I Have to Bleed to Say This

I am not one to think about spoons. Though I do have anxiety and have had moments of depression, I am usually not debilitated by these things to the point of “suffering from” them. Not only do I not think about how many spoons I have, I also don’t think much about my happiness in general. I observe the world and try to make sense of it and try to make it better. I do not think about how to make myself happy or content, and actually just typing that makes me uncomfortable. No one cares about my internal *feelings* and my *feelings* aren’t going to make the world a better place. Feelings are only useful for guiding me in understanding what is out there. I am self-aware enough to know my outlook is sad and other people should not adopt it. But, here I am, being this way nonetheless.

I can discuss anything. I do not shy away from topics of religion or politics. I do not shy away from hard conversations with people about their own harmful behavior, nor do I shy away from (perhaps overly) sharing my own experiences to help connect with others so the conversation might be fruitful for us both. I will talk about *anything* in great depth for hours. I am almost always left exhilarated and looking forward to the next conversation I will have. In other words, conversations usually give me more spoons.

But there is one area of discussion that is my Achilles heel. I won’t scare you, or myself, by describing the just how badly the end result can be. Most who understand the metaphorical meaning of having and losing spoons already know. So, yes, there is this Achilles heel of a discussion that comes up now and again and yet I continue to participate in it. That may seem like I’m asking for trouble, but it’s not so simple. No one else is saying what needs to be said, so I have to say it, even if I have to bleed to do it.

The topic is statutory rape and the responsibility that society heaps onto young girls (though boys are also victimized, usually by other boys). There are certain circles where I can discuss this and not lose spoons. But I usually only discuss it on social media when there is a frenzy of accusation and condemnation for victims of statutory rape. One post about how a 13 year old girl “spread her legs” will always bring others to form a mob with axes and pitch forks to take the “slut” down. The vitriol will continue and escalate until someone accuses the child of preying on older men to intentionally and joyfully ruin men’s lives.

Despite the fact that I do not think I can convince the mob otherwise, I speak up. I point out that the girl, at age 13, is a child. I point out that adult men should, at bare minimum, know whether or not the girl they are having sex with is a child. I point out that one of the signs of childhood sexual abuse is promiscuity and early sexual activity and that young girls may seek out sex because they are suffering. Just because a child is trying to do something they shouldn’t does not mean adults can encourage and participate in it or to take advantage of the situation without consequences.

But it seems my attempts at reason, compassion, and human decency only fuel the hatred for the young girl. The attacks on her become more vulgar and outlandish, accusing her of dressing wrong, “putting it in front of him”, asking for it, lying to get it… all of this to the point you’d think this child was a sex monster devouring innocent men with her vagina. And again… no evidence pertaining to this girl was ever presented other than the mother of the boy claiming in a comment that the girl lied about her age. From that we get magical vagina monster.

People say, “Well, the guy did bad but she should have her butt whooped for what she did.” (Bad grammar used for authenticity.) Even when a 40 year old, previously convicted sexual predator used an app to convince a fourteen year old girl to run away from home, the facebook brigade were livid with the young girl. They were foaming at the mouth screaming for her punishment while the man was a side note barely mentioned. “She knew what she was doing. She chose to steal that car. She spread her legs willingly.”

What is it about girls spreading their legs? Seriously, this is an important clue to the heart of the problem. Because where it is absolutely expected that if a boy is presented with the possibility of sex, he will act; women are forbidden from even “making” men think about sex. The assumption is that boys and men *can not* help but act on their arousal. They are powerless to the leg spreading of women everywhere. This is such a commonly held belief that it gets spewed all across social media without a second thought. Even when I point out how incredibly insulting to *good* men this ideology is, no one wants to think of it that way. Our society gives a free pass to men to fuck whatever makes their penis hard. “Go ahead guys, we know you can’t help it”. But women and even very young girls better never, ever do anything that might have an effect on a penis because we’ll all know she was asking for it. And if she’s ever had sex before, it doesn’t matter if it was abuse or rape, she’s no angel and knows what she was getting into.

