Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Elías Krell. Elías is a queer, trans, latinx, white, and indigenous singer songwriter.
I am filled with gratitude for the work that Ignacio Rivera is doing in and as The HEAL Project, and for the invite to guest blog. It is difficult to address a topic like ending childhood sexual abuse in a blog post, so I am going to talk specifically from my experience about the ways past trauma can reemerge while working as an artist. I hope these ideas are useful for people in and outside the arts and that they contribute to a conversation around sexual violence and performance that I wish were more audible.
I am on the advisory board for the HEAL Project, working toward comprehensive sex education reform that keeps racial, gender, sexual, and other forms of justice front and center. My theorizing on childhood sexual abuse (csa) and how it relates to past and present power inequalities is steeped in and informed by my experience as a young woman of color immigrant, and by the fact that all of the men who were (and still are) sexually inappropriate with me as a young person were hetero/cis/sexual white men who were substantially older than me. CSA has specific consequences for those of us who do art as a daily practice and who choose to share it with others. But many people make a living via their bodies; even the most technological jobs require bodies to do the typing, coding, etc. So art makes visible the ways we all inhabit bodies in ways that other activities do not and in ways that have particular stakes for survivors of sexual trauma.
Neurologists have shown that trauma is stored in our bodies on a physical level and that trauma is passed down generationally. The offspring of mice who experienced externally-imposed pain remembered that trauma in their own lives in ways that were measurable and provable. Colonialisms new and old take place through sexual violence, as Andrea Smith tells us in her book Conquest (2005). That means that if we are survivors of csa and if we are a part of a group that has suffered systemic sexual abuse like colonization or slavery, we carry our own trauma and also that of our ancestors in our bodies. The relationship between my white (German/Irish) dad and brown mom (indigenous, Italian, Spanish) in some ways reproduced the inequities that colonialism wrought in Central and North America–my dad was the one ultimately in charge of the way things went, and we all served his desires or were deemed “bad.” These colonial legacies were also reproduced through the sexual violence that older white men imposed on me, and remaining silent about it was my part of the contract. Part of unlearning violence for me has been to recalibrate love, sex, relationships around race and geography in ways that lift up women, brownