Tag Archives: survivors

extra:ordinary – “I am one hell of a survivor”

(Today, I’m sharing another powerful submission to our extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday resilience) from Lindsay in Columbus, OH. )

Be easy with you as you read – know that this piece includes some strong, vivid, and explicit language around sexual violence. Thank you, Lindsay, for your experience, truth, wisdom and hope!
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1) Do you identify as a victim or a survivor?

I don’t think I identify with either of these categories on a regular [basis]. I feel that I pretend I moved beyond the label in an effort to assimilate my experiences into a daily, functional life; to take ownership still while hiding. Well, that is how I think of it now, but that was not the original motivation behind my rejection of the identities of victim or survivor – to claim one was to admit I was one, any category. I desperately didn’t want to be different or broken. I didn’t want to be a victim or a survivor because those identities made the violence and the shame public; it brought it to the front and made it tangible. I believed that picking a category would make these instances of inappropriate violence, sexual exploitation, and accelerated maturity defining characteristics of myself in the most negative light. I have been in counseling for over a decade and have reached the point where I am comfortable with the defining capabilities of my traumatic experiences because I know that I am more than just these scarring instances; I am complex, I have interests, and I have taken the time to explore and develop them, often under the suggestions of various counselors, making them my own with little twists. I currently keep pretty mute on my traumatic experiences – I do not openly talk about it unless it is incredibly relevant and with company I feel safe with. I recently relocated to Columbus, OH from WNY where I had spent the first 26 years of my life. It’s been about a year and a half and I still don’t really have anyone here I would talk to about my trauma besides my counselor. There are instances in the past when I have shared my story – in college and graduate school – I spontaneously chose survivor to describe myself in every instance. Isn’t that the ultimate instance? That innate, muscle reflex when put on the spot; so that’s the answer – that ultimately, deep down inside I know that I am one hell of a survivor.

2) Tell us a bit about your experience of abuse — what was it like for you?

The first instance of sexual abuse happened when I was six or seven, too young to understand or even identify that what occurred was sexual or wrong until later in life. My mother and I were visiting family in Pennsylvania when it happened. I was spending the evening at a cousin’s house to hang out with kids my age. The father was not related to me directly but took an interest in me immediately, playing with me on the floor, hands going in places to tickle. We all went to bed I was put in a very open space with a guest bed. I woke up in the middle of the night to hands in my nightie and my panties were missing. He talked to me so gently, so calmly as he “explained” what he was doing and how much he cared about me. My gut was in knots during it all, tears quietly dripping from my eyes. When I think back to it I remember feeling conflict. Conflict of how my body was physically reacting, how I thought I was suppose to trust adults, the shame I felt for being wrong about what was “right” about child-adult relationships. I don’t remember everything that happened the night. I didn’t recall the incident until I was in eighth grade, keeping quiet still another two years until I told a friend what I remembered. What I remember is touching, and guidance, and exploration, sharp pains and shh shh shh’s when I made sounds. I remember lying awake later, trying to go back to sleep, staring at the ceiling as he lay next to me in the big guest bed. I remember jumping on the bed in the morning with my cousin Eric (name change; we were waiting for pancakes, I could smell the cinnamon. They were shaped like little men. I will never forget those pancakes) when he found his father’s shorts in the sheets. I stopped jumping and turned red. I’ll never forget his response, “Don’t worry Lindsay, I heard last night. You won’t feel weird about in a few days trust me. You get use to it.” Throwing the shorts into the corner, Eric started jumping again and I followed suit. I have always felt guilt about not talking until I was much older because I maybe could have helped my cousins. Eric had a younger sister. But it is silly to believe I could have saved them. I was working on saving myself. When I got home I tried once to tell my Mom – while she was closing the drapes in our living room one evening. I struggled with describing the event not really understanding what it was that happened to me. She quickly brushed me off saying not to worry about it, that she was sure I was fine. So that is what I became. I made myself feel fine. So fine I forgot until a summer day after eighth grade when I was being tickled and I had my first panic attack on a vacation with family friends. Then I felt terror and disgust because I understood the flood of memories triggered. I felt dirty. It was a feeling that I honestly believe led to my next traumatic experience.

I was in tenth grade and I had been dating a very sweet guy named Ben (name changed) for a few months but we had hit a wall. I couldn’t make out with him. Our physical contact was limited to holding hands and kissing hello and good-bye. Not very exciting for Ben obviously and he was wonderful about but he obviously kept on trying. I eventually told him about my uncle incident and he again was nothing less than amazing but even that wasn’t enough for me. I broke up with him because I was quietly mortified that he knew how dirty and broken I was. These same feelings were also motivators to find another boyfriend as quickly as possibly to ultimately create the same feelings over again. I ended up with a guy a year ahead of me in school – I met him in my technical drawing class. He was nerdy, he had acne, was awkward, and incredibly smart. I ran into, predictably, the same problem with John (name changed) except he was not as accepting of it. At first he would gently push to go farther, stopping when I would start to cry or scream. But after a few weeks he said he was owed to go farther. I would try my hardest, holding my panic in as long as I could, it would come out and then it was ignored. My screams and panic were irrelevant. It was forced intimate progress. He’d hold me down. I would be bleeding sometimes when he was done. We broke up and went back out – he was so manipulative. He would say no one would want me; he was doing me a favor being willing to love someone so broken.  He would get angry, I mean furious – throwing things, pushing me hard into walls and doorframes. In my mind, I alleged that I deserved the bruises and the tears because I was indeed broken and less than worthy of many. We finally broke up after a big incident, John was really heated up, angry and throwing things and drying to burn off some steam with some physical satisfaction; I obviously was not into this and was trying to dodge the opportunity. Become angrier and frustrated with my weak attempts he just picked me and carried me quite accurately kicking and screaming up the stairs and into his bedroom. No one heard me either; no one ever seemed to be at his house despite living with his mother and sister. He put me down in his room near his bed and I immediately tried to run out – it was small room crammed with furniture. Despite not having must to work with I tried to escape while kept me trapped as he laughed, shuffling across the floor on top of dirty cloths. He lunged and got me pinned on my back – I squirmed and vocalized. I could feel him tugging at my panties; my shorts were already off. A power of panic surged through me and I punched him – hard. He was caught off guard and rolled off me easily. I grabbed my shorts on the way to the back door. I was putting on my shorts in the kitchen when John appeared in the door way, we both ran, he caught my arm, swung me around into a doorframe, he wound up to punch but dropped his fist, starting to cry. After a few very uncomfortable minutes watching him sob, I quietly and cautiously ducked out the back door of his house. I had a few more moments of violence John but this was a major moment for me. It was a moment of fight. While I know what he did to me is rape. I was forced to do things against me will. I was penetrated. He made me bleed with his nails on purpose. It was physically torturous and cements the idea for me that physical expressions of caring that are sexual are terrible. Always and he replaced uncertainty with fear, supported by shame.

My final incident happened when I was in college. I was twenty and it was the week before my academic junior year. I had worked the summer prior at a summer camp. We were a sleep-away camp so the staff became very close. I had invited my co-workers to my college apartment for a celebration before we all broke up to other lives. It personally had been a rough summer, two of my friends had tried to kill themselves while another actually succeed in suicide. My own mother had a near death operation and all of this honestly occurred in a twenty-four hour time period. I was sent spinning for the rest of the summer for that incredible time chunk. I ended up getting put on an anti-depressant to help. That fateful evening I was drinking; my camp friend Ivan from Sweden was getting me my drinks as he was getting mine. Everyone was having a good time. I had friends from home at the party too as well as college friends. Things get hazy after a few memories of the evening. I remember making out with a female friends. I had a boyfriend but that was considered okay. I was apparently taking into my own bedroom by Ivan and was being used when people walked in to make sure I was okay. I was passed out during all of this. Ivan was chased from the house, being driven away by another friend from camp. Ivan even sent a text message the next day thanking me for some excellent memories. It makes me feel slimy just typing that. My boyfriend broke up with me after it. His best friend had been at the party and he did not believe my claims of not knowing what had happened. I tried to kill myself that night, my best friend sitting on my as I begged her to help me, endless tears falling. That was once I started to sober up. And I could remember little things, hands on the small of my back, on my thigh. Tidbits being added by friends – he switched to water after one beer, he had bought condoms before he came, he said he was going to take what I had been teasing all summer. I had no idea. I hate calling this incident rape. It as again penetration that I did not consent; another instance where I lucked out in way that makes me feel worse, it was short, I was saved in an instance by friends. But those friends know. All of them knew that this was a third incident for me. A third time I had been violated. I was beginning to wonder if I had a sign on my forehead, they had to be doing the same.

I began to identify myself as just another statistic. I fit the statists of one in six of American women who has been a “victim” of rape or attempted rape. I am the 15% sexually assaulted under the age of 12, the 44% under the age of 18.  I am more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, to develop PTSD, abuse alcohol and drugs, develop eating disorders, to contemplate suicide, to get raped again. I still don’t understand why it’s happened to me and I am starting to accept that I don’t have to. But this is a step out of the darkness. I had to walk to a lot of darkness to get this point. To write down what happened to me.

3) How did you survive?

I survived by ignoring it. Being older now I know I never really ignored it – I let it manifest in various ways – in high school it was counting calories, vomiting on command, cutting and burning myself – but all of this was done quietly. Only a few friends knew what I was doing. They knew about my phases of being suicidal. I tucked all of this behind straight A’s, student council, presidency of clubs, organizer of volunteers at the soup kitchen; I had lots of friends in different circles and different grades. I even had a job on top of babysitting. In my senior year I started college early, I won seven scholarships (by applying to 65) and I did this all while wanting to die. I just did what was expected despite what I may have felt.

I approached college the same way. My vices changed – I added alcohol and marijuana, kept the calorie counting, and lessened the cutting; but my general approach of acting like there was nothing wrong continued. It was most comfortable that way. I hated taking about it to friends- I always felt like delivery of what has happened was too comfortable, like I didn’t express it right, that I left something out. I worried it wasn’t “traumatic” enough, that my want to share it all was like a statement of importance, that what happened to me was important. I knew it was but I felt like it wasn’t supposed to be. By this point I was in counseling and I had been for a few years. I would start with a counselor, go for a few months, and something would change and for various reasons I would be asked to start over at a new center or with a new person. I felt like I kept hitting a wall with the topic.

Through this I had boyfriends and 1 girlfriend. There were hook ups and flings. They were all disasters in there own way. My counselors have told me that I used them to recreate the emotions, to hide in them, to be comfortable in them. This was how I survived. It’s not how I live now but it was how I got here, today.

4) Did you tell anyone about what was happening to you? Why or why not? What was their response?

I tried to tell my mother when it first happened (I was seven). I remember the incident very vividly. I was very hesitant as I told her something “important” – I had begun the conversation with “I have something important to tell you Mom.” I struggled with words to explain the shorts Eric had found and why they had been there to begin with. She was walking around the living room, closing the drapes as I followed behind here as I spoke. She didn’t really look at me as she cut me off and told me not to worry about it, that sometimes laundry gets stuck together. I was told I was being silly. I remember being upset about it, so frustrated, sitting in my bedroom with hot tears streaming down my face. There was a pencil on the floor – I popped the eraser off and dragged the metal top against the skin of my upper arm.

I remember telling my friends Emily and Lauren (name changes) about John and what he had done to me and had attempted. Lauren cried; she had dated John as well and had experienced similar situations and she hadn’t told anyone out of embarrassment. After dating John, Lauren was admitted into the psych ward at our local hospital. Emily had recently told both Lauren and I about how her brother, someone we knew very well, had been sexually abusing her for five years in her own home. It had turned out that we all had started cutting to help deal with our problems. We also counted calories. We were smart enough to know that what we were doing to ourselves was not healthy. We never encouraged each other to be unhealthy – we did the exact opposite; we were each other’s personal cheerleaders for recovery. Emily hugged us both when I was done telling what I could about John.

Emily was at the party when I was raped in my own apartment. She was the one who kept me from killing myself after it happened. I never had to tell her and I am thankful for that. It’s a story I rarely tell because I was drunk when it happened.

5) How did you get free?

I changed the way I thought. I was never going to be “normal” because normal is bullshit. There was nothing wrong with me. I never asked for these things to happen to me. They just happened. It is not because I am a bad person. I didn’t deserve these things and I certainly didn’t do anything to cause them. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to remember what happened. Use what happened to become better, to be stronger. In a warped way I am lucky because I know just how fucking strong I am. I know how far I can be pushed and I know I can come back, I can survive anything else life has left in store for me. I’ve seen the ugly of human nature and I have been gifted the access to ultimate instances of human kindness. I realized there was freedom in feeling the life I was given without apologies.

6) What is your life like now? Do you have a relationship with the perpetrator(s)?

I continue to have relationships with my rapists from high school and college on Facebook. In both instances I was friended by them; both of them act as if nothing odd ever happened. My rapist from high school took it a bit father with instances of showing up at my college housing on two separate occasions, a year apart. The second instance was at my apartment alone when he showed up. We had been talking on instant messager when I felt an odd surge of confidence to argue with him about a minor topic. Twenty minutes later he was pounding on my windows screaming, threatening to kill me. I hid in a corner with all the lights off, terrified and crying as I held my cell phone, ready to dial 911. That was the last incident I have had with him recently. He is back to casual comments on pictures and statuses on Facebook.

I recently deleted one from college but he still pops up on my newsfeed because of mutual friends he is still involved with. He didn’t seem to notice.

7) Do people in your life now know about your past? Are you “out” about it?

Yes but a limited “out.” I do not readily identify with a label about my experiences. They only come up when relevant in conversations, but even then I would rather leave my personal moments out of conversations. Sexual violence is something I often speak out against because of my personal experiences of how debilitating it can be. I am most likely to share in situations like that – where I believe my experiences have value, they can help others.

I use to worry people could tell that I was different because of my experiences. I would share when I started getting close to new friends because I felt pressure, not because I felt safe. Today I am much more conservative about who hears about my incidents. It is coming from a healthy perspective of finally seeing myself as more than the sum of my parts; I am very strong and resilient because of my parts and my passion. It’s a limited “out” because I am more complex than just my past.

8) What does resilience mean to you? Do you feel you are resilient?

Resilience has come to mean the act of bouncing past. Dictionary.com says “to spring back” is the act of being resilient but I disagree with this.  When I first began to fall I was so young, I am so different today from that version of myself, I could never go back and I wouldn’t want to. To go back almost seems to lessen the importance of your fall. I fell … hard. I didn’t stop falling for years. But then I finally started to recover. I made some changes for me; I found and set up around myself a network of support. I started doing things that made me happy. I put effort into “my bounce”. But never once was I moving in the direction I once was nor will I ever be. I bounced away from where I was in the forward direction that all lives must ultimately go. I am resilient but not in the traditional sense. I know where I have been, where I once was and I use those experiences and those memories to guide my forward direction. I am trying to be true to myself. I have realized that I am a beautifully complex person because of my past and my momentum into the future.

9) What brings you joy now?

There are surprisingly a lot of things that bring me joy. I didn’t realize how much joy I use to “choose” to miss in my comfort of sadness, frustration, anxiety, and depression.

I find joy in my pets; I have three cats (one is the boyfriend’s) and a dog. When I was living by myself – after my father died and I was getting a divorce – they are the reason I am still alive. The make me smile daily. My boyfriend brings me so much joy. He is constantly making me laugh and touching me gently. I have never been in such a loving and supportive relationship as the one I am in now. My amazing support network – these people are simply amazing; they are an inspiration and they make laugh. They push me and congratulate me. They are truly priceless. I teach – my career is to protect children and nourish their minds.

I find joy in reading – I even find joy in picking out my next read! It’s so exciting- all the potential directions! I even go to libraries and bookstores as treats. I love to cook and garden. My plants give me a deep, full body joy. The smell of dirt, the care they require, the beautiful results – my family owned a greenhouse so growing is who I am. The fact that I made space for plants once again has been such a noticeable difference. I have writing and my art. I take the time for little treats in the shower, the occasional bath or facemask. Yoga makes me feel light and running makes me feel invincible. I have learned how to find joy in the process of making more joy for myself.

10) What message do you have for others who are still undergoing violence and/or are still recovering?

If you are here, if you are this far, you are going to make it. Give it time because your effort will eventually yield results.

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Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you, Lindsay!

Workshops: Summer ’12 Write Whole session begins August 6!

Because July means travel and vacation for so many people, I have postponed the Summer session of Write Whole until August! The new dates are below — if you or someone you know would like to join us, please let me know.

The next Write Whole: Survivors Write workshop will begin on Monday, August 6, 6:00-8:30 pm, and will run through Monday, October 1. We can have a maximum of 9 writers in this workshop — please let me know if you would like to join us! This workshop is open to all women who are survivors of sexual trauma.

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dance church

sticker graffiti of a dancing yellow Ganesh (Ganesh is the remover of obstacles in the Hindu pantheon))

Ganesha, remover of obstacles

Good morning to you — how is this new day holding your body so far?

My body is a bit achy this morning, stiff and singing, after a dance party yesterday afternoon during which I barely stopped moving. That is, for me, the very best kind of church. I continue to reverberate with gratitude for the love in the room yesterday, for the people who came out to celebrate (early) my birthday with me, for the people who sent their love over even though they couldn’t join us, for the space (thank you Carol & Robert & CSC!), for old friends and new, for readings and listenings and witnessings and constant, aching growth.

I am ready for forty now, especially if it means I get to keep bouncing like I did yesterday. I haven’t danced like that in ages, so up off the ground, so both near flight and rooted hard to this tender gravity.

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I’ve said that to people often, that the dance floor, for me, has been church, and this morning, I want to say what that means, what the word church has meant for me (particularly since now I’m going to a church-church, where dancing might happen sometimes, but the focus is a little more traditional.).  I’ve written this story before, and will keep writing it, because it’s so integral to these twenty years of healing and survival.

Here’s what I say: dancing saved me, was a necessary part of the constellation of friends, lovers and practices that kept me away from the edge when I was just beginning to imagine what it might look like for me not to live under my stepfather’s control. The dance floor was the one place where I could be in my body–be sexual, even–without any expectations other than big joy. I’d danced in high school, hadn’t I, gone to those all ages parties where I wore tight dresses and flat shoes and moved my body in ways that I thought would look sexy and provocative, just barely finding a place for myself in or against the music. One guy I danced with at that party — held, of all places, at an amusement park– asked something like, Is that really the only move you know? There I was with my side to side step, swing the hips: keep it together. I was embarrassed, indignant, but aching somewhere inside, too, to know what it would be like to do more. I looked at the girls around me, some of whom moved with more abandon, but I had no idea how to let myself do that.

More came when I went to college, got 1000 miles away from home, quit wearing the skintight dresses to the dance parties, started wearing clothes I could really move in. And then, of course, it was the early nineties, and oh, I discovered house music, a beat big enough for me to entirely lose myself in, for me to submit to. Is this what church means: this feeling of being carried by something greater than myself, of being moved and held, of joyous fellowship and a both singular and shared experience? This music, this place, was my only experience of someplace safe where being in my body meant power and celebration only — and that was a revelation. I never drank when I was dancing (and began dancing less when I started drinking more heavily), because the alcohol got in the way of the feeling, of that sense of release (and also it fucked up my feet, made me trip, which irritated me. I didn’t understand the people who said they had to drink to get loose enough or comfortable enough to dance — drinking wasn’t ever a way to get in to my body. It was a way to get out. But that’s a different post.)

What I mean when I say that the dance floor saved me is that I have always had a place where it was safe to be in my body, where my body was both deeply gendered and not at all gendered, where my body was about reach and enormous smiles and deep desire and mine and also offered out to the room as connection — where, simply, it was not just ok to be in my body but desirable to be in my body, where it was not scary to be in this body. That, for me, has been a gift, sometimes the only line back into this place that otherwise has felt like a battleground and crime scene and confusion, a place to step up into my head to escape.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing work to come back into my body all the way, to reconnect with the child self who loved to move, who celebrated her body (without having to name it as such — this was just what you did in this human existence), who swam and played basketball and rode bikes and ran as fast as she could as often as she could. The day before yesterday, on a little run-walk with the dog (after I’d had dinner — this is not the ideal order in which to do such things, btw; better to have the run-walk, then the dinner. Also another post.) I had a moment where I ran as fast as I could down one little rise and up the next, stretching my legs out to their full stride, pulling hard at the ground, feeling exactly a six-year-old Jenny in me, going hard, loving the feel of all of our strength going into just this work, for no other reason than that it feels really, really good. Today I feel like crying at the thought of it, being able to touch that part again, being able to be right here.

And then yesterday, I was up off the floor as much as I could be, bouncing just exactly the way I did back at college, in those little dance rooms, when the music was better than I could bear, and the only possible response was to pop up off the floor and into the air, giving every muscle in my legs a chance to lift us, lift us, lift us.

If church is about survival and love, about holding one another, about sharing in an experience of connecting with something utterly of and also greater than ourselves, then I can say for sure that dancing has been the place of church for me. One definition of church is an occasion of public worship — and I have found that on the dance floor, when everyone around me is sweaty and smiling, connected and internal, witnessing and showing off, sharing in the experience of being profoundly in our bodies exactly as they are, celebrating our messy humanness, our stumbles and our perfect beat.

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What has dancing meant for you? Are there places where you are in or want to be in your body? Want to let those be writes for today? Give yourself 20 minutes — take that for you on this Sunday — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your good body today, for the creativity that lives in every cell. Thank you for the breath that you allow in, and that you release. Thank you for your words.

without knowing what will arise in its place

stencil graffiti: I can taste your dreamsgood morning good morning from the chilliness. I was not up nearly as early this morning as I was yesterday, and that’s all right. I did wake up with a bit more motivation and energy than I’ve had in a few days, and that feels good. I have come to trust and lean-into the sinking-down that happens for me in December; I get quiet, move more slowly, read a lot more.

A year ago, today, I wrote here in this blog:

I didn’t let you help, not then, and I’m sorry. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, these 15 and 20 years later: how to lean, how to say, Yes, I’m not ok. Yes, I need you. Please, I need help.

and then

After the arrest, my mom wasn’t legally allowed to contact me or my sister for about six months or something. She had to sell the house during that time; she didn’t know what to do with our things up in the attic — most of it, she got rid of. All the papers and things I’d saved from jr high and high school: gone. I save things so that I can keep my memory. And that’s why I wrote, too, for years: so there would be an external(ized) memory. What to hold on to? What to release? What to take back in?

It’s fascinating, painful and also connecting, to go back a year and find that I was tackling then what I’m still tangled up in now: how to honestly reach out to friends and those who love me and who I love, how to be vulnerable with them, risk connection, risk being all of myself and trusting that they won’t turn away (trusting, too, that if they do turn away, that I’ll be all right). And that part about letting go. Not a single step, a single action, is it? Another (goddamn) process. Whew.

I have been thinking again about survivor identity, and how to let it shift — even, maybe, how to put it down. I’ve written about this before, I know, and probably will again: how survivor has been a core identity for me, first before anything (before woman, before queer, maybe even before writer) and how I’m not sure who I am or could be without that badge on my chest. There’s the sense I have of lying if I don’t say it, passing as something I’m not — and what is that something? Normal? Even though I know, intellectually, that the vast majority of women, maybe the majority of folks of all genders, have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives — still, that fact, that experience, doesn’t (normally) enter into regular everyday conversation, does it? It’s one of the things we smooth over, don’t mention, don’t bring up, so that we can move through the work of the day. That elision is a part of the lubrication necessary to most social interactions.

You could say that I just need to change the whos and wheres of my social interactions. It’s true that there are some communities where folks talk about the realities of sexual violence and other forms of oppression as a part of everyday conversation — and that those conversations aren’t downers, necessarily, they’re just a sharing of the realities of our lives. I’m talking about communities (of friends, let’s say) where we can be all of who we are — survivors, yes, and writers, too, and gardeners and potters and funny and great cooks and bookmakers and clothes-artists and candle-light writers and cat lovers and parents and lovers and fucked up and silly and and and… where survivor doesn’t have to be a brand or a shield or a badge anymore. Where it doesn’t have to be the only lens to see the world through. Where we can trust others to look through that lens sometimes, so that we can look through another lens.

Those communities exist. I am finding them. But, more, I’m letting myself out into them.

There’s another piece, too, about shifting the whys of writing: writing for more than just an externalized memory, a declaration of old story, a litany. Writing to create something new. What about that?

Here’s some of what she says about survivor identity in Women Who Run With The Wolves:

Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives. it creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times. While survivorship can make a woman tough as beef jerky, at some point it begins to inhibit new development.

When a woman insists “i am a survivor over and over again once the time for its usefulness is past, the work head is clear. we must looen the person’s clutch on the survivor archetype. Otherwise nothing else can grow. I liken it to a tough little plant that managed–without water, sunlight, nutrients–to send out a brave and ornery little leaf anyway. In spite of it all.

But thriving means, now that the bad times are behind, to put ourselves into occasions of the lush, the nutritive, the light, and there to flourish, to thrive with bushy, shaggy, heavy blossoms and leaves. it is better to name ourselves names that challenge us to grow as free creatures.

(page 197, 1992 edition, emphasis mine.)

Once the time for its usefulness is past. Only each of us can know when that’s true for different parts of our own survivorship — when is a good time to set that banner down or just let it rest on our side for awhile, not releasing it forever, because it saved us, that sense of ourselves, claiming the power of survivor. But there comes a time (doesn’t there) when it’s ok to set it down without knowing what will arise in its place.

(I myself am a little weary of the survivor-to-thriver language — maybe the easy rhyme just gets on my nerves. I do like this language of “put[ing] ourselves into occasions of the lush” — yes, please.)

What about this for a write for today: both what “survivor” means or has meant for you/your character in your life, and, too, what it could mean to put yourself or your character “into occasions of the lush.” 10 minutes (or more, if you want!) — and follow the words wherever they seem to be pulling you.

