman and had been raped…” (as if men never get raped: but really, statements like this start that way because they’re about how women should behave, period), or “If I was a rape victim….” or “If I had been raped…” and with the uselessness that follows all of them. Maybe it’s time for me to start talking about how I might feel and behave were I a woman of color, were I a heterosexual person, were I a person of means, had I survived the Holocaust. Because, obviously, my ideas on how I might feel and behave in those situations would be so very useful, especially to those people who actually are members of those groups.

I am used to hearing that if I want to talk about my rape, if I make it important in any way, even for a limited time, that I haven’t “moved on.” I am used to hearing about how I deserved it, asked for it; I heard it from one of my rapists (and had I been fully conscious for one of my rapes, I am sure I would have heard it from more), I heard it from friends and family, I’ve heard it from others who are oh-so-certain they and my rapists have nothing in common. I am used to hearing that the difference between strong survivors and perpetual victims is this: if you never say a word about it, if no one around you even has to know you were raped, you’re a strong survivor. But if you’re upset, if you want to talk about rape or your rape, if anyone around you has to know what happened, then you’re looking to stay a perpetual victim so that you can live a sweet life where everyone feels sorry for you. I am used to hearing that if I want to speak out about my rape, publicly or privately, that anyone who hears me is entitled to react however they would like, even if that means speaking to me in a way which is abusive, threatening, callous or cruel.

I am used to hearing about how any given thing about me is so awful or distasteful that nothing about me or what I do deserves any sympathy or, — and more important to me, since I don’t really need sympathy — any kind of basic common courtesy or respect. Sometimes that’s been because I’m queer, other times because I do sex ed, other times because I’ve had an abortion (and now, because I also work where they are provided), because I’m Buddhist, because I’m this age or that one, this gender or that, because I look this way or I don’t look that way, because I don’t have issues with nudity, because I’m sympathetic to a given group of people, because I’m loud, because I’m independent, because I have sex I enjoy, because I’m still alive. I am used to every kind of excuse imaginable at this point for why I don’t deserve the same courtesies I have always extended to others.

None of these things are new to me, nor are they much different from what I have dealt with simply in my personal life when it comes to my rapes.

And I am used to hearing all of this so much, that while it never stops being hurtful, what it has long since stopped being for me is particularly powerful. Don’t get me wrong: I have spent a lot of the past few days somewhat shellshocked, but that has more to do with the en masse onslaught and a lack of sleep than it does with any particular thing anyone has said or done. I know the place the craptastic stuff comes from, and I know that that place is one of fear, resentment, guilt, ignorance, violence or self-loathing. As much as I revile those things, as much as I want them gone, and as bad as they make me feel, I can at least identify them, and I know very acutely where my own bad feelings come from and, for the most part, how to deal with them. I can even look them dead in the eye: again, that’s a survivor skill, too — to survive, we all have to learn to do that expertly.

I’m also used to the fact that all rape survivors are different. We are not all the same, our rapes were not all the same, how we’ve processed them or reacted to them has not all been the same. I have had plenty of thanks for other survivors in my email box over the weekend, but I have also gotten emails like this:

“You are a sick fuck… and if in fact you were truely raped you would not be so fucking stupid to even want to do something so damn outrageous on wearing a shirt. And I wonder why you dont want to show your face. You are a sick individual and I am a rape victim and now a survivor but you appaul me on such a horrible suggestion on someone wanting to wear such a dumb remark shirt. If in fact you were raped, you are as sick as i could ever imagine. Of how you want to make money on it… this is not fame this is a sick person like you it saddness me to think there are people in this world like you . Playing on what horrific act of rape , how it kills a person day in and day out. We have to live with that horrible thought of it happening to us. And then we have people like you… SICK.. how do you get up and look in the mirror? May god bless your sick soul.”

By all means, I feel the way that person chose to spoke to me was insensitive and cruel. However, I think that it’s really important to remember that none of us lives in a culture conducive to healing, or in a culture which makes it comfortable to live as a survivor. We can’t even trust each other, as fellow survivors (and when we’re addressing a survivor who is same-gender, be we male or female, an awful lot of same-gender learned distrust is tossed in the mix, something often even more difficult for male survivors since their rapists were usually male as well), in our motives, in how our healing differs, in the different places we’re at in it. Survivors are, justifiably, angry — and also all sorts of people — and can often enough direct that anger just about anywhere: that’s how it is when you’re so angry and so hurt and given so little support. I directed mine inward after I was assaulted, and doing that, on top of having my rape be a thread that wound through other trauma I was living with and trying to survive, nearly killed me and also set me up for challenges in my life — as well as more risks of danger — all of which could have been, if not avoided, strongly mitigated by being able to talk about my abuses, at all, and finding some kind of support. I don’t like getting emails like that, to say the least, but at the same time, I have to take a breath, stop, and recognize that at the very least, someone just got some release of all of that anger, and while I don’t think I’m the right person to direct it to, that that person was able to direct it anywhere — to open up that pressure valve — is a likely positive for that person.

It may well also be — and pardon any pop psychology on my part — that as much as I don’t want this kind of visibility, that survivor does, and resents me for having what she wants. That’s also valid, since we are made intensely invisible as a group of people, particularly if we become survivors, rather than remain victims. While if our rapes were in some way found horrific, we might get some media-based ambulance-chasing, once they’re over, we’re non-issues, and if there is nothing particularly noteworthy about our rapes (and for most of them, the general population will find nothing noteworthy about them), we’ll rarely see address at all. In any case, victims trump survivors, and victims who arouse a pithy kind of pity trump all.

Or, this one: “No body in there right mind would believe that you’re truly doing this to help other people. I’m a real survivor because I’d never broadcast or announce the horrible things that have happened to me. the only people who would wear that shirt are full of shit. NO BODY would wear that who’s really been raped. But I’m sure a bunch of girls will buy it who want attention and want people to feel sorry for them. I do think this should be taken away from you and all the bullshitting bitches who pretend this has happened to them. Millions of women have suffered and worked very hard to over come what you are now trying to profit from. You should NOT be allowed to capitalize on other people’s pain. And even if you were raped that shouldn’t give you the right to profit from it. Did you know when you were raped that you were going to get paid for it? Or did that idea come later?”

What I hear in this — once more, forgive me for being armchair — is that this person needs to be validated in surviving, and needs to have someone let her know that however she speaks out of silence is okay, is brave, is laudable, even if it doesn’t look like someone else’s way. My impression is that she needs for her rape to be made important, because if it already really felt that way, I’m not sure why she’d put so much energy (I got three different emails from this woman before I blocked her address) into telling me how no one’s story is true but her own or those which resemble hers. I hear that she is suffering, and I hear that she is tremendously, and probably righteously, angry. That doesn’t mean I’m going to say she’s not responsible for misdirecting her anger at me, because she is, and I’ve directed no such things at her or anyone else, but it is to say that I can only get so angry back at someone in this space. I know that space: been there, done that, and — literally — have the t-shirt.

Here’s what we don’t often see and hear in the various peanut galleries of the Internet: we don’t see many survivors sharing the stories they have also shared with me both in my email box over the weekend and in other avenues I’ve had them shared with me in my life, both with work, and with the people who have personally disclosed to me over the years. I even got stories in my email box from survivors who were at sites talking about this, where so many people incessantly talked about how they were not silencing anyone, and yet, these people didn’t feel able to tell their stories, or perhaps even share the mere fact of being survivors. people who send me email like the above aren’t posting it in the forums or on the blogs: through the resentment, they also know I’m safe, or else I’d not be hearing this. Everyone else would.

Some survivors do want something like this. It’s okay to want it, and it’s okay not to, and wanting it or not doesn’t determine who was and who was not raped. It’s having been raped, only, which determines that. The two women above were raped. The man who wanted one of these and told me it was because of being brutally raped during time he spent in jail over a misdemeanor was raped. The woman who bought one because she was molested as a child was raped. The person who bought it for their partner who is working on acceptance of their rape was raped.

Saturday morning, I literally overheard my neighbors talking about the news story on the porch (and clearly not knowing it was their neighbor, who could hear them, they were talking about: Seattleites don’t tend to be very familiar neighbors)

So, why would a survivor wear something like this? Obviously, I can’t speak for anyone other than myself and for those who have talked about why they would. I’ve also already said a little bit about why I would here. One of the emails above asks how I look at myself in the mirror.

When the t-shirts got here, and I put one on to take a quick photo, checking in the mirror to make sure that despite the fact that I was two days late on washing my hair, I wasn’t too disheveled, it was an interesting experience. It was like myself was telling myself a hard truth directly, but gently. With a quiet, but clear, understanding. Rape is something that those of us who are raped are told at every turn to doubt happened to us, to explain away with a rapist’s “misinterpretation” of our nonconsent, to do our best to rid our memories of the experience, to the point that even someone like me, who also works with other survivors, who has done an epic amount of personal processing for over a very long period of time can have days and times where I, too, wonder if somehow, in some way, I managed to imagine what happened to me. Maybe that blood was from something else: maybe I just had hemmorhoids I didn’t know about. Maybe that soreness is from falling off my bike and I just don’t remember when. Maybe the reason I don’t remember all of that assault isn’t because I got knocked on the head, but because nothing actually happened. Maybe no one wants to believe me because I’m crazy, and this is all some sort of delusion. Maybe all of those body image issues, that overdose, all that poetry I wrote in my teens was about all that OTHER stuff, and that other stuff caused me to believe I was raped. Maybe when he shoved my head in his crotch, he mistook it for his own hand: maybe while I was choking on what he wanted and I didn’t, he just didn’t know I couldn’t breathe. Surviving rape is a whole world of maybe, but maybe nots.

So, sitting there, looking myself in the eye in the mirror with that t-shirt on did cause me to cry, and even if I never wear it anywhere else, even though I have, at other times, been able to acknowledge and accept what happened to me, that moment was powerful for me. I deeply could look at myself in the mirror and accept the woman who is there and everything that made her who she is, even when some of those things are incredibly difficult and not things I wished for. I was proud of her, and she made me feel strong and able, both for myself and for the work I do where I need to help others find strength and resilience. I can do that at other times, too, but I’m always grateful for any new tool to help me do that, because some days, the ones I have don’t work or don’t take me to a new place.

Over the weekend, when I was talking to an old friend on the phone providing support, he said to me, “You know, you can take this. I know it doesn’t feel good, and you don’t want to, but the fact is, you can handle this.” It might sound hollow, that, but the truth of the matter is that yes, I can. That woman looking back at me in the mirror could. If taking it wasn’t something I thought might carry any benefits for anyone, not only would it all be even more upsetting than it already is, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with this in the first place, or even have been public about surviving rape as I have been over the years. I didn’t need to be as public as I have for myself: just telling people close to me and being able to sometimes speak through my art, for me, has been enough. I’ve been more public in the hope that my doing so will help other people be able to break silence, find strength, and be able to find whatever way is their way to healing.

The biggest bummer with things like this is that unfortunately, one very strong message the backlash sends to other survivors is that it is absolutely best they stay silent: because if they don’t, see, if they speak up like I do, speak up in any way, this, too, is what will happen to them. Some who silence with ignorance, fear or guilt probably have no idea that this is a likely result: others, of course, very much are aware that they are silencing and very much intend to silence.

But here’s the thing: something like this shirt isn’t for every survivor, nor for any given survivor in every environment, on every day. I do a lot with my life, and my rape is not often at the forefront of any of it, but sometimes it is, and sometimes, it’s helpful to others if I let it be, as much as I’d prefer not to. Being able to even just say — even just to oneself — “I was raped,” is rarely easy, even though it does get easier over time. It still always hurts, it always infuriates, it always confuses, it always saddens, especially in a world which makes it so very hard to speak just that simple fact and to have it merely acknowledged. It is never easy, and it will never be easy. Saying it out loud, in any way, to anyone, is almost always scary, almost always risky. But for ourselves, and for others, when we can do it, when we are able — and it’s always okay when we’re not — it’s usually, in my opinion, a worthwhile risk. While it means that we might open ourselves up to all kinds of garbage, it also means we might open ourselves up to the good stuff, too, to connections which are rare and unfathomably meaningful, to us or to others.

I won’t be dishonest: I still want that other weekend that I was going to have back. I’d have preferred that weekend, and I really needed that weekend for myself. I spent a lot of time this weekend very deeply resenting feeling like I was pushed into the spotlight in a way I did not choose and I did not want: up until now, I’ve felt like the level of public I have been has been enough to make things better for enough people that something like this level of visibility wasn’t anything anyone needed me to do. And yet, seeing all that I have seen over the last few days, I can only assume that I was wrong in that, since if things like this were not needed, I can’t imagine I’d be seeing so much of what I had. We’d be past all of this by now, wouldn’t we? So, if that’s what needed to happen, and it did or could net anything at all positive, I can live with that. I can have that weekend I needed another time. I can move past my anger and resentment. I can make time up to my partner next weekend. I can have my life go back to being about all the other things it’s about shortly. Again, I can take this: I may not want to, but I can.

