Jane’s story was largely buried, for to speak of it was to admit it was possibly true and that defied comprehension. Her claim was universally viewed as so outrageous to be deemed a falsehood from the start. But in her fits and starts, her reluctance to speak for fear of life, and her silencing, I saw myself.
Our stories differ in the details, as they always will. Jane Doe was raped at 13 years of age; I was raped at age four. Jane says she was held against her will after promises of a modeling contract and then was raped by strangers (one of whom is running for president of the United States); I was assaulted by a member of my extended family. Jane sought justice in court. My perpetrator is now deceased and was never held responsible for his crimes.
Despite the differences, all Jane Does understand certain truths.
I understand how speaking can be or feels like a matter of life and death. My own memory of being held at my neck (certain I would die) followed by a verbal threat of death if I did tell. Every cell in my body screaming to never. speak. of. this. again. I didn’t for over three decades. Precisely thirty-four years of silence.
I understand the desire for anonymity. My childhood was a practice in hoping not to be noticed. My pre-teen years involved a sexual repression so deep that I endured homophobic slurs.
I understand the risks in speaking. I know what fall-out looks like. In the telling I have grieved the loss of an entire branch of my extended family, its limbs denied oxygen and light and left to wither in my hands.
I understand how others recoil, deny, and turn away. The blaming, the name-calling, the assumption of lies. Or simply the deafening silence. I understand how the act of believing a survivor is a radical act. How it requires bearing witness to another’s horrific, unimaginable pain. To face the shadow side of our families, our communities, our criminal justice system, our notions of masculinity, our religious beliefs. To admit that the people around us—family, friends, coworkers, strangers—could not protect us or did not protect us.
All of this begs the question: in the face of all of this, why speak?
To speak is to evict the the panic and fear that were stored in your cells as part of your surviving.
To speak is to fuel a living, breathing rebirth.
To speak is to transmute pain, to alchemize fear.
To speak is to write your own ending.
You speak for the silenced, muffled, mocked, and maligned.
You speak for the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers. You speak for the sons and daughters.
You speak to heal family, community, and yes, country.
You do all of this humbly, with the recognition that you are one of the lucky ones. With loving parents. With resilience built into your bones. With white skin, advanced degrees, conforming gender and sexuality. With the love and support of spouse and friends.
You do all of this because the alternative is a repression of spirit and mind and body so extreme it is to watch your repressed truth manifest in disease, dysfunction, or yes, even dystopia.
You speak because if the shadow has been laid bare, then so must our truths.
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