August 29, 2012

My Phoenix

I published my rape story publicly for the first time about a week ago.  My mind and my emotions have been in a state of constant agitation ever since.  I can honestly say this is the first time in my life that I've really been profoundly transformed by a single event.

For all the graduations, marriages, divorces and children that I've had in my 32 years, never before has a distinct occasion made me feel like an entirely different person like 'Thank you, Todd Akin' has.

I feel like a writer now.  I feel like I know myself.  I feel like I own myself.  I feel like what I have to say is worth hearing, and that people in the world can benefit from not just hearing my experiences, but from hearing ME say them, and hearing MY interpretation of the world.

Writing it was excruciating.  My other half was in the office with me as I wrote. I was alternately sobbing, paralyzed, furious, screaming and numb, and he was mostly just stunned.  He was trying to do his own day job, while trying to decide if he should be calling my therapist or an exorcist.  (Side note:  I'm sorry for putting you through that, love... thank you for standing by me, and letting me work through it!)  After the agony of expunging my experience with the express purpose of publishing it, I actually clicked that "Post" button.  Then came the waiting.  What would the response be?

My closest friend in the world immediately responded in kind, sharing her own "imperfect victim" rape story.  Then after an hour, my brother's girlfriend responded with an amazingly tepid comment.
 "Indeed, a very controversial subject." 
 It was a timely reminder that I'm not always going to get resounding sympathy.  It was a reminder that some people still will excuse Dog's transgressions because I took risks, continuing to blame me for what happened.  Some people are still committed to the societal narrative that puts the onus of preventing rape on the victims, and believe that any woman who doesn't put up a fight to the death gives up the right to call it rape.  I haven't spoken to her since my posting, so I haven't been able to determine any more context for her response.  I care for her a lot, so I give her the benefit of the doubt that she's not in that category.  However, the ambiguity of her response reminds me that there are people who may not be so ambiguous in telling me that it was my fault after all, and I need to have emotional armor prepared for them.

The next response I got was exactly the kind of comment I was hoping for, exactly what I needed to hear.  A man I haven't spoken to since high school (though I might have briefly exchanged pleasantries either at our reunion or just enough that we're Facebook friends...) responded thusly:
 "I hope this helps others and changes minds as well. so much more to express but words escape me."  
I feel like if I made some impact on someone who doesn't listen to my screeds on a regular basis... then making my pain & my imperfect victimhood vulnerable to public scrutiny was worth it.

As the week has progressed, I added my story here on my blog, and linked to it in the comments on Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson's Freethought Blog.  I also posted it on the Facebook wall for Brute Reason, and she invited me to include it as a guest post on her actual blog.  While there has not been much extended dialogue or conversation started, I've watched my page views climb.  As of noon-ish on Sunday, August 26, my blog stands at 120 views.  From a single link on a single blog, my story has been viewed 120 times.  That feels analogous to saying "120 people saw me stark naked today." It's strangely not a frightening or vulnerable feeling.  Exposed, maybe, but it's like there's nothing for me to fear.

But what was most moving about this whole experience was the anonymous reader who sent me her own story, and asked to share it on my blog as well.  (It's a bit long, so I'm still in the process of getting it into something blog-able, but it will be shared at some point in some form, as per her request).

That my story could inspire another woman to stand up and tell her story - that's stirring to say the least. 

Through this past week, I have been shown that not only do people actually care about the story I have to tell, they appreciate the way I tell it.  I've gotten validation from completely unbiased (e.g. not my friends and family just being nice to me) sources that I do know how to construct a narrative, and I can write compelling and interesting essays that both inform and persuade.  Many years ago, I wrote in a journal that I was very jealous of artists who felt compelled to create their art, whether it be of visual or verbal variety, and then felt compelled to SHARE it as well.  I lamented that as much as I loved to put my words in journals, the idea of putting my little word babies out into the cold, harsh word to be subject to the criticisms of the public was too terrifying.  Writing my experience of delegitimization has finally shown me that I can, in fact, share my words with the world.  I am a writer, I have things to say that are worth being said, and I can say them in a way that no one else can.

So again, Thank you Todd Akin.  You stirred up old pain that I thought I had long ago worked through.  But from those bitter dark ashes arises my phoenix.

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