Two years ago today I was raped.
On this day last year I had a party. I was determined to celebrate the fact that I had “survived” a whole year. I made a cake and invited all my friends over. I made a tearful speech about how much I appreciated all of their support and how I was proud of myself for re-taking control of my life.
Today I am far more conflicted as to how to mark this day. I have continued to “survive” in this second year. I have given talks, written in the newspaper and blogged about my rape and my “survival”. I think this work has done some good.
I have been approached by friends, family and even strangers who have said that my writing has been important and helpful for them. It has definitely been important and helpful for me. But through this process the idea of what it means to “survive” has become far more complex, multiple and challenging to embody.
I have become emotionally, politically and intellectually interested in what kind of survival is possible in the current social context. I am interested in what it means to “survive” in a context where the blaming and shaming of rape survivors seems to be built into our social fabric – as Redi Thlabi’s recent book ‘Khwezi’ so powerfully demonstrates. I am interested in what it means to survive being raped in a context in which the rapes of other womxn (and children and men) are constantly broadcast. I am interested in what it means to survive in a context in which not all rapes are regarded as equally horrifying, equally deserving of outrage and justice.
I am also interested in how the ways we think and talk about rape make certain ways of surviving possible and others impossible. For example, if I mark today as an important, defining day, do I not reinscribe the rape as a defining feature of myself? If I continue to measure my life by how close or far away my rape is, do I not tie myself forever to this violation?
I am not suggesting that acknowledging pain, trauma and resilience is not important and necessary. But, as has become clearer and clearer to me, this is only one way to survive.
The #metoo campaign has brought forward a wave of survivor confessionals which have been hailed as brave and courageous. But there has been very little engagement with the social factors that make it difficult or impossible for some people disclose and share their experiences of violation. Khwezi’s story is just one example of what it costs to disclose.
I am concerned that if we continue to acknowledge only one way of surviving sexual violence we reinscribe the binary between what is “real rape” and what is not. In this way we continue to make some acts of sexual violence less grievable than others.
I haven’t decided if I will off to the bathroom and cry quietly for a while, ask my colleague for a hug or say nothing to anyone and get on with my work.
These are all ways of surviving.