I’m in physical therapy twice a week for lingering issues from having shingles.
Twice a week, I lay down on a black table with an oval shape cut out of it for my face to rest in. I deep breathe as tears burn my eyes while the physical therapist dry needles my shoulder blade trying to wake up dead muscles and nerves.
When I took ballet, I was taught early on about finding a spot across the room to focus intently on while learning to pirouette. You focus on that spot and as your body twirls around, you don’t turn your head until the very last second, and then you refocus immediately on that same spot. I could keep spinning indefinitely, as long as I didn’t lose sight of that spot.
So when I lay down on the table at physical therapy, I find one spot on the floor and focus with all my might. But that’s not the only reason I have to deep breathe, focus on one spot, and meditate while I lay face down and dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands.
The carpet on the floor that I stare at twice a week has the same exact pattern and texture as the couch in my grandparent’s Florida room.
The same couch I focused on while my grandfather would pin me down and rape me on the ground in between the exercise bike and the couch while the television blared next to us.
I just read a thread on Twitter where a female creative was talking about a bad experience she had with men in a creative space. I am being intentionally vague here, for her safety. In this space, she stood up to these men who argued what consent is. These men argued that according to rules of consent, they raped women.
As I started reading the replies, people called her out for not naming names. And for not naming who had assaulted her.
Okay, so where to start with this?
One, I talk about my abuse and my assault. I’m not everyone, nor am I every victim. I, and I alone, made that choice. Talking about my abuse and assault gives me control of a situation I had no control in. When I don’t talk about it, shame takes over and I refuse to feel shame for the monstrous actions of someone else.
Here’s the thing — I named who hurt me and guess what? Nothing happened. Not a damn thing. There’s no such thing as a perfect victim. I was a blonde hair, innocent little girl and still people didn’t believe me.
My bladder does not work the way a normal human’s bladder should work, I have to buy industrial KY jelly for the catheters I use daily and I have to pay for a prescription for bladder medicine monthly because of what that man did to me.
And yet, people still do not believe me.
There were witnesses. My grandmother got mad at my grandfather one time because he ejaculated in my hair and didn’t realize it. She was mad because she didn’t want to clean it out of my hair because she didn’t have time to do that and finish making Baked Alaskan for dessert.
And yet, people still do not believe me.
I write about my experiences, even though I know that every single time I do, I will receive hate mail. I get rape threats and hate mail blaming me for every victim that came after me. I get hate mail for not handling my abuse and assault ‘correctly’. As if there is a place on this planet where a trauma like that can be handled ‘correctly’ by a victim. Did I survive? Yes. Then I handled it correctly. Did you survive? Yes? Then you handled it correctly. Hard stop.
Stop putting the responsibility on the victim. If a victim chooses to name their assailant, then that needs to be their choice, not yours.
Let me repeat that for you: If a victim chooses to name their assailant, then that needs to be their choice, not yours.
If you take that away from a victim, you are taking one more thing about what happened out of their control.
Stop asking why they didn’t say anything. There are five million examples and counting of why victims don’t disclose. Even now, as a woman in my forties, members of my extended family have tried to taunt me about the abuse. The abuse they could have, but chose not to stop.
Don’t bully a survivor into telling the world who their abuser/rapist was. It’s not on the survivor to defend herself and make sure she is safe. Maybe start with believing them. I know why people don’t report — it’s because they don’t think they will be believed.
After the #metoo movement started, I had written an essay for a website that has around 7 million followers. I normally don’t read the comments on pieces I’ve written, as history has taught me that I can’t continue to write what I need to write if I read the nastiness. My husband and I had gone to dinner in New Orleans with another couple on the day it was published. I made the mistake on the hour drive home to open up my email. I was grateful for the darkness outside, so no one else could see the tears stream down my face for the rest of the trip home.
I decided shortly after to focus on writing my book and not on freelancing for the year. I need the break from writing about the worst experiences of my life and the emotional labor that would follow. I had been talking about my experiences for almost twenty years through writing, working, and giving speeches. It felt like since people were willing and starting to share their experiences, it was time for their voices to be heard.
Then, people that I know started chastising me for not speaking up more about it. So many of them were disappointed, they said, and were outraged and wanted for the masses to be vocal about the problem.
I was tired. Bone tired. Some of these people are the same ones who would be uncomfortable and change the subject when they asked what I was working on, or wouldn’t show up to an advocacy event I invited them to, or would tell me I needed to ‘get over it’.
Where were these people for the last twenty years? Now it’s a five alarm fire for them and I’ve been telling them about the smoke for years.
All of these conversations would end with people telling me how I should tell my story. How I should do this or that. I am so sick and tired of people telling survivors how to tell their stories. Telling my story thousands of times over the years is thousands of hours of emotional labor and it is exhausting because I have to tell the story on the defense. People want to hear the story in a way they can control through victim blaming questions and statements, as if to further separate the possibility of them being in same the situation by placing blame on something I did or didn’t do. People want to control my story in order to make themselves comfortable.
I am not here to be controlled.
My story, my terms.
I’ve been telling my story for over twenty years. When I want, how I want. I do it because there are little girls out there, like I was, who will tell someone and they will not be believed. I want those little girls to know that there are people like me, paving the way for them to tell their story if they so choose.
And if those little girls grow up and choose to tell their story, it won’t be because I pushed them to. It will be their choice. And I will believe them.