(I talk about rape and sexual assault frankly.)
It’s not uncomfortable enough. Survivors silo their discomfort. There is ground already taken by mass silence in the face of attempted soul murder. This is a chronic issue that can’t be boiled down to one rape in time. As long as there have been men and women, there has been sexual violence. Something about that hardwiring and socialization says to seize is to be empowered. That means that someone has to be seized. Conquered. (Not all survivors are girls and women, but that is the landscape I know and that is what I’ll discuss. As someone familiar with the history of war, rape against people who are not girls and women is often about perceived femininity and the assertion of control.)
We are conquered in social silence. #MeToo is not just about a few decades in Hollywood. The rich, white-woman, celebrity activist version of #MeToo might be, but fundamentally, we are talking about thousands of years. That’s thousands of years of unaddressed pain, racketing around in our bodies, family constellations, and society.
Back to siloing our discomfort: we speak in hushed whispers. We sometimes distort those whispers with bombast but they are whispers nonetheless. We whisper, “I was hurt.” We rarely say, “This person hurt me, and you are all hurting me by continuing to let them thrive.” We don’t actually expect anything to be done about it because usually, nothing is. We take that pain and we wrap it up within ourselves or keep it amongst other survivors. When you sit continuously on a wound, it doesn’t heal properly. It usually gets more uncomfortable. Because the wound is in a delicate place, you don’t speak about it. It’s too uncomfortable for the average person to know about.
But the average person already knows. Or they should. They may not directly know of your trauma but most of us have been immersed in rape culture since we were born. The doctor ignoring your mother’s discomfort in a gynecological procedure? That’s rape culture. The excited wishes about your potential pulchritude when your sex is determined to be female? Rape culture. You are instantly something to be seized and molded with or without your will. I like to think of culture as our water. It is what we swim in, bathe in, drink in, cook with, and more. I speak about culture plainly because water is water. Rape is an integral part of it.
We are also surrounded by people who rape. If there are people being raped, someone is doing the raping. That is basic math we are too uncomfortable to look at. When I was in college, the ongoing stat we heard was that 1 in 4 of us (young women) was likely to be sexually assaulted and/or raped. I went to a very small college. Conservatively, in the United States, 1 in 6 women is likely to be raped (attempted or completed). Whether it was attempted or completed does not matter to the survivor. Any survivor can tell you that the terror and dispossession sets into your bones and tears at your soul either way.
That’s uncomfortable. Anyone raised as a girl has been told to adjust how their body moves and how they operate as people in the world to make themselves less of a target. We are massaged or brutalized into dispossession early. It’s uncomfortable–– for us. When we are inevitably victimized, anything from catcalls to physical touch, if we are lucky, we get, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
It did not “happen” to you, it was done to you. It was a happening. It’s comfortable to not directly name it, but we always have to ask, “For whom?” Not having to talk about it is a temporary, hollow comfort for a survivor. Not having to think about it is a temporary, hollow, illusory comfort for a survivor. If you’re not consciously thinking about it, your nervous system definitely is. Not naming or discussing it is an ongoing comfort for the abuser. It is how abusers rise so high after they’ve begun on their path of harm. We then hold up our hands and say, “I had no idea!” in search of comfort. It’s not uncomfortable enough.
So, why do we silo it? The harm is already present. Any student of energy from a metaphysical or concrete perspective can tell you that energy has to go somewhere. When we keep the harm to ourselves or only pass it on to other people who know, it’s not necessarily going where it belongs. It is also doing damage.
I recently shared my experience with rape, not for the first time and I’m sure not for the last. I got plenty of “I’m sorry that happened to you,” someone calling me an abuser for speaking about it without an attached trigger warning, and plenty of people eager to talk about their own experiences. (I am not mad about but it rarely happened with my consent. I am at a point in my life where I can hold space, which means boundaries are in place.) They sought out someone who knew the discomfort, and I understand completely. You don’t want to have to lay the groundwork for disclosure. Perhaps controversially, I believe that you shouldn’t have to do so. Everyone should be facile in these topics, not (just) because they’ve experienced sexual trauma but because this is the world we are living in.
I also understand the critique of not placing a trigger warning on my telling. I see its value for survivors. If you’re struggling with your own experience, it is not nice to get unexpected reminders. I understood my impact even if it was not my intention. That was harm I caused. I also advise curating your internet experience.
Yet, I firmly believe others need to stop being able to look away. I don’t want to exist in a survivors’ version of Fight Club. I want survivors to be able to disclose and make community however we choose, but I reject the secrecy and I reject shame. Sexual violence is shockingly commonplace but it’s not uncomfortable enough for the right people. You don’t get to the comfort without moving through the discomfort. If you have ever built a relationship, you know this. If you have ever reconstructed yourself, you also know this.
In my ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. Somewhere before that point, we would have reached a place where you’d say “I was harmed by this person” and it would immediately be addressed by your community. But we are not there. Until we are there, I contend that we are not uncomfortable enough.