Tag Archives: telling anyway

the fissures will crumble the wall someday

graffiti image of a young white girl in a pink dress frisking a male soldier (who has his hands up against the wall, his back to the girl)The fog has baked off already — it’s just a cottony grey rim along the coast. The birds have finally discovered the feeders I put out a couple of weeks ago, and they’re jockeying for position, seniority, the most seeds.

I watched the movie Spotlight this weekend with my sweetheart’s brother’s family. Her cousin was one of the members of the Spotlight team who investigated and finally brought the story of long-term church cover-up of abuse and pedophilia in the Boston diocese, by Cardinal Law and others. After it was over, my sweetheart said, “Do you think it’s still going on, that sort of covering-up?” Someone else asked another question immediately or made another comment and the conversation went in another direction. I’d sat there in silence for a moment after she asked anyway. I couldn’t imagine that she really believed that maybe it wasn’t just the same all over the world. My immediate answer would have been loud and definitive, maybe discomfortingly so, the way I can get: Of course it’s still going on–in the church, in private homes, in other places of worship, in just about any institution you can imagine in which adults have power over the bodies of others, adults are abusing that power and then pretending like they didn’t do anything wrong or calling the children crazy or engaging in wishful thinking when the children try to tell someone what’s been done to them, or acting like it’s their right to take whatever they want whenever they want, like, say, our troll-in-chief has a habit of doing.

But there was something else that got me thinking after the movie was over. There were people, those higher up at the Globe and those working for or still supporting the church, who were worried about interrupting the work of the church, worried about this story somehow breaking the church in the eyes of the people. But that didn’t happen. Not in Boston, where it was found that some hundreds of priests had been sexually abusing children throughout the city for decades while the church did nothing but move those priests around and try and keep the victims quiet (sometimes, like in the case of Cardinal Law, moving the offending protectors to the Vatican itself), not anywhere else around the world where the church has engaged in systematic despoiling of a community’s or parish’s children.  The church survives, continues with its “work.”

Back in the early 90s, I agonized about whether or not I should go to the authorities about what my stepfather had done to my sister and me. Should I go to the police? Will they even believe me? And what about all his patients? Won’t I be harming them if he’s not allowed to practice anymore? I had the idea that maybe the good he (ostensibly) was doing elsewhere should mean more than the harm he did at home. I was a good victim, and a good woman — I was more worried about the well-being of others, had been well-groomed not just by my stepfather but by a society that trains us to put the good of the many above the good of the few. Sure, we say, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves — but does that really have to undermine his message of equality and democracy??

We’re raised with this kind of cognitive dissonance. We are trained to worry about the well-being of the abusers. We are afraid that maybe something bad will happen to them if we tell about what they did to us. A good friend wrote about this recently — we needn’t worry. The abusers almost always land on their feet, often even in the house of what used to be the president.  No one has stopped watching Woody Allen movies, or Roman fucking Polanski. Feminists aplenty stood with, stand with, Bill Clinton. Plenty of people still go to the Catholic church, still listen to the music of James Brown, John Mayer, still read the books of …

I trail off here and my heart gets thick and watery and I lose track of what I want to say. Do I really mean to say that the abusers always win, so we shouldn’t feel bad for them? Even if we tell. Even if they get held “accountable.” It’s disheartening (um, to say the least) to know that, more often than not, people are going to stand with the abuser, or abusers. It’s the way we are raised as Americans, certainly.

But beyond that, maybe the message I want to hold this morning is that we ought to tell, early and often and loudly. Tell and tell and tell. The abuser is going to tell his(*) side, and plenty of people will stand with him, whether they believe in him or not.

I watch an ex of mine being lauded in a community he claims to have been participating in for nearly a decade (never mind that we were together for part of that time, and he never once went to any event or  gathering of theirs during that time) – he’s being raised up as a leader, turned to for spiritual guidance, given opportunities to lead others during times of great tenderness, fear, vulnerability. In the years since we split up, and of course while we were still together, I was afraid to tell about the difficulties in our relationship. I was ashamed of being under someone’s control the way I was with him, feared his response if he found that I had talked about him or us, and believed that others wouldn’t believe me if I told them what he was like in private or that they wouldn’t care. Just last year, after we’d been apart for more than four years, I shared a tiny piece of our relationship on Facebook after I read an interview in which he claimed that we’d broken up because I couldn’t support his transition to male. I’d been astonished to read this — his transition had had exactly nothing to do with why I finally left him. But even then, all those years later, I was afraid to tell my truth about him. That interview was in the SF Bay Times because he’d been chosen as a grand marshal for the Pride parade. What if someone saw what I wrote and asked him about what I’d said. What if it embarrassed him?!? I was still more worried about him than about myself. And I needn’t have worried. No one asked him about the little bit I shared on Facebook. Nothing stood in the way of him being celebrated as a community leader at the front of our pride parade. He’s doing just fine.

