I forget sometimes how lucky I am. How lucky I am to have been able to come into my sexuality the way I have, without abuse, without religious fervor, without judgment. But as I am having that thought, as I am writing it down, I feel sick to my stomach. Why should I feel "lucky" to be in a situation that all women (all people) should be in? Well, because I am. That's the ugly truth about it. And too many women are not so lucky.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and among all of the ribbons for all of the many other worthy causes, it can be easy to let yet another one slip by. But this is not just another one. It's a huge one. It encompasses so many different crimes and it gives voice to something that too many people have been shamed into keeping silent about. Of course, not everyone is being so silent these days.
Jennifer Baumgardner has created a t-shirt as part of a multimedia rape awareness project that is causing quite a stir. The graphic is of an open safe in which a small handwritten note sits. "I was raped," the note reads. People are polarized by the shirt's message. Survivors of rape are supposed to keep silent, to be ashamed, and ultimately to feel responsible for the crime committed against them, right? "Wrong," says Baumgardner and the many women wearing and supporting the wearing of that shirt.
Carly Milne has written a memoir titled, Sexography. In her telling of the horrible incest, sexual abuse, and rape she not only survived but also overcame with unbelievable strength, she refuses the mandate of silence as well. Interestingly, she's turned her experiences into an opportunity for others to write about their own sexual experiences -- positive and otherwise. Through a campaign for which she is partnering with RAIIN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), she is raising awareness as well as desperately needed funds.
Some people are not so happy about my writing. They are uncomfortable with my life and with my willingness to talk about it. It offends their sensibilities. "Who do you think you are?" their comments say. "How dare you think not only that your sexuality and your life is your own but also that you have a right to tell your story and give voice to the stories of others?"
The only thing I think that I am is a lucky woman. And, you know what, I do believe those are my rights. But more than that I think they are the rights of every woman. Women are tired of being victims and of being silenced. Not only are we going to speak the "unspeakable," we're also going to talk about the happy, healthy sex lives we enjoy from blissful, chosen monogamy to life-affirming, conscious polyamory. We're going to be in heterosexual couples, lesbian couples, open marriages, whatever we like, and we're going to talk about it. A lot.
You don't have to listen. But I think that would be a shame. I hope people will wear Baumgardner's shirts. I hope they'll read Milne's memoir and write their own stories as well. I hope they'll donate to RAIIN and other groups fighting the good fight. I am lucky and I'm not going to forget that. I'm where I am in my sexual life because my sexuality was allowed to evolve healthily. I don't see why I should have to apologize for that.
But I also think that I have a responsibility to those women who were robbed of that. It's no wonder we cling to marriage and monogamy as it has been so unartfully defined for us. It's a hell of a lot less threatening than venturing outside of the proverbial box or the gilded cage. No matter what pretty metaphor you use, it's still all the same. And it's downright comforting compared to what so many have suffered.
But I hate to see women survive sexual assault only to have to endure sexual conformity. And even for women who have not been abused, there is still this culture of fear that all too often guides our choices. It's an ugly way to live and until we start talking openly and without apology, we won't ever be able to live free of it. And don't we owe that not only to ourselves but also to our partners? Silence is everyone's enemy.