Believing is Not Enough

I used to write a lot of think pieces – in fact, I used to hold a weekly column in which I wrote about a wide variety of topics, most of them to do with current events, politics and social issues. It was a good fit for me, as a writer who is heavily invested in making the world a better place – and it didn’t hurt that I’m opinionated as all get out.

self_portrait_by_kaiwhakamarie

A long-ago self portrait. I used to smoke to cope. Now I just write.

I got away from think pieces after a while, though, for one because the internet is saturated with them to the point that they have become parody, but also because I was exhausted. Just so very tired of having to pull out the energy to write about some very dark times, dark places and dark themes. Situations in which there often are no resolutions. Things that hurt, that bite back. After a while I just had to stop for my own sanity.

I began writing more fiction and less essays. But I am who I am, and the me started to creep in through my fiction, too. Before I knew it I had written an entire novel about a victim of domestic violence. Then I wrote a sequel. I can’t take a break from it, because it is woven into who I am.

When the story broke about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp last week, I went through a variety of emotions. First disappointment, because Depp has long been a favorite actor of mine; second anger at the way the headlines none-too-subtly shaded or outright accused Heard of being a liar, a golddigger, a wanton temptress; and lastly, resigned sadness at the fact that even the people who seemed to believe Heard still wanted to attack her. As if her being an unlikeable person somehow negates the violence, or makes her deserving of it (she seems perfectly likeable to me). People want to love Johnny Depp so badly that it’s easier for them to justify abuse they actually believe took place, than to sympathize with his alleged victim. Like, apparently it isn’t possible to love What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and also believe Amber Heard. Look, guys, this has been going on a long time. I love the music of John Lennon and Jim Morrison; I love the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I enjoy the art these men produced while also recognizing that they abused the women in their lives. This is important: We can appreciate the contributions they make while still holding them accountable. 

Repeat that to yourself a few times.

I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has read my work that I, too, am a former victim of domestic violence. If not, well, now you know. It bothers me, as a writer, how language fails when I try to describe myself. I do not like the word “victim” and the powerlessness it invokes. Nor do I love the word “survivor”, because it gives too much power to the abuse. “Former victim” is as close as I can come to comfortable, but it is a splinter in my heel, too. At any rate, I am a person who was once abused. It was a number of years ago and I am fine (well, fine is relative. But I’m okay.). I am “lucky” enough in that I have been, for the most part, believed. It took me years to finally begin talking about my experiences, but when I did, people believed me. I realize this is a rarity as I have seen other women questioned and disbelieved, and it has broken my heart.

The thing about being a victim of domestic violence is that there is never any way you can feel okay about it. Even if you yourself have healed, and you can move on with some semblance of sanity, it will be other people that will push you back down into despair. They won’t do it on purpose (well, most of them won’t). Most won’t even realize they are doing it.

It comes when you start talking. Most of us reach a point, be it weeks or months or years after the fact, when we start purging the memories, the pain. We want to talk. We need to talk. It is therapeutic. This is when they will turn on you. Through judgment, or subtle sarcasm, shade, through questioning you just a little too hard, through statements that seem to blame, through outright silence, which will cut you like a thousand knives. They will ask their questions, make their statements, or just ignore you completely, and you will feel victimized all over again.

But I thought you believed me, you will think to yourself, frustrated. Why do I feel like I’m still on trial?  Why do I have to pretend this didn’t happen to make everyone comfortable?

i-believe-you

The thing that might be the most surprising, and the most hurtful, is that it doesn’t always come from the people you think it will. You know the ones, the rape-deniers, the misogynists, the ones who think feminism is a dirty word. No, often enough the judgement, the skepticism, the deafening silence will come from your friends. Your family. Yes, even people who know it’s true. Yes, even people who are feminists. Yes, even people who are also former victims themselves.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this, and I’m usually more eloquent, but today words seem to fail. I’m just too mad, and too tired.

Because today I’ve had the misfortune of reading a truly terrible statement by the father of a rapist, which I refuse to link to, in which he bemoans the loss of his son’s freedom and appetite and cries about how his son will see his life ruined for “20 minutes of action”. That “20 minutes of action”, of course referring to the brutal rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

This victim was also believed. A jury unanimously voted and delivered a guilty verdict to her rapist. And the judge felt bad for him, and decided that jail might hurt his fee-fees, so he only gave him six months. For brutally raping someone behind a dumpster. She was BELIEVED. Might we imagine what it’s like for the victims who aren’t? Sadly, many of us don’t have to imagine.

I’m so very tired of us.

Funny, the sentence I meant to type was “I’m so very tired of this.” I started to delete the word, and then I thought, no, that’s apt. I am so very tired of us.

Because we are all complacent in rape culture and abuse culture. We all could do better. We could all go out of our way to believe victims, to listen to them, to offer them support. We could all hold abusers accountable. We could make it easier for victims of rape and abuse to come forward, to not just believe them but to offer them help and resources and a modicum of respect when they speak out. To offer them a justice system that will actually punish their rapists and abusers. We could all do a better job of raising men to think less of sex as something “owed”, and teach them that women are not a commodity, an object, a possession. That they are not entitled to our bodies, to hit or punch or rape at their leisure. At the very least we owe it to ourselves to not raise the type of person who refers to a rape as “20 minutes of action” and cares more about the steak his son no longer enjoys than the woman his son assaulted.

That woman, by the way, isn’t going to shut up. Read her amazing letter. She has brass ovaries. He didn’t break her. She is talking.

And I am talking.

We are not going to stop talking.

We will keep talking until your discomfort gets so great that you are forced to get up and act, to move, to change. We will keep talking until just believing victims of sexual and physical abuse isn’t enough. We’ll keep talking until we have no reason to.

From the late, great Maya Angelou:

“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

 

 

 

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