There’s no perfect note to end this on. I’m massively grateful for the support myself and the project have been shown by some. I’m deeply moved by the other survivors who have trusted me to share their stories, and to those who also have offered their care and compassion, and not just because you let me help you heal, but you helped heal some hidden parts of me I didn’t even realize still needed healing. I’m deeply saddened, frustrated, shellshocked and worn the hell right out from all of the backlash — and some of that is surprise in that I was more vulnerable than I thought myself to be and at the same time stronger, but also not as over my rapes as I have long thought — but I’m just hoping that maybe at least some of it will result in something positive, either for survivors, or for the world that we live in when it comes to how survivors are treated, how rape is viewed and in terms of anything and everything which might keep it from happening to anyone at all.

And if, from a Buddhist perspective, there truly is no separation between the self and others, and I am seeing and hearing from so many people who clearly need to work through all of this chaos, who have all of this inside and around them — and if the way I, myself, have been feeling has anything to do with anything — then all of these last few days hasn’t really just been about or for other people: it’s been about and for me, as well.

So, as it turned out, and for as much as it sure hasn’t felt like it, it seems I spent the weekend tending to myself, after all.

It seems appropriate to link this to Carly Milne’s blogging project to benefit RAINN, and I’ll write for that project a few more times before month’s end. We’ve linked to RAINN and its services for years at Scarleteen, so it shouldn’t be new to anyone, but to say it is a worthy place to support is a serious understatement. RAINN has made, and continues to make, great efforts for both rape prevention and survivor support, and if you have some extra cash — especially for many of you who get tax refunds — it’s a fantastic place to put it. I know I certainly could have used what it provides, and many other survivors do as well.

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Yesterday, I got a wonderful phone call from one of my co-workers at the clinic, who overheard my voice on her television (people who only know of me online tend not to know that in person, people will usually say my voice is the most distinctive thing about me) during a replay of Friday night’s news segment on the I Was Raped t-shirt.

She noted that she thought it was really passive-aggressive and strange that right as the reporter said I did not want my face shown, they made a point of panning down a screenshot very precisely to my face and staying there. Glad, at least, to see that crapitude got noticed: I’m still reeling from it, honestly. I have had two more news stations contact me, and expect to have to again argue for the same rights to privacy other survivors are given; expect to have to explain that making oneself visible in one context does not mean anyone else is entitled to make me visible in others as they choose, not me.

She also just had some wonderful things to say about how she really appreciated having the opportunity to work with someone like me, how I make her think about things, how passionately I advocate for others. It was really cool of her to call me and also ask if I was taking care of myself, doing okay. Mind, I’m not thrilled that obviously, this is going to be something I’ll be dealing with at work. It’s not that my being a survivor isn’t a secret there among my co-workers: when I taught the self-defense segment, I made a point of telling the staff that I had both survived rape and assaults and also evaded assaults in my life, something I think is important to share when doing self-defense training. Rather, when I’m at work at the clinic, the clients are my focus, they’re all of our focus, and I don’t want to talk about me, there. I want to talk about them. I’m also really hoping I don’t wind up with a client who saw that segment and makes the connection: when they’re in my office, it’s their issues which should be in the forefront of their mind, not mine.

It’s also seeming like when my Dad comes in on Tuesday, Wednesday I am probably going to have to finally sit down and disclose all of this, not just the press stuff, but the initial rapes themselves. My father and I are and always have been so, so close, but this is one of the few things he doesn’t really know about me, save very vaguely. The reason I’ve never sat down and told him about my assaults wasn’t shame. Rather, the first two that happened happened during a rare period of time where we were not talking or seeing each other, first due to my mother not allowing us contact, then, due to my being very hurt that my father had broken up with a woman he was dating who I loved immensely. I’ve avoided telling him about all of this because I know that he is going to feel guilty, like this was his fault — most of my father’s dreams for what he wanted to do with his life and the world were not realized, and he’s very low about that. Being a good parent to me is pretty much what he considers his lone achievement, and he already beats himself up enough for not being able to protect me from my stepparent. In many ways, a lot of the tough stuff I have battled in my life has been so much harder than anything my father ever wanted me to have to go through, and I know he’ll also just be really sad. I know he’ll be amazingly supportive of me — he always is, no matter what — but he’s also going to be hurt, including hurt I didn’t tell him (even though I know he’ll also understand), and this just really wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go with my father yet, for a handful of reasons. To say that I resent being somewhat pushed into this position is an understatement.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, ready to have a new — better — day. While I was sitting on the couch checking email on my laptop, I heard snippets of conversation from the women on the porch next door that sounded remarkably like discussion about the news segment. I checked myself for a minute, thinking I was being a narcissistic arse, but then heard more clearly that yes, in fact, that is exactly what was being discussed. “I don’t want to have to know that about anybody if I don’t ask them,” was the last bit I got, after a good deal of “Who would broadcast they were raped?” So, I was a big baby about the whole thing yesterday and stayed totally in the house, having Mark get me my daily essentials (coffee, smokes, Mighty-O donuts), having a brief stop-by with Ben and Joriel, a long, cathartic phone conversation with my ex, boxing myself into a corner of my office behind piles of receipts for my taxes, and a mellow evening of hugs, movies and Scrabble with my sweetheart.

I’m not surprised about all of this backlash (and no, I still have yet to get a response from anywhere using my copyrighted image without my permission). I wish I could say that I was: really tired, really frustrated, and unprepared for how much of this I’d have to deal with, but not surprised. My favorite part are sites talking about it where you get to read people talking about what a sensitive group they are when, in fact, they’re about as Joe Average on this issue as it gets. It’s also pretty annoying that no one can freaking well read: the shirts neither profit Jennifer nor myself: most of the money paid for them will go to cover the costs of making them and making more, if people want them, and a very small percentage goes to support Scarleteen, which both supports and counsels survivors, and also works to do what we can to aid in prevention efforts, be that by talking expressly about how to prevent rape or by talking about what consent and real desire for partnered sex are, and how to communicate and interpret consent and desire. Suffice it to say, I’ll never stop wishing some people could hear themselves and recognize that talking about what “appropriate” responses are for anyone who has survived any sort of trauma has a whole lot to do with why rape is treated the way that it is, and also realize that being told in any number of ways to be quiet is something we have all heard before, not just from family, community, even friends and partners, but often from our rapists.

There’s a reason that I agreed with Jennifer that something like this t-shirt and the whole project could be valuable, and this is a big part of why. Yesterday’s email box was… well, it was something. I got called stupid any number of times, told I should be ashamed of myself at least once. I got messages making clear — again, this is nothing new to any survivor — that it would really be best if women like me would just shut the hell up and stay quiet. I also got a number of emails from other survivors with their personal stories in them, and thanks for doing what we are. Obviously, those weren’t things that cheered me up, as those stories are so painful to hear, but the fact that anything I do could allow someone who hasn’t disclosed to feel able to disclose in any way — even if it’s just to a stranger in email — is a good thing. Perhaps selfishly, I’m just really disappointed that when it comes to me, thus far, this hasn’t been, overall, a good thing. That may change in time, to be certain, but as of right now, I’m just feeling overexposed, very raw, and in some ways, very deeply angry. I’m okay with that to some degree if it does good: after all, I can take this stuff, and I have in other ways, other contexts before. I have made choices to be public about things like this in the ways I chose to, myself, both knowing that I can only control context so much and knowing that to help to good stuff happen, you do often have to put up with a whole lot of crap. I’m also aware that my expectations of sensitivity from others are often higher than is realistic: that’s very much not a new issue.

Not sure what today will hold, save more piles of receipts, another donut, some yoga and a lot more coffee. I’m also giving serious consideration to going back upstairs and climbing back into bed with Mr. Price who is still sleeping to grab a few snuggles and give a few back. And all of that is sounding quite lovely. Hell, any situation that has made doing taxes seem like a vacation rather than a chore can only be so bad, right?

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

So, the television news segment basically just validated all of why I don’t ever agree to do TV, and why I won’t ever even try again to half-do TV like I agreed to last night.

It was earnestly idiotic. It compared the “I Was Raped” shirts to two other visuals of t-shirts: “Yankees Suck,” and “Boys are stupid — let’s throw rocks at them.” It sliced and diced my words to its liking: when asked if I thought people might not get positive reactions to the shirt, I had said that is certainly possible, and a wearer might be met with embarrassment or scorn…but that she or he also might be might with connection with other survivors, with sensitivity and understanding, and that even a negative reaction could be an opportunity for discussion and getting people to reconsider what they think about rape. They edited that statement down to end with “a wearer might be met with embarrassment or scorn, and left it at that. On the phone, the reporter also asked me if I wasn’t worried about survivors (though she said victims) choosing to wear it before they were ready, which may go down in history as one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. I told her that for most, even just telling the closest person to you is something you might go back and forth about doing for days, months, weeks, years, and the idea that someone would just be all, “Let’s just put this shirt on and see what happens,” without any considerable thought was moronic and seriously uninformed. Apparently, being assaulted not only traumatizes us, it also inhibits our ability to think things through for ourselves anymore or know what we are and aren’t ready for. Of course, that didn’t make the cut.

They clearly resented my not being interested in going on TV or being seen — even though they told me it wasn’t their policy to show rape survivors’ (they used the word victim — as they did through most of the news story) faces, they made a point of saying, while showing my face that I had asked not to have a visual. This after an extensive conversation about how I would prefer not having to worry about going to get coffee in my neighborhood for the next week or so and have to be “that girl who was raped,” and would prefer not having to risk a potential clinic client seeing that segment then having me as a counselor and then feel like her issues were not as important as mine. Thanks.

They had a sexual assault counselor on as their expert (pity they didn’t pull in the part about how one of the big deals of Jennifer’s documentary is to have the only “experts” on surviving be survivors)who was seriously patronizing, talking about nothing but what delicate flowers we all are and how wearing something which identified that we had been raped could “scar” us… but for all I know, they edited her stupidly, too. They also didn’t talk, at all, about WHY the t-shirts were around, what the whole of the project was, et cetera.  It also sure would have been interesting if they had pulled this event yesterday into the piece, but I suppose that would have grossly interfered with the presentation they were going for.
In a word, it was just dumb. Nothing horrendous, but mightily stupid. The online version isn’t great, to say the least, but it does at least mention the project in the midst of misspelling my name the whole time. I got a thank you note from the reporter, saying she’d keep my contact information for future reference and did manage to resist the urge to write back telling her to shove it up her bum. I count this as a victory.

Yesterday? Not a good day. Mark was amazing about it, though, even letting me know that it was 100% okay that I couldn’t find the kind of understanding in him that I needed at the moment, and even though who I really wanted to talk to was my ex I’ve been talking to, since abuse issues were one place we had a common background. He actually said something very quotable, my sweetie did, which is that he isn’t “swiss army boyfriend,” and that the fact that he can’t meet all my needs at times like that isn’t something I should feel bad about. Normally I wouldn’t, but last night, I did, and that helped. He had a friend of his — my favorite friend of his, too — who might come by and asked if he should tell him not to, or what to tell him, and totally got it when I said I was fine with him coming by, but just did not want to tell the whole tale of my day again to someone who wasn’t going to get it. Per usual, I have a good sweetie, and it’s a hell of a thing.

I also got some pretty amazing survivor stories, including two from male survivors, sent to me in my email yesterday. Obviously, that didn’t help me calm down any emotionally, but it was really touching and it did help me feel a little bit more connected to people who get it.

Still no response from the sites using my image without permission, so for now, until I hear back from my lawyer pal, I’m just going to try and let it go. Today is what yesterday was supposed to be: a day of sitting with all my boxes of receipts and getting them into sections to do taxes, so I don’t have to go be out and about at all post-news segment, which is good. And today, I am going to call my ex (we really need a better word for the friendship we’ve been forming, but we haven’t found it yet), because weird as that still is after so many years of disconnection, it is exactly who I need right now.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Yeah, I’m pissed off. I have had a seriously rotten day. And this entry will likely last a day at most before I make it go poofie, because I know it’s an incoherent, resentful vent. I have had to fight off a handful of people either asking me to expose myself in ways that are more about them and being provocative than about me or actually helping anyone, and then beg others to not freaking use my face without my permission just so they could have a pretty graphic for their own ventures or a poster child just because (or just because they didn’t want to be one). I have had to read — okay, I didn’t have to — comments out and about with some of the most ignorant crap I have seen in a very long time.

Here’s the thing that gets me the most: what the FUCK is it going to take for people to realize that NOTHING is an invitation to rape, and nothing, other than being able to be raped — something which is the case for any one of us — is going to “spur” a rapist on?

The comments about and around which have gotten under my skin most today is that a rape survivor or someone else (though I’m not sure why someone else would wear it) wearing the shirt would be “asking for” or “inviting” predators to do something. What the hell? Wearing a t-shirt which says, and means “I was raped,” is an invitation to rape? Is going to let a rapist know you’re who they should choose to rape? Why?

More to the point, it might be worth asking, for those this clueless, what they could do to NOT fall under the scope of someone predatory. I’ve talked about it before, but I will say it again: my 76-year-old great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her own home when she was just sitting, watching the tube. What the hell did SHE do, besides be home, be female, and be vulnerable? The first time I was assaulted I just went in to get a freaking haircut, feeling — obviously, stupidly — like, at the age of 11, a neighborhood hair salon was a perfectly safe place for me to be alone, and feeling like, when the guy who cut our hair asked me to walk back with him to the shampoo room, there was no reason I couldn’t walk back there with him where we’d been before. In fact, the whole time he had me up against the wall, his hands all over me, even in that very moment I could not, for the life of me, figure out what on earth was going on and what exactly I did — of course, what I did — to incite such a thing. What the hell did I do? If I had walked in there wearing this shirt, would I somehow have been inviting it more? As in “I was raped, so you may as well do it again?”

