Last night, I opted out of an important event. I had been grappling with the idea all week, but I ultimately chose silence over support. I have mixed feelings about group speak outs. On one hand, sharing stories about sexual violence in a designated "safe space" can provide closure. On the other hand, it's downright depressing to share stories and then walk away, with no clear plan for prevention or personal empowerment.
I am not sure how this particular event was structured, but my absence boiled down to a single factor: I *still* don't know how to define sexual violence. I can parse it down and provide a Merriam-Webster-style definition, but I have difficulty defining the phrase within the context of my own life.
During my early high school years, I remember sitting silently at a table with a group of friends. I wasn't speaking much at the time, because I knew (subconsciously, perhaps) that my words would come back to bite me. If I said something to provoke or embarrass him, I always heard about it later. If I challenged him directly, I was chided for ruining the only time of day a teenager could sit back and enjoy - lunchtime. My closest friend eventually blew up at me for making everyone in our social circle so damned uncomfortable.
"I don't care what your problem is, but this has to stop."
"I don't like him," I said. "I'm sorry, but it's hard to sit with him."
"Then work it out on your own," she said. "Don't drag the rest of us down."
I took her advice, and I did begin to work it out on my own. On the surface, I retreated deeper into silence, which seemed to make everyone happier. In my mind, I began to make a tally. I counted every time I had come home with scrapes or bruises, every time he had pushed me down, every time I was verbally or physically humiliated (alone, or in front of friends). I was scared back then, but I wasn't entirely mute. I knew that it wasn't right. I had even tried to tell my friends.
"He's kind of rough with me," I said.
"It's because he's jealous," my forward-thinking girlfriends responded. "He knows he can't have you, so he treats you like one of the guys."
They were onto something, but I took their words as a misguided sign of assurance: It was okay. I was just overreacting. If anything, I should be flattered! If I had had the power of words back then - if I had possessed the power or naming - I could have better verbalized why this wasn't okay. I could have cited examples from a solid feminist discourse, using terms like "possession," "subjugation," and "patriarchal sexuality." But I didn't know the lingo; I just knew that I was reactive...and I knew that sometimes, when he wasn't hurting me, he made me feel worthwhile and pretty (*cough* textbookcase *cough*).
Because I did so little to confront the violence when it was most relevant, I've been left with a warped sense of sexuality and a convoluted sense of justice/judgment. When I hear terms like "sexual violence," I don't include myself in the category of "survivor." For two years, I was forced down to the ground, molested, and emotionally manipulated, but I was never raped. In our culture, rape has become somewhat of a red herring when discussing sexual violence. Because I wasn't raped, I still hesitate to speak about my experience. I still get angry with myself for being a reactive bitch. Because I can't define what happened using one morally reprehensible term, I don't define it at all.
I'm going to stop here for now. I'm sure that I can and will continue on this topic, but I'm feeling kind of spent...
In more optimistic news, I just learned that a small town in Oregon has elected the first openly trans mayor. The video at the end of the article is pretty superb. Also, I stumbled upon a wonderful blog about gay Armenia. Check it.
4 months ago