Monday, April 14, 2008

speaking out, speaking truth, speaking the unspeakable

just fyi...there are a couple other posts in the works right now, still in draft form (one is about straining / finding my voice, one is about anger). they'll still be posted in chronological order, based on when i started them, so there may be two more recently posted pieces below this one.

i went to smith's sexual violence speakout last night, the cap of their Sexual Abuse Awareness Week.
it was small, not incredibly well-attended, but it was still a great event.

almost everyone who was there got up and spoke. it was beautiful to see people giving voice to the places they hadn't expected to be able to speak from.
as happens most years, though, there was one woman who especially struck a chord in my heart.

i am totally in awe.
and in shock.
my mind? mostly blown.

a very young (but very old) first-year got up to speak last night. this, in itself, isn't astonishing - there are a ton of first-years who are victims/survivors, just as there are a ton of sophomores, juniors, seniors, and alumnae who are victims/survivors. her age didn't surprise me. the fact that almost every person there had something to say also didn't surprise me.
what astonished me was what she spoke. what she gave voice to.

speakouts are for talking, for telling your truth. that's the point.
there are certain truths that are spoken, certain ways of telling your story, certain "rules" of speaking that are generally followed. most people don't deviate from that, despite its limitations and shaming capacities. i, personally, have never seen anyone really deviate from that prescriptive speech. at a speakout, you do some or all of the following things: you tell of your victimization, with or without details. you demonize and vilify your abuser. you express anger or grief -- but only toward those outside of yourself. usually (but not always), you end with something along the lines of "but now, i'm empowered, i'm keeping myself safer, i'm standing up to him/her/them, i'm doing advocacy for other victims."
this is all well and good, and these are all important words to be spoken, but they do tend to (quite effectively) cover over all of the many more complicated realities.

this first-year, though, told something else. about her older brother. (this, itself, isn't so common at speakouts. just as in every other dialogue about sexual violence, sibling abuse is usually unspoken or very quietly spoken at these events.)

but she didn't only vilify and demonize him (although she did acknowledge how many boundaries he crossed). she also spoke of the love she felt for him. and the anger, too. she talked about how he coerced her -- she was excited to receive his attention, and so she went along with it.
she actually spoke that part.
out loud.
at a public speakout.
she spoke that truth. (that truth that's almost always unspoken, but is so fucking common for so fucking many of us.)

she talked about silence, too, but not in the usual way (that is, of the rape culture silencing all victims in general). she spoke to the silence within and of the survivor movement with regards to sibling abuse. she spoke to that, to the shortcomings of this survivor movement that we're supposed to be a part of, to the shortcomings that are so, so rarely named.

she spoke. she spoke all of these things. (seemingly) unafraid.
and it blew my mind.

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