What do healing and recovery look like within a world that you feel wishes you did not exist? What does it mean to speak up about being a survivor of sexual violence in a society that, despite everything, is still maintained by silencing victims and glorifying misogyny and violence? What does it mean to be a person with scars, a visible psychiatric survivor who is struggling to meet the criteria of “normal” in a capitalistic world which glorifies busyness and productivity? What does it mean to be a queer person trying to create self confidence and pride in a world which contains homophobic and transphobic violence and microaggressions all around?
How does one heal in a world which wishes for your silence?
I’ve been struggling a lot with intersecting experiences of mental health stigma, abelism, sexism, transphobia and queer/homophobia.
I’d like to be proud of myself or even to accept myself as I am. I’d like to believe that being a survivor makes me strong and brave. I’d like to believe that my scars make me unique rather than disgusting. I’d like to believe that being queer is just as acceptable as being straight. I’d like to believe that I’m not broken, dirty, shameful, guilty or weak. I’d like to believe that I am not TOO MUCH to handle, not too sensitive, too radical, too depressed, too whiny, or too demanding. I’d like to believe that I live in a world which fights for the rights of people who are different in various ways.
I’d like to believe that I’m okay, just as I am.
Recently I feel like there is no place for me in this world. I don’t feel I’m living up to my potential. I feel like a disappointment to those around me. I feel like an inadequate parent and am consumed by guilt for not being able to protect my children from violence. I’m currently unemployed and this makes me feel like I have no worth in society because I’m not being productive. I don’t feel well enough to be working full time and taking care of my kids full time, but I’m having trouble finding a suitable part time or flexible job. I feel lonely, isolated and full of self doubt.
Last week my daughter described experiencing sexual harassment on the school yard. She’s not even in Junior high school yet. She was walking across the yard towards her friends and was briefly alone when a boy she did not know yelled “Come here pussy” at her and then chased after her when she said “No” and started to run away. The most disturbing aspect of the conversation was how she went on to describe various ways that she could get boys to leave her alone if they didn’t listen to her. She talked about saying “I already have a boyfriend” and various other things she could say or do to protect herself. She told me these strategies matter of fact, and it broke my heart to realize that such a very young girl already had a clear idea of being vigilant around boys and men and had already concocted tactics to protect herself.
I don’t know how not to be broken-hearted about how little things have changed in the world since I was a child. The media and the #metoo movement would have us believe that we are making progress in the fight against gender based violence. I disagree. I don’t think we are making much progress at all. Generally, perpetrators of violence are still walking free with very few (if any consequences) and survivors of violence are still being held responsible for protecting themselves at every moment.
The only thing I can identify that has changed is that my daughter knew that this was wrong. This was the second time she was sexually harassed at school this year and both times she told me about it. She knows that without consent any type of sexual action is assault or harassment. She knows that she has the right to protect herself, to run away and to say whatever she has to say to stay safe. She knows that it isn’t her fault and she knows what consent means.
When I was younger, and until shockingly recently, I just assumed this was the way things were. I didn’t understand the concept of consent. I just assumed that I was the one who was wrong, strange or broken because I didn’t enjoy sex or sexual comments. I thought I just had to get used to it, endure, zone out, and put up with it. I didn’t even understand the concept that sex was something that was supposed to feel good and/or be enjoyable and collaborative. I didn’t know that it was an option for me to be queer, bisexual, a lesbian or gender non-conforming. I didn’t know women could be with other women. In essence, I didn’t know enough to have the option to know myself or protect myself. I didn’t know enough to even know how to begin telling anyone I was being abused because I didn’t have vocabulary to express it and I thought it was my fault.
I’m learning and unlearning these things as an adult in my 30s. My own children knew more about consent, gender, sexuality and sex by the age of 10, then I did at the age of 30.
Things seem quite bleak lately. It’s winter and I’m longing for the summer sunshine warming my skin. My kids are struggling with the impacts of past abuse. Schools and services are not trauma informed. I’m watching my child experience stigma and lack of understanding around her mental health issues. I’m struggling with the impact of past abuse. There doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to. I don’t see a clear path forward and I don’t have answers to many of my questions. I feel overwhelmed, hopeless and anxious most of the time. Almost everything online, in the news and social media triggers me and makes me feel more hopeless about ending gender based violence and oppression.
The one thing that seems to have improved is that my children have more tools that I did. They have more knowledge and more understanding. I might not have been able to protect them completely, but at least they know that violence is not normal and that it is not their fault.