Perhaps more to the point, how stupid are these people to think that choosing to wear anything at all (or not) makes any damn difference in protecting them or anyone else? One of the reasons it is so damn hard for survivors to heal is that eventually, we have to deal with the knowledge that most of the time, unless we’re on guard 24/7 (and even then, that’s hardly a guarantee of safety) or stay locked in a panic room alone, there isn’t shit we can do to prevent someone from trying to rape us. That it could happen almost anywhere, at anytime, with anyone we know. That everything we thought we knew about how safe we were in the world was wrong. And that even in cultivating that terrible awareness, there will always be loads of people utterly convinced that being raped is something we can somehow control or even prevent with something as flippant as simple as what bloody t-shirt we wear.

Last year, a friend of mine asked me if I thought it was out of order to tell her five-year-old daughter that most people were stupid. I thought about it, and then told her that, actually, it seemed like a good idea. After all, that way her kid would either have her expectations met or be pleasantly surprised.

I really, truly wish that someone had told me that when I was five, too. I might get this angry and be this disappointed a whole lot less often.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Oh, but there’s just nothing like waking up in the morning to find an image of you (from a clearly copyrighted page, no less) used without your permission and to be the unidentified rape survivor used as a poster child without even a request for your permission, let alone the permission itself. Having your work (Scarleteen) attributed to someone else is just icing on the cake. Given the subject matter, there’s a pretty grotesque and sad irony afoot, to say the least. Sure, it’s likely just editorial/journalistic carelessness, but it does strike me as sending the message that rape survivor = available to anyone for their own use without permission.

This is not to say I expect better things of Gawker or Jezebel — nor that I didn’t send their shared legal department a nastygram minutes ago — but rather, to say that I’m clearly going to require an awful lot of coffee, a very long bath, a hug and to manage my general disappointment with people today.

P.S. To friends who I told about my father coming down with pneumonia — which is obviously incredibly dangerous for him given his general health and the conditions he lives in — I just heard from him and he finally seems to be on the mend. That also means he will be able to come up and stay with me for a week and a half as planned next week.

P.P.S. If you’re local to Seattle, I just took a call from KOMO news on the I Was Raped project, who have assured me I can count on them for the sensitivity I have not otherwise encountered much today.  I’m not entirely optimistic, but we’ll see.  It is crazy to me that I have to explain (and I have, several times today to different people) that my choosing the context where an image of me identifying myself as a survivor is not minor.  A big photo of me on my local news can mean that I get to spend days, even weeks possibly running into people locally who know me only as “that girl who got raped,” by my face, it might mean opening myself up to all kinds of things with groups of people that are broader than the groups I usually encounter.

I will probably have more to say after the segment is aired, depending on what they used of what I said, but I gotta say, so far, this doesn’t go down as one of my best days ever.  I feel exposed — and given, I signed up for some of that, hoping it will be a worthwhile thing for others — and like I’ve had to fight for my right not to be some sort of commodity and it’s just… I don’t know.  It’s just something, and not something very great for me at the moment.

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

I am physically and emotionally exhausted. This front page and everything on it is why.

And now I seriously have to go to bed since I need to get up in just over five hours. Bloody hell.

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

I don’t want to deal with the bad parts of the trip just yet. I still feel a little shellshocked about it, to the degree that when telling my Dad just about the car accident on the phone today, and he started talking about lawyers and all that, I completely snapped at him, which is something I very, very rarely do. Yesterday, today and likely for the next couple of days, I just want to enjoy the bliss that is being back in my own place, in my own bed, with my own dog, and with the ability to almost completely control who I see and deal with in a given day without any wild cards. For the most part, I’m curling up under the covers like a kicked puppy.

I also don’t want to talk about the shite because there were some really good things amidst all the yuck.

Like, for instance, getting to spend the day with one of my favorite living contemporary artists, including a lot of walking, touring her around the Art Institute, a lovely dinner at Reza’s, and hours and hours of nonstop conversation and mutual admiration. We also planted a tiny seed for a possibly great idea in the not-at-all-near future, and not only is it a good seed, it’s plain old wonderful to be planning something with someone as overextended as myself who completely gets that saying you want to do something a year or two down the road with them is not only not unreasonable, but ideal. Laurie is so very many kinds of brilliant and glorious, and if I hadn’t have started that first full day of the trip with her, I may well have lost my mind before it was over.

The Early to Bed event was absolutely fantastic. We had parents, sisters, a clergy student, an adolescent public health administrator, teachers and friends of teens, all clearly there because they all gave that much of a shit. One thing I’ve been coming to realize a lot lately in terms of the struggles I’m having with Scarleteen is that it isn’t problematic just because I work with sexuality. It’s also — and perhaps just as much — because I work with a population that, for the most part, no one, sparing companies wanting to gather teenage cash, could care less about. If I did the kind of work I do for small children with cancer, rather than with teenagers with pregnancies or STIs or body image or gender dysphoria or sexual trauma or just plain agony, I’d be in a very different place. So, when I find myself in a room full of people all dedicated to doing what they can to be supportive of teens and do what they can to help them out, it’s very feel-good for me. That event ended up tackling some serious topics, but also being more stand-up comedy/put-people-at-ease Heather than the WCF event later in the week (and I’ll get to that event at a later date).

The winner of the best exchange for the evening was a mother asking if she needed to be concerned about giving her 12-year-old too much information. To give an example, she described hearing her and a friend getting into a giant argument in the basement, and had gone downstarirs to see what the fracas was about. When she got downstairs, her daughter, in a huff, said, “Mom, is it ANAL sex or ABLE sex?” My response (before I addressed the larger issue of TMI and why it’s really not something to worry about in this regard), was that it likely depended on who was having it, really.

Extra bonus? My Aunt Ginny showed up. I told a few people there that night about the fabulousness that is my Aunt Ginny, but for y’all in the cheap seats, I have loved this woman since the first time I met her when I was around seven years old.

She’s an aunt by marriage, in my mother’s side of the family. Understand that my mother’s family — especially my now deceased grandparents — was incredibly traditional and insanely stifling, on top of being abusive. Even at that young age, it had already been made very clear to me that I did NOT belong. In fact, in looking through family photos with Mark at my mother’s house last week, I found a photo of me at around 2 or 3, on the farm, with my mother seeming to introduce me to a black sheep. If that photo had had a word blurb, it would have said, “Heather, meet the black sheep. Black sheep, meet Heather. I think you’ll get along famously: you have a lot in common.” It’s one of the most symbolic childhood photos of me I’ve ever seen.

There was a family dinner that night, and I remember all this to-do about some big scandal with my uncle’s new wife. The Very Big Deal? That she MADE him do the DISHES. Gasp! (I didn’t get it, for the record: while I have plenty of valid beefs about my childhood and upbringing, one I do not have is that we had very fluid gender roles between my folks, to the degree that my Dad was the stay-at-home parent in my early childhood, and my mother the breadwinner.)

This given, even before she showed up, she seemed very, very exciting, and very appealing, since I’d already figured out that anyone my grandmother and grandfather really didn’t like was usually exceptionally cool.

When she finally appeared, she showed up in this somber, sober house of buttoned-to-the-chin people in these crazy black lounging pajamas with feather boas at the cuffs, crazy black hair all over the place, and sat telling off-color jokes to a completely unreceptive audience for the whole of the evening. I was in LOVE with her: she was the first woman I had met in that family who I wanted to be when I grew up. (She tells me that the feeling was mutual: she saw a wee ally in me right off the bat, and ever since, if one of us gets stuck at a family gathering without the other, we’re seriously bummed.) She’s also one of these women who seems to excel at absolutely everything, even though she is fickle as hell. She’ll decide she’s going to do something career-wise totally out of nowehere, with no background, wind up doing better than the folks with the background, and just when she’s peaking, she gets bored and moves on: it’s like she’s managed total non-attachment, effortlessly, to the stuff most folks are highly attached to. Plus, she’s the mother of teenagers who are actually bummed out when they can’t hang out with her: talk about an anomoly.

Last she told me, she was thinking about starting a heavy metal band next. I can’t tell you how much I love the idea of a metal band made of fifty-something suburban mothers: I want to hear a handbanging, screeching anthem about menopause or grocery store parking lot traffic so badly, it makes my uterus ache.

So, Ginny showed up, and we went out for drinks after the event with she, my friend Erika, a friend of hers, and one very awesome event-goer.

Who, FYI, I filled in on something Very Important to Know about book events, and that is this: there are two kinds of people who wind up at drinks or dinner with you after events. There are the one or maybe two people who are so cool you invite them along — that was her — and then there is the one, and it usually always seems to be one, who not only do you just find at the table with you without having invited them at all, but who is inevitably the absolute LAST person from an event you’d invite. Now, I’m not sure there was even anyone at that particular event who would have been in that latter group, but I’m glad we avoided that all the same, especially since NOTHING ever seems to make those people go away. NOTHING.

We stayed out late. Very late. By the time Ginny came back with me to Erika’s (after winning every woman in a ten-mile radious over completely, as is her way), it was 2:30 in the morning, and after she passed out face-first on the couch, Erika and I stayed up until four. The only downside to the evening was that for the first time since I moved away from Chicago, the whole evening left me feeling very homesick (and a little tipsy, but that part was nice).

Let’s see, what else…?

Millennium Park for an afternoon with my Dad. I ended up tearing up watching so many happy kids play in the fountain, in part because something else I’ve realized lately is that unlike when I was doing classroom teaching, I don’t really get the good stuff with the bad stuff in terms of my “students.” I mostly get the crisis, their hardship, their agony. For sure, I do get to see them often feel better about it, and feel better over time, but it’s incredibly rare for me to get ONLY the happy bits without the awful ones.

Much-missed time with my mother’s partner, who somehow manages to be one of the most brilliant women I know — and who also works in a challenging arena: she’s a Holocaust scholar — but also the most hilarious. To whit, after the WCF event Friday, we met Mark (who came into town a handful of days after I did) at an Italian banquet hall doing karaoke in La Grange, where my mother now lives. Until you have seen a Kenosha-bred, polish-sausage eating, femme in a butch body (her self-description), doing Baby Got Back flawlessly, with drunken suburbans fawing all over them, you haven’t seen nothin’.

Some time with my mother was good: but that’s more complicated and for another entry. same goes for time with my sister and some of my mother’s family.

At the WCF event, not only do I believe I have started a new friendship with an exceptional woman, one of the attendees came up afterwards to get two books signed and explained to me — while apologizing for it, of all things — that I was the role model and shero of she and her closest friend in college and grad school, and that my work had inspired them beyond bounds to work in this field. It’s not so much what she said, but the look on her face when she said it. There’s something amazing that happens sometimes when you’re just as touched to meet and connect with someone else as they are with you, for entirely different reasons, and she made my whole week, easy.

Just because it deserves a second mention: my mother’s partner. Baby Got Back. Don’t believe me? Ask Jen (who it was also so wonderful to see: it had been too long).

I also went to Chicago with a photo project in mind. The plan was to take photos of places which were important — good stuff, bad stuff, the whole gamut — in my childhood and adolescence. Given how much places change, and knowing already that a few locales of import already were going to look very different, my goal was/is to take photos to build a large wall piece of many small photos, posted with (and I still need to figure out how to engineer this) brief summations of what happened there, and why that given place was important.

In doing this, I had to go to a few very difficult places to revisit. But the biggies were the hair salon where the man who cut our hair molested me at 11, and then the site where I was gang assaulted at 12. Before I’d moved from Chicago, even driving by those places was beyond difficult, and often resulted in me breaking down a few blacks later, feeling fearful and traumatized all over again.

But this time — perhaps I’ve simply had enough time or distance — not only did I not break down, but I was even able to stand right in the parking lot, right where I was assaulted, without tears, without feeling scared or triggered. In fact, I felt incredibly strong standing there, as if a car could even pull in and hit me and it’d bounce right off as my feet and legs were firm and unmoved. It was an unexpected response: I’d prepared myself to feel very upset and vulnerable, and it just didn’t happen that way at all.

In addition, I got to see the house that was my hell, where I also had expected to respond badly. But the house that was so awful for me clearly had a loving family living in it for whom it was now a haven. There were beautiful, joyful chalk drawings all over the sidewalk, and things left astray on the walk, in the accepted disorder of a creative, lively childhood, which made clear that the life being lived there was a good one. It felt like what had since been lived there had somehow washed away the badness, which left me feeling just a few more steps closer to free.

Also? BOTH my parents came to the WCF event. Both of them being in the same place at the same time is an incredible rarity, and while I accepted from childhood that I was never going to have that thing where both your parents were in any way a unit or pair, that it can happen at least every decade or so, even in a limited context, with limited contact, is a luxury and a gift.

I got to see my favorite ex, his kids and his partner, who I like a whole lot, twice, once by myself (though I nearly slept through it, since it was the morning after the night out with Erika and Ginny, where I couldn’t determine if I was hungover from the booze or from my aunt), and once with Mark. That second visit, they’d caught a small mouse in their house. They’d named him Springy, due to how he kept bouncing in the big jar they had him in, but I felt more comfortable calling him Mr. Springy, since I felt it was a bit presumptuous to be so familiar with him when we’d only just met. Since Judy was heading out to Michfest with the girls the next day, and had no time to get out of the city before to set him free, I took on the job myself, knowing there was a forest preserve by my Mom’s on our way back. As it turned out, we went in the wrong entrance, which was labeled as government property only. Mr. Springy and I had a small moment, and I felt certain that he was well up for not only going out on his own in the woods, but infiltrating the government at the same time. I expect great things from him: fight the power, Mr. Springy.

