Thursday, April 20, 2006

Call for Submissions: Speak Out Against Domestic Violence

A project I'm working on for a class (and which may end up being much further-reaching than the halls of Smith College, and longer-lasting than that of a final project):

Disclaimer: If submitting your story will in any way put you in danger, please do not attempt to do so until you can ensure your own safety.

I am in the process of creating a compilation blog to illustrate the various intersections of identity and societal influences that play a role in the differing experiences of domestic violence (including physical, sexual, emotional, or similar kinds of abuse). Instead of the largely white, heterosexual, middle-class stories of domestic violence that dominates the sphere of knowledge, this blog project will include a truly diverse array of experiences. Domestic violence is not limited to white/heterosexual/middle-class populations, and neither is this project.

I am therefore sending out a call for submissions. If you have been a victim of domestic violence (as defined, for the purposes of this project, above), or have been directly involved in another person’s experience of DV, and wish to speak out about your experiences, please email your submission to: speakup(dot)speakout(at)yahoo(dot)com

There are no style or length limitations. The one request I have is this: in order to aid in the reader’s (and my) understanding of your experience of DV, I would appreciate if you included your location in the world - e.g. a general geographic region, gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, etc. Feel free to include as few or as many locators as you wish.

The deadline for submissions is: Monday, May 1, 2006.

More detailed information about the project is available at the blog: Speaking Up, Speaking Out…Against Domestic Violence. If you have further questions, feel free to email me at the address listed above.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

blogging against sexual violence #3

(The last...)

I have a problem with the fight against rape and sexual violence.
Don't get me wrong -- I loathe sexual violence, it needs to end, and we need to be vocal - hypervocal, even - about it before it ever will. I've done numerous final papers about the rape culture, how all the different things like race and class and sexuality (and so on) intersect with and work within the patriarchy in order to create the rape culture.
My problem doesn't lie in the ideology behind the fight. There, I'm behind you all the way.
My problem lies in the rhetoric employed in the fight.

Specifically, the rhetoric and model of "The Survivor."

In every anti-rape, anti-sexual-violence form of activism I've been a part of, the message (apart from "good god, let go of the rape culture already and let us control our own bodies") has been centered around "Healing" and "dealing with it" (but never really "getting over it") and mostly, about crossing that line from "victim" to "survivor."

The thing is, the dichotomy of "victimhood" and being a "survivor" is absolutely false. Many, many people who have been victims of sexual violence go their whole lives with one foot in both worlds, stuck in between and never fully fitting into either category. Some people might never get to that place of "survival" at all, and will never be able to "heal" or "deal with it" in any meaningful sense. Like me.

There are lots and lots of reasons that I know I will never reach that place of calling myself or being a "survivor," which I won't go into here. Some of them are entrenched in the rape culture that makes me blame myself for my abuse and my rape(s), but some of them are simply because I don't have that capacity to "heal." You might be thinking, "Oh, don't be silly, you're only 20 years old, you don't know what you can heal from yet," and maybe, just maybe, you're right. But you're probably not. But that's exactly the problem I have with this fight against sexual violence. There's always the assumption that everyone can heal. That someday, if you just work hard enough at it, you, too, will be able to be a "survivor."

I reject that notion. It's simply not true.
But more, I reject the entire model of "The Survivor" as the universal model for all victims of rape/sexual violence. No (or almost no) victim's experience of sexual violence is identical. So why should the form that their recovery (or lack thereof) takes be the same?

I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear the story about the girl who was victimized for 7 years of her childhood and never got over it. They want to hear about the girl who was abused, but went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with children in Uganda. And while that girl who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize is no doubt extraordinary and amazing, that's not every victim's story. That's not how everyone's story ends. But just because my story, or four hundred other women's stories, don't end in sunshine and rainbows and the extraordinary (sometimes out-of-reach) achievement of overcoming one's victimization, that doesn't mean that those stories are any less worthwhile, any less valid. Our stories need to be told too.

Yes, thinking that you can get over this and you can "heal" is vital for recent victims of sexual violence. But not at the expense of alienating those who don't fit that model, of ignoring their stories of non-recovery.