Be easy in your writing today. Thanks for your shifting over time, the way you make space for yourself and others to grow. Thanks for how you are easy with others as they change, how you allow others to be easy with you, too. Thanks, yes, for your words.

what if we lived

graffiti: silhouette of a child walking a dog - behind them are enormous bright flowers(some maybe-intense writing about incest this morning — not details of a story, but thinking about how we think about ourselves, the language we use to describe ourselves. In any event, please take care of you — xo, Jen)

Today’s tea is tulsi-anise-nettle-mint. I choose tulsi for the calming, anise for the thick, round taste and the belly comforting, nettle for the cleansing and the bitterness, mint for the sweetness, the quickening sharpness. And, for the first time since moving, the first time this year, likely, I have the window open while I write. 2 candles, the tea-smoke pushing into the light of the flames, and some cool breeze from outside that feels like a good morning.


This is what I thought about this morning, considering the language of incest & trauma: the idea of soul-murder. The language around incest is this language: he killed the child I was, he murdered my soul. It’s the language of death (and rebirth, sometimes). Death is irrecoverable, it’s an end, it’s finished. And sometimes, during the recovery/healing/growing process, incest feels like that, like having been killed, because we see how the trajectory our lives were on was irrevocably changed, and we can never know who we might have been if this person hadn’t decided to take our life path into their own hands, to intervene on our bodies and minds and understandings and beliefs, to seem to forclose our futures, shut them down, close our eyes to tomorrow. That can feel like a killing: I might have been a happy teenager, I might have been someone with close friends, I might have been able to learn some comfort in my body playing sports or in other physical activity — but you (that abuser/the abusers) took that from me.

Recently, I was telling my therapist that I wanted to get to that light, I wanted to feel it flare, I wanted to get underneath all the layers of self-protective mechanisms and inside walls and fear and shame and self-aggrandizement and loss and sorrow and make some windows so that that flame could burn a bit more brightly. In my inside metaphors, that flame is what: soul? will to live? will to survive? that flame is the fingerprint of a little girl who had to take her life into her own hands. that flame is a closed eyelid of a child who decides to see what she needs to see, but not let out what she wants to keep safe. That flame, the small one deep in my chest, is the self-mothering. That flame is the heat of living. That flame is curiosity about tomorrow, the thing that kept me alive. That flame is what fed my understanding that he couldn’t make the clock stop ticking. That flame is what he could not blow out, no matter his 10 years of trying — and what I couldn’t drown in alcohol, self-loathing, deep shame, cloaking, couldn’t choke out with too much food, couldn’t run away from. That flame is this me still alive. He didn’t kill anything. He didn’t have that much power.

The idea of soul murder is a impactful one. It says to the reader,  These people do terrible things from which their victims never recover — because, as we know, murder victims never recover. It conveys a message to policy makers, and others in all our societies, that have condoned the sexual use of children apparently since the beginning of time: we should think differently about this act of child sexual use. We need people to understand that it’s a really bad thing, so that they start taking action to prevent its continued prevalence, to stop being so silent around the great numbers of people being used sexually against their will or desire.

(The birds just woke up outside.)

The words we use to define ourselves shape how we understand ourselves, in how we can see ourselves. If we as people who have experienced child sexual abuse, and/or other undesired/unconsented-to sexual use, learn from the experts and authorities that our souls were murdered, that has an effect on us — that tells us something, it gives a shape to the enormity we carry, the stuff that has so little language for it, and there’s a relief in that: This awful feeling inside, the emptiness, the thick loss? It’s what was killed. It’s a death we carry around inside our skins.

But: What if our souls weren’t murdered, and it was still an awful, inexcusable, unwelcome, inappropriate, not-at-all-ok thing that was done to us?

There have been times that I have felt, psychically, like I was digging out of a grave. I felt that far down, that far away from humans, that distant, that dead. And I have appreciated, needed, the myth of the phoenix, that which is resurrected from the aftermath of the flames, that which rises up anew. But what if I was never dead? What if he didn’t kill my teenage self? What if I survived without being murdered? What if you did, too? What if my psyche did a tremendous, un-willed job of keeping my inside-light protected and lit? What if yours did to?

I don’t want to take this language from anyone for whom it’s working/necessary/important. I do want expand the way we think about ourselves, about anyone who has experienced sexual violation. The metaphors we use predominantly in our society put shape around our thinking — which means they also put boundaries around that thought. (I first learned about this idea from reading Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson — a profoundly important book.) First looking at, becoming aware of, and then (if we choose to) changing the metaphors we use for our situations, our understanding of ourselves, can intensely resituate us in our understanding of our world — resituate what we understand our possibilities to be.

We lived. The flame within us lived.


A writing idea, for when you have some safe and uninterrupted time — this is one of the few prompts in which I’ll specifically invite you to use the word ‘incest’ or ‘rape’ (as it works best for you), and so please take care of yourself around this one (as with any writing prompt). If you want, check in with someone before starting this write, or think about who you can call/talk to after, if things come up that are triggering or upsetting.

‘Soul murder’ is one way we think about incest/sexual violation. I’m going to invite us to create some other metaphors. let’s take 10 or 15 minutes for this one, after we create the list: number a sheet of paper from 1-7 (you don’t have to do this; I just always liked the numbering part of the spelling test at school.) Write down a list of 7 everyday-type actions: “going to the store” “tying my shoes” (or his shoes, or her shoes). Don’t think too much about each item, just put them down as they come to mind. Then let the phase “Incest is like” or “Rape is like” or “Sexual harassment is like” or “Molestation is like…” go in front of each phrase — say it out loud. It’s ok if they don’t make any immediate sense. Choose one that sounds interesting to you, that catches your writer’s creative attention, that you feel especially curious about, and let that be your starting point: for instance, Sexual harassment is like tying his shoes — ok: what does that mean? Write down your prompt, whichever one you chose, and write it at the top of a new page (or below your list) and start there — it’s ok if your writing isn’t logical, is filled with images and ideas; that’s just right! Write for your 10 or 15 minutes, as fast as you can, as much as possible without editing. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.


Thank you for all your knowings and reknowings and deep, unlanguaged understandings, and your survival. Thank you for the creative ways you have found to heal and hold you and be present with others. Thank you for your words.

calling ourselves

graffiti of a woman, facing left, with a word bubble before her, "Who am I?"A dark morning with a bright moon outside, and I’m collected up on the couch with my little candle light and cup of mint-dandelion-green tea. Outside the moonlight is bright through the trees, lightening up the cloudful sky.