In Ohio, I got to meet both one of my longtime Scarleteen volunteers as well as one of our most active All Girl Army bloggers, both of whom drove some distance to see me, and both of whom were just as exceptional as I had thought them to be. While I can’t exactly call it a perk, upon leaving the coffeehouse for a smoke, I had a man on the street feel the profound need to invent a song and then loudly rap it, singing the praises of my ass. Really, I don’t even think he meant to be lecherous (my backside has inspired — if you can call it that — some odd behaviour from people for a long time, many of which found themselves clearly infected with, and rather embarassed by, Tourette’s), but I did have to explain that no, I didn’t want him to stop because I was ashamed of my bottom, but because I would rather that it wasn’t brought to the attention of the whole of lower Cincy at the moment.

Seeing Mark’s family was also a big perk: I really couldn’t ask for a more loving adjunct family. It was also a perk to see his old Appalachian grandmother: the lady loves her Bible, but she’s also a serious spitfire, and she likes to wink at me a lot.

Best conversation of that family dinner? One of Mark’s brothers was talking about how his little dog Randall had saved his life by barking right before a truck nearly ran him over.

Grandma: Well, I know what saved your life.
Brother: What?
Grandma: Jesus. Jesus was looking out for you. Jesus saved you.
Brother: So, Jesus speaks to Randall. Awesome.

* * *
Those’d be the highlights. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things in there, but in less than an hour, I’m heading out with Fish to go and see Patti Smith, which is just the very thing for me right now (please: as if it ever couldn’t be). A goddess-in-the-flesh (and homage to black sheep everywhere), a good friend and a couple of cocktails will do me quite nicely.

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Sorry, more questions, still no answers!

(I’ll get back to actual entries any time now, really, I promise, including the magic carpet ride my dental hygenist in Minneapolis sent me on. But until then…)

• When I was in Minneapolis, doing my event for the GLBT youth center, I got a handful of questions about sexuality pertaining to infibulated women. This isn’t a shocker: Minneapolis has, for some time, had a substantial Somali and Ethiopian refugee program, resulting in a substantial Somali and Ethipian population there. I did know the basic answers to the questions, but I’d very much like to do an FAQ piece for Scarleteen answering questions not about the issue of FGM, but specifically address practical issues (orgasm and sexual response, healing from genital trauma, ways to respond to long-term health problems, etc.) for women and partners of women who have been genitally mutilated. However, I don’t feel right as a white woman who not only has not survived FGM, but who doesn’t live in/come from a culture or community in which FGM is prevalent. Might any of you know a woman who might be up to collaborating on this with me who does come from one of those perspectives?

• Over the last few years, I’ve noticed at Scarleteen that an awful lot of the worst (as if there were anything less than worst, but you get me) of our incest and friend-of-family rape cases arise from Austrailia and New Zealand. Are any of you better versed than I — and know decent sources I could look at — in terms of incest and friend-of-family rapes in those countries? More specifically, I’d like to have more than the basics I do on the justice system and incest, et al, on how social services generally responds (and what victim rights are), on basic cultural dynamics in terms of social and familial attitudes around incest and rape. (Stephen? Beppie? Kat?)

Book events! I need to do them! Much to my dismay, I’ve started to discover that Seattleites are big, stuffy prudes, unless you’re approaching sex in a way that’s funny-ha-ha, all about the surfacey bullshit, or are a pro-domme. One big bookstore here even had the stones to tell my publicist that they “didn’t have an area private enough” to do an event with me. Did they think I was going to take my pants off and SHOW everyone sexual anatomy? I mean, I can see that Ann Rule has an event there (who, by the way, I’ve been known to read for a guilty pleasure; I’m a criminiology geek when I have three seconds of free time to read something besides work books, so I’m not dissing Ms. Rule). Is she going to be reading? Does she not need a more private arena to read about serial killing? Aren’t they worried she might give a demonstration? Ugh. So, save one event I got started cultivating yetsterday with a local book store (gods bless Ballard), I’m up empty. Suffice it to say, most of the rest of the world is pretty closed-mouthed, too. We knew full well from the start — it was glaringly obvious during the years of publisher-hunting — that a lot of people would be bloody terrified of this book, but it’s no fun to have it hammered home these days.

I’ll be taking some time over the next week to get this stuff together in a more formalized way, but really, I can be creative about this. For instance, if you’re in WA, Portland, Victoria or Vancouver, it’s easy for me to get to: want to link up a group of parents informally for some gabbing on how to deal with parenting and approaching sexuality with kids and teens? Want to have a sex educator over for a group of teen girls in your community to have an accurate gab-session? Heck, have a table for sex Q&A at your next office party? I’ll do it, man, just give me a shout. Very little is too weird for this gal, as is likely obvious by now.

• I also know I asked this before around a year ago or so, but I only got a response from one person, who never connected with me via email. I really, really, REALLY need to get connected with at least a couple other people who have to rape or abuse counsel, and do the sort of highly emotionally difficult work every day I do — it’s not every single day that things are so loaded, thank christ, but it’s close. And it’s getting more so: Scarleteen and myself have been around solidly long enough, and have established a certain feeling of safety for users long enough, that over the last few years, I wind up dealing with rape and abuse more and more often. Certainly, I’ll do it — I always move first to get survivors to seek out good hotlines and in-person counseling, but they usually stick around for support with me and our volunteers — it’s needed, but it also certainly isn’t what I’d choose to do or what I was prepared to do so much of. Some days, it completely wrecks me emotionally: it’s always particularly tough with hotline or ‘net hotline work because there’s only so much you can do.

(Over the last two months, we’ve also had a couple of abusers post, looking for sympathy. Poor them, they didn’t KNOW their silent, prone, half-asleep girlfriend didn’t want sex or poor them, their girlfriend DESERVES to be hit in the face, so it isn’t really abuse, you see. Don’t even get me started on what it was like to be around me on those days, and how frustrating it is that an IP address and email isn’t enough to file a report on these assholes.)

So, readers: do you do any work like this? Do you know anyone else who does who could also use an extra person to sit and unload it with? I don’t need the connection to be one way, or all about MY stress, I just need some like-minded (or rather, like-worked, if that’s even a real phrase, and I suspect it is not) people to chat with about this stuff.

And those’d be my shout-outs for right now: my apologies for them being so all about me. Also in the all-about-me category, beyond really great reviews in Bust and Bitch, there have been some really nice blog mentions/reviews of the book this week. C.K. made my day, and then a day later, Laurie Toby Edison made it even better, especially since she and Debbie paired my review with a review of one of my best friend’s books — a real perk, since Hanne and I miss working together (though each of us had a lot of back-and-forth while we were each working on these books, and each star in our dedications and acknowledgments), so it’s uber-cool when our stuff gets put in the same pile so we can kinda feel like we are again.

(P.S. thanks to my eBay tutorial volunteers: I’ll be pinging you today.)

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007


While I’m sure plenty of you have already seen this, if you haven’t, it’s well worth a read.
Violet introduces some of the basics of this matter here, succinctly and pointedly
. And she asks a very potent question, namely “Do we women need to portray ourselves as victims to garner support when men threaten to defile our corpses if we gain notoriety?”

I’ve been stalked (in-person and online both) before because of my sex and what I do online and in print, and I’ve been hated on for what I do and who I am, for certain, but I don’t kid myself. When we’re talking about harassment based solely on work, for the most part, the genre I work in isn’t one which is going to usually bring this kind of hate down upon me, because no matter how I redefine sex, no matter how what I prescribe and discuss in the work I do might challenge patriarchy and the status quo, the fact that it is sexuality and sex I’m writing about, and the fact that I say sex is a good thing is — quite unintentionally — some measure of protection for me against this kind of violence. In short, I remain in an arena I am often perceived by many to be protecting for men, not my own behalf or that of women, no matter what I say, or in which men just want no real ownership of. Sexuality education: what a bore, right? Besides, half the time what I’m doing with all the referring of locations for EC, comforting through pregnancy scares and wounded vaginas, places to get STI screenings, help with how to reclaim sexuality, counseling for rape and abuse survivors is just cleaning up the messes lots of men have made for them.

I also have the benefit — if you can call it that — of the fact that calling a sexuality writer and artist a slut, a whore, a cunt, or sexualizing me period doesn’t pack a particularly powerful punch when it comes to undermining my credibility, largely in part because my credibility is tenuous at best anyway (and that’d be part of the other entry that’s in the pipes), but also in part — whether I like it or not, whether it is true or not — because to many, it’s already a given that I’m a slut, a whore, a sexual object, and that I LOVE all that, or else I wouldn’t be doing what I do in the first place. But I digress.

* * *

In reading Violet’s piece, reading other coverage of what’s happened to Kathy Sierra, and keeping in mind the multitude of other times things like this have happened and will continue to, I was painfully and unexpectedly reminded of something I’d filed away for my own sanity for some time. In part it was also filed away because from the time it began happening through now — and still now — I couldn’t think of a way to air any of it that didn’t seem unfair or potentially hurtful to others involved, even though there wasn’t anyone it was ever going to harm the way it harmed me, and the only reason it did me less harm than it might have was simply because I was used to this sort of treatment and know how to compartmentalize it.

The tone and content of the hate site centers around sexually threatening you, suggesting ways you could be killed and have your corpse defiled, stating that you are a “slut” and that your gender is also in question. Your straight male colleagues don’t have this problem. Then the person running the hate site blogs about every word you say, every time you make a post or publish an article. And targets your friends. And posts the names of your family and Google satellite maps of your family’s homes. They deface your Wikipedia page at every opportunity, with sexual slurs, objectifying you at every possible chance.

A handful of years back, I had a brief relationship (far briefer in the actual relationship than in the aftermath, unfortunately) with another blogger which very quickly became emotionally abusive when the limits and boundaries I’d made clear I needed were simply not those he desired, and which from the start, he’d only said were okay because he’d clearly decided for himself he could ignore them completely. What was supposed to be, agreed to be, a temporary stay in my apartment until he found housing of his own very quickly escalated into a long-term cohabitation I incessantly protested, and which became a tool used to manipulate me with daily.

After I finally managed to get that person out of my home and my life, the abuse escalated from afar and moved online. For a while, I simply stopped writing anything at all personal about my life, because if and when I did, it would be unraveled, respun and used as a weapon on his blog and amongst shared friends. For a little while in there, I just stopped writing, period: nothing felt safe, nothing was safe.

I got to watch someone with a readership that included lesbians and women launch barbs at me on both accounts that were at worst, applauded, and at best, silently allowed because I had made the grave mistake of not giving some man who other people liked what he wanted, or perhaps, simply because his abuse gave others a convenient place to hide a desire for same (or perhaps because no one wanted the same abuse launched at them). I got to have friends tell me unbelievable slander he’d disseminated among others (my personal favorite was that I had raped him via the interesting logic that once or twice when we were having sex, I wasn’t demonstrating my enjoyment of sex as clearly and vocally as he’d desired). I got to watch a very smart man very calculatingly use what he knew were triggers for me — which much if not most of his readership was likely unaware of, and thus, unaware he was doing — in what he wrote about me, knowing full well that the only vague recourse I had to make things like that stop was expressly to publicly proclaim certain types of victimhood — including acknowledging that he was succeeding in victimizing me — which I did not want to.

It didn’t stop with me, either. Several friends of mine had to block their emails or change their addresses: one other was also harassed by this person online, and since he couldn’t be maligned by his gender, instead, his race was where the abuse was placed. My closest friend, having the unfortunate burden of being female and of a higher economic class, as well the wrong race was harassed on all accounts.

When endless private emails and calls to me went either ignored, or were responded to with yet one more calm request to please stop contacting me, that person quite clearly and purposefully found a way to escalate it further by bringing it to their blog, watched as some commentors to that blog egged it all on. (I won’t pussyfoot: it was my good fortune that the majority of his readers were female, and sparing maybe one exception, all the eggers-on were indeed male.) Mind you, as I said, I did not tell my story, and I accept the responsibility that goes with my silence. I was trying to do everything I could think of to quell the abuses and harassment, foolishly thinking silence — and my even publicly stating there were no bad guys when there very much were — would accomplish that, and in hindsight, I was also pitying the person who was doling out the abuse and also very much not wanting to either play the victim or recount the ways in which I had been victimized, especially since lord knows, I’d been victimized enough already in my life as it was. (Not to mention that I was also at the time getting a whole different brand of shit on my own journal from random commenting/emailing assholes about finally accepting the fact that my attraction to women had hit an all-time high and my attraction to men an all-time low. Bisexual and lesbian women, never forget — as if you could — that the only way to be accepted in our culture en large as such is for men to have the idea that women are but a dalliance to you, and men ever-preferable.)

That, right there — okay, not quite right there, the stuff before my bi-dyke-beef — is an answer to Violet’s question, and one pretty much any solidly or radical feminist blogger already knows: I don’t know a one who has a readership of any size who isn’t faced with comments like Sierra got in her comments all the time, many on a daily basis. I get them less often here than plenty I know, but I can predict at this point to a near-pseudo-science when I will get them. I brace myself any time I speak unapologetically or without victimhood about abortion, about sexual violence from men, about being nonsupportive of D/S, about loving women, about why masturbation masquerading as sexual intercourse is boring as hell, to say the least, about body image issues, about how fat women are beautiful, about some of the reasons why porn is a problem, about older men going after teenage girls, about… yeah, you get it.

Sparing two mutual friends (one of whom had been made an unwitting party to the final in-person abuse I tolerated), and my own close circle of friends, no one reading what he was penning or speaking to him was told, to my knowledge, that, for instance, I was dealing with a daily barrage of emails and messages that continually went back and forth on the predictable abuser seesaw between “I love you, you’re so wonderful, please take me back, please love me back” to “You’re a man-hating dyke bitch, and I’m going to come into your house whether you like it or not, at any time I want.” No one reading likely knew that despite being abused by this person, out of an earnest concern for their well-being and safety, I’d only told the couple mutual friends about the real deal in the hopes that they could mediate and provide some sort of support that for obvious reasons, I was unwilling to give, and one reason why I didn’t tell anyone else is that I did not want this person to lose the allegiances and friends he had. Save maybe one other person of our shared friends and readerships, no one else even knew or knows the backstory of this person to have any idea of what I was dealing with and how entirely unsurprising it all was: pity I didn’t have that information in advance myself. To my knowledge, he told only one mutual friend, who only passed this on to me today, about the crafty “game” he was playing with me (and was shocked when she didn’t respond with shared glee to this presentation of the abuses, but with complete disgust).

In more ashamed hindsight, I found myself in the position of dealing with abuses and harassment from someone who I knew people glorified and didn’t think for an instant I’d be believed (though as it turns out, the few who were ever as close to that person as I did believe me, without any reservation, when I finally starting talking in private), and I honestly didn’t see what use speaking out would have had, for me or for anyone else. In my defense, I did finally say something to one other mutual friend a year or so later who I worried might have found herself in the same line of fire in time, though I recognize that even that is weak, at best: you never can know who is going to be at risk, not really.

I suspect that the vast majority of those commentors and other folks who did the egging, really did not know what was going on behind the scenes, though they certainly can’t claim innocence about seeing what was right there on the surface in his words. My impression is that some simply took what was said about me and what went down at face value, without question, or thought so little of me that whatever I’d have had to say would have been fruitless. A few others seemed to have the idea that harassing someone else online was some sort of acceptable catharsis for the harasser. I also think some who engaged in this through that by virtue of identifying as progressive people, as people sensitive to issues of minority of various types, had made themselves completely blind to what they were doing, full-stop, because gawd knows, people like “that” aren’t capable of such things, right?

But none of these things are reasonable excuses — there simply are no reasonable excuses for ad hominem attacks and for enabling and taking any part in stalking and harassment — because people earnestly interested in assuring that violence or harm isn’t done to another person simply do not engage in this sort of thing at all. Ever. In any circumstance, in any venue, for any reason.

One can only reasonably assume that when someone goes into a forum or blog and contributes in any way to verbal abuse, women-hating and stalking, it is because they enjoy doing so, because they like the veritable masked gang-bang, and because when the invitation to do so is in any way extended, they are happy to accept. I simply do not see any other conclusion to reach from where I’m sitting.

* * *

I’m not sure how I feel about having stayed silent, and even still staying partially silent now, giving only the Cliff’s Notes. Part of me feels like a chicken-shit, and like my silence, like so many silences, enabled the whole culture of silence that I do work to try and dismantle every day.

On the other hand, I have a private life that is public in many respects, and when my relationships go south, overall no one is informed as to why, because relationship conflicts of any type strike me as utterly personal for all parties, and I’m well aware that no matter what the situation, my readers have a feeling of loyalty to me, so even when there isn’t a bad guy, the other person is very likely to come out looking like one. Heck, I don’t even write about petty arguments, about a lot of the sex I’m having, about a given partner or friend’s personal details or life issues, and I understand that that often results in most of my relationships looking different than they actually are, but everyone having some semblance of privacy is more important to me than complete accuracy in this regard. And no matter the scenario, I very much want to avoid any sort of public demonizing of anyone, or what could be perceived as such, for all the most obvious reasons. (It also is doubly complex when the person in question is no longer living, and so can’t speak for themselves.) Point is, I’m somewhat conflicted about the silence I kept, and the silence I’m still keeping: it’s a tough line to walk, always has been, remains so, and is all the more complex when dealing with an actual demon.

One reason I’m really not conflicted about some aspects of my silence, though, is that as a writer, I obviously have a firm belief that words hold great power, and we can wield power with them. As a Buddhist, and as someone simply invested in doing my level best to enable as much kindness and compassion as I can, I think that we all need to give pretty serious thought and care to how and where we use words, and be ever-mindful of the fact that they not only are powerful, but that when we put them out to the ears and eyes of the massive, unknowable many, we have only so much control over the impact they have and what they will cultivate, even in those instances when we don’t even intend to do harm. That isn’t to say there were not ways I could have handled this better, still using the power of my words without any intent to harm, but that my motivation to handle it as I did was greatly fueled by trying my best to be as compassionate and caring as I could (even if some of it was also based in my being less than brave).

Now, I don’t doubt for a minute that those who initially maligned Sierra, and plenty thereafter, DID and do give thought to their words and very much meant and mean for them to have the effect which they do. Same goes for what this guy, himself, did to me. I’m not certain I can say that about the participants from the sidelines with this experience of mine, but I can say that had things escalated among commentors even further, that none involved would have called for a halt, including the original author, and that it was his hope and intent that they WOULD go that way: that was what he was seeking out, and that was his intent. It’s entirely possible and likely that had a commentor gone so far as saying some of the things that were said about Sierra about me that the blogger might, on a good day, have asked them to play nice online, but knowing him, I assure you that as he typed that, he would have been inwardly pleased they said those things all the same, and found a way to use them to harass me further. Do all the people who egg on folks who abuse this way know that? I don’t know.

I don’t think that everyone who engages in these kinds of free-for-alls does really know or understand (or care to know or understand) the effect they have. Perhaps I’m naive in that respect, but I don’t think so, not about everyone. It isn’t because I think some are kinder than they seem, but rather because my impression is they’re either just not that bright, just that self-absorbed, have just that much internalized misogyny they’re blind to or think is somehow rational and acceptable, or all of the above.

The invisibility the net provides, as likely most of us well know, is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows for situations like youth posting questions to me at Scarleteen, important questions, some of them with answers that will actually save lives, which they wouldn’t post without some degree of that invisibility. On the other hand, it very clearly gives all too many the permission to act without conscience and to enact abuses, especially en masse abuses, and to have the feeling that nothing is real: the people they abuse aren’t real, their actions aren’t real, the harm they do isn’t real. I think we can safely — albeit sadly — say that some of the thinking that fuels this isn’t “If it were real, we’d see real hurt,” but “If it were real, I’d be getting in real trouble.”

* * *

Part of the illusion of ‘net invisibility is also, of course, safety. Plenty of us — and I’m no exception — may think we have some relative safety, even if we think we only have it in this circle or that one.

So, maybe this seems like an unsuitable cautionary tale for my readership, because we’re what — not THOSE kind of people? Thing is, some of the folks involved in what I went through were the same kind of people, even some of the SAME people, reading right here, right now. We are not somehow automatically protected from these things by hanging out with leftists, or with women, or with other queers, or with “nice” men, or with artists or with authors, or with yellow/red/brown/white/green people, whatever we decide “our” group of safe people are. Sierra was pretty obviously shocked to discover that bloggers-en-large were not “her” people, because she was one of them. I won’t feign any greater sophistication and say that I, too, was shocked, to see “my” sort of people contribute to or enable my online abuse.

Is a lot of that simply, and only, because she is, I am, we are, female? You bet your arse it is. We can deny, deny, deny all day, but the reality stands in pretty sharp relief to whatever persuasive denials we conjure up. We can blather all day about how anyone can find themselves victimized in this way. Certainly anyone CAN; but far, far more often, it is women who ARE.

But anyone can, sure. Just like anyone can start up this engine, too, and keep it running, which is much of why I’m here airing things that are really painful and precarious for me to air, because even the lot of us who think we’re somehow immune to engaging in this stuff or enabling it — even if it’s “just” with our silences — just plain aren’t. Internalized sexism and internalized hate aren’t phantoms or dusty ghosts: they’re exceptionally real. In Kathy Sierra’s case, I think it’s pretty obvious we aren’t likely dealing with people with hidden biases: they’re right there on the surface, and we can probably assume that they know they hold them (to the “wrong” kind of women, anyway — more than likely, plenty of these guys are thought to be perfect gentlemen to the “right” women, the ones who know their place, or their mothers, their sisters, whatever women deemed worthy of their protection and failty somehow) and hold them proudly. That kind of hate is a bit easier to speak to, and perhaps easier for all of us to look at because we can easily exempt ourselves from it, when the hard truth is that not only are none of us safe — particularly and specifically if we are women — but neither are we exempt unless we very mindfully, cautiously and intentionally work to exempt ourselves from it, in every way we can.

For me, there have been a lot of ways I have tried my best to do that, but I think I have some learning to do when it comes to my silences, and how I bridge the gap between silencing something personal-made-public and keeping some privacy, both for myself and for others. It seems to be that it couldn’t have been so simple a set of choices, this thing, as choosing between presenting myself as a victim and just staying silent, that I had other options, but that I just didn’t like what I expected the consequences to be, namely that I’d likely have to deal with a period of even more harassment, stalking and bullying. Given, I think that’s more than reasonable to want to protect yourself from, but at the same time, it calls up other issues: finding it hard to ask for help, for instance, not putting enough value in the power of my own words, having too much concern about looking like the bad guy myself or appearing vulnerable, internalized self-hatred, and, let’s face it, pandering to the status quo just because it’s less of a fricking headache and heartache in the short-term. I’m sure that’s the tip of the iceberg, but I’ve way too much self-evaluation for one week already: being flat on your back sick for a few days leaves too much time for that.

Point is, there’s easily at least something any single one of us can do to work towards not just avoidance of enabling and participating in this stuff, but towards disabling it. Obviously, for some, like those who stalked and harassed Sierra, it goes a lot deeper, when we’re talking about unlearning misogyny and hate that for plenty, just won’t effing ever happen because they’ve no interest in making it happen. Maybe for others, it’s simply finding a reason to learn not to engage anything even remotely like this, and to wield the power of words — like any power — unoppressively and more carefully. Or to make a point of sending complaints to a server when hate speech of any kind is on it. Or to stop freaking denying sexism all the damn time, no matter your sex or how acknowledging sexism makes you feel about yourself or those around you. (And perhaps to also recognize that there’s a whole additional discussion to be had about what is a portrayal of victimhood and what is simply acknowledging that ourselves or others have been victimized, and how colonized even that has become.)

Or to just remember that there is no “game” in any sort of stalking and any sort of abuse, no matter how innocuous a given environment may make it seem, no matter how reasonable a given abuser may make it appear, or how much an abuser may present themselves as anything but, no matter how safe from it any of us think we are.

I’m going to leave comments open for this, but only because I think dialog about the overarching issue is important, and I think that’s all I really need to say to make clear what’s appropriate in comments here and what very much isn’t, given everything else I’ve said today.

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

A little while ago, I found out from Briana that Cady had died.

I talked about her once before here, some time ago, but since I’m not sick of reruns about her, I figure y’all have no right to be, either.

In my old Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, a couple blocks from my apartment was one of the most glorious houses I had ever seen. It was a faded white Georgian, clearly around 100 years old, with a sprawling lawn, a carriage house far bigger than my own dwelling, and it just had this incredible vibe. For a couple years, I had been dying to know who lived in it, but hadn’t seen anyone around every time I looked.

One day, in a race to deliver the first finished manuscript of the book to the first publisher that had it, I found out. I was rushing by on my bike, the manuscript in my messenger bag, pencils still stuck in my hair, in a t-shirt I’d probably been wearing for days, eyes on the prize when I heard a creaky but damn loud woman’s voice holler out “Ride’em, cowgirl!”

Cady, at likely all of 5 foot and 80 pounds, was standing next to a mower on her lawn, at that house, smiling and cheering me on as she wiped sweat from her forehead.

Of course, I had to stop. Deadlines be damned when a woman in her eighties who can project like that and handle a lawn that’s an eighth of a city block by herself calls you out.

We gabbed for a while, and over the next year or so, when we’d run into each other, we’d sit on whomever’s stoop and gab some more. Rather, she gabbed, I listened and expressed awe: old women’s stories are my legal high. The woman talked a blue steak, and coming from me, that’s really saying something. Once, she shared a stoop with myself as well as the toddler daughter of two friends, and I just basked in the coolness of such a span of generations between three women all interacting. Yawn if you must, but it was awesome.

My favorite story of hers was how she got her house. She’d told me she had been moved up to Minneapolis in a quasi-arranged marriage, in that house. Her husband, as it turns out, was a philanderer as well as an abuser, and she suffered under him for years.

She told me that one day something just snapped in her: after another bout of abuse leveled at her, he’d gone out to drink and play. She found his rifle, camped out on the wide front porch, and waited for him to come home. When he did, she negotiated a deal: either he’d leave, for good, and leave her with the house she (validly) felt was the least she had earned, or she’d just kill him, right there and then, before she let him into that house again, and that was that.

