“You know how movies are realer than reality? How the sound effects and physics become so normalized to us that reality seems flat and fake? Talking about abuse is kind of like that. Abusers know what sounds “real.” They are like expert movie-effects artists. Victims are stuck with boring fake reality.”
-Porpentine from “Hot Allostatic Load”
“What would that mean, if incest was everywhere? If every girl you knew told you shit in the basement of their house, whispering while you were watching Children in the Corn and eating Fritos, or if you knew by the way she turned her body in the locker room? But if you were their friend, you wouldn’t tell anybody-not the school counselor or your mom. All you could do was hold the secret close.
What would it mean if it was everywhere, the secret that was that close?”
-Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha, Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreams Her Way Home
Before I began writing this piece, I opened up a Word Document and began writing names. I began writing the names of everyone I know who has been harassed, assaulted, abused, or has faced a combination of all three. After a few minutes of doing this, I stopped and counted the names. And I wanted to cry.
I wanted to cry not because of how many names were on the list (about forty people at last count) but because I could not remember more. I feel terrified in knowing this. Not because there were not more names but because of how many I just could not remember. Because as many as I could name off the top of my head, I found myself haunted by one lingering thought. And that thought was “there have to be more names. There are always more.”
I want to talk about abuse.
I want to talk about it because it seems that many people in my life want to talk about it…and yet nobody is talking about it. As much as self-care and self-love are topics I hear referenced almost daily, no one is talking about what that care and love means in spaces where trust has been, and continues to be, broken.
Nobody is talking about all the emotional labor which the women (of color) in my life do only for people to turn around and berate them for not doing enough.
Nobody is talking about how often I see women of color put their heart and souls into organizing events, discussions, or meetings to support men in their lives…only for those same men to disparage them and treat them as objects without depth or feeling.
Nobody is talking about how as dedicated and militant as spaces can be at fighting issues of oppression, nobody seems willing to name the abuse so many face from our communities’ heroes. No one wants to acknowledge that these same people our communities hold up as pillars of strength assault and dispose of us as easily as anyone else does.
Nobody is talking about how easily so many of us can criticize and fight against all this fucked up world has in it, and yet not realize that “a common enemy isn’t the same as loving each other.” Having a common enemy isn’t the same as listening to and believing one another. It isn’t the same as having people to stand by you after abuse when many people in your communities don’t believe what happened to you. It isn’t the same as having care when you realize a comrade you have worked side by side with never really believed you were assaulted, never thought you were more than a liar.
Perhaps worst of all, nobody is talking about how disposable some of us are, about how easily so many disabled, poor, and trans folks (especially trans femmes) are left out in the dust. No one wants to talk about how the communities we find home in have no qualms about erasing those who prove too inconvenient. Communities such as those we find in race-based, feminist, or queer spaces have no worries supporting only the palatable members of their communities, leaving the rest of us to wonder “why was I not worth protecting in the exact same situation? I must not be human like them.”
I want to believe this cannot be the world we live in. I want to believe that our queer families, our activist families, our blood families, our chosen families could not allow this to happen. I want to look away from my computer screen and see that every name in my document has disappeared.
And yet here is a list.
Here is a list of people I love, support, care for, don’t care for, hate, and feel any number of things for, trying to say that this abuse is in the world. This abuse is there, it is real, and it is as commonplace as oppressions we fight everyday of our lives. It is as real as how the monsters in our dreams share the faces of our family members, friends, and fellow organizers, doing so much good for others and not for us.
What would it mean to say that this abuse was everywhere?
That despite our best efforts, abuse is not a monster hiding under our beds or strangers ready to direct aggression towards us for being visibly Queer, disabled, Brown, etc. as we go to work.
Sometimes it is the friend who has supported us for years suddenly saying we are not trans enough, or woman enough, to be part of her women’s group.
Sometimes it is a comrade who has chatted with us about protests, fights against oppression through direct actions and demonstrations, and then turns around only to say they don’t believe our assault really happened.
Sometimes it is a friend who believed so much in their ability to lead trans activism that they refused to see how horrifyingly they treated other trans folks close to them.
Sometimes it is a family member…who just can’t tell the line between processing the oppression the world has placed on them, and placing it all right back on you.
I write this not to find answers or to throw blame regarding who has been abusive in what spaces or in what communities. There are far too many, such as Mia Mingus and others in transformative justice circles, trying to do that work already for far too little recognition, and with much better knowledge than I on these matters.
No, I write this to ask what may be the hardest questions for many people to hear: what if this is part of the everyday, not just an anomaly for those rare victims who have the courage to speak? If forty people in a word document really isn’t the end of the list, then how have we failed to support those who could not speak to me or others for support?
How is it that we, as communities of activists, friends, and family members, made the unspeakable unspeakable?
These are uncomfortable thoughts to ponder, let alone engage with seriously in spaces we move through in our lives. So many of us grow up being told our concerns as oppressed peoples are of little consequence or value. So many of us get so tired of proving our truths that we fear “coming off as wanting to prove I am a victim.”
We fear that to say our communities are not perfect and can do harm is to reiterate the same words others have used to marginalize our communities and ourselves with all our lives.
But acting as though our communities are innocent will only deny our involvement in the pain we wish to eliminate.
It will mean more people will be hurt and without support.
It will more names will be added to a Word Document.
Again, these are not comfortable thoughts to dwell on, let alone take seriously as the reality we all live in. But we must learn to confront them. If, as Jai Dulani writes, “healing to me has meant humanizing myself," then I also believe it means humanizing all of those who have been hurt by the harm we look away from everyday. It means providing care and healing for everyone in our communities, in all of their messiness and complexity.
For those who scream about what happened every single day of their lives.
For those who never look back on it but wish that they could.
For those who can only speak of it in whispers but speak all the same.
For those who have held their tongue for fear of hurting their communities.
For the sake of all of those who survive among us.
We must let these secrets be heard and those who hold onto them be supported, more than we have claimed to support them otherwise.
They deserve that much…and so do I.