Courage – what is it exactly? Since I started telling my story on this blog I have had many women (both friends and acquaintances) tell me how brave I am to be writing about my life and thanking me for doing so. And when I say my life, I don’t of course mean the entirety of my life. Thankfully, there have been many sunny and pleasant moments in my life too. What I mean is the sexual abuse and assault that I have had to deal with during the course of my life. This is (mostly) what this blog has been about: trying to write about and make sense of what has happened to me, from the hindsight of middle age and with the new-found wisdom, support and vocabulary of the MeToo movement.
These past eight months, since the news about Harvey Weinstein broke, have seen me examine, re-examine, and cross-examine my own life, honestly, and with new-found knowledge pertaining to what sexual violence actually is. I’ve been a card-carrying feminist since my early 20s, and this recent process has involved a complete overhaul of my own feminism, as well as a complete revision of my sexual history. I never realised, even as a feminist, just how much of my abusive past I had simply pushed down, how many men I’d made excuses for, or worse, still had unrequited feelings for. Abusers, coercers, womanisers and rapists alike. I sadly realised that almost every relationship I had been in with a man had involved some form of sexual abuse, coercion, exploitation, gross power imbalance, or sexual violence. Not to mention the accompanying emotional abuse, which always, always goes hand in hand. Then there are the female friends I realise I had let down: women who had tried to tell me their rape stories and I either didn’t believe them fully, or I didn’t understand why they had stayed. For these women I have written a poem called I’m Sorry. I am truly sorry that I was complicit in a culture that allowed the systematic sexual assault of women, but thankfully I now know better.
About my poetry: when I started this blog I had intended it to be a platform for opinion pieces and essays like this one. But I quickly found that poetry was the easiest, and most appropriate way for me to express all of my MeToo stories and feelings. In a poem you can capture raw emotion with a few words or lines; you can obscure and disguise identities, and you can release feelings without having to construct coherent sentences, as I am now. Writing coherent prose is helpful too, but when I write this way I am always one step removed from my feelings. I’m using the more rational, critical and analytical parts of my brain, which is satisfying, and calming too, but rarely offers the catharsis that writing a poem does.
The problem with poetry is, as I said above, it obscures and disguises. It can be cryptic and unclear to the reader. I have used it so much because it has been the only way I have been able write about some of what happened to me, especially the worst of what happened. This is why, when women friends tell me I’m brave for speaking out about my experiences, I shrink a little inside. Am I really brave? Or am I hiding behind the obscure words of my poetry? The reality is, I’ve only written clearly (in prose) about the more peripheral experiences of sexual misconduct I’ve experienced, with the exception of one piece: Not Quite Here Yet: Living in the Aftermath of Child Molestation. I’ve spent much time discussing some of the less damaging things that happened to me, for example, in my piece Why My Teeth Clench and My Shoulders Seize Up, to demonstrate that we are still living very much in a culture that hates and hurts women. These “lesser” things are not trivial, but they are far from the worst things that have happened to me. I’ve not written very directly at all about the relationships that I endured that were, actually, the most abusive. The keywords here being abusive and relationship. It is within an abusive relationship that systematic, lasting damage can be done to a person’s mind, body and self-esteem. Abusive relationships break people down, more often than not, women.
With all this in mind, and after a long preamble, today is the day I wish to be truly brave and tell you – in plain prose – about some of the more damaging relationships I’ve been in. As Australia has some of the toughest defamation laws on the planet, I won’t be naming and shaming. It is far too dangerous for me to do so in any case.
TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of child molestation, sexual coercion, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, assault and rape. Please take appropriate self-care before, during and after reading this if you are likely to be triggered, or simply do not read any further.