Yes, I’m a pacifist, yes, I advocate for nonviolence, and yes, I hate guns more than I can ever express, but I don’t have a problem with self-defense, and I really don’t have a problem with the mental image of that tiny (albeit loud)woman, holding her ground, 100% confident in her resolve, and sending that man away. I don’t have a problem with the thought of Cady shutting that door behind him, putting the gun away, and finally feeling safe in her own home, feeling ownership of her space and herself. In fact, since she told me that story, it’s one of many images I draw up in my mind often because I find it, I find her, inspiring and utterly awesome. Women like her, you just look at them listen to them, and figure that if you wind up being even half the woman they were, you’ll have done alright.

She got her house. To my knowledge, she never remarried, or even officially divorced. She never had children, but she told me about a few neglected children of others that she’d care for for years at a time. When we’d see each other, she was often walking back from the market with two overflowing grocery bags full of every sort of food for every sort of neighborhood animal you could think of (and according to Bri, the state of her house reflected the indoor animal refuge she’d created).

I’m irritated as hell with myself that I never got up the gumption to ask if I could photograph her: it just never felt right, for some reason, but selfishly, I’d love to have those photos.

Apparently, some young family bought her house, and a couple weekends ago, it was opened up, with everything in it on sale to whomever wanted to buy. Briana went over, and did manage to find us a couple of her aprons so that I could have something of hers, which makes me very happy, and her taking the time to do that for me and because she knew from Cady, was really wonderful.

But it all breaks my heart. Bri said every last thing she owned was for sale, right down to her scrapbooks. It breaks my heart because even in knowing as little as I knew about her, she was a magnificent, ballsy woman: she was a force to be reckoned with, not just an owner of some valuable stuff. Apparently, there was one room of the house full of children’s toys, crayons, the works: where were those adults who she once cared for as children? Why wasn’t there anyone at all who knew her who wouldn’t have wanted her china not because it was a valuable antique, but because it belonged to HER? Why wasn’t there anyone at all, who could say to someone else, “Here, this was Cady’s favorite book/mug/afghan/photograph, she’d have so wanted you to have it?”

Mark suggested I was so hurt by this because I was worried that’d be me. That’s not it: in fact, for years friends have already put in requests to have my stuff when I kick it, greedy little beasties that they are. My sadness wasn’t about me projecting (or about her likely dying alone: my bet is, that’s what she’d have wanted), it was about her deserving so much better than this, and about the sanctity of her home and uninvited visitors inside it to essentially ransack it. I worry that that new family moving in didn’t know or care what she did to keep that house, doesn’t know that, as she told me, from the minute she got that man out of it, she made a pledge to live until she died in that house because she had paid so dearly for it, and won her battle to keep it; because that house was emblematic of her freedom and her strong will. (Perhaps I’ll drop a letter to the address with this story, actually. It’s just criminal for someone living there not to know what an amazing legacy they’re living within.)

Our exchanges were relatively brief — heck, I don’t even know what her last name was — and fewer than I’d have liked. My sadness is also about never getting to see her again, never getting to find out even more of her history, find some way to document it so that she didn’t wind up just one more invisible woman who came and went, unheard and unsung.

This isn’t much of an offering as far as that goes, but it’s what I’ve got to offer, and it matters to me to put it out there. She mattered to me, and all the women like her should matter: I wish the older women in my family had been more like she was, I wish they’d have had a fraction of her nerve and resolve.

I’m Buddhist, I’m not an afterlife-believer, but with some people, I like to imagine there is, just so I can put them in a place in my mind that seems worthy of them. So, I’ve conjured up this image this week of Cady in my mind. She’s standing in front of some sort of ethereal place of eternal bliss, some floaty, big house of safety and peace for everyone inside it. She’s wearing her muddy, rubber boots, and she’s surrounded by her halo of fluffy white hair. And she’s vigilantly guarding the gates with her rifle, her small but forceful body, a gleam and an unspoken dare in her eye, keeping all the riff-raff out.

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

It’s very frustrating for me that when I have bad dreams — and I often do, I’d say they’re at least 60% of my dreaming life — in which I am being attacked or about to be attacked that I never, ever fight back.

Here I am, 100% able to do this in my waking life; ever ready to do it if I have to, especially considering that with some of my younger life, I’ve long been at the point where I’ve felt that I will do whatever it takes to never be abused, attacked or assaulted again.

And yet, my subconscious, for whatever reason, won’t let me.

Last night, for instance, I had this dream that I was in New York (looked like the meatpacking district) with Audra and some other woman who was a friend of hers I didn’t know. The friend — foolishly — insisted on driving around, and in trying to find a place to park, of course had to park in this totally out of the way creepy back alley. By the time night came, I walked them both to where the car was, pretty wary of where we were, but neither of the other two seemed to recognize inherent dangers (which is totally out of charatcer for Audra). It was one of those scenarios where you were trying to watch your own back as well as everyone else’s, which is always a recipe for disaster. The car was — of course — unfindable, and there was a lot of blabbing about in this totally unsafe place for way too much time.

In no time at all, a few guys started grouping up and circling, playing the friendly game when the vibe was clearly predatory. I tried to make subtle gestures to the two other women to just effing run, but nobody got it. One of the guys started talking to me, way too close, and did that movement people who are about to mug or attack you face-on sometimes do where they look somewhere else really quickly while talking to you so you’ll look away too, and then you’re toast.

So, I kept my eyes right on him, trying to give him a look that said I knew what was about to go down here, and just said, “Don’t,” very firmly and low. He nodded, and while I got the impression that for some reason, he would step back, it was pretty clear his friends were not going to, and at that point I loudly turned to Audra and the mystery woman and told them to run. They both looked at me like they didn’t understand what I was saying, and they didn’t make any move to run, even though each of them had a guy attached right to them at that point.

So, I ran, but only half-hearted, because I felt very not okay about just leaving them there AND because I could not figure out why I was running when there were other things I could have done, but my body would just not let me do them.

Within a quarter block, some other guy came out of nowhere. I was half-awake at this point trying to coach my dream-self to drop to the damn ground and do an easy low spinning kick to wipe him out so I could get away, but I just stood there frozen until I woke up with a start. Everytime I wake up from one of these dreams, it’s with this huge intake of breath: I often feel like I was trapped underwater. It’s really quite odd.

This stuff freaks me out because it makes me very concerned that should someone ever earnestly attack me again in real life, I’ll freeze the hell up, just like I did when I was younger. Mind, this likely is a manifestation of exactly that fear, which clearly is still pervasive with me: obviously, to some degree, it probably always will be. I know full well that a big impetus for me leaving large cities to choose mid-sized ones over the last almost-decade has a lot to do with a greater peace I feel: I know I pay more in rent to live in safer neighborhoods and buildings because the benefits for me are huge. I spent way too many years of my life living in scenarios and locales where I often just couldn’t sleep at night because of valid fears about my safety. Leaving Chicago, the final straw was the stalker who sent me letters describing intimate details of my shitty basement hovel which I knew anyone could easily break into — and he clearly had, without my even knowing — since I’d had to do it several times myself (I’m terrible with keys). Point is, I know where this stuff comes from.

But dammit, I psychologically need my dream self to step it up for me, man. Just once would be really nice. Not sure what switch needs to be flicked in my brain to make that happen, but if anyone has any tips or clues I’d love to hear’em.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Okay. Back to these thoughts and discussions. It’s mostly a day-off for me, but like any irritating intellectual, it’s actually quite relaxing for me to have the time to just kick back and work things out in my brain; ruminate a bit without time constraints.

I’m really glad we’ve been having the discussions, because they’re really helping to diversify and clarify my thoughts on the matter. (And by “the matter,” I don’t mean the overaching and huge issue or pornography, which I always vex people on all “sides” of the debate with by making clear that many years of thinking of it in passing, and many years of thinking on it, having experiences around it in a very concentrated matter still are not enough for me yet to feel sound in making any sort of broad prescriptions or conscriptions. By “the matter” I mean the specific issue of the conflict porn is posing for a lot of the young people at Scarleteen in their relationships.)

I am in agreement with many of the readers who have brought their thoughts to the table thus far in terms of the fact that it may well be self-esteem and sexual/interpersonal passivity that is the bigger issue here: bigger even than the porn, and I feel comfortable saying it’s a direr issue, period. Far more young women are at risk of dangers and inequities due to passivity or lack of self-esteem that profoundly limit or endanger the qualitiy of their lives than what dangers porn can pose, even to workers, and that’s interrelated, anyway. If we have scores and scores of young women with low or no self-esteem, who are more and more passive, those women are also in greater danger of being exploited in or via porn or ANY arena. Even if there was no more pornography whatsoever, no porn culture whatsoever, those women would still be greatly endangered.

This morning, one of my volunteers in one of those recent posts said something to one of the posters that resolanted with me, about porn triggering her body image issues. That very much helped me connect emotionally to the matter, because while I have not had body image issues triggered (my own body image issues are often more about concerns about my body working properly or optimaly than how it looks), I have had rape and abuse issues triggered. Spam email is actually my undoing sometimes.

Imagine, if you will, being a rape and abuse survivior. You wake up, toss some water on your face, take the dog out while the coffee brews. You grab a hot steamy cup, sit down in your office and open your email to see what’s on your plate for the day. And you are greeted (I’m not going to trigger anyone myself here, so I’ll be vague) with a line of language that is textbook abuser-speak, or which alludes to some from of sexual violence against women or girls. So, there you are, in what you presume to be the safety of your home, just going to do your work, and you get the panic attacks, the sick feeling in your stomach, the elevated breathing, that reminder of fear. More than once, I have hit upon a piece of spam whose language or approach managed to be so triggering and specific that it’s seriously ruined my whole day and made getting back to work a profound challenge.

Actually, over the years I have earnestly wondered if there was any sort of class-action suit which could be organized and won on this situation. If I don’t ask for these things to be sent for me, and the commentary — as most porn spam is — is written in such a way as to also be directed at me, and the content is what it is, is it not sexual harassment? By my way of thinking and my undertstanding of the harassment laws, it absolutely is. The beauty of a case like that is that you’d wind up connecting women who on very few issues could connect: a lot of right-wing women and left-wing women alike would be right there on the same page.

But I digress. And I’m just going to let my mind wander where it is inclined to go here, so please don’t interpret any of what I say as some sort of grand proclomation. Rather, consider these the observations and hypotheses of a given anthropologist, jotting notes for herself to try and make sense of what she’s observing.

The problem with trying to solve this matter when we’ve got low self-esteem, passivity and porn all coming together is that separating any of them completely becomes very problematic and very chicken-and-egg. For sure, we had issues of esteem and passivility in women before the great swell of pornography and the mainstreaming of some of it into culture. However, a great lot of that passivity and lack of esteem was both culturally and politically enforced, still. A lot of intentional pornography, in many respects, is just one more cultural enforcement or reinforcement of many.

If we have a partner who we know has triggers due to rape or abuse, or due to an eating disorder or self-image disorder, we’re going to do our level best NOT to trip those triggers, right? And if we’re not up to adding those extra cautions and considerations in our lives, then we’re going to elect not to choose or be with partners who need them. If we ARE that partner, then we should be actively choosing ONLY partners who ARE able to make those considerations, or whose behaviours and nature are such that they’re already a good fit. That isn’t, for the record, about any abuse, assault or disability being our fault: it’s about the fact that it’s still up to us to choose to be in relationships that are best for us, healthiest for us, even if it’s a shitty situation that what someone else did to us makes us have to even need to have these things be issues.

That said, what do we do when we have a growing population of young women who have low self-esteem and are inclined (as well as in some regards, encouraged) to passivity, and a generation of young men (when we’re talking opposite sex relationships, which is the only context in which these conflicts have appeared thus far at ST) whose sexual upbringing/conditioning, habits and choices in some aspects of sexual behaviour not only trip those triggers, but also sometimes sexualize and/or celebrate tripping them?

Too, what about the development — or continuance, let’s be smart and sound and acknowledge that in many respects, porn right now hasn’t really added any new, lousy elements to the mix, it’s just magnified them and made some of them more pervasive/obvious — of a culture as a whole, and one which, per still being dominated by men is in some respects, most directive to them, that celebrates and/or sexualizes tripping those triggers?

What about the fact that a great, great portion of the populace’s sexuality is still so juvenile (and I don’t mean that as a snark, I’m speaking developmentally) as to have taboo doing the most driving at the sexual wheel? When what’s arousing or sexually exciting is still what’s bad/naughty/conflict-based, isn’t it perhaps obvious that — especially with women over the last 100 years slowly making more gains towards equality — a profound taboo at play is going to be things like a stronghold on the age-old whore/madonna motif, keeping women off balance, having some degree of ownership of women (regardless of what is shown in a given piece of pornography, there is also a certain ownership/possession involved when one collects porn, and/or can simply view/sexually involve themselves with a woman how and when they want to based 100% on them, and not the woman), reducing women to less than they are, encourging passivity when it has become more of a choice than a mandate? (And for some women, the taboo is theirs as well, if and when they elect to play/play into that?)

* * *
I was optimistic in thinking this would be but three entries. If y’all don’t mind the focus on this for a bit more right now, I’m going to save some additional thoughts and questions I have at this point for a little bit later today.

