Rape culture, badasses, and putting the “I” in Valentine’s Day
One year ago today, as my eyes rolled completely back into my brain over political commentary on rape, I came out publicly (for the first time in 17 years)—as a “survivor.” I spoke to a 500-person crowd on the steps of Oakland CA’s City Hall, at a strike I had co-organized to end violence against women.
Bracing for the intensity of putting sexual assault on window display takes courage. What I couldn’t have predicted, as a public person, is how many people would feel emboldened by my own broken silence to come to me, to break theirs. From an isolation chamber of cultural shame, emerged friends, neighbors and even fans I had never previously met—with their own stories.
The result of becoming an antennae for rape stories—I now know this as “vicarious trauma”—was that my nervous system migrated outside of my skin. To boot, during this time, I lost my writing client, and my friend (and fellow Detroit native) Sparkly Devil died in a car accident. Tears were often no further away than a blink. I couldn’t sleep.
I’m honored to have been entrusted with the vulnerability of people around me. I also have such a strong sense of empathy that, after a while, I couldn’t distinguish between other people’s pain and my own. I held these stories of violence the way I’d cradle newborn babies, with a mixture of care and terrifying personal responsibility—afraid to have them in my arms, yet afraid to drop them.
This season on “survivor”
“Survivor” is a funny word. I use it for lack of a better one, but does anyone really “survive” the shipwreck of normalized cultural violence? Is there an island onto which we can crawl, later, to measure our piña colada sipping, dry selves against the potential of having drowned? Or are we simply here, each day forging ahead through whatever graceful or crumbly state our hearts are in, as the result of the experiences that compose our lives?
On Valentine’s Day, one year later, this retrospective is not about “surviving” our culture. It’s about living within it, understanding it and transforming it. No one is impervious to pain (whether that’s assault, death or unemployment), so that’s what we all have to do.
I couldn’t organize another event this year because I spent the autumn and winter—setting down the stories. I moved to the ocean. I drank beer and hula hooped on the beach. I went dancing in the city and invited people over for dinner.
Despite doing what felt most healthy for me (releasing some of the collective pain), I still care a lot about everyone who confided in me. As a way to express solidarity, to honor the big step I took a year ago, and also to reclaim the space in which I set myself aside to hold pain for everyone else—I went back to City Hall, alone. In a dress that belonged to Sparkly Devil, one of the most powerful women I’ve known, I danced.
Sometimes, society encourages us to feel ashamed or weak, and the result is that we internalize that cringing energy and beat ourselves up. There doesn’t have to be an official strike to make a “Can’t stop, won’t stop!” statement with your body and your spirit every single day.
Never give up. It’s Valentine’s Day. Love yourself.
One in three women and one in ten men are “survivors.” You’re all total f*cking badasses.
Same video posted at top. *Note: this will not play on mobile devices (EMI apparently blocks Florence and the Machine on phones, but I needed to use “Shake it Out” for the purposes of art. So if you can’t see it, come back on a laptop.)
If you’re looking for a badass way to celebrate “V-Day,” One Billion Rising events are happening today in cities around the world, as a global, unified, dance-infused strike to end violence against women and girls. Today, I will be dancing in the crowd at the San Francisco event. Find one near you by clicking here.
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