So, with that, here's my story of non-survival:
I was abused by my brother from the time I was 6 or 7 until I was 13. I told nobody until I was 15. My mother walked in on us once when I was 9. She had a talk with me, told me, "don't tease your brother. Boys can't always control themselves." When I first told, I was in the hospital after telling someone I was slightly suicidal. The hospital would not discharge me if my brother were still at home, so my parents (my mom, begrudgingly) sent him out to live in San Diego, where my other brother was. I spent the rest of high school pretty much going from boyfriend to boyfriend, but not attaching myself to anyone, and never letting any of them in, really. I gave one boyfriend a blow job a few times, and he reciprocated each time. I never orgasmed.
I didn't orgasm until I was 19, the first time I was with a woman. Even then, we had sex three or four times, and I only orgasmed once.
I started cutting when I was 13. I still haven't stopped. I bruise, too, and burn sometimes. Occasionally, I go through cycles of disordered eating (but really, it's not an eating disorder), sometimes lasting a day, sometimes two months. I still think about suicide, in the abstract, even though I'd never do it.
I can't say no, even when I want to, especially to a woman. To men, it's slightly different, but it's not like they listen anyway. This past summer, I got drunk at a friend's party and ended up in a threesome situation with one woman and one man. He was sober. We were not. We both went down on him. I said I didn't want to once or twice, but never really assertively.
At a new year's party this year, I was raped by a boy I've known since preschool. Again, I was far more intoxicated than I should have gotten. It was a threesome situation, and I was into the girl, but not him. Somehow, he ended up inside of me even though I said over and over that I was gay, that I didn't want to, and once he already was, I said that I was done with the hetero part, that I wanted him to stop. He didn't. I told nobody until last week. I told my best friend, who had been trained as a rape advocate/educator. She asked me if I'd made it worse in my mind since January. She told me not to think so much about it, that "it was just an accident."
I can hardly function as a student. I've had to ask for extensions on most of my work this semester, and have to go talk to my class dean on Thursday about taking incompletes and/or getting extensions for my final papers past finals week. Not a day, hardly an hour, goes by that I don't think about my brother, or the boy this summer, or the boy I've known from preschool.

So, no, I'm not ok. And no, I probably never will be. But at least this story is authentic. At least with this story, there is no happy ending.

blogging against sexual violence #2

A poem, this time (written as spoken word style), that i read/performed at the TBTN speakout:

because see now, there's this demon that
rises up inside
rises up from the semen you
left inside
this demon that calls me dirty
calls me stupid
calls me useless.

and usually...i agree w/ him
usually, he's got me pinned to a T
because this demon you made,
this semen you left --
makes me all of these things
makes me a whore
makes me a slut -
makes me your slut.

and maybe, you own me now
maybe you own me now
from the vagina you penetrated
to the breasts you violated, but....

but what?
there is no "but"
there's no revival
there's no renewal
there's no "survival."
there's no "getting over," no "getting past"
this thing you left behind

because this will always be with me
and you will always be with me

when i stare into her face -
i stare into yours
and when i'm kissing her -
i'm kissing you/you're kissing her
and when she makes me come -
you make me come
you seep out of me
you seep onto her
you've. contaminated. me.
you've. contaminated. her.

and recovery? is a fucking lie.
survival is a myth.
the only thing that survives is

blogging against sexual violence #1

I lied.
I still have a ton of work to do, but my momentary return from my work-induced hiaitus will be a little less temporary. Because I started reading through the other posts in the Blog to Raise Awareness About Sexual Violence blogathon.
And I need to do this.
Three times. This is the first.

The first post I read was under "Stories About Survival," entitled Anonymous.
The content of this story was simply as follows:

i have been raped a lot.

And so that, I think, is where I will start this post. I wish so much that sentence wasn't so true for so many people. I wish so much that it wasn't true for anyone. But you can't wish away our rape culture. And you can't wish away people's experiences.