I may have even spun myself off up there in a direction that isn’t productive or sound, but I don’t think so (especially since it’s also brought me to some other thoughts I know are productive which I’ll share some time after I make a nice fire, make some breakfast, do a phone interview and get a nice, long walk in). Need more time to mull it over. Talk!

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

If you’re going to reach out to support rape survivors voluntarily, we need to be supported no matter how we feel about our rapes; no matter at what stage we are at in our unique healing process. Not just when it makes you feel good about yourself.

A couple weeks ago, we had something happen at no consequences for the men, for instance. Or, when a rape was described, but not expressly called rape. The numbers ranged, given the study sample (its size, the particular group/class of men, the age of the men queried, blah blah blah), anywhere from 20% to 60%.

I’ve seen studies like this before: most of us have. These numbers don’t surprise me, nor do I generally leap to the assumption that they’re flawed studies because they show a high number. After all, an awful lot of us have been raped, sexually assaulted, coerced. Even just in my own life and work, I know a high number of rape surviviors. Generally, anywhere from 30% to 70% of us have been raped or sexually assaulted, sometimes higher depending on how you classify these things and organize your data. Surviviors know the sex of the person who raped us. It is no mystery to us, it isn’t a question. In the vast, vast majority of cases, men have raped us, whether we are female or male surviviors. That a lot of men do rape or would rape is not a surprise to us. It is terribly distressing — per our safety, our relationships with men, how sons are being reared, the toxic aspects of the culture men and women alike grow up and live in, toxic approaches to masculinity and femininity, the works — and it is painful and uncomfortable to know, but a surprise it is not.

The men — including an older parent of two adult children — who engaged in this discussion (and in discussions on rape states about perps I have read elsewhere) could NOT stop quibbling about the percentages and anything else quibble-able. It could NOT be 60% of all men, they said. And no, some of us said, it very likely is not, 60% came from X study, with X age group and this scenario. *I* would never ever rape someone, they’d say. No man *I* know would rape someone. Who’d have sex with a woman screaming at you to stop! (As if this described rape as a whole, or how most women respond when a rape is taking place.) Nice men don’t rape people, and we’re nice! they’d say. All the men I know are nice!

The quibbling went on, with those quibbling knowing full well (even if they didn’t care to be mindful about it) that survivors were reading, given we have a good deal of them at the forums, given they know the editor of the whole site is herself a survivor (one who, however, does not incite their pity, as I’ll discuss in a bit). Likely, they are not as acutely aware, if aware at all, that we’re used to this sort of quibbling, this sort of denial of our reality. That we’re used to hearing that men as a whole CANNOT be doing this: that something must be wrong with these facts, and generally, that something always boils down to us as victims in the end. We’re calling consensual sex rape, or we’re wearing the wrong thing, walking the wrong place, dating the wrong kind of guy (because, you see, all rapists are evil monsters recognizable to all of us in some magical way), not saying no loud enough, often enough, with enough conviction. Or, it’s someone else’s fault entirely, not the rapists. It’s our mothers fault for not modeling right or giving us too much independence. It’s our fathers fault for not protecting us. It’s the criminal justice system’s fault. Somebody’s fault, anybody’s fault, just not the rapists fault, because that might mean it’s the fault of an awful lot of men, or men as a class, or men as a dominant power. And that, for obvious reasons, isn’t so great to know as a man, even a man who doesn’t rape and has no desire to rape.

At this point, myself included, a couple survivors and bonafide supporters entered into the discussion (most stayed out, emailing me privately to express upset with the thread’s direction). I tried, calmly, cooly, to explain that no one was accusing the men there of being rapists or potential rapists. That while it was UNlikely any of them would NEVER know a man who did, would or could rape, that the men they felt they could trust in that regard were possibly trustworthy in that regard. But that actually, someone’s “nice” husband, “nice” neighbor or co-worker, “nice” dad or brother often enough DOES or WOULD rape. That some of us have been raped by a man who was “nice” in other respects, or who would rape us, but not his sister, daughter, wife, neighbor, friend. That some of us have, in fact, been unable to have anything done about our rapes, because we were disbelieved in being raped by this or that “nice” man.

In due course, I started to feel the anger leveled at us. (And it got to the point where I closed the thread, after getting a wave of nausea, after the older man went so far as to state that women could fix rape — and stop, in his mind, being rape enablers — by partnering with “nice” men like him, and breeding good sons who thus, genetically, would not be likely to become rapists, I kid you not.) I noticed what I often notice. All too often, as rape survivors, if we are pitiable; if we are depressed, sad, downtrodden, emotional wrecks, lonely, isolated, fearful, silenced: if we are in a phase of being — or have effectively be made entire — successfully subordinate by our rapist, by the aspects of rape culture we live in, then we can realistically expect a certain level of support from the men around us (though I don’t think this is as much of a given with male survivors).

This, too, should not be a surprise. Subordinated people are objects of pity, and subordinate women, especially, are to some degree celebrated for being such when our subordination is in line with the status quo, or it is sexual subordination of a variety which meets the needs of men. We do not threaten anyone, or their sense of power. We’re as gentle as kittens. No one is concerned about being harmed by us or losing priviliege because of us. We may rise to every small crumb of compassion or care. A Hallmark card, a hug and a “you poor dear” might be viewed as great tokens, and telling us we’re not ruined, spoiled, or sullied or that it isn’t our fault a gift of incredible magnitude.

But what about when we’re not “poor dears” anymore? What about when we want to take the proverbial Hallmark card, the pat on the head, and the so-sorry coos and shove them where the sun don’t shine? What about when we’re past that point: when we know it’s not our fault, we know we’re okay, we know we’re not lesser beings?

What about when we become angry? What about when we call — or your Dad, or your brother, or your best friend — out? What about when we start to catch on to the fact that you telling us we’re not “ruined” by some other man is still you, as a man, dictating what the bounds of our sexual or physical sovereignty are?

What about when we want to start to look at WHY this has happened to us, why it could happen again, why it could happen to our sisters, and some of our brothers, why we have to live in fear of this at all? What about when we’re ready to lay the blame on WHO has done this to us: who individually, who culturally, who as a group, and not be obtuse about their sex or gender (especially since, lord knows, they weren’t about ours)? What about when we feel utterly crazy because we’re eating post-traumatic stress for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and try as we might, it is infecting every aspect of our lives, and being told it’s okay is infuriating because we are NOT okay? What about when we want to talk about how effing pissed off we are to have to try and get back our hijacked sexuality, when we want one damn night without being woken by flashbacks or nightmares, to be free of being triggered by simple daily things, to not have to live among our rapists, to not have to be careful of how we talk about our rapes or our feelings to every bloody person we know because it might upset THEM?

When we get to THAT place, see, we no longer seem so harmless. (Because we aren’t.) If someone was supporting us to feel better about themselves, to feel like a good person, to amp their esteem, in this stage of the game, it stops being a feel-good endeavor. We are not cute, fluffy bunnies who have lost their mama to be stroked, who will snuggle back with a sad, but slightly contented sigh. We’ve had enough self-pity and self-blame for three lifetimes. We’ve had enough of people giving us permission to feel things when we should not need anyone’s permission in the first place. We may be far more critical, far more watchful, far more wary. We may even seem feral, fuming, volatile at times. If we didn’t report our rape at the time, we now might, and we might be reporting your best friend or another man you liked and respected, who you cannot believe would rape us. If we were silenced before, we refuse to be silent now. We may not want to take you at your word about how “nice” you are: we may even question why you need to keep telling us how nice you are in the first place, rather than allowing us our own judgment of your character and safety. We may want you to just leave us the fuck alone for a little while.

We may want to start investigating WHY it is that men perpetrate rape and in the volume they do: this is not an abstract for rape survivors (as often it is not abstract as to HOW many have been raped by men: when you’re a survivor who isn’t silent, suffice it to say, you tend to know more surviviors then most because they’re more inclined to confide in you as to being raped), or a maybe, since around 98% of our rapists were/are male, and we know this. Some of us would very much LIKE to forget this fact, but we cannot, even if we try. We are reminded in our dreams, we are reminded in our triggers and flashbacks, we are reminded in our bones and blood. We are reminded in your language, or the language of the men you and we both know. We are reminded in the way some men pass us in the street and evaluate us as they pass. We are reminded when any level of dismay or surprise is expressed when we decline sexual invitation or innuendo. We are reminded in aspects of male-dominated culture, and the behaviour of men and women alike under that paradigm. We are reminded every time someone makes a “funny” joke about rape, and we hear that undertone which acknowledges there is a power even in saying the word in our presence; in feeling able to even play with rape as a joke, because it has not been your harsh reality to be on the receiving end or live in fear of it.

When a person is traumatized, attacked, assaulted (or has those they are close to have been such), eventually, a person processing it, wanting to know the truth of it, is going to want to look into the big why of it, to start to look critically, to engage the issue intellectually, not just emotionally, or not just in a reactionary way. Of course, when we’re talking rape, that need can be even larger because all too often, we are told covertly and overtly that we were raped because of something WE did.

* * *

Some weeks ago, one of the AGA bloggers wrote a piece about how much she loves the freedom she feels in wearing short shorts. I ended up over here weeping unexpectedly, because — odd as it sounds, given my age and the fact that in many contexts I’m comfortable being seen nude — it finally sank in for me that the reason I do not and have never own a single pair of shorts higher than my knees in the last thirty years is not because they’re physically uncomfortable, nor is it because I have big legs I feel are unappealing in some way.

It’s because when I was 12 years old, after being stalked and then assaulted by a group of teenage boys on a hot August day in Chicago where I was a junior camp counselor, the police officer called to the scene told me, verbatim, that I really should not be walking around in “shorts that short.” Shorts I (obviously) remember quite succinctly, which were mid-thigh on me; perhaps a little tighter than I’d have liked, but I was in a growth spurt, and in my family, we wore clothes out until they just couldn’t be worn anymore. Shorts of the same type, fit and size which men and women wear on any given day. Shorts which did not have “fuck me” or “rape me” printed on their backside.

I was sitting on a curb, every part of my body sore and shaking, I didn’t even know WHAT had happened to me, because I just didn’t have the context for it, and I was in an absolute state of shock. No report was filed. No one offered me healthcare, and I was not given a contact to come back into when the shock wore off and I could figure out what exactly had happened. Instead, I was told, outrightly, that I needed to dress differently, and off they went. I was 12 years old, it was 1982, and a hundred years or so from me, other kids my same age flew up and down on the swings, feeling free.

I did not talk to anyone about that attack for at least another four years. I didn’t say a word about it, I didn’t write a word about it. Only one member of my family has any real awareness of what happened to me, and even then, since I felt unable to talk about it or ask questions — even to ask why it hurt so much to use the toilet — and wasn’t asked to talk about it or invited to ask questions, that awareness is profoundly limited. Even when I did start talking to one or two people about it, including my therapist at the time, it would be in vaguries or the most timid of suggestion (and it goes without saying that I am hardly a timid person). Often, that is still how I talk about it, even with those closest to me. There’s this feeling a lot of survivors have which is that everyone knows what happened to you, even if you tell know one; like your rape is written on your face in indelible ink. Some of that is projection: but over the years the conclusion I’ve come to is that some of that feeling comes out of the fact that so many people around you often DO know or DO suspect, but wish to enable your silence.

Even though at this point, I know full well it was not the shorts I was wearing, the fact that I, a young woman in the world, was unescorted in an empty room, nor that I didn’t scream enough, fight enough, look mean enough, say this thing or that one, look this way or that, there’s a 12-year-old girl that still inhabits part of my body and she totally believed that police officer, especially since his words echoed others she had heard about herself, her sex, her gender in her world.

Obviously, at this point, 24 years later, I passed that stage of subordination, as much as one can, anyway. But part of me was deep and unknowingly in it for a LONG time, and it had some effects that only by sheer luck were not absolutely disastrous for me. Obviously, I got to the pissed-off point and then some: obviously, I’ve done a good bit of healing for myself, sometimes with the help of others.

Obviously, my life is hardly ruined because I can’t wear a given style of clothing: however, my life is irreparably changed because I cannot even put on a given style of pants without feeling a very visceral fear, and without being reminded of that day and all the various ways it — and my other sexual assaults — have altered my life because other people have purposefully stolen my ownership of parts of my life and my body. My life was irreparably changed in creating a scenario in which aspects of what happened to me and my exploring them were so off-limits that even as someone who talks about rape almost daily, I could be unaware of something so obvious and simple for so bleeding long.

* * *

I think what gets overlooked is the hard truth that if a person, and for obvious reasons, especially a man, can ONLY be supportive of rape survivors when they are subordinated — when, effectively, they are not yet survivors at all, but absolute victims, for a rape never stops when the attack itself does — then he is, effectively, not supportive of that person so much as he is supportive of his or her subordination. This does not, in my mind, make him complicit in that rape, mind, but it DOES make him complicit in enabling rape culture. And it does not make him supportive of that person’s healing and survival, for it has thus been made plain he or she is preferred subordinate.

We have a long cultural history of women voluntarily tending to men who have been wounded in wars, as veterans, as civilians. While this is not an identical issue (as a class, it is men who have waged war, even if this is not the case for individual veterans: the same cannot be said of women per rape), in many ways, we survivors are those wounded in war, a war in which we are resisters rather than participants, in which we are civilian casualties, in which we are the spoils of war. When we care for those wounded by war, it is not, ideally, out of obligation or because it is required duty — we may even care for the wounded when we strongly protest or abhor war; we may do so while we too, lie bleeding, scarred, raped. It is not — when we’re doing it right, in my eyes — about our ego, or about being viewed as a nice person. We have done so, when we do so, genuinely, it is out of empathy and compassion, out of love and care for our brothers, as their sisters.