Of course, worry about the well-being of the ones who hurt us isn’t the only consideration when we think about telling our stories of trauma and abuse, but often it’s one piece of our fear. What if we laid that part down?

It’s going to take many, many of us telling, over and over again, for this system that is thousands of years old to begin to change fundamentally, foundationally. And in the meantime, maybe we don’t need to worry so much about the well-being of the people who harmed us. We can tell. We can tell ourselves in private, we can tell our notebooks, we can tell our therapists. We can tell friends, community members, we can write it in poems, into songs, into stories, into memoir, we can tell our own truths, we can tell the truth about our lives. Muriel Rukeyser said the world will split open if we do. I once thought she meant that literally, wanted it to be a literal breaking open, the world coming apart at the seams when women, when all survivors of abuse and trauma and violence and oppression, came forth with the realities of their lives. But it’s a smaller breaking apart — fissures in the facade we are meant to live within, the facade of white supremacy, of male supremacy. Enough little fissures and cracks can bring a wall down. Keep telling in all the many ways that you tell. It makes a difference — in our hearts and bodies, in the bodies of those who hold the truth with us, in the bodies of those yet to be born.


* (I’m using his here in the specific and the general — specifically to mean men, to mean male, understanding that the vast majority of abusers are male-gendered, and in the old way, when he was meant to stand in for all of humankind, understanding that abusers come in all genders.)

I’m going to use all the details I damn well need

Today I am pissed off. This is a post about rape and rape culture. And uses bad language. And is angry. Just know that ahead of time.

Still reading? All right then.

There is a post on the VIDA website detailing assaults on just eleven (just eleven!) of what sounds like the many many women harassed and assaulted by a famous, well-respected, powerful man in various arts communities. A poet and photographer, he’s been involved in Cave Canem, taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Case Western, and women in the community, in his circles, have known about and warned each other about him for years – and yet only now is there collective voice enough to speak out, over and in spite of his threats to ruin his victims’ careers and credibility if they told.

And because I was stupid enough to read the comments about a link to this post on the VIDA FB page, here’s what I saw – Why was this done anonymously? How can we believe these stories if the tellers don’t include their names? Why didn’t they tell before? Why didn’t they go to the authorities? And why did they have to include such salacious details? What if it’s a false accusation—people’s lives are ruined by false accusations. (Eleven women’s testimonies! How many women have to come forward before their collective voices aren’t automatically decried as yet another attempt to ruin the name of a “good man” for their own malicious, apparently hysterical ends? Someone posted statistics of false allegations – here’s how often that actually happens, my friend.)

So, you know, obviously, overwhelming support for the women violated.

Just this week, articles about intimidation and harassment of women in science and deans of law schools accused of ongoing sexual harassment who admit their crimes, and get to write a letter of aploogy rather than lose their jobs because, you know, the chancellor didn’t want to ruin the guuy’s career (I can only assume it was only after massive outcry that he was eventually put on indefinite leave).

Over and over, women harassed, assaulted, violated, raped by men who have power, “mentors,” teachers, helpers. We are worth their time and attention because they find us sexy and want to fuck us – but then what then what then what? But then our ideas are worthless, our words, our theories, our art, our minds: worthless. What we are good for, according to these men, these leaders in their fields, is cunt. We are good for satisfying the bodily or harassment needs of our “mentors” who are just “out of control.” They can’t stop thinking about us, they need us, we should be flattered—obsession is our romantic norm, after all. And they warn us they could get in trouble, they know they shouldn’t be telling us these things, they want us to feel bad for them, they need us to help. We’re supposed to be swept away when he can’t keep his hands to himself, when he can’t listen to your presentation, recital, ideas because you’re just too beautiful, too sexy, that mouth those eyes those legs those tits—what do you expect me to do when you’re up there having a body in front of my wanting?

The women who speak out publicly are called mentally unstable (my stepfather said the same thing about me). We are crazy because we broke silence, we are crazy for not wanting their dicks in the first place, we are crazy for thinking we have the right to say no, crazy to believe that when we tell what happened to us, our words will be held in the same regard as those who raped or attempted to rape us. We are crazy when we go to the police. We are crazy when we say you will be held accountable. We are crazy when we speak up knowing the rapists won’t be held accountable.