Last week here at Smith, a student organization I'm involved with, AWARE (Activist Women Advocating Rape Education), sponsored Sexual Abuse/Assault Awareness Week. (We don't have the resources or time to do the whole month, so we condense it into a week.)
We hung the Clothesline Project, which Smith has been participating in since 1994, and now includes well over 400 shirts.
We held a (poorly attended) student/faculty/administration panel, entitled The Importance of Discourse, meant in part to address the controversy around the Clothesline Project (which I will discuss shortly).
We sponsored a (poorly attended) "Wounded Heart Workshop," facilitated by a woman from the Everywoman's Center at UMass Amherst.
We held a (poorly attended) Take Back the Night march and speak-out/candlelight vigil.

And we encountered some pretty hefty resistance, not so much from the administration (this year), but from our fellow Smithies.
The Clothesline Project controversy centered around the location and prime visibility of the Project. We hung the CP around Seelye lawn, which is a central, largely unavoidable location on campus. We did this very intentionally. We could have displayed the CP in a room in the Campus Center, where people could choose to go in and look at the shirts or not. We did not choose that.
That is a form of silencing.

Many Smithies thought we should move the CP to an out-of-the-way room in the campus center. Their argument was actually almost compelling: seeing the shirts, reading the shirts, walking by the shirts every day on your way to class or the library can be really distracting and upsetting if you aren't ready or don't want to have to deal with your past experiences right then. Which I fully acknowledge. It was not easy for most of the members of AWARE to deal with it either, and we had to sit at an informational table for most of the day, help to hang and take down the shirts every day, and so forth. I understand that we, being members of AWARE, are in a different position, because we chose to be a part of an organization specifically targeting sexual violence issues, and we chose to be a part of SAAW. Other victims/survivors on Smith campus may not be able to make that choice, and they're partially right -- it may not be fair of us to, in a sense, make them deal with it if they're not willing or ready to do so.
But what's even less fair is that they were victimized in the first place. What's even less fair is that we need to put up the Clothesline Project at all. What's even less fair is that they're still not putting the blame for their discomfort/instability/inability to deal on their abusers, and are instead projecting their anger at a visibility/awareness campaign like CP.

And while Smith should have much, much, much more adequate resources to help victims/survivors deal with such issues, it does not (yet). But that doesn't mean that people don't need to be made aware of this. That doesn't mean that victims/survivors should be silenced because there aren't adequate resources for those who need them or because it makes never-victimized people uncomfortable.

But what people don't really address is the thing that is so deeply entrenched in this controversy surrounding the CP (and, later, the speak-out): Smith's very own rape culture.
So, so many people use the "even at Smith" rhetoric, implying that Smith, in its liberal, gay-loving, mostly-feminist bubble, is somehow immune to the social implications of the rest of the world. "Even at Smith, people get raped." "Even at Smith, there are (gasp) Republicans." "Even at Smith, students aren't always safe."
But the truth is: Smith is still a part of the larger culture, and as much of an oasis as it may seem to be, it's not immune from the patriarchal system in "the rest of the world." And while it may be true that Smith and Northampton are both much, much more liberal than your average Massachussets town, both -- yes, even Smith -- have their own unique rape culture.

Smith's rape culture is interesting, because Smith is a "women's" college. (I put "women's" in quotation marks because a lot of Smithies don't necessarily identify as women, and sure as hell don't fit into the social construction of what "women" are.) People assume that Smith is, then, a safe space for all kinds of more sensitive issues. And in a lot of ways, it is. Smith is probably the most gay-friendly (and, actually, at times, bordering on heterophobic) place I've ever been.
But when it comes to rape and sexual abuse...that liberal attitude seems to end.
Sure, the silencing is couched in rhetoric of "protecting victims" and "discomfort" with hearing people's stories, surrounded by phrases like, "Wouldn't you be more comfortable if..." and "Are you sure you want to be so public..." but silencing is silencing, even when couched in "good intentions."

