I have a very interesting relationship with the month of April.
Tonight, I managed to catch the tail end of the local Take Back the Night event. Since the 1970s in the United States, Take Back The Night has focused on eliminating sexual violence, in all forms, and thousands of colleges, universities, women’s centers, and rape crisis centers have sponsored events all over the country.
Every year, I try to attend regardless of whatever I have scheduled for the day. I’ve been relatively open about my experiences with sexual assault, but sometimes euphemisms and hiding behind URLs and screennames aren’t enough. Every year at TBTN, I’m filled with a million different emotions. I relive my trauma, I imagine people’s faces that I wish I could forget, I feel the shame and dirtiness and confusion all over again. But at the same time, I feel the love between all the people there and all the support and solidarity from my friends. I am reenergized by the strength of other survivors and the strength I find in myself.
It took me a long time to realize what had happened to me not once, not twice, but three times. That doesn’t make me an ‘easy target’. That doesn’t make me ‘damaged goods’. That doesn’t make me any less than who I am. And as much as we say that trauma and rape don’t define a person, in many ways it does. What I went through changed me — in ways that I didn’t realize until much later.
I’ve been thinking lately about how I got to where I am today. Where did this blog spring from? Where is my feminism rooted? My thirst for justice?
And then I remember the silence. Feeling like I was going to shake so much I’d fall to pieces if I didn’t tell someone but simultaneously feeling frozen with fear that it would be all people saw when they looked at me. And I wanted people to like me, to not have to step carefully around me, to treat me like any other “normal” person. But the more I learned about sexual assault, the more I realized (to my horror) that I was the norm. It’s something like 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted or has been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Every April I fall into a little slump because it brings back so many memories. My assaults happened in and around April, so along with the warm spring breezes and longer days come the memories of an older man telling a 15 year old me that he loved me, a person pushing me to drink more and more until I blacked out, my teacher’s son doing things because he took my silence as a yes.
The photo above is from the movie Hard Candy, which I enjoy quoting. "Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman, does not mean she’s ready to do what a woman does". The statute of limitations expired for my assault. I got a text from one of the assaulters reminding me of that.
I am a strong person. I am tough as nails and I will not take anyone’s bullshit. I will handle myself gracefully and use my words as weapons to defend and fight for myself and my community. I am honored to have the platform that I have today to bring awareness to racial and gender inequalities. I am a warrior. I am a warrior who has panic attacks when people make jokes about pedophilia. I am a fighter who couldn’t handle being called “beautiful” for years because that’s what he called me. I am an unstoppable force that needs to take a break sometimes because something unexpectedly triggered me. I am a strong person, but I am a person nonetheless.
This blog was birthed from the pain that I held inside for years, the shame and anger and unstoppable thoughts of revenge and justice. I clearly remember sitting at my computer crying because I was looking up the statute of limitations on sexual assault in Arizona and finding out that the time limit had expired. I knew that who I was, as an Asian American woman, was intertwined with my experiences.I wanted to be heard, damn it. And I wanted to make things right.
I write this not because I want to go back through every excruciating detail, and not to weaponize my experiences. I write this to ask: isn’t there any way for us to become warriors without having to go through a war? If I could have empowered myself and grown this strong without having to go through the heartbreak and pain that I did, would I still be who I am?
Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Happy April.