April has always been a favorite month of mine. As a kid, April was time for Easter candy, my mom’s birthday, and violets – my favorite flower. It brought the first signs of Spring as winds blew away Midwest winter overcasts revealing bright blue skies shining on green clover fields. April means brightness, color, sunshine, and rebirth. Sometimes I wish SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) had gone to a different month. Maybe its supposed to coincide with life and rebirth… but for me rebirth has nothing to do with the topic. I do a lot of planning and programming around sexual assault, finding ways to promote healthy relationships, education and awareness. But the day of… the work stops being for the good of the community and becomes nothing but a reminder. Not of the failings of society, the aggressions, the suffering… I think only of myself, where I’ve been, and what I have tried to forget.
I wandered the empty lecture hall waiting for no one to show up. I hit the lights and started the film, listening to the survivors stories echoing over the empty rows of chairs. Like cracking ice, I started to feel it. Push. Pull. When the movie ended there was a silence. It was my job to promote discussion, but I didn’t. I didn’t know if anyone else was a survivor, and I didn’t want to out myself in front of my co-workers. So I left the silence alone, watching the three attendees gather their things. I felt like a shell, smiling, faking, wishing people a good night. On my way home I turned the music up. At home, I fed my cats, cleaned my kitchen, and dissociated.
Queers search for each other through our ‘queer-dar’ using haircuts, gestures, and politics to find each other. It isn’t the same for survivors. I look at people, continually thinking its gonna written somewhere for my radar to read. But it isn’t written on me, and I’ve never seen it on anyone else. So we are continually silent, waiting for someone to speak up so we can find each other, passing as people who aren’t survivors, for better or worse, never being recognized and never finding each other.
My second ‘Take Back the Night’ I got the guts to speak out. I held my friends hand, said almost nothing, and hid from everyone the rest of the night. I was horrified and exposed, but it did make a change in me. You always hear about speaking out changing lives, and it actually does. I had tried to claim ‘survivor’ before, but I still felt like a victim. Speaking out changed that. It stopped being just a weight on me, it became a part of my identity for better or worse. I was no longer a prisoner to it. After that, like a flood, other survivors found me. They didn’t know where I had been exactly, but we could understand each other. Now, almost three years later, I’ve back-slid into forgetting and ignoring. Its funny, the last thing I want to do is remember but forgetting is just as bad. Its lose lose. Sometimes I can manage a reasonable balance of neither acknowledging or ignoring, but that is hard to keep it up in April.
April. Sometimes I wonder who we are helping here? Communities of the oppressed are put upon to educate the rest even when we should be focusing ourselves. Whatever the cause queers, survivors, it is all the same tune. But who else cares about this shit but people who it has effected, either directly or indirectly through a loved one. I know, I don’t want to take credit from a great many allies, but if you look at the majority of people doing this work we’ve all been through something, or multiple somethings. That’s how we know what to say, and what isn’t being said. But… When I think about it, when I do this work really all that I have in my mind is those I love, more than myself. The people I know, the stories I’ve heard. That is what makes me want to do the work. I don’t think that much about my experiences because I don’t want to… So I guess I understand the allies working for this. They feel as I do, wanting to help those they love, wanting no one to ever have to live through that pain. And for me, it is because I know that pain first hand that I want to protect those I love from it.
This post has no real point, or profound message (like my other posts do??) More than anything, I think this was a speak out post for me, to refresh my power of self, to fight against back-sliding into denial and darkness. I don’t even want to publish this, but I am going to. I am going to push myself to not be afraid. And this post is a signal to other survivors. Since we have no radar, no flag, no rainbow to find one another… if you can’t find anyone else, you can find me. Here I am, I am like you. You are not alone.
5 thoughts on “About April”
Thank you so much for posting this and sharing. I have been a victim of sexual assault and incest multiple times. I hate feeling ashamed of myself and my body. I hate April because last year I was attacked the first week of April on my way to class because I was queer. I don’t open up often about it because I guess I’m worried it would make people feel awkward. Like you said we are not alone and I will do everything in my power to never have another individual go through what I have.
i think a lot of times what needs to be expressed is that EV-ERY-ONE has had the experience of being different. hurt, expelled, pushed out.
all of these months and themes, methinks, is about increasing visibility about being cast out and providing all individuals with the opportunity to relate. with just one… at least one… and then apply it to all the other different-ness. and then realize we, as a society, need to be better at being nice. one day at a time.
i have a much different experience of noticing other survivors. i tend to see them everywhere- and they psychically stick out more to me than even other queers. like this magnet-this weight- that attracts me to them. i don’t notice it at first, it’s just a friendly smile, an easy conversation and then i notice how aware they are when someone new enters the room (as if to constantly hope to gather information they fear will eventually become relevant again.) or someone else walking home after dark with a purpose in their step showing CONFIDENCE (that also really happens to show fear.) then suddenly it becomes clear. i KNOW that person. i know that person in a way that sometimes their own family couldn’t.
it’s certainly terrifying how numerous we are, survivors. but seeing others speak out- and doing it myself as often as possible- it really lessens the weight. it’s beautiful that we can share that burden and not go it alone. sad, but powerful.
I LOVE YOU MISTER SISTER. I know we only met for like a SECOND at MBLGTAAC (I grew up with your doppleganger, Ted) but I love your blog and you are quite a wonderus masterpiece of a person. Thanks so much for sharing with us! :)
thank you for this.
First of all, ‘wow’ and second, thank you for your courage.
I’m having a hard time coming up with an articulate response that isn’t ranty and/or victimy, so bear with me.
(Now, I’m back with a box of tissues and a HUGE chocolate bar)
What does it mean to be a survivor? I don’t much like the survivor narrative because it doesn’t describe my experience. It wasn’t the most traumatizing experience in my life, nor has it fundamentally altered my perceptions of myself or my life. I never had problems trusting new people, I’ve fallen madly in love, and this experience is in a very different box than my (very wonderful I might add) sex life. I never felt like my experience was that outstanding, and I didn’t feel alone. I normalized my reaction and drew strength by understanding that like 1/3 – 1/6 (depending on which dodgy statistic you use) women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. (I’m not alone. This happens to a lot of women. This will not be a significant event in my life. I will not surrender more power than what has already been taken from me. So, get out of bed.)
I can’t say there’s not shame, but it’s not because of the actual violation of my body and my trust–it’s because ‘strong people–feminists–don’t let this happen.’ (Which is I guess more a part of the victim narrative than the survivor, but I digress) I actually kind of feel like my shame is more a result of narrative I’ve been given than the actual event.
That said, I never talk about it. My family doesn’t know, most of my closest friends don’t know, and even my partner only sorta kinda knows because I eluded to it, but didn’t wanna talk about it at the time–or ever. I don’t even want to think about it (and why would I?)
Saying (or even typing) the words ‘I was raped’ is one of the most difficult things I can do, and I’m not sure I’ve EVER said it out loud. And anyway, we do we always talk about it in euphemisms. It may have been an ‘experience’ or what have you, but if we (and by we I mean like me and everyone) can’t even call it what it is when we’re talking about it, how am I ever supposed be comfortable applying that word to MY experience. And if I can’t talk frankly about what happened, how can I heal? I mean I know that the word rape is highly evocative, emotive and stigmatizing, but um… it happened? (OK, I warned out about the potential for rantage)
I think the reason we’re so difficult to identify for each other might be partially for these reasons. (among others) Everyone who has faced sexual assault and or rape has a different story, and the well meaning narrative we’re given, as usual, is inadequate to describe the breadth of experiences. I mean not only are we of all different ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, experiences, etc, the actual assault is very different from person to person, and we all have different reactions to it.
I get what Emily is saying up there, that she ‘knows’ that person– but me personally, I don’t notice when new people walk into the room — I’m as clueless as ever. ^^
I dunno… I guess I don’t really have a point either. Thanks again for this wonderful post. I admire your strength.
I’m not going to say anything because you already know. I will always hold your hand when you need it. I love you and thank you!