New anthologies We Will Not Be Silenced and You Are Not Your Rape give voice to survivors of sexual assault

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m a contributing writer in both of these necessary and timely anthologies, both recently published in print and e-book. Two of my poems can be found in We Will Not Be Silenced, published by Indie Blu(e), and my creative nonfiction piece Not Quite Here Yet is in You Are Not Your Rape, published by Rhythm & Bones Press.

Both anthologies give a vital voice to survivors of sexual assault and include poetry, creative nonfiction, essays and artworks. Proceeds and royalties from each anthology benefit a number of organisations that support survivors of sexual assault, abuse, harassment and trauma. Click on the links above for more information and to purchase.

What if Women Were Free?

A couple of months ago I had a distinctly new, foreign though pop into my head. What would the world be like if women were free to live their lives exactly as they wished? And I mean exactly as they wished. Not within the current frameworks and the limitations that these frameworks place upon us as women. And not by accepting the pseudo freedom sold to us. It is a lie. What I mean is starting over from scratch. Imagining a new world for women. Without any historical precedents in place, without societal, cultural or political pressures. Without gender conditioning. Without misogyny.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a world in which women define themselves? Read More

Brave?

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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.

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Why My Teeth Clench and My Shoulders Seize Up: Sexual Abuse and Coming to Terms with Trauma in the #MeToo Era.

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When I think about writing this piece, I notice that my teeth are clenched and my shoulders are raised. I also feel that familiar, pleasant, slightly floaty feeling as if I’m not really here. I stare out the window vaguely without focus. It’s called dissociation, and I’ve only recently learned to label it as such. It’s pleasant, because it allows me to leave a painful situation, mentally, to check out, even if my body isn’t coping.

I’ve been encouraged for a few years by well-meaning medical folk to deal with the underlying trauma that is a contributing factor in my chronic illness; and I’ve tried hard to identify and move through it. I have had debilitating symptoms for over a decade now, most of which seem untreatable. I won’t delve into the full story of my health problems right now: suffice to say these symptoms and my pain levels are bad enough to stop me from leading a normal life.

My osteopath is currently working on trying to get my shoulders to relax and resume their normal position, back and down. Instead, they sit upwards and forwards, and are chronically knotted; so tightly that my nerves are affected and my arms go numb when I sleep every night. When I first returned to him last year, he said to me “What’s going on? It’s like you’re bracing for someone who’s coming at you.” We’ve talked about the Fight or Flight response, and also the Freeze response, in which your body freezes, but your mind takes a holiday in order to protect itself. In other words, dissociation. It seems I’m freezing up in anticipation of a threat, most likely a threat long gone.

It’s slow progress trying to deal with the trauma, and the illness I have. I’m not really getting anywhere fast, however, I think I have finally realised that the bulk of my underlying trauma has been caused by decades of sexual abuse, in one form or another. It was difficult for me to arrive at this conclusion. I had a troubled upbringing complete with emotional abuse and unhealthy primary relationships, three near-drowning experiences, and my father died after a horrible, protracted illness during my 30s, which I had to deal with and grieve with almost no support. It was easy for me to focus on these things as the cause of my trauma, and indeed, I’m certain they all contribute and are significant. But, the trauma wasn’t shifting, even after almost 15 years of therapy. Daily meditations were not calming my system, nor were significant dietary changes or regular exercise.

However, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year, it forced me to re-evaluate my life extensively, particularly in terms of my relationships with men and boys, and I came up with some startling conclusions: almost all of my relationships with men and boys have involved some form of sexual abuse, assault, misconduct, or (at a minimum) coercion. In varying degrees, of course, but there has, much more often than not, been something inherently disrespectful and harmful in these relationships. Or, these relationships were inappropriate in other ways: for example, abuses of power and authority by those of advanced age and status that left me feeling used and that wasted precious years of my youth. Add to this inappropriate behaviour on casual dates, decades of street harassment, sexualised images of women on screen and in print, inappropriately sexualised behaviour by teachers, and from men in society in general and being molested as a child by a male babysitter, and you have a pretty overwhelming picture. In short: I think I found my trauma, the behemoth, the ogre-lurking-in-the-shadows, the overwhelming pile of steaming feculence that has derailed my life and my health. Read More

I Dodged a Bullet: Big Little Lies, Male Aggression and MeToo

I’ve just finished watching Big Little Lies, a TV miniseries that doesn’t shy away from the topics of domestic and sexual violence, the patriarchal control of women and emotional abuse. The overwhelming feeling I have about the show is one of immense sadness at some of the characters’ suffering at the hands of violent and controlling men. I am also grateful that these issues are being explored openly, no matter how sad they make me, because they need to be discussed, confronted head on, and hopefully eradicated from society. The recent paradigm shift that is the MeToo Movement also deals with similar themes: women sharing accounts of sexual violence, abuse, and misconduct, and refusing to stay silent about what is happening to them any longer. Read More

Not Quite Here Yet: Living in the Aftermath of Child Molestation

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When I think about it I feel like I am made up of a billowy, wavy outline, that I am a container or a vessel with delineated edges but hollow inside. When I think about it I feel the electric heat of pain in this space, a shimmering, wobbly centre of self that fragments and becomes disoriented, incoherent. Pieces of a put-together-puzzle come apart and float about. I am not in my body. It hurts to breathe, I feel a pressure outside of my ribs behind me, as if there is a monkey on my back. I am frozen. I breathe shallowly and quickly and wish to flee. I rock gently.

This is how the story goes:

When I was 4 years old I was molested by a male babysitter. He was 16 or 17. I say “I was molested” but the truth is that both my brother and I were. My brother Michael*, who was 7 at the time, remembers what happened that day, but I do not. Or, rather, I have memories of that day, memories of the babysitter, clear ones even, but I don’t remember being molested.

I found out that I had been molested when I was 19.

A few days before finding out, I was talking to my brother’s (now ex) wife Jane* about the sexual and physical abuse in her family and in her own childhood. I wondered out loud whether I had also been sexually abused. It was an odd thing to say – I had no memories or reason to think this, it was more of a feeling, a gut response. Nevertheless, I said it. The question floated on the air.

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