It is April.
April is many things: the start of real spring, the time when rain stops and flowers bloom, the time when graduation is near, the time of remembrance for sexual assault survivors. I usually spend Sexual Assault Awareness Month hiding from all the stimuli of the outside world, the posters and the rallies, the television specials. I don’t want to see these things because I don’t want to be reminded. Yet, I came here, to graduate school, to tell my story. Or rather, to tell it better.
Way back when, I wrote a story about a coyote and a little woodland creature. A rabbit, maybe? I can’t find it now, but it was your basic fairytale: the rabbit happily ran through the forest with all of its bunny friends, oblivious of the existence of the coyote. The coyote loved the rabbit, and he followed it everywhere, always careful to stay at a distance. Long story short, one day the coyote tried to eat the rabbit. The rabbit got away, but it always remembered what the coyote howled after the rabbit jumped from its jaws. Say nothing. Tell no one.
It’s obvious. The coyote is a rapist, and the rabbit is its victim. I’ve studied many different stories of rape this year as part of the critical thesis I’ve been working on. I know many statistics about sexual assault, but they don’t explain the why; they don’t show where it comes from or why such violence flies under the radar in society. I study sexual assault in film and literature because I believe that, as creators, we have a responsibility to portray even the most difficult experiences, to portray trauma in a way that is not about the trauma itself but about the greater picture. Because I have been raped, I am interested in studying the experiences of others as a way to understand and explore my own experience.
Do you see what I did there? What I said? “Because I have been raped…” I’ve learned a learned a lot this year about myself and my work just from working, pushing myself and exploring different ways to create. The most important thing I know now is that I have to show up. Not just be physically present, but really SHOW UP, let my walls down, present myself, my story, with no apologies, and be there to be with it. The greatest importance of my experience is not in how well I write it, though that’s obviously important too, but in how well I own it.
I believe that many survivors are like me in that they are drawn to portrayals of rape and violence again and again as they learn to comprehend the terrible thing that has happened to them. It is of utmost importance to make sure a reader understands rape is not shameful of the survivor, but how can I deliver that message when I can’t always believe it myself? When I am asked to read and edit my work in my head to avoid saying the word rape, when I come up with creative ways to tell my story to avoid the word, when I keep silent, I am giving the person who hurt me what they want. I am letting them own me; I am letting them win. It is important to let the choice of sharing our experiences be ours, not the person who gave them to us. We need to say the word, to talk about it.
It’s a bad act, but it is a thing that happened to me. It does not make me a bad person. I did a reading where I said the phrase “I was raped” out loud for the first time, and it felt good. I want to say it more. I want to use my words to fight. I want to kick ass. I will. I am.
My identity is comprised of many things. I am 31 years old. I am a dog walker, a student, a divorcee, a writer, a fighter. A survivor.
In the past, I was raped; I survived.
Rape is a thing I own, a part of my story, a piece of who I am. This is not a fact I will hide; it is not a fact I will apologize for. Not anymore.
Celebrate April; don’t hide. Be proud of surviving. I am. And I won’t apologize.