Sometimes I feel like I want this blog to be even more of a resource for those who are survivors of sexual trauma. And then I wrangle with that identity, with even the language there: for us, survivors. When I say survivor, I mean people who have experienced sexual abuse. Other people mean someone who has experienced domestic violence, or someone who has experienced cancer, someone who has had a relative die, someone who lived through a car crash. Survivor means ‘one who lives through affliction’ or ‘one who remains alive or in existence,’ ‘to persist after,’ ‘to remain functional or usable’…

So here’s where I’m torn: between wanting to be a useful resource for survivors of sexual trauma, and not wanting to further that identity category at all, because once we ‘own’ that label, we step into its language, we are shaped by it. And I want us to be bigger than survivor, bigger than thriver, bigger than these experiences. I don’t know that I want to use the phrase incest survivor to define myself all the time anymore. Sometimes, yes, and it’s not a thing I’m going to deny or remove from my bio. But does it have to be the first line, the first thing people know about me? This isn’t about shame, but about how I shape myself, what I think is possible and knowable myself. The language we use for ourselves defines us for ourselves, as well as for others.

Maybe for the first time in my life, I am feeling this way. I used to get super annoyed with people who would talk that way, assume that they were completely in denial. Didn’t they get it? If you experienced this, you are this. It’s the way things are.

I don’t want us to rid ourselves of these categories, because we categorize, we humans; it’s what our brains do. What I want are different words — instead of using the word survivor, I might use the phrase, people who experienced sexual violence. First of all, it’s more precise, and more people will understand what I mean right away. Second, this language defines us first as people, rather than as incest or child sexual abuse, which “survivor” can do.

Sometimes we need that place in us forefronted. I know I have. I have needed people to meet me and my work through that lens, and it’s a frightening thing now to want to find a different lens, different language. If I am not only, or first and foremost, incest, then what am I? I have said, in the not so distant past, maybe even here in this blog, that Incest is the main lens that I see life through, that I meet every experience through, that shapes and colors everything. Am I wanting to take those glasses off? Can I? Is that allowed, or possible? Maybe that’s some of this nausea, too, that queasiness, that question, this blurred, new vision.

How we call ourselves matters, because it determines how we define ourselves, what we understand ourselves capable of; every word, every label, every identity category has its attendant, often unspoken, rules and regulations, guidelines, boundaries.

If we use different language, playful language, even, to define ourselves, can we call out different parts of ourselves?


An interesting write can be to take 10 minutes, open your notebook, and write down all the identities you (or your character) walk with: mother, daughter, sister, brother, queer, straight, worker, boss, left-handed, trans, man, woman, genderqueer, midwestern, new yorker, survivor… write down as many as you can think of. Notice which ones seem to be at odds with one another, and why that might be. Which ones are most important to your life right now? Which ones have been most important to your life in the past? Are these identities you have chosen, or that you were born with, that someone else determines? Choose one, or more, of these identities, if you want, and write your history with it, write its story: when you knew that you were identified as such, and what it meant. Are there different words for this identity, either communally shared or that you have made up for yourself?

As always, follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.


Thank you for your broad vision this morning, for the ways you can look around the edges of the boundaries that someone else set for you. Thank you for your resilience and new and playful languaging, for your gorgeous words.

we’re ok / we’re not ok

graffiti of 2 blue and purple birds on a wireThere are days when this phrase flints itself against me, inside the emptiness, inside the loss, all through my body: I’m not ok, I’m not ok, I’m not ok. And what my conscious mind thinks is about how desperately I want to be able to be public with how I’m doing, how I’m sad or angry or lost, how much I miss my family, how broken I feel in that moment, how not put-together and fine.

And then there’s the other side of “I’m not ok,” which is, I’m not safe, I’m not a good person, I’m not someone you want to know or be around. Like something about the very essence of me is not all right. What if I let that feeling fly whenever it pushed through me? What if I let it out of my mouth and fingers?

When I don’t, what I get left with is the hangover from the stuffing down, the hangover from hiding (from) my not-okayness, my humanness. The stiffness and achiness in my shoulders, where I hold the rage, in my throat, where I swallow all my words.

We know that in our culture, women showing rage is not ok. We’re supposed to be good and quiet, cry if we’re upset, laugh a lot otherwise and make other people comfortable. Wanting to be other than that is not ok. Wanting to feel all of our bodies is not ok. Wanting people to take care of their shit is not ok (that’s supposed to be part of our job), wanting to scream or cry in public or wherever is not ok. Wanting to not be safe, to be a danger, is definitely not ok.

There’s a  place that can get unlocked in me, that I still carry from those years back, a huge thick of hopelessness. Hopelessness is ok for women, isn’t it? When it moves out to consume me, I am reminded (“reminded”) that nothing will ever be ok, that no place in the world is safe, that my aches and hollows are meant to be, are built into my system now, are left for me to hold and cradle and love (like a woman does all her babies, right?).

(But isn’t it a radically honest thing to attend to and hold all the parts of ourselves, even, especially, the messiest ones?)

I want to tell you about stone butch and incest survivor femme, stone femme, and when I open my mouth, all the words get clotted beneath the thick mass that lives in the low part of my throat, all those years of unspokens, all those years of holding back, don’t offend, don’t upset, you want people to think you’re ok. I want to tell you about how many different ways stone can melt, transform, unfold, unfurl — and, too, how many different ways it sets inside the body, how it roots in conversation, in distrust, in fear. How our histories, our daily realities, take up residence in our right now and remind us that we are not ok, we are never ok, even (especially!) with this person here who sees our scars and tells us they love them, even with this person who runs their hand over our hardest places and offers to love us anyway, even with the someone who told us we could tell them anything, and then stayed after we did, holding what has damaged us, what could damage us still. I want to tell you about triggeredness that inflames another’s triggers, about days spent throbbing from the deepest wounds getting reopened, about how very common this all is and yet how intimate, individual, personal, just-us it feels. I want to tell you about the tremendous grace required and revealed when we meet each other anyway, when we continue to love each other anyway, not in spite of or because, but with and through.

There’s so much more I want from this writing right now — it needs to be an essay, not a blog post. I want to tell you about all the different ways, shapes, forms that “not ok” takes — what does that mean? I’m trying to learn my own not-okayness, meet those selves that carry my rage, my inappropriate responses, my cattiness, my too big strengths and desires and hungers. I want to tell you about butch strength and femme huger and femme strength and butch hunger. I want to tell you how tired I am of femme-girl-woman being relegated to the hungry open mouth, and I want to tell you about the resilience of allowing oneself to know and speak one’s appetites.

