Tonight at Lit Crawl, Writing Ourselves Whole writers will share their take on the fierce hunger of sexual trauma survivors.
(You can join us: 6pm at the Women’s Building, Room B, in San Francisco!)
Tonight, our brilliant writers — Manish Vaidya, Eanlai Cronin, Renee Garcia, Blyth Barnow, and Seeley Quest — will articulate some of what it looks like when survivors tangle with hunger: what it’s like to feel it, what it’s like not to feel it, not to allow ourselves to feel it, to think we don’t deserve it — and to finally allow ourselves consider the possibility that we do.
I am thinking this morning about how ferociously hungry are the survivor writers I’ve worked with over the last ten-plus years — writers who desperately long for something different: for an end to rape and rape culture, for an end to all forms of oppression and violence that dehumanize some in order to give others satiation and power — yes, of course, this. But then there are the individual hungers: for connection, understanding, knowing, recognition; folks are hungry to be seen. We’re hungry for work that satisfies and challenges us, hungry to be nourished — physically and psychically, and to feel worthy of nourishment. We are hungry for intimacy, hungry for a touch that doesn’t take anything from us but instead meets and feeds us. We are hungry for change, for knowledge, for beauty, for the pen or the brush or the song or the dance, for the dark and for the light. We are hungry and struggle to feel ourselves worthy of feeding. We have been starved and often we have starved ourselves.
Radical self care means allowing ourselves to experience what we are hungry for — or, even before that, to be aware of our appetites, and to know that having an appetite isn’t what caused our violation. This is slow learning and can take years. Simply having human and animal appetites — wanting, hungering — isn’t what caused someone to harm us. They may have told us that it did, that their actions were our fault, that we were also partly to blame, because, look, we said we wanted — something. We wanted to see the puppy or taste the candy. We wanted to be touched or held, in ways that were loving or safe. We wanted to feel special and important. Sometimes our bodies wanted the sexual touch, which confused us, because we didn’t want it from this person, in this way. We wanted the toy or the special treat that we were promised, or we wanted to be able to keep safe the people or pets who were threatened. Our desires were manipulated, used against us, and so we tried to keep ourselves from wanting. If we didn’t want anything, no one could manipulate us like that again. We slid our big and small hungers into drawers and locked them up inside ourselves. We said, What, me? No, I don’t need anything. I’m fine. What do you want?
What do you want?
Our hungers don’t go away. They gnaw on the insides of those drawers, they chew through the locks and bars, they are insatiable, they do not abandon us. I am not talking about addictions here, but what the addictions are trying to keep us from feeling, to help us run from, help us ignore. We might spend years running as fast as we can to get away from the desires that have been with us all our lives: the desire to create, the desire to connect, the desire to feel, the desire to be witnessed, nourished, appreciated, make a difference, matter.
When we stop running, the hunger that catches up with us can be overwhelming. I have used lots of different things to drown it out — wine, food, television, relationship drama, too much work. All of these at the same time, some weeks. All of this to keep from having to hear that quiet and persistent voice in me that says, I am hungry to be loved for exactly who I am. I am hungry to write books that some people will read and love. I am hungry for a solid sense of home. I am hungry for playful and understanding friendships. I am hungry for family that feels safe. I am hungry to experience my body’s full and free sexual and erotic capacity — in fact, to know the full capacity of my body’s strength and speed and wisdom overall. I am hungry for a world that doesn’t organize every organism and object into a hierarchy of use to white supremacist capitalism, hungry for a world in which children aren’t treated like items on a menu, hungry for a society in which all people’s innate creative genius is recognized, valued, and nourished. I starve or overfeed myself to avoid feeling the rage and sorrow and hope that accompanies these longings, but they don’t go away.
During the first months I was offering erotic writing groups, I came to understand right away that they were about more than just sex for the writers — they were about finding and creating safe space in which to hunger, in which to openly long, a space in which that longing wouldn’t be used against us in any way, in which, in fact, we would be celebrated for that desire. Toward the end of those early groups, writers came to be aware of not simply the specificities of their erotic desires (as though that’s ever simple!), but also of desire to reconnect with their music, with their art, to find work that truly fed them. We wanted the whole of our sex back, yes, and we wanted so much more than that, too.
It is in our nature to hunger. When we try to shut those primal urges down, we implode. This starvation is a way of slowly killing ourselves. It is a way of continuing to do our violators’ work for them. Eventually, little by little, we can begin to put down that particular labor, beating up and shaming the small self within that has mouth open and hands out. We can begin to listen to that self, treat it (us, him, hir, her, them) with kindness and generosity, as we ought always to have been listened to ourselves. We can remember that that small self deserved those desires, just as we do — and did not deserve to be shamed or harmed for wanting, just as we do not. We can begin to feel what we have always been hungry for, and then, as we choose, start to feed ourselves — even start allowing ourselves to be fed.
Here’s to your gorgeous and tender hungers. Thank you for all the ways that you are allowing yourself to feel, to appreciate, and to feed your good, good self.
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