We held our Take Back the Night speak-out on the steps outside the campus center. We had a microphone, a (rather large and intimidating) speaker, and a podium. After the woman from the Everywoman's Center spoke, people - as happens in a speak-out - got up to tell their stories or just talk about sexual assault abstractly.
I thought the speak-out went really well. It was a decent enough turnout -- up to maybe 50 people at the peak time (people would stop to listen on their way to the library or wherever). I spoke, for the first time ever at a speak-out. It was empowering, and moving, and powerful, and everything a speak-out is supposed to be.
When I got home later that night, I saw a thread started on our campus message board.
I reproduce it (mostly) in full:

So, I totally support the openness and availability of resources to sexually offended students. Although I myself am really uncomfortable hearing about personal stories, I think its great that people are willing to share and be open about experiences to help others.
HOWEVER...tonight, I was walking to the lib from Henshaw Ave and when I got to the other side of the CC, there was a mic set up and women were speaking about experiences. Awesome idea, but I think the choice of placement was poor. I was extremely uncomfortable listening to this horrible and depressing story as I walked from the doors of the CC almost all the way to the doors of Neilson. I just wanted to make it known that although I'm in full support of talking about problems and experiences, I was not prepared to listen to these personal and extremely upsetting stories while on a walk to do work.
So, please, CC or whomever set up the area that it was held in, please make it in a more private place, aka not on the steps of the CC where I felt rude in just walking up the stairs. Thanks and definitely keep up the awareness- just be more sensitive to the community as a whole. Please don't take any of this the wrong way- its in good intention...

News Flash: Saying that you're not silencing victims/survivors as you do something that silences victims/survivors does not negate you silencing victims/survivors.

(Not to mention...what if it was my story that made her so "uncomfortable"? While I might get defensive about it, say something like "Well it made me uncomfortable to be abused," the fact is: I'm not going to be as willing to share my story now. Because chances are, if it was my story she heard, or if she even heard my story, it would have made her uncomfortable. And even though I acknowledge that as a mechanism for silencing victims/ doesn't take away the power of the mechanism.)

As infuriating as this was, mainly because of the "good intentions" rhetoric, it wasn't the worst.
This was:
There seems to be an awful lot of "abuse survivors" and rape victims at Smith. Does the place attract people who have had such experiences or is there maybe a little false memory syndrome going on here? I mean, look at the number of people in the student body who are making these claims. It just doesn't sound statistically credible.

As much as I hate the "even at Smith" line...I was not expecting this here, at a place where so many of the students call themselves (or don't, but are) feminists.

Because the thing about Smith's rape culture is: it doesn't fit in with our otherwise smash-the-patriarchy attitude. For example, Smith is just about the queerest campus on the East Coast. One of the responses to the thread is as follows:
How is saying: "I approve of this, but it makes me uncomfortable. So please just do it where I don't have to see it or know about it." any different from "It's ok to be gay, just as long as you don't talk about it or show it in front of me."?
The latter would never fly at Smith. Almost every single Smithie, queer or not, would jump on that person as soon as something like that came out of hir mouth.
But when that same rhetoric is applied to sexual violence...somehow it's ok. Somehow, it's ok to silence victims of sexual violence, where it's not ok to silence queers.

What is it about sexual violence that makes it so much easier to silence at a place like Smith? What is it about rape, about sexual abuse, that makes people who call themselves feminists, who call themselves liberals, who call themselves openminded and enlightened, so absolutely uncomfortable? Obviously, it's not a fun thing to talk about. It's not supposed to be.

But if you don't talk about it, and if you don't make people talk about it or at least think about it, nothing's ever going to change. Sexual violence is so, so easy to ignore for so many people. I don't know how, but most people manage to look at a rape victim, say, "Oh, that's too bad," and move on with their lives and never think about it again. But that rape victim might never move on, and she will almost definitely think about it again...and again...and again.

And somehow, people are ok with being apathetic about sexual violence, or only caring when it's convenient. Somehow, people aren't outraged all the time. Somehow, they'll put more energy into being angry about being made "uncomfortable" over a speak-out or a display, into being angry about something that might actually raise awareness and eventually help stop sexual violence -- way more energy than they will put into being angry about the fact that these people have stories to tell in the first place.

And to me, that seems like something much more worth your anger.

momentarily ending my hiaitus

But only for a linkage, since it is April, and it's Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (I have soooo much I could write, and absolutely no time to write it, so go read other people's stuff.)

Lots of amazing posts here, all of which warrant thorough readings (even if the blogathon coordinator does employ the model of "The Survivor," which I have lotsandlots of ideological problems with....)

Blog to Raise Awareness About Sexual Violence.
And go.