I’ve been rereading Stone Butch Blues, because I’m still searching for old-school femme voices through the mouths of butches: where is the femme’s novel, the book about about pushing through the struggle to live a full life while loving butches? Where are words of femmes who stood their ground, took up space in bars and at women’s/feminist meetings, had to rage on both sides, had so little room to blossom completely, (just as their lovers had so little room to blossom completely), who never disappeared into shadows or straight life? Where are those words, describing how femmes made a life for themselves with partners who needed them to melt stone, and who carried stones of their own, so often untended to? I need that history. I guess I need to know this work leads somewhere. I need to see how my foremothers stood their own ground, raised their voices and energies for their own needs, took care of their power in a community that just saw them as girls, as T&A. Or is that only now? Is that only me? Where are those words? Still stuck in so many of our throats.


Let’s do this:  Make a list entitled, It’s not ok for me to…. Let yourself write down 10 things that it’s not ok for you or your character to want or think or feel. Then read through your list, and mark one or two that have a lot of energy for you, for whatever reason.

Begin writing with one of those items, only change the first part of the sentence to read, Today, I… (Today, she/he/ze, Today, you…)– and then the words from your list. Write it out as if it happened, with as much detail as you want. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go!

Thank you for the ways you are honest about your okayness — even in the deepest inside places of your own amazing self. Thank you for your words.

use everything

graffiti of a short haired woman raising her fists, next to the words 'Tu ne perds rien pour m'attendre'(Some explicit language of sexual abuse in here: so you know it. Be easy with you. xox, Jen)

He was in my dreams last night (the memory of him, the shadow of reaction and response to him that still lives in my neocortex, my hypothalamus, my frontal lobes and hind brain both the same), but I can’t quite remember what was going on. He was in my bedroom, or I was in his, I had been in the house alone, he’d been kept late at work, at a training. He said, They kept us late, with a kind of wistfulness, like if he’d been there sooner, he could have joined me in my nap, or in the bath, he talked to me like he was my lover, again he was talking to me that way, just now it was in my dreams. The room was soft, full of shadows, afternoon moving into evening and I was going to have to talk my way out of having sex with him — or was it too late for that, and so what was under the surface of his speech was that layer of disappointment that I was supposed to collude with: too bad we didn’t have enough time. I wake up not quite remembering, but just feeling lost, gone, over.

I was in their old house, but all I’m left with now is the oily, gentle, sure way that he’d smiled, like everything about him was greased inside,  like he was butter-soft and kind, like he thought I was stupid, like he thought I had no memory — like I would believe his pooling gentility the way that people in the outside world did. Like I didn’t remember how vicious he could be, like I didn’t remember the names he could call me, like I had forgotten his violence, like I didn’t have that hold on my own consciousness. Because what he wanted was control over my very consciousness — not just body and actions, but how I viewed and engaged with the world.

I want to have more of the dream to hold on to–even though I wake up feeling nausea and foreboding–because it’s material. I mean it when I tell people, about any shitty or frustrating or terrible thing they’re going through (although, sometimes I hold my tongue about it until much later): It’s all material. You can use all of this in your writing, your work.

All of it. The money troubles, the awful housemate, the boyfriend that stalked you, the girlfriend who told lies about you to everyone you knew, the car accident, the abusive parents, the abortion, the recovery, the everything — it’s all yours and you can use it however you want in your work.

So all of my history, like all my experiences: that’s my material, it’s my raw dirt, it’s my topsoil and my seeds and how it grows is by pushing it through these fingers onto the page. And that’s really damn hard work. My conscious self doesn’t always (ever) want those memories back — I’ve spent so many years working to sift myself away from them. The dreams help me remember the details. And now I have two writing projects that ask me to remember, to give those memories and experiences, in varying forms, to other people. I need to be able to show you that gentle-surfaced ominous smile, so that you can feel the foreboding — that’s my job as a writer. I need you to see the worried fold in his pale forehead, dashed with a few stray greying hairs, that looked like he was worried about me but actually indicated the work he was doing to figure out how to convince me to go back into the bed and take my clothes off without having to force me to do so. I need you to hear the strain in his chuckle, the way his moustache would furrow up, the places where his pretense frayed. See him there in his canvas pants and shirt, a big man pretending to be young, cradling books in his arms, moving just slightly in the room, against my movements, so that he blocks the door.

I don’t want my characters to have gone through what I’m understanding that they’ve gone through. And yet, there they are in front of me, asking that I comprehend and communicate their story. Which means pushing back into my own, not because our stories are exactly the same, but because it’s through my own experience that I empathize with theirs, because it’s through my experiences that I have the language for what they’ve gone through, are going through.

And then, after I push this writing out (in different ways for different projects), I treat myself. Today it might be a cardamom-laced decaf from Philz, or a long walk. Sometimes I have to take a long break from the writing, to let myself move through the guilt and shame and pride of being able to tell.

Writing prompt for today: Let yourself or your characters be dangerous. Read this poem (aloud, if you can) and then write however you are drawn in response. Grab one of the lines, if you’d like; begin with, “I’d like to be a danger,” or “I’m a danger only to…”

I gave this prompt during MedEd Writers last month, and this was my response:

Jocelyn gets tired — some days, just now and again and maybe mostly during the handful of days before she starts to bleed every month — she gets tired of being everyone’s safe space, being the political-minded but nonjudgmental friend, being the one with statistics to explain why one more woman’s inability to save her child from the people harming them isn’t that woman’s fault, being the comforter, the peace-keeper, the mediator — she gets tired of holding the net beneath everyone’s crumbling, being the one with the band-aids in her pocket, the gum in her backpack, an extra 50 cents for the bus, an extra hour to help a coworker process one more weird and drawn-out interpersonal drama.

Her friend Jonas calls and needs her to listen, again, to his telling, again, about one more boy who is walking all over him and borrowing his clothes and money without returning anything, ever — oh, and sleeping with other men even though they said they were being monogamous — it breaks her heart with rage when he calls with these stories.

Jocelyn hears someone (is that her voice?) interrupting to say, “Jonas, what the fuck did you expect?”

Then there’s silence on the line.

“Jo, you told me this exact story, word for word, three months ago, with Tommy, and before that, with Kyle. Mark stole your weed, Jesse wouldn’t ever le you go out alone, David called and texted so often that you had to cancel your service.”

Jonas is still quiet on the other end of the phone, and Jocelyn isn’t entirely sure what the someone in her throat will say next. She opens her mouth and waits a moment. Then it erupts: “You do this over and over and just want me to listen to how bad these boys are to you — but, let’s be honest, I can’t just listen anymore. What’s the common denominator?”

Jonas is holding his breath — Jocelyn checks and sees, yes, he’s still there, the call’s still live.