Of course we’re not crazy. And of course we arehow could we not feel crazy? With the whole world telling us we made it up/it wasn’t that bad/you should get over it/you probably asked for it/what did you do to make him mad/I’m sorry I promise I’ll stop oops I just did it again

Look at you they get to do. Wherever and whenever and with impunity. With impunity. And folks of all genders keep on protecting your right to do it. Rapists in cultural communities. Rapists who are celebrities. Rapists who form the backbone of revered and massively powerful religious institutions (and this one and this one and this one and this one  and…)

So many stories, and people don’t want the details. Why’d you have to say he had bad breath? Why’d you have to give the size of his penis, the smells of his body, the cigarette stains between his fingers. Why’d you have to tell so much? Can’t you just, like, say it without giving us all those details?

Let me give you excerpts from American Psycho, Lolita, Game of Thrones, many Quentin Tarentino films, any number of Henry Miller books, the alt-lit boys who use their sexual assaults as fodder for their “art,” Andrew Dice Clay, shock jocks, who else who else who else—the men who are unafraid of the details, unapologetic about the details, the men who use all of it –

but we are supposed to be quiet about these facts of our lives, this raw material you shoved into our hands and mouths and cunts.

Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot, you only like to read rape through the rapists’ eyes!

Fuck you for expecting that we’re not going to take your assaults, your attempts to tear us open and down, use us for your physical and “artistic” purposes and then toss us to the side and step on us like rugs and doormats and trash– that we’re not going to take all of that shit to make our own art, to tell our own truths in the art forms that choose us.

We will tell it in poetry and fiction and essay and song and spoken word and performance art  and art show and painting and comedy routine and we will not always look like the victims you convinced the word we have to look and act like (the good victims) in order to be listened to and believed. We are not fodder for your chivalry. You don’t get to rape us and then turn around and soothe us when we “act right.” We have been acting right all along.

In understand you don’t want to hear the details. I don’t either. But details, as we have been told by writing teachers since secondary school, are what makes an effective scene

If we don’t include details, you’ll impute our reliability—Is that really what happened? It all sounds so fuzzy. If it as as bad as you say, wouldn’t you be able to remember more?

But give the details, and suddenly we’re harming this man unnecessarily. “Can’t we just agree that he did something bad without dragging his name and reputation through the mud? Without shaming him? Without telling us all these tales out of school with out embarrassing him too much?”

Why are we protecting the tender feelings of the serial rapist assailant harasser?

I don’t want the details either, but they’re in me. I understand you don’t want the smell of my stepfather’s crotch. I don’t want it either. I don’t want the taste, the look on his face, the feel of his tongue in my mouth and elsewhere, but, my friends, this is what rape is like. Rape is in the details.

This word “rape” doesn’t seem to bother you. “Harassment” doesn’t seem to bother you. Molestation, fondle, messed around with, touched, abused—all these euphemisms have no impact on you anymore, if they ever did. You can put whatever picture you want behind those euphemisms. You can imagine it was “easier” than it was, you can assign “no big deal” to those imprecise words.

So we are going to quit making our reality easy for you. We are going to quit using euphemisms and tell you what “molestation” means, what “assault” means, what “date rape” means. Fuck you if you don’t like it. Fuck you for telling me I can only tell my story in a way you’re comfortable hearing it. Fuck you for thinking you have some authority over my art.

And fuck you for demanding that we attach our names and addresses and sexual histories and marital status to our testimonies. Do you ask all sources to break their anonymity? When people have a fear of repercussion—economic, physical, social—our journalistic standards allow for sources to be protected. You don’t get to dismiss her words because she needs to remain anonymous. Deep Throat was anonymous, remember, and that was just fine, understandable, even, but let a woman fear for her life and livelihood and safety (can I give you the statistics of women murdered by boyfriends, husbands, and why doesn’t someone take a look at how many women’s lives actually improve on campus, at the workplace, in the military, in cultural and professional communities, after they come forward publicly with experiences of rape and harassment by superiors or colleagues/classmates?) and suddenly she is a liar until someone can provide the video evidence, and then that will be sold as reality or revenge porn.

This is such an old, old story.

And I am tired of the energy it takes to be this mad.

I get it: you don’t want to read the details, You don’t want to be made to feel in the parts of your body where the violences were done to us. You don’t want the confusion of arousal while reading about violence.

Welcome to rape. That’s it’s reality.

And rape isn’t just my problem, that is, the problem of the victims. Rape belongs to all of us. The more you try to silence and ignore it and pretend it’s someone else’s issue, the more it belongs to you.

We will tell in all the ways there are to tell, and we will use the details, the accurate words, we will give, when we can, the low by blow, as you call it in your boxing lingo, in your lingo of violence and decimation. We will show the rapists’ pitiful tactics, childishness, temper tantrums. We will not let you wriggle and preen behind euphamism anymore.

And if you get turned on by the bald, true details (which, my friend, are not the same as pornography no matter how much you want to silence us by making those accusations), then that will be on your conscience, not ours.