It’s hard to believe that all the work that has gone into this book will shortly be unveiled in a matter of weeks. The contributors’ voices and bravery to write, edit, and share their hope reminds me everyday that this book will go where it most needs to be: into the hands of survivors and into the hearts of their communities.
Two weeks ago, I was inundated with tasks to ready for the release. In preparing for a national book tour and also for local launch party, the To Do list rapidly morphed into an anxiety provoking reminder of all the work that needs to be done.
One morning, I went to research a local space for the Cleveland launch and met with a restaurant manager who owns the funky urban space I was eyeing. He was from Ireland and landed in Cleveland by way of New York and after going through the details of space and timing of the event, asked me what the book was about.
I took a breath, bracing myself for the typical raised eyebrow and silence that has usually met my response when I say, “It’s an anthology by survivors of sexual violence, written for other survivors and their communities.”
But this man was different. He dropped his arms, calmly placed one hand over the other and lowered his voice, “You know,” he shook his head sadly, “I’ve been working in restaurants for all my life. I treat my staff respectfully and I like to have a relationship with them. I’ve learned to listen and some of their stories, especially from the girls on staff, are just…” He shook his head.
I nodded, knowing where he was going.
He looked like he was trying to understand something beyond his or our realm of understanding, “There were just so many of them who told me that THAT had happened to them.”
“They were survivors.”
“Yes. They are survivors.”
It reminded me why this book is so powerful. It reminded me that these small wonderful details are necessary tracks to lay before the power dialogues can begin. Survivors are everywhere. Listeners are everywhere.
Now we just need to connect.
I write that as Dear Sister, an anthology about healing from sexual assault, comes out in five months. So many times over the past three years, the book was held together by a prayer. On the wings of something unnamed, I sent out the call for submission hoping for a great response from the world. The world did respond. On the wings of something unnamed, I sent thank yous and congratulations to the contributors whose pieces were accepted into the book while I sent gratitude and support to the writers whose pieces were not included in the manuscript. I asked for their understanding. I made mistakes along the way. On the wings of something unnamed, I sent out the book proposal to seven independent presses. Two replied with interest. One made an offer.
And now, on the wings of something unnamed, it is being carried back and forth in cyber world in the copy editing stages, layout, and design. At night, when I’m tired and wonder if the book will fly to the places it needs to fly, the wondering turns into worry. The worry turns in anxiety. The anxiety turns into cold stone walls of fear.
Although it is not yet released, I receive questions about the book. The most recent inquiry was concerned over how the book addresses accountability, community, justice, and perpetrators. I thought a lot about the questions the email raised. Like many others inquiring about the book, they want to know what kind of stand the book makes in regard to healing from sexual violence.
Does it advocate reporting? Well, there are two contributors who reference using the judicial system in the prosecution of their perpetrator. Two others outline the strengths and uncertainties of transformative justice. One of them explores disability justice. Another writer adamantly declares that survivors should bear no guilt in choosing NOT to report because it is not up to one survivor to “save” another person from being raped. They’re all truthful. No one is wrong.
Short answer: it depends on what you’re looking for and what is helpful in your own process of healing. The contributors are simply offering what was helpful to them in their experiences. Offering them in a collection doesn’t advocate ONE way. It advocates that there is a way to find healing, regardless of situation. It advocates hope.
How readers approach anthologies is critical to its function. I hope that readers find the anthology in the spirt of searching for hope, not for answers because when it comes to healing from rape, there is no one answer that will work for everyone. I didn’t seek out to tell one truth with Dear Sister, I sought to create a space for survivors to tell multiple stories with overlapping and contradicting truths. How one survivor found empowerment and peace through chosen celibacy is her story alone. Just like how one survivor shares her techniques for living and surviving as a sex worker. That is her story alone. The introduction touches on the critical role reproductive justice and abortion access played in her survival while another contributor writes from her experience as a child born from rape.
I cannot speak for the 50 contributors of this anthology, but I doubt any of them would say they have the absolutes or answers to healing from sexual violence. What they have is their own truth and they are generous and brave to share that truth with the world on a page. What this book offers is multiple truths. Multiple routes. It features a variety of ways survivors have gone on to live lives of joy, laughter, intimacy, empowerment, activism, bravery, and love.
I hope you join the movement to #BelieveSurvivors.
Lots has happened in the past several months. Most of it has been around readying the path for the Dear Sister book launch. It’s so exciting! Check back here for details.
The most exciting update is the webpage where you will be able to order the book! Check it out and like it on Facebook, tweet it out to your buds, and spread the love!
And in the meantime, remember, #BelieveSurvivors.
Many times I crawled to my computer, trying to formulate words about reports of rape and sexual violence in 2012. Each time I found my through-line of how I wanted to write it, a new headline caught my eye. First it was the high school rape story from my home state of Ohio, the Steubenville football rape case, located just a few hours north of me.
Then it was the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi, India. Then it was the news of her death.
What is there to say about rape that hasn’t already been said?
What moronic statements are left to utter about how women’s bodies have a way to “shut that whole thing” down? Or how rape is comparable to having a child out of wedlock? And these are just the national headlines.
One thing I am certain is that most rape survivors do not turn on the news to understand rape culture, they need only look at their own lives, their own communities.
What is there to say about rape that hasn’t already been said?
The only thing left to say about rape has to come from survivors themselves. And that was the Dear Sister Anthology does. It gives the first and last say, it gives what is not often ignored: the voices and stories of the survivors who want to share their stories with other survivors and the world.
I had a whole blog post planned, a gathering of thoughts about all the sickness of rape, the harrowing world we live in that teaches our young children to accept despicable violence, but I don’t think the world/internet/readers need that. You don’t need to hear more of the same. You need to hear from survivors.
Wait for the Dear Sister Anthology (Fall/Winter 2013, AK Press) and hear from them yourselves.
There’s a saying, “none of us are free until we’re all free.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. And how the blood spilled from the victims of Sandy Hook elementary seems to have spilled onto the entire conscience of the western world causing high emotions, panic, and parental hysteria.
And it’s all appropriate.
Hundreds of miles away on at 9:35am on Friday, I looked at the time and thought, “It’s just past 9:30am. What a beautiful open day in front of me. I wonder what is happening in other parts of the world at this moment.”
Later that night, when I turned on the news, I found out what was happening at 9:35am.
Language exists to communicate, but there also must be understanding that communication does not guarantee perfect specificity of the meaning. During times of such profound torment and suffering, there are no language skills, words, or even poems to describe the horror of Sandy Hook. There are no words.
One might read this and wonder what it has to do with sexual violence. What does the Dear Sister Anthology have to do with any of this?
The anthology is about community and love, engagement and addressing fear. The anthology explores violence and oppression, cultural patterns that allow rape and violence to thrive in our communities. How is it not connected to Sandy Hook? How are we not all impacted by violence on such a large, horrific scale? Rape survivors are never free from their trauma, the memories linger for the rest of their lives. The victims’ families will endure a pain no one can walk alone and, like survivors of any trauma, must lean on community to move forward.
No one is free until we are all free.
The manuscript was ready. The pieces were tightened, the writers were satisfied. I was eager to move on.
The bones were solidified and the pitch – oh, the tedious and pain inflicted pitch – to select presses was finished.
And then two things happened. 1. I got feedback and 2. I had a feeling
My vision for Dear Sister was to offer the world a piece of literature of survivors to take on their journey. And, metaphorically, when they reach one of the many summits of their hike they will be equipped to breathe; to have the knowledge, trust, and belief in themselves, their lives and community to fly again.
The anthology had a hole. The hole was transformative justice. The glaring hole that would not cease its relentless burning until I acknowledged that it was not finished after all and, incredibly, I had more work to do.
It was NOT back to drawing board. It was more like, “I have to add another canvas to this work.”
The canvas is justice, and what it looks like outside the judicial system. What does justice look like for those survivors who choose NOT to report, who do NOT find justice through the legal system that so often fails survivors of trauma? What IS justice for those who previously thought incarceration for the perpetrator was the only way to feel free again? What does sexual violence look like when you take a step back and see that processes and legality do NOT address healing? What does it mean to say that justice IS and can be healing for all of us in community with one another?
Vision. Justice. Transformation.
This canvas is being painted with those ideas and so I am working with a handful of essayists who are drawing this out. These voices are closing the anthology.
This book is not and would not be complete without transformative justice. WE are not complete without it either.
Without transformation, without justice, where would our paths lead us to?
I think about forgiveness a lot. I even took a class in graduate school about it. “Violence and Forgiveness” was one of the most compelling and challenging courses of my life. It wasn’t the texts, or the papers. Or listening to how one Rwandan took it upon himself to try and forgive the Hutu militia who murdered his entire family.
Forgiveness. What is it?
