Trigger Warning. There will be some discussion of rape and sexual abuse in this post. Also some swearing. But the latter’s just because I do that.
The other day, a new friend of mine who I met through Twitter posted a very personal blog about her experience with sexual abuse. Right around that day, I was visiting someone else’s blog and discovered that she had been abducted and abused as a child. She is now a counselor and specializes in PTSD and recovery.
Both of those posts made me think.
I used to write about my own experiences and thoughts fairly often. In fact, a couple years ago, I dedicated this space to speaking up for days on end in honor of V-Day and stopping violence against women. I’ve spoken definitively about my own experiences. People have shared theirs with me. In the last year or so, I’ve tapered off. Both of these other people made me think about why I’ve chosen to do that.
I believe speaking up is very important. I believe that silence can foster an atmosphere where victims and survivors go unheard and where their stories are confined to the insides of their own being. I believe that the world would rather we shut up. One look at anything Dylan Farrow-related and how the internet is more likely to voice its support for Woody Allen than for Jo Rowling and her comments pertaining to her own artistic decisions will confirm that.
The first post I read the other day related how the writer’s parents wanted her to be friends with a man who, years ago as a teen, raped his own cousin. The authorities were never brought in. Instead this was handled “internally.” This man attends family gatherings, is well-liked, and has grown adults trying to make him friends. His cousin, by contrast, avoids family gatherings because she can’t bring herself to come face to face with her rapist.
The hardest thing to understand about this sort of thing, I think, when it comes to those who have been fortunate enough not to have these experiences personally, is getting how it sticks with you. How people you love and trust can inadvertently trigger feelings of panic and stress as well as flashbacks. How the touch of a trusted hand can in one second become foreign and frightening. As much as we recover, as much as we go through life each day, it doesn’t go away. Not fully. You can be fine one second and your whole body vibrating with adrenaline the next. A few months ago, someone who looked like my rapist came into my restaurant. I was running food for someone and set down the plate in front of this guy. I’d been laughing and joking with my tables in the moments before. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. My hands turned to ice. I felt every beat of my heart in my chest, and every instinct in my body told me to run away.
I had to go in the back and stand by myself for several minutes, telling myself that it wasn’t really him, that the real person was hundreds of miles away. That I was safe and okay and that even if it had been him, one word to one of my managers would have ensured that my tables were covered and that I could go elsewhere until he left — or if it were the right manager, they’d probably boot him with no questions asked.
But it just goes to show how quickly it can happen. How fast the cliff appears under your feet. One minute you’re filling a diet Coke and the next your feet are scrabbling to find purchase on something solid and the entire world is wrong.
This year we started the new American Horror Story season. If you haven’t watched Coven, they started it out with a gang rape this year. Not kidding. First episode. I was watching along, expecting gore and twisted horror, but then this character I didn’t particularly like had been drugged and I was having to see what happened from the perspective of both her and the rapists.
I very nearly never watched another episode of that show.
I used to write about this stuff fairly often. But I stopped. In my little circle of people, it became pretty well-known that I’d tackle these issues. Like rape culture and slut shaming and all sorts of stuff. And well-meaning friends would occasionally alert me to troublesome articles or blog posts.
That was the thing, though. When I got an email or a message on Facebook, I started feeling anxious. Just seeing the flag that I had a message started to be its own trigger. Because it got really, really tiring. I think that’s why I stopped writing about it.
If I’m honest, another reason is that I harbor some fear about my career as a fantasy author. As the founder of a site for geek women. As a woman on the internet with a public presence. Many of the stories people would send me were about people like Anita Sarkeesian or Jennifer Hepler or any of the number of women who have faced poisonous, toxic harassment and threats. Or about a teen girl who was raped and then ostracized and bullied until she committed suicide. Or left out in the cold (in this case, literally).
As a rape survivor, going into this profession with the knowledge that there is no if for me, that it’s only when the harassment begins to happen — it’s fucking terrifying. It’s really goddamn scary.
Part of that fear turns to anger, because it really pisses me off that I have a fucking STRATEGY in place for when I start getting rape threats and all this vitriolic puke-filled bullshit that pours out of the maws of the internet monster. That I have a plan for how to deal with something that just shouldn’t ever fucking happen at all. Worse, a plan based on the assumption that the authorities will do virtually nothing to help me unless I’m completely and totally meticulous. I’m also fortunate to have a friend who’s a P.I.
One of these days, some shitty human will stumble across something I’ve written and decide I need to be put in my place.
And I’ll be there to document the shit out of whatever they say.
So when I think about why I stopped writing blog posts like this one, about why I stopped raising a voice that in some cases, seemed to help others raise their own — it’s because I was being selfish and wanting to preserve what little peace I have remaining. It’s not that I expect some cavalcade all at once (though you never know when the cement mixer of shit will aim your way), but whether it’s a trickle or an avalanche, it’s almost inevitable.
It’s never been my plan to just shut up and disappear. I’m going to do what I do. I’m going to write my books and hopefully they’ll be great ones. I’m going to run my little site and sing my silly songs and play games with people on YouTube.
I’m not going to not follow my dreams because the world sometimes sucks a whole hell of a lot more than it ought to.
But in the past year, I think I’ve been girding myself for whatever eventuality occurs. Am I ready? Nope. But I’m not going to silence myself anymore. Maybe, just maybe, if we all speak up — we’ll drown the trolls under the bridge.
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