This is a topic that comes up for me from time to time, usually after I’ve shared something in more detail than usual, regardless as to whether that’s with my therapist, my girlfriend, my friends or here on this blog. I have a constant, overwhelming fear that I’m saying ‘too much’. Logically, I know that a good chunk of that is in relation to trauma. I’ve spent my entire life having silence and secrecy enforced upon me, either in really direct ways or more indirectly, but either way, the message was the same: you say anything, terrible things will happen. So it’s not surprising that now I have the same response – I open up and I start to panic that I’ve said too much and used too much detail to say it.
But regardless of those old messages and those old fears, I still feel as if I am saying too much, particularly here, particularly in a space that is quite so public, particularly in a space where people don’t need or want to hear all of those details. I always feel so guilty, honestly, I feel so guilty for putting those thoughts and those images into others heads, especially those who know who I am, who know me as a person rather than just as the anonymous blogger that I am to most of my readers. I always feel the need to take back the words, to edit them into vagueness and obscurity, to find a way to write them without the detail and the trauma.
I never understood why I have always had such a need to ‘get it all out’ in such graphic detail. I’ve come up with so many theories over the years. Ranging from my being a sick freak who just gets off on it for some reason to being a huge attention seeker. But, logically, I know neither of those things are true. Even if I was ‘attention seeking’, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. ‘Attention seeking’ is a phrase thrown at, particularly young, women to dismiss their perfectly legitimate emotions and ways of expressing trauma, trauma they’ve usually suffered at the hands of the patriarchy. ‘Attention seeking’ wouldn’t be a bad thing, whether it was for my own individual sake or collectively on behalf of other exited women and other CSA and rape survivors. But, it’s not the case. I know myself well enough to know that’s not why I write and that’s not why I write in such detail. I’m not a fan of attention. I don’t like people paying attention to me, I don’t even really like people noticing my existence. I reject pity and people telling me they’re ‘sorry’. If I wanted attention at any point in my life, it wouldn’t be something I wanted as a result of this. I don’t want to be typecast as a survivor, a victim, an exited woman, an activist. I’m a person, a whole person, and I want any attention I do receive to be on the basis of who I am as a person, survivorship included, but not exclusively limited to that.
For a while, I thought I took the graphic detail route to really highlight the extremities of prostitution and domestic abuse and rape and CSA. Because whilst so many activists and allies say they understand, that they care, that they’re here no matter what, I do believe that so many don’t understand. They can’t understand. Not really, not fully. I’ve been there, I’ve lived that, I somehow survived that and there are times where I even feel like I don’t fully understand, where I can’t possibly find the words to express the sheer level of hurt and pain and trauma. It’s impossible to fully understand the depths of depravity and sorrow and hurt that exist if you haven’t lived it – it’s almost impossible to grasp even if you have lived it. The more that we shy away from the detail, whether it be for our sake or others sake, the more we minimise the abuse and rape and torture of that world. How can we truly advocate for the abolition of prostitution and pornography if we get all wishy-washy when it comes to the details? If we’re constantly playing it down and hiding the worst from others? I don’t want to be the one that puts those images into others heads, but let’s face it, we’re not listened to at the best of times and are often dismissed as being overly-dramatic or because ‘some people choose it’, we need to speak on the realities or we’ll forever be silenced.
But even that I don’t feel is the reason why I so automatically go for the graphic detail option. Going for that level of detail is something that I’ve done for a long time, whether it be in my own journal or in therapy etc. but it’s something I’ve always just done. If it was just to raise awareness and ensure those realities and my truth was heard, then it wouldn’t be something that I do so naturally outside of those situations.
I guess for me it’s just something that I need to do, it’s just my brains way of processing what happened to me. Some survivors need to process through art, some with body based therapies, some talking through metaphor and around the actual words, some through really graphic detail in order to purge every last painful piece. I guess I’m just one of those that has to purge out every single detail. It’s never been enough for me, never been overly healing or resulted in much processing to just talk vaguely around it. My brain insists on remembering far, far, far more than it should and the only natural response I have left is to get out as many of those details as possible in order to process them and heal.
I hate it, though, I hate it more than anything. I hate dumping my trauma on other women. Men caused my trauma, they caused this pain and they should be the ones to feel the weight of it. I don’t want to cause distress or pain for my sisters, but let’s face it, since when did men give a shit anyway? And I know it’s going to be my sisters that will advocate for all of the prostituted, I know it’s going to be my sisters that really care. Men generally only care on the basis of their mothers or their sisters or their daughters or their girlfriends or any number of their female ‘possessions’. They care on the basis that it is a personal violation to them. We care because we know it’s a violation of all womankind.
Caring is hard, it’s painful. It means opening ourselves up to the pain and the traumas of all women. It means being so painfully aware and it’s probably one of the hardest things to accept and deal with as a radical feminist. I think Dworkin said it best, really –
One of the things the women’s movement does is to make you feel pain. You feel your own pain, the pain of other women, the pain of sisters whose lives you can barely imagine. You have to have a lot of courage to accept that if you commit yourself, over the long term, not just for three months, not for a year, not for two years, but for a lifetime, to feminism, to the women’s movement, that you are going to live with a lot of pain.
– Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism: An Agenda” from “Letters From A War Zone”
I never really wanted to be the one dumping my trauma on other women, I really want men to be holding that pain because it was men that caused that pain, but as the quote above says, being a part of this movement means we do feel that pain and it’s hard, beyond hard, but it’s what we’ve committed ourselves to. I feel that pain every time I hear my sister’s experiences, I feel that pain every time I talk to friends and other womyn. I don’t mind bearing others pain, I’ve never cared about myself enough to care too much about what I take on, but I never wanted to be the one causing pain to others.
I guess it doesn’t really matter, there’s more than enough ‘good’ reasons to be using the level of detail that I do. It helps me on a personal and an individual level and it gives a voice to all the prostituted, all the exited women, all the women that didn’t survive along the way.
I still feel guilty and I’ll always feel guilty about the level of detail that I use and the harm I may be doing to other womyn, but these words are far too important, they need to be heard both for my sake and for the sake of thousands upon thousands of other womyn.