That was the question that led every class – twice a week for 13 weeks – down a twisting, controversial path of exploration and examination.
Is it the same as letting go? Turning the other cheek, even offering the other cheek? Is forgiveness when you forget? Does it happen with time? Is it always necessary? Is it divine grace? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do you ask for it? How/When/If do you give it to those who seek it from you?
Within the field of sexual violence, it’s often the word “forgive” is associated with the survivor contemplating forgiving the perpetrator. Some have claimed it’s a healthy part of the process. Others have adamantly stated it’s purely optional and not a mandate for moving on with one’s life post-trauma.
About half the time, though, that I see survivors struggling, it’s often not over whether or not to forgive the perpetrator (if that’s even possible or necessary is always in question), it’s more that the survivor needs to find a pathway to forgive oneself. For whatever reason, survivors – with two hands – take a large chunk of responsibility for their trauma, as if somehow they were in control of the violators’ actions. It’s probably one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking elements of healing: self-forgiveness and acceptance.
When survivors accept that what happened was not their fault (this is especially difficult of adult survivors of child abuse), they are free to rightfully channel that anger and energy toward the person who committed the act: the perpetrator, and thus begin a two footed walk toward healing. It’s awfully scary to accept that we are only in control of so much and we have minimal control (if any) over the universe, people, and other people’s actions.
When we do self-forgive, it opens up a wonderful door to a greater depth of freedom and understanding of what true power is. We have ultimate and pure power over who and what we are in response to the experiences life hands us. Nothing more, nothing less. What we ingest might be sewage, but what agree to internalize is entirely up to us. Choosing to forgive or choosing to stay in the grey of the unknown is a radical act of self-actualization, one that most dare not confront. To own up to our power, we must first face ourselves. To do that we must, paradoxically, see that we actually have very little control, but what we do have control over is quite monumental: ourselves.
Many survivors do not have the luxury of using the phrase, “time flies” because oftentimes survivors find each day is slower than the last. Each hour, sometimes minute, seems to pass at an excruciatingly tedious pace. Pain simply does not make time go faster. Trauma puts survivors in worlds where the clocks’ hands do funny things. Clocks’ arms tend to be heavy and lazy, taking minutes to move one minute and hours to move one hour. Sometimes it even appears that the clocks’ arms have stopped moving altogether. Survivors live in timeless worlds because the focus is more on getting through the nightmares at night and triggered memories during the day.
Friends and families of survivors have often asked me how to be a better friend, sister, mother, father, confidant, partner, person to a survivor. Allies want concrete strategies to help their loved ones “get through this time” and want to boost their spirits in any way possible.
My advice for loving friends and families, for concerned activists and advocates, for anyone who finds themselves in a position to truly witness the healing of a survivor is to try and walk in their world of timelessness. Healing has no clocks, no magic, no pills, no quick fix. Look at the process of a deeply cut wound. Even when the bleeding has stopped, a slight tap to the wound can prompt a gush of new blood. Even as the days pass, it is raw, sensitive, and needs intense care and vigilance. And isn’t it true that those deep wounds, the ones that we think will heal on their own and “in no time,” are the ones we end up looking at even weeks later and finding ourselves surprised that it’s still healing and not yet ready to be a scar?
Take that process and multiply it by a thousand.
There are some wounds that will surprise you with its need for timelessness. Step into that world with a survivor. Put away your expectations, your ready and practiced sayings and understand that violation, at this level, cannot be put back together according to your timeline or an expert’s approximation.
If you want to be a true companion, a true advocate, a true friend, the best thing to do is to put away your clock. Sit. Be flexible to what s/he needs.
Love without time restrictions.
July is a big push. Can you hear what’s being birthed?
For me, it’s the sound of 40 contributors going through their final edits in the next several weeks. I’m beyond excited. I have heard so much goodness and healing occuring because of radical conversations centering on healing – inch by inch, day by day – and sharing their story with those who need to hear it.
For July, I have taken a personal hiatus from social media (Facebook) and socializing in general (good bye weekends) and restricting my time in the evenings after my son goes down for the night, to serious communication with the contributors. With 39 writers and 1 artist, it’s a tall order to have everything and everyone in order by August 1st, but I’m an ambitious one. And, most importantly, I believe it can and will be done.
By August, the words will be in the final stages and I’ll be knocking on the doors to publishers. With all of my heart, I believe this work that is being done is not only necessary, but sacred. And what is sacred will be held with steady hands and hopeful hearts.
May July be with you!