The Hardest Thing I've Ever Had to Say
Posted in social justice by Jamie Finch on 1/5/2010
This isn't going to start out any other way than any other thing I have ever written. But it is very much unlike any other thing I have ever written.
Because I don't want to be writing it.
This is one story I do not want to tell. But it is the one story that I need to tell. Because it is the one story you need to read. It's long, but please. There is much to say.
Tonight, I had coffee with a dear friend of mine. Standard event, typical occurrence. But no, not really. Tonight was different. I am so much older than I was yesterday. I am going to break a few rules here and tell you the effect before the cause, her response before what I had said.
She asked me if I ever did yoga.
I answered yes.
She told me something that someone she does yoga regularly with told her once.
"You know how, sometimes, you'll be in those really difficult positions and you become so self aware that you notice something strange about the positioning of some part of your body? (She bent her right middle finger) Like, when your hand is on the mat, and you look down at it and see your finger isn't quite resting as it should and it just looks kind of... ugly. The most important way to respond is to see it. Really see it, notice it for what it is. Call it the ugly that it is. Then accept it for being such, and then soften it. Make it gentle."
Well, no matter how badly I may be fighting this right now and how much I really don't want to do this, this is how I make my ugly into gentle. This is how I soften...
The other night I was coming home late from being out with some friends. Details don't matter; all that matters is that it was late. Really late. The kind of late that turns into early. And I was coming home. I came up out of the train and after taking a few steps, noticed that someone was walking, in near-perfect synchronization, with my pace, just a few steps behind me. I became uncomfortable. I got "that vibe"- every woman knows the one I'm talking about. My phone was dead so there is not much I could have done anyway, except just keep walking. Quickly. So I did.
I made it to my doorstep with this man still behind me, and I began to walk up the stairs. The first step had me feeling like maybe I had misjudged the man and jumped to conclusions too quickly. I was safe. I was home. I was on my front step. But when I reached the second step- I was sexually assaulted. The man reached up my skirt and- to be as delicate as possible- touched me inappropriately. I don't need to expound. You know what I mean.
In all honestly, I have never wanted to cry like a child in my entire life more than at that moment, right there. My knee jerk reaction was to yell, "Oh my god!" and then choke out that sob that wanted so badly to wrench itself out of my body. But in the next instant, I was angry. Livid. Not only because of what he did, but because he made me feel that way. And he was not allowed to make me feel that way. No one is allowed to make me feel that way. So I turned and screamed at him with everything I had in me. "DON'T TOUCH ME! GET AWAY FROM ME!"
He laughed. And walked away.
I cried that night, but functioned fairly normally for the next few days until last night, where a panel conversation among men about sex trafficking had a much deeper effect on me than I expected it to. A poem was read that left me in tears, choking back those same sobs from only 4 nights before, and after the panel, a friend and co-worker asked me if I was alright. I'm an honest person- I said no. We began to walk and talk and I started to tell her how I was feeling and midway through a sentence she stopped, grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and asked me if something happened.
After that question, I don't think I stopped crying for an entire hour.
Not just over this situation, another extremely hurtful and fairly demeaning one had occurred recently in my life as well; but in regards to this experience, she suggested I take action against this assault. Seeing as how I never got a good look at the man, I'm not sure if there is much that I can do. But something she said has stayed with me since that conversation. "You're not a victim if you take action."
And while contacting the police might cease to make me feel like a victim externally, more importantly to me, is the necessity of no longer feeling like a victim internally.
And for me, that means to write. The way I process, the way I heal, the way I communicate, is through my written words. And ultimately, as negative as this experience was, it made me connect with and understand something so important to me in a way that I never had before.
When that man took that action against me, something was taken from me in that instant: my value and worth. As a human being. As a woman.
In that moment, I was nothing more than an object that happened to possess the pieces necessary to make him feel a certain way. Turn him on. In that moment, I was treated as property- though never purchased- that he felt he had the right and ability to touch and use for his own pleasure at his own leisure. In that moment, I had no voice, no thoughts, no feelings, no soul, no mind, no emotions, no power, no potential. I only had legs and what lives between them. And he felt entitled to it. Entitled to receive something precious and protected from me without actually knowing or caring anything for me.
This is how I call it what it is:
Ugly. Violent. Shameful. Unacceptable. Wrong.
This is how I accept it for what it is:
Painful. Hurtful. Discriminatory. Disrespectful. Wrenching. Haunting.
This is how I soften it, reign it in, make peace with it, and turn it into something gentle:
I speak. I feel. I tell. I connect. I cry. I learn. I fight.
My horror is matchless to that which they endure day after day, year after year, but my heart stands with them in solidarity- in a more powerful way than I have ever experienced before. I do not stand on that step and cry like a child, I remember my strength and I yell like a woman. And then I remember that I do not yell only for my own sake, but for theirs too. I yell my story, and then I yell theirs louder.
These women, these girls who are sold like cattle, beaten as property, chained like prisoners, and abused like objects. These women, these girls, that have something taken from them 5, 10, 15, 20 times a day. I knew this. But never before had I been in the position of knowing what it feels like to have something taken from you in that way.
As someone who has resigned and committed my life to eradicating sexual violence and slavery, I must speak up for myself now that I myself have been affected by a form of sexual violence and assault. I must speak because if I remain quiet, my silence claims that it is acceptable. And anyone who knows me well knows that if you want to fan my fire, ask me if I believe whether or not sexual exploitation, in any form, of women is okay.
Having just completed work on the initial appeal for the Nomi Network holiday campaign, I used the illustration of the power of our stories and shared the story of one of the women working with us in Cambodia (read it here). She was brave enough to share her story with the world, and it was and is my obligation to retell hers and share my own.
And the truth is: We all, each and every one of us, have an obligation to do the same. For if we remain quiet, our silence claims that it is acceptable.
We know what is right, and we know what is wrong. But do we feel it burning in our bones? Do our souls catch fire at the sight of injustice? Has it taken hold of our time, money, thoughts, energy, resources, conversations, lives? Because if not, it is only because we have tragically forgotten that we belong to each other.
Had I chosen not to share my story and invite you all into in with all the honesty and vulnerability I have in me, I would only have been laying down in the tracks of what I fight against on a daily basis.
This has made me mad as hell.
Beyond that. Outraged. Infuriated. That man was not entitled to lording power over me in any way. No man is entitled to lording any sort of violence or domination or power over any woman in anyway. Ever. What that man did to me was unacceptable. What happens to millions of women around the world every single day is completely unacceptable.
We have got to stop acting like it doesn't matter if it doesn't happen to us or nothing will ever change. We have got to start speaking up, both women AND men, when we see or experience injustice. And we have got to stop pretending like it's not happening. We have all become responsible. And if knowing their horror and knowing their captivity doesn't make you want to scream and cry and fight for freedom with absolutely everything you have, I don't know what ever will.