A bit of the trouble I see in some men dealing with survivors (whether they be female or male, in either case, a rape victim is generally seen/experienced as feminized) is the inability to see women as sister, but instead, to see them as daughters. In other words, there can be a certain paternalism which I feel really inhibits empathy and compassion. However fine a father-figure a man may be or consider himself, if he is father and we daughter, we are not generally on equal footing, but viewed and treated as something to take care of, out of a certain feeling of duty and even ownership, rather than as someone to care for as you would a brother. (And obviously, ownership is a big issue when it comes to rape; a big issue for a survivor and a perpetrator.) I think that this dynamic is part of men feeling betrayed when discussion of men-as-rapists is brought to the table, feeling women have disrupted or sought to disband their brotherhood by identifying their brothers — literally or generally — as rapists. It is thought, sometimes, that we cannot understand brotherhood, and yet, I feel quite certain we can and do: it strikes me that perhaps a reason it is thought we cannot is because so many men cannot or do not feel we are sisters, but daughters.

Point is, I understand — I really do — it being hard as hell to gain awareness of how many men rape. I know that it hurts like hell, I know that not a one of us does NOT want the truth to be what it is.

Mark and I had a big discussion on this issue some time back. Before being with me, he really didn’t have any real rape awareness, so suffice it to say, as it tends to be for anyone, gleaning that awareness was neither a fun nor an easy process. We had a talk one night in which his brain clicked stuff together as tends to happen, and he asked the proverbial question: if one on every three or four women have been raped, that means one out of every three or four men have raped, right? And you know, I argued that that wasn’t really accurate, but shaking that from his mind wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t) easy. He has three brothers. Sparing me, all of his closest friends are male. So, he’s sitting there, in part angry with with me — and you know, it happens: we all know about killing the messenger, but some measure of anger with them is still normal. (Some.) He’s angry with me because he does not want to think any of his brothers or friends have or would rape, and I have brought that up for consideration, by virtue of them being male. I talked (and have since) about recidivism, about how rates often differ in different communities, age groups, what have you. However, recidivism and greater incidence in certain communities/groups doesn’t change that fact that while one out of every four men might not be rapists, even when we’re talking all men (rather than in this group of friends or that), the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT of men who have raped, do rape or consider raping.

(I really appreciate Ampersand’s — who is male, and it’s odd to me that I have to point that out a lot — approach to this, by the way. For the curious on what it would mean if one study done, in which 4.5% of several thousand college men in the U.S. reported they had raped a woman, was the accurate number, take a look. Even if in the U.S. alone, rapists were were *only* that 4.5% of men…

“4.5% of the men in the United States… translates into over six million men.

If you added up every US citizen who was officially unemployed or looking for work in 2001, that would be less than the total number of rapists.
If you added up every US citizen who is Jewish, that would still be less than the total number of rapists.

If you added up every teenage boy who had any sort of job - an afterschool job, a summer job, working full-time after dropping out, including all of those - you’d still have over a million fewer people then the total number of rapists.
There are twice as many rapists in the USA as there are single mothers.

For every drunk driver who is in a fatal accident this year, there are over 500 rapists.

If you take every doctor and nurse in the United States; and you added them to every librarian, every cashier, every cop, every postal clerk, and every bank teller in the whole country; you still wouldn’t have as many people as the number of rapists in the United States.

(Think of that a second - think of how often, in your daily life, you’ve seen cops and cashiers and all those other folks. Odds are, you’ve run into rapists more often than that).

To paraphrase Tim Wise: In short, “only” 4.5% of the male population is a lot of people, so that even by the most optimistic assessment of how many men are rapists, there are literally millions out there who not only would but have raped a woman. When combined with those who are less vicious - those who haven’t raped, but would be willing to in the right circumstances, and those who would make excuses for why other men rape, it becomes clear just how real a widespread a problem rape and rape-supportive attitudes are among men today.”)

But see, eventually *I* started to get mad (and do still) at even having to have that conversation in that way, with anyone, where I have to talk about all the men who aren’t rapists when I want to talk about the men who are. I explain that I too, feel angry and betrayed by how many men rape, and since I’ve not only BEEN raped, more than once, but am at a vastly greater risk of being raped again than a man is of ever being raped (especially if he’s unlikely to do time in prison, he isn’t trans or gay, nor is he often feminized: and all of those are the case with the majority of men in the world), it makes me feel all the more crappy to have this awareness because it’s also about my personal safety, on TOP of being about the same emotional betrayal., especially when you consider that the vast majority of those of us who have been raped have not been raped by a stranger, but by someone we knew, and usually had some measure of trust in.

I love the men in my life, too. I trust the men I care for, too, and I hate the idea that there are some I perhaps should not give as much trust to as I do. While I don’t have a brother-by-blood, I have had and do have brothers in spirit, whom I have loved and trusted ferociously. Who, if they raped me or anyone else, would crush my heart, and make me question everything about the people I love and trust. During the years I was teaching, I had tiny boys I cared for and cherished every day, who I loved dearly, and who I never want to imagine could become rapists (or be raped, for that matter). I do not love men less than another man does because of my sex, or because some men have hurt me. It’s ridiculous to me that that is something I even have to say to anyone at all: that I have to defend my love for men, individually and as a whole, in order to be given any credibility or patience when discussing the great harm some of them do. (As if, if I did NOT love them, that would in any way change the reality than some do that harm? Love them or not, some of them rape. Again, I feel sure that there are women out there who did love or have since loved the men who have raped me. No doubt, some of those women would likely say that don’t know any rapists, even though they climb into bed with one every night.)

(For the record, Mr. Price and I have made an awful lot of headway with this issue: most of those conversations we had a year ago, and given they were conversations he never had, it’s really pretty amazing and seriously awesome how quickly he’s processed a lot of this. He’s even gotten to be a pro per memorizing rape and abuse triggers with me and warning me in advance if we’re in situations or settings in which he thinks or knows one might come up. He doesn’t seem to get angry with me anymore for discussing this stuff: if he’s not up for the discussion, he’s gotten to the point where unless it’s clear I just HAVE to get it out there, he’ll ask to opt out.)

And really — pardon my rambling — this is the sort of thing I feel the need to call out and address. Men: it’s understandable to feel hurt, angry, even guilty-by-association to a degree, at men who rape, at the culture which enables that. I get that. We get that. And I hate that any of us have to feel that way. I wish none of us — you, me, or anyone else — did.

But to be selectively compassionate towards survivors (or even those disseminating this sort of information), to attempt to negate our realities because you don’t like them or can’t wrap your heads around them, to find us more acceptable when we are less aware, less able to work towards our own survival, is NOT OKAY. Especially if you are telling us you’re being supportive of US. More than once, for instance I have heard men complain that a given rape crisis center did not hire male help, and that complaint generally ends with, “But *I* want to help!”

Hear that “I”? That I should be the big red flag that this is about you, not about victims or survivors. That I should be your hint that you’re probably looking for something that helps YOU, not someone else, especially when the someone else’s are asking you NOT to help right now. That I should tell you all you need to know about your ability to be supportive of someone else.

(FYI, I do get the why of most rape crisis centers not having men on staff. It’s pretty obvious, especially when you recognize these are women generally calling in immediately after a rape. On the other hand, I do have a bit an issue with not having transwomen on staff. That one I don’t get.)

Nobody ever said being supportive of rape (or other trauma) survivors was easy. We KNOW it’s not easy: we’re doing most of the work, after all, and we know how much it sucks, how troubling it is, how frustrating it is, how much you want to bash your head through a wall sometimes because you’d just really like a time to come in some conceivable future where you don’t have to keep working through this damn shit you didn’t ask for in the first place. We know how difficult our awareness of these things, emotionally and intellectually, can make some of our interpersonal relationships. We are keenly aware of all of this. And you — as supporters, as partners, as friends, brothers — are either up for it, or you’re not. But if you are up for it, if you want to be, if you need to be, if you’re telling us you are, you’ve got to be up for the whole deal, not just the parts that are easiest because we are most vulnerable and at our weakest. Not just the parts where we’re victims. Also the part where we survive, and eventually — hopefully — thrive.

During some of that, you’re going to have to back the hell off. During some of that, we don’t want to be hugged, and we don’t feel like “poor dears.” During some of that, we may call you out on some of your behaviours which we feel may or do enable rape or rape culture, or which are a blockade to our healing and dealing. During some of that, you’re not going to be able to get what you might want or need from us; you might need to adapt some of your own behaviours that you don’t really want to. During some of that, or at any point, we may even ask you to reconsider friendships or alliances with other men in your life who have raped, probably would rape, set off our radars, think rape is funny in any context or who act in such a way that we feels enables rape. During some of that, you’re going to need to do your own processing without us, and not put your anger, betrayal, sadness or confusion on us.

We survivors do, and usually have done, most of our processing on our own. Maybe we have had or currently have the help of therapists, counselors, formal or informal support groups. Maybe we’ve got wonderful friends or partners, and maybe you’re one of those. But our processing is still a largely solitary activity, and you’ll probably never have any idea how much of it we do or have done.

You need to process a lot of this on your own too, or with the help of people other than us. You need to become aware of your anger and upset when it comes to our rapes, rape in general, rape culture and your feelings about rape and you, and work at putting that in the right place. You need to be aware of when something is about your needs, and when it’s about ours, and do your level best to act in accordance with both, especially when you have the lighter burden. When our healing or processing creates issues or problems in our relationships with you, you need to be committed to jointly and individually exploring and helping to manage those issues soundly and maturely, treating us as equals, while also recognizing our limitations, just as we try and stay cognizant and respectful of yours.

You need to be aware, before you offer us help and support, if that offer is about helping us, or if it’s really about helping yourself. Some of us are, for the record, happy to help you deal with some of this: just not under the guise of it being about US, and generally, not when we are in the thick of a crisis ourselves. It is advisable, however, to ASK us if we’re up to that: we do not owe it to you or anyone else to help you process or make sense of rape because we have been raped.

One of the things survivors are victimized by in rape is a total lack of boundaries. In order to help us — and not victimize us further — you need to be sure not to some of the difficulty some of us have with enforcing/having boundaries for granted (when your boundaries have been profoundly violated, rebuilding often takes a long time); you need to create and respect limits and boundaries, ours and yours.

And we will thank you for your support, and generally be very grateful for it. However, you will not receive a medal for giving it to us, nor will we think you amazingly special for getting an A because the grading curve is so low. While we recognize that that support can be incredibly difficult to give, especially during the tougher bits, we also know it to be optional, and do not want to accept it out of any spirit other than your earnest care for us and our care for you. If you have the expectation of being celebrated or seen as some sort of saint for dealing with the likes of us, I suggest you bring with that the expectation of being told to sod off when we catch on to your real motives and don’t particularly appreciate them.

* * *

To those of you men out there who have done, currently or will do the whole enchilada when it comes to support, who are willing to look at the hard stuff, and help survivors manage it; who are even willing to self-evaluate honestly in this respect, including looking at how our subordination via rape and rape culture nets privilege to you as a class, thank you. For those of you who have stood by a woman in your life for all the aspects of her healing — even the stuff that made your life far more difficult or inconvenient, thank you. For those of you who support female survivors in their sadness, anger and evaluation and are also survivors yourselves, a double-thank you. That’s no small feat. For those of you who do work to promote awareness of rape and rapists, even if your personal safety isn’t at risk, thank you, especially those of you who have to deal with other men’s disdain or resentment towards you for doing so. For those of you who help surviviors in the way THEY want to be heped, and step back from the ways they do not, even if it’s painful for you to do so, thank you.

For those of you who are trying in this respect, but not quite there yet, thank you for your continued efforts. For those of you who know you just can’t do any of this or even some of it, and know when to step back, stay out of the way, and/or voice your limitations as needed, acknowledging them as exactly that, thank you. We can’t get it all right off the bat: I sure don’t expect you to.

No matter where you’re at in this spectrum, for those of you who even took the time to read this, even if I’ve made you angry or upset, even if you don’t like hearing my words and feelings on this (and doubly, if you questioned why it was me you were feeling angry or upset with), thank you for taking the time.

* * *

(For the record, some of this stuff is also applicable to women. However, I’d have a separate letter to write to women regarding dealing with rape survivors, especially since I’ve noticed some different issues that come up there, like feelings of being “left out,” like aiding in the protection of rapists, etc. and to boot, I simply do not see the same sort of fair-weather support among women anything close to as often as I see/have experienced it with men. But the letter for women is a letter for another day. Not for today.)

P.S. M., some of this is for you, and arose out of parts of our conversation the other night. Your recent trauma was not a rape, given, but it is comparable, to say the least. I said it last night, but I’ll say it again: cut yourself a break. Healing from this stuff can take an insane amount of time and energy, and that is tiresome and maddening as hell. I’m glad you were able to get a little mad last night. I’m here if you need to get mad again, even if it’s a million times more mad than last night. I love you, and I’m here whenever you need me to be, just ask, even for the ugly, painful stuff.

(The original comments for this post are here.)