“Tell him no, Jo, god. Tell him to fuck off. Do something different.” Jocelyn listens to her friend exhale. She holds her breath and waits.

Thank you for your patience, and for the ways you let impatience drive you to take new risks. Thank you for the ways that you care so much, so hard, so fierce for the ones you love. Thank you for your tellings, your honesties, your words.

all of our body can hold different parts of our stories

graffiti, wheat pasted maybe, of a young male deer beneath a green treeI got up extra early today to do my morning pages, before coming to the computer.  Maybe it will have been a good idea, but right now I’m tired and would like more sleep. Yesterday was a very quiet day — perfect. No time on the computer — 2 old movies (a Doris Day & a Katherine Hepburn) and 1 more recent, Hook. A day for baking, for reading in the sun, for cafe writing.

Two nights ago, when we got home from dinner with Alex after Body Empathy, there were at least two deer nested down back beneath the big tree directly in front of the carport. We tiptoed out of the car, lugging bags of stuff, materials, workshop business and food, and said hello to them and told them how pretty they were. They kept their eyes on us, ears up, watching, but didn’t move. The bigger one didn’t move, the mama maybe — the smaller, behind, she’d stood by the time we were done unloading. Yesterday afternoon I wandered back to where they’d been, wanted to see the outlines of bellies on the ground, in a pile of leaves maybe, but all I saw were the small hoofprints all around the back area where the giant pile of leaves used to be. Maybe they were snacking on new blackberry cane growth, or maybe there was something good in the neighbor’s compost pile. I knew they might come up to the house and push their heads to the tomato plant I’ve got that’s going crazy now, suddenly flowering and budding, growing tall and almost wild — I knew they might come up and get a taste, since F! has seen their footprints in my lettuce pots behind the fence! It’s ok, though. They can have some and can leave me some. I’ve heard their feet clacking on the sidewalk, those dark hooves striking sharp and simple, like it’s a normal sound, deerhooves in my ears. They won me over.


It was a beautiful Body Empathy workshop on Saturday, all of us risking that slow possibility of being in our bodies. We started off a little discombobulated, got to be imperfect, because no one was there to open the church for us, & thus our meeting space, until 9:30 — which was when we were supposed to be getting started! We’d invited folks to start arriving at 9:30 so they could get breakfast and settle in, but those who arrived at 9:30 got to help us set up (thank you!) or got to wander a bit around the bowels of First Congo, checking out what was new and fresh in progressive christianity. After the coffee pot wouldn’t work and the stovetop wouldn’t come on, finally we got things together (many thanks to the Mr. Fresh! who went out for a box of Peets!) and moved into some gentle and poweful work. Thanks to all who were there, and, too, to my amazing co-facilitator, Alex Cafarelli, who reminds me often how ok it can be to be in these bodies we carry around with us, even it it’s not ok sometimes. this morning I’m doing some stretching, some spinning, that gentle loving kindness movement that Alex offered to us, as though we deserve to love and be loved by and in our bodies. And we do.

These were two of the quotes I handed out on Saturday, with our guidelines & practices:

I write to understand as much as to be understood. Literature is an act of conscience. It is up to us to rebuild with memories, with ruins, and with moments of grace.
—Elie Wiesel

I love the body.  Flesh is so honest, and organs do not lie.
—Terri Guillemets

Organs do not lie. What does that mean? I appreciate the opportunity, the invitation, to consider. This quote reminded me, while we were doing our work on Saturday, of Nancy Mellon, who I had the chance to meet at the last Power of Words conference. Nancy writes and works with the idea of storytelling as a healing art, and wrote a book called Body Eloquence: The Power of Myth and Story to Awaken the Body’s Energies — she talks about the information our organs hold, our inside parts hold, and how we can access those stories and truths. She’s an amazing storyteller, had us all completely transfixed in the Haybarn there on the Goddard campus, as we waited to hear what the lungs could do, what the blood knows, what our small intestine can tell us.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories, our lives, our histories, our truths? It’s scary to me, sometimes, this possibility — the fact that my organs (say, my liver, which I wrote about some this weekend) can hold some information about me feels outside my conscious control — and it is, at least in the way that my western logical ‘rational’ mind things about conscious control.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories? It means that we are (still) whole — that our bodies know our truths, and that we can access those truths, through somatic work, through movement and dance, through art and creativity, through myriad right-brain activities, those ways of being and thinking that step gently and kindly around the rigid left brain that wants to think it has the exact right ways to know.

Thank you for your words, for the way you risk speaking without words, too, all the different ways you say, you listen, you witness and share.

Coming up! Body Empathy on Sat, November 13

(Please help us pass the word!)

First Congregational Church of Oakland

2501 Harrison St.

Oakland, CA

No previous experience necessary! Pre-registration required. Fee: $50-100, sliding scale (Please check in with us if funds are an issue—payment plans are always possible, and we may be able to work out trades or other arrangements as well!) Register here — or write to jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org with any questions!

What if we could truly experience empathy for our bodies as they are – and then, by extension, for ourselves, as we are?

As queer, genderqueer & trans survivors with a wide array of backgrounds and identities in a sexuality-/gender-restrictive culture, our self-protective tendency can be to “check out” by detaching mind from body to such great degrees that it can be dangerous. Physical activity and writing are two ways to check back in with your embodied self.

With deep respect for the privacy and variety in our personal experience of gender expression and our individual histories, this workshop will create safe space for participants to embrace our bodies as they are, and to write the stories our bodies have been wishing to speak, while allowing possibility for the integration of identity and physical presence. Using brief writing exercises and low impact body mindfulness exercises derived from improvisational theater, Zen meditation practice, and the internal Chinese martial arts, participants will have the opportunity to fully embody our gender complexity in a healing and playful environment.

The exercises we practice can be easily incorporated into our daily lives and can enhance our ability to reflect mindfully on our experiences, while interacting with others from a place of self-acceptance, internal power, and confidence, as we move through the world as the fabulously feisty queer & gender warriors we are…

Your facilitators:

Alex Cafarelli is a Jewish genderqueer femme trauma survivor with a background of 17 years of martial arts training. Currently teaching body mindfulness classes in Oakland, Alex also works as a gardener specializing in drought-tolerant and edible landscapes, does Reiki/massage bodywork, and develops and leads element-based rituals to support women, queers, transfolk, and genderqueers in moving through transitions and healing from trauma. Contact Alex at petals_and_thorns@yahoo.com.

Jen Cross is a queer incest survivor and a widely-anthologized writer who has facilitated survivors and sexuality writing workshops since 2002. She offers two weekly AWA-method workshops (Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring Our Erotic) in San Francisco. Find out more about Jen at
writingourselveswhole.org or write her at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.