For day seven of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read an essay by Sri Lankan writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepezna-Samarasinha entitled “What It Feels Like When It Finally Comes: Surviving Incest in Real Life.” I found this essay particularly powerful because Piepezna-Samarasinha really gets into the different ways she went through the healing process after child sexual abuse, and in so doing provides an alternative to the Oprah model of survivor memoir that focuses on the event itself and the immediate aftermath only. I think all kinds of survivors could learn some lessons about healing and about activism from Piepezna-Samarasinha’s experience, and I especially like how she focuses on intersectionality.
The essay puts some focus on the power of the 90s Riot Grrrl movement for survivors, despite its shortcomings in being composed mostly of white girls. Though she’s by no means a feminist icon after all the recent disability fail, I was reminded of a similar rage in Amanda Palmer’s lyrics, and I’m somewhat encouraged that rage and sarcasm and survival still can be found in fairly easy-to-access music.
What was in all the zines and seven-inch vinyl records was this: If we all said out loud how common the secret catastrophe was–that all of us knew girls who’d been raped or fucked with, that “every single person I know is a fucking survivor” feeling–what would it mean? If all the rage and memory and experience of what we’d lived through came screaming out, wouldn’t the world split open? What would the world do with the reality that maybe more than one out of four girls, one out of six boys, was sexually abused before we could vote? That the world was built on incest?
After highlighting the problem, Piepezna-Samarasinha offers some unique solutions for survival that go beyond simple therapy or survivor’s groups. She talks about resources available in Toronto at the time, but especially about how informal meetings of friends led to suggestions of herbal remedies, coping mechanisms, and survival strategies.
I write my parents and try to say, this is what happened and I don’t want to never see you again, but I also want you to get real. When they say I’m crazy and need help, I don’t go home. I do yoga taught by a mixed-desi queer girl who teaches yoga for people of color, who believes that it has the power to heal and decolonize our bodies. I do stretches and breathe into where I can’t feel, where my hips still turn in to protect my pussy. I breathe into where my legs shake when I try to raise them an inch off the ground. I bleed when I get penetrated, so I don’t. There is so much knowledge inside my body.
The essay mentions some amazing organizations such as INCITE and UBUNTU (an NC group formed after the Duke lacrosse incident), but its power is also in how it identifies informal strategies for survival. Women and men can get together for potlucks and tea parties and discuss this shit, sharing advice and stories among friends. We don’t have to be silent about the abuses we’ve experienced in our childhoods or as adults. There are also ways to rage against abuse, whether through performance or screaming into pillows. Healing can incorporate sex and sexuality. We all have our own ways of coming to terms and fighting against the pain and impotence we feel, whether those means are dance or yoga or poetry or sports or writing or fucking or talking or screaming. Young people need resources and ways to cope as survivors while they’re surviving it. Survival doesn’t have to take one form, and it doesn’t have to be white or middle class or middle aged or cisgendered or female or meetings-oriented. But it does require effort, and everyone has to find a method that works.