I’ve gotten to an age where I am drawn to fiction writing less and less. I’ll be fifty-three in a couple of months. Reading books have gone from being an obsessive pass-time of escapism to a crucial act of self-care. I need to read. I love reading.
I live in a world which largely refuses to see me, refuses to see people who look like me, have lived like me, talk like me. This world, it sees me but not in a true way. It sees me in its own way. Rarely does the world see me in my own way.
So when I choose a book to read, I am choosing a mate to sit down and exchange with. I am choosing a writer to enter into the private rooms of my mind where we will whisper secrets to each other, secrets we no longer deem as secrets.
For me, book reading has become what dating once was in the months just before I met my husband. Back then, I didn’t want to play anymore games because I had come to understand (belatedly) that the game was rigged against me. The odds were never going to be in my favor, so I may as well be myself— as much of myself as I knew how to be at age thirty-six, anyway.
I had always been insecure about men, although you wouldn’t know it from the bravado I projected. Statistically speaking, I was meant to be thankful for the attention of any man with a pulse, along with legs and arms that worked. He didn’t have to have a job and he didn’t have to always behave kindly towards me. Those things were extras for a woman like me …. statistically speaking.
Lucky for me, I had already been abused, both sexually and physically, for most of my childhood. I didn’t want to be further abused by another man. I would fuckin fight and/or die before I would ever let that kind of life happen to me again. So I opted OUT of the dating game. Lucky again, my husband came along and befriended me after I opted out. Turns out, I met him at a time when he too had decided to opt out of the dating game, but for different reasons. The rest is history.
I haven’t felt so lucky with books lately. Now that I am in middle-age— or maybe it’s now that I am so much more self-aware or now that I know more about the workings of the world than I ever wanted to know— I don’t want to continue to play the game of being head over heels in love with fiction. I don’t.
That game was taught to me by way of fairy tales, cartoons and television shows. I thought it was my idea to love fiction. It wasn’t. It was just one of those things that I fell into as I was growing up in a world where I had no say. Not that fiction is a bad thing. I do still enjoy a well-told story and I always will. However, I have learned to be suspicious of anything which appears so prevalent, it feels like I am experiencing a tsunami or a plague, where there is no time for me to decide how to respond. Not that I’ve ever experienced either of those things, but you get my point.
Now that I am older, and now that I am more comfortable in my own skin, and now that I care less about what others think, I have discovered a strong affinity for non-fiction books. I love reading books by truth-telling writers. They are akin to s/heros to me. They remind me of the importance of non-fiction writing, pronouncing to anyone interested, you can do this do. Come! Bring your own truth to the writing table.
When I first began reading Not That Bad- Dispatches From Rape Culture by Roxane Gay, I was braced for what I might feel. Mentally I suited up, put on my clinical armor, reading the initial pages as one might read a medical book about a disease they think they have— prepared to recoil or roll eyes in exasperation about the TMI of it all.
All these rape victims, oh geez, I hope they don’t go on and on about it, I thought. As a former rape victim myself, I didn’t want them to shock me. I was apprehensive, I would be putting my heart into the hands of not just one, but a posse of different writers, themselves surviving former victims of our rape culture. I ordered the book on Amazon, not because I wanted it—I had see-sawed about making the purchase, changed my mind a couple of times—but because something deeper inside (my inner-child, my soul-self) declared I should absolutely get this book.
So I read the first few pages feeling tense, rigidly bracing, refusing to be caught off guard. But by the time I arrived part way into the second rape culture story, I felt my body soften, leaning into each story with a more open heart. And then I was right there with each person as, one by one, their rape culture story found me.
Oh my Goddess! I am only halfway through this book and I just had to stop and come to the blank page to write about this. I feared if I waited until I finished the book, an essential part of my initial reading experience might be lost.
Rape culture. We didn’t have a name for this world back in my day, a world in which I often felt so helpless as a girl steeped in her shame and self-hate. Being damaged and broken, I thought something was terribly wrong with me. I didn’t know there was nothing at all wrong with me. I was merely a kid who had her innocence violently stripped away from her. In the patriarchy, it is a privilege to grow up in a safe, loving home. Not all of us are this fortunate.
The funny thing about privilege is we each have it to varying degrees, especially as Americans. I live in a country where I can write publicly on a blog, saying whatever the fuck I want without fear of government officials storming my home to confiscate my computers and arrest me. I’m not the best at this writing thing. Nor am I the best at being a voice for the marginalized, even as a member of said group. I have my own internalized patriarchy to grapple with, ways of thinking that I am still unlearning, and will likely be working to unlearn for the rest of my life.
I have more privilege than some and less privilege than others. As long as I live, my plan is to be a better person today than I was yesterday. At least I can try.
I didn’t know how this book would impact me. As much as I have also tried to be a truth-teller in this rape culture, as much as I have tried to stand up—repeatedly, continually—and face my own shame, I still wrestle with my own fears. Like I said earlier, I was apprehensive about reading this book.
I now see that I will always be in the process of overcoming my own rape trauma, even all these years later as an adult. We don’t ever really get over traumas which befall us, we learn how to live with them.
As with any trauma in which victims require the act of witnessing for the healing process, we who were raped and/or sexually assaulted need to be seen too. Silence is the shame-keeper. Silence keeps us locked in our shame, hiding with our secrets. Fuck silence.
This book is giving me more life. Reading it has made me feel stronger. I thank Roxane Gay and all the women and men who bravely contributed their stories. Something inside me is roaring with beautiful rage and glorious salvation, saying to me, keep going, Maria!
Not That Bad came into my life, extending its hand to me, in a pulling up, I-got-you fashion, in a high-five, you’re-not-alone style and in a welcome-home-to-our-massive-family embrace. We are not one helpless victim, we are an army of many fuckin survivors. Not only were we not supposed to make it, not survive our trauma in this rape culture, we were also never meant to find and lift each other up.
I think this book, Not That Bad, is the battle cry from inside of the belly of the whale known to us as the patriarchy.
If I lose, you lose. If I am writhing and twisting in my shame, under the poison of silence, and if also, another among us is suffering in this same way, feeling alone with their own shame, then we are all dying — even the unassaulted and unraped among us — a slow, sure death together.
When I win, you win. When I stand up against my own fear, when I challenge Shame to a stare-down, be it only for an hour or a day, when I herald my own truth so that another person is reminded that they are not alone— we all get to come alive a little more, together living stronger, spreading our life energy to each other across this globe.
Yeah, that’s what this book is doing for me. You might want to get a copy and see for yourself, see how it lands in your heart, and maybe cast a brighter light on our otherwise darker corners of life. Rape culture. It’s always been here, may as well stare that sucker down and call it what it is.
Love you! Keep shining!