This disgusting, nauseating, spoon-stealing dialog is one of the biggest reasons why victims of abuse, assault, and rape do not come forward. This vilification of girls gets in the head of girls and women (as seen from the fact that most commenters vilifying girls are female) and makes them question their own responsibility in abusive situations. It also makes them question their self-worth once they are no longer “pure”. It is toxic to women, poisoning many in such a way that they perpetuate the sickness, pass it down like a moth-eaten heirloom that smells so bad of mildew that it won’t wash off once it touches you.

There is almost a fear of critical thinking on this issue, as if the most terrifying thing imaginable is that if people don’t condemn women’s sexual independence then sluts will rise up from the cradle and eat their husbands alive.

I am angry, as I cannot help but be after having such futile discussions. But I am also bleeding from wounds I can’t seem to heal. Being furious requires an immense amount of energy, but I’m like a speedboat going toward my target with the hull ripped open. I need to speak up for all girls everywhere. I need to add my voice to offset the damage. I need to speak up to support the girls and women silently reading and feeling shame that should not be theirs to feel. I need to keep speaking. I need to. I need to. But, I am nearly drowning now.

I have written a series of books about childhood sexual abuse and recovery. I have said in those books what I can not say in a facebook post, what I can not even say in a blog post. I have told a number of stories about how abuse can happen in different ways with different effects. I have written about a character who became promiscuous after her abuse. I wrote those books to help bring insight into what it is like psychologically to have to deal with the physical aspect of abuse while also the hurtful assumptions of our society holds for women. The pain and circumstances portrayed in Winter Seedlings were based on real life experiences of young girls (myself included), though the plot was not precisely the same. I have never said publicly that Winter Seedlings contained my own story, but it is true. And that was my final spoon. I can say no more about it.

I’m a fool who believes that the truth matters. Honesty and compassion will change the world. But now I am out of spoons and have to step out of the ring until I get more. I need someone to call me and talk about anything but this. Tell me you agree if you want, but then let’s talk about kittens and the universe. Help me get back to shore.

I hope this helps someone else. I hope that it is enough that *I* do not think you are a whore. *I* do not think you made him rape you. *I* know our system is more broken than you will ever be. Whatever power is in a single person’s understanding, take it from me and try to be good to yourself. ❤

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How I Write About Rape

My first two books deal with sexual abuse and recovery. Sometimes I have to write about rape in present and past tense.

1 out of every 6 women in the United States has been raped or experienced an attempted rape.  3% of men have experienced rape and attempted rape. Victims are statistically more likely to experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide attempts, and a plethora of other psychopathologies. In case there was any doubt in your mind, it’s a terrible thing to have to go through. Some victims never get over it.

A recent study indicated that 6% of men are rapists. Most of those are violent, repeat offenders who rape an average of 5.8 women.

I have to assume that a book about sexual assault will appeal not only to victims and the people who care for them, but also rapists.

As part of my research I came across a rape kit video which demonstrated, in detail, how to collect DNA samples from a female rape victim’s body. It was a training video created professionally for professionals in the medical field. But it was visually explicit and could easily be misused despite the intent of the creators. The same is true for books. The author can not control the response of readers, to a certain extent.

I am very careful, when writing about rape, that I hold the victims of the rape in my mind more vividly than I do the perpetrators. To me, the perpetrators’ point of  view is trash which can be thrown away like rotten fruit. It may be true that rapists are aroused by rape, whether by their control over the victim or some other aspect of the attack. Their arousal may be a fact, but it is still trash in my point of view. Rapists’ motivations, desires, arousal, and pleasure will not be represented honestly in my stories for this reason alone: I don’t want rapists to enjoy my rape scenes. If you are one, do not come to my book looking for a representation of your feelings. I’m not feeding you.

Let’s make this clear: I am writing this blog post to speak for myself as a writer and the work I produce. I am not trying to set a mandate. My purpose is to let readers know what to expect from my books on a subject which might be triggering.

Yes, my books are emotionally difficult to read because they get to the heart of what it is like to suffer through the aftermath. Yes, some parts may be triggering because I do include scenes with assaults. But, 1 in 6 women and 3% of men are trying to get over the worst moments of their attack. There is often a moment when memories are blocked for survival. I try to give the readers this same space in my writing, a space I hope will allow for as much as readers can handle and no more.

Rape is a sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional assault. After an attack, everything sexual or intimate may be triggering for the victim, even if it’s with someone safe who loves them. The stories I write center around the picking up of pieces, not the act of tearing them apart. The rape scenes are no place to wax lyrical about sexual details. The place for such intimate prose is in my characters’ journey toward healing.

I hope this helps set proper expectations for what you will find when reading Winter Seedlings. Its sequel will be out this winter. Both are very intense books which aren’t easily forgotten, but they intentionally were not written for everyone.

Books

#YesAllWomen Changed My Story

The last few months of my life have been dedicated to caring for my real life children and my made up characters. Neither have ever completely left my mind, and both I consider extremely important.

My characters are dealing with the trauma of sex abuse. They have survived, and now they must learn to live with the scars their abusers have inflicted. They must learn to love and accept love as something they deserve.

I knew when I began writing this book that these characters would speak for many people dealing with real life scars from sexual assault. In addition to dealing with sex abuse, they also deal with the abuse aimed at their sexual/gender identity. I hoped they would get the word out about just how much it hurts, how sometimes all the dominoes fall. It’s a harsh reality, but at the core of their hope is love. That love will either heal them or push them deeper into their self-loathing.

My first draft ended in tragedy. The burden of painful memories and self-hatred brought my main characters to their knees.

My beta readers didn’t like this ending. One of them said my character was so strong and so real. She called the end the “the ‘ah, fuck. Did you have to do that????!!!’ Death”.

And for a while I argued with her in my  mind. Good people die. Abusers shoot good women all the time. Women pay the ultimate price for men’s misogynistic views. It’s what HAPPENS every day. That was my logic for leaving it as is.

But as I toyed around with ideas on how to progress the storyline of the sequel if I kept my character alive, something terrible happened in the real world. A man shot a lot of women just because they were women, because other women didn’t want to sleep with him. It was more extreme and unbelievable than my made up story. It triggered an onslaught of silence-breaking on twitter. Women exploded with rage in the way most women do: they spoke the truth. They fired with their words, digging deep within their pain and pulling out proof of it for everyone to see.

I spent hours on twitter reading #YesAllWomen and nodding my head. So many posts reflected my own experiences and those of my friends. I thought about how much my characters suffered just like the women contributing to that conversation. I thought about how much this conversation lessens the shame and self-loathing simply by knowing we are not alone.

I can not possibly allow my strong character to be sacrificed as an abuse statistic. I need her to live. Her story is not over. What she does with her life is going to be inspiring. There is a need to expose the sad truths. But there is also a need to change the world.

#YesAllWomen convinced me that all hope is not lost.

Love, Morality, and Misogyny Pie

I spent the day yesterday doing research to develop the characters in the sequel I’m writing. The best part was searching Google images for an androgynous male with long curly hair and blue eyes. The worst part was researching which churches have strict dress codes for women. I had to read ideological tirades, mostly presented by Christian men. It seems that men are “naturally created to think sexually” and women should try to make it easier on them by dressing modestly. I could write this entire post on how wrongheaded this is, but it’s only a small slice of the misogyny pie.

I don’t allow my girls to attend sex education at school here in Texas. We aren’t religious, religion being the typical reason parents want their children kept out of it. Contrarily, we talk to our kids about sex, even the “hard topics” like rape, gender identity, sexual identity, and abortion. But, I don’t want them exposed to the shaming of girls that is inevitable with abstinence only sex ed. There they would be taught either literally or through nuances that girls hold the prize, which is their virginity. They must protect that gift and not allow boys to open it, kind of like a game of keep away. Boys love games. Girls must be vigilant. And of course, a finger occasionally wags toward the boys to respect the girls and don’t steal their gift.

Some people might find it shocking that I, as a parent, would not want girls to be taught to “stay virgins and not have sex before marriage.” But, I think they are misconstruing what it means to be moral. This expropriation of morality is the reason State District Judge Jeanine Howard gave convicted rapist Sir Young only 5 years of probation for raping a 14 year old girl. The judge said of the victim in a Dallas News interview, “She wasn’t the victim she claimed to be. He is not your typical sex offender.” This seems to be a common sentiment among judges these days.

I guess the victim’s gift wasn’t as valuable because, in the past, she had had it opened already and *gasp* a baby came out of it. They don’t need to inquire about any other aspects of the victim’s life. And it doesn’t matter that she repeatedly told him “no” and to stop.  Just look at her medical records and stamp her body “free for the taking” and move along. Easy as misogyny pie.

The idea that a man’s guilt rests on the woman’s “morality” as defined by her sexual purity is something I don’t want implanted in my kids’ minds. That isn’t how we do “morality” around here.

So, let me break it down for you religious folks who are curious about how exactly we “do morality around here.” It’s called Love. I know, cliche’ right? I mean, Love is what your God IS, so at least consider that word for a moment. Love is not a desire to obtain things or feelings. Love is not a gift you give away. Love is a thing that we strive to become which enables us to do right by people. Love allows us to actually see the woman as ourselves regardless of her clothes, beyond her condition, beyond her lifestyle, and beyond her past.  We see her and want her not to be harmed. Morality, obviously, fails this test. Morality takes the woman’s “gift” and deems her rape-able. Love isn’t a bully like that.

I wish I could write enough to change the perception that women are ________ (fill in the blank with any number of sexist insults). I would write until my fingers bleed. But, it’s going to take so much more than I can do alone. Still, I plug along.

I think about all the victims I know, still dealing with the guilt of having someone touch them against their will. As if it isn’t enough to have had it happen, now the victims drag the shame around like a heavy ball and chain that no one else can know about. The perpetrators didn’t give them that ball and chain. We give it to them. Our society keeps it shackled to them because we still scrutinize the victims of sexual assault more harshly than we do perpetrators of it. Abused women are scared of being viewed as promiscuous and/or damaged goods. While abused men are scared of being viewed as homosexuals and/or future perpetrators of abuse. What are the perpetrators dragging around? Most that I know are dragging around a long list of other victims they have assault  without consequences. They were more likely to get in trouble for fishing without a license than the times they raped.

Every victim’s story that has been confided in me, as well as my own, has never ended with a conviction. Most were never reported. Our society’s fixation on women’s sexual morality is heavily to blame for that. Women are told it is their job to keep men from raping them. Victims carry guilt that isn’t theirs. When women do break the silence and press charges, they are walking into a storm of morality police. The victim will go on stand. The victim will have to prove their innocence. And if they fall below our moral bar, then their rapist may walk free.

Our society seems to expect that every man has a rapist inside, that rapists are just good men lured to the breaking point by seductive women doing bad, bad things. But, the truth is, good men don’t rape. Ever. They have love in their hearts for the people around them and see others as equals, entitled to control their own bodies. It’s only the bad ones that use excuses for their crimes, excuses we often support and promote. We don’t consider that the man’s crime stems from his own flaws and lack of urge control. We just excuse their lack of restraint by pointing at their victims’ flaws.

Rapists also get away with it in countries where women are required to cover themselves from head to toe. Rape happens to all ages, all genders, people of all religions, and of all “moral” standings. Rape is not prevented by victims. It’s prevented by a society that makes no excuses for it, a society that views all people as equals and equally in control of their own bodies, and a society full of love… not moral police, not religion, not modesty. Love, equality, justice.

Disclaimer: Not all men are rapists. Some women are rapists. Not all accused are guilty. Not all deemed innocent are without guilt. I don’t hate men. I don’t hate Jesus. I just want the victim blaming  and “slut shaming” to stop, and I’m speaking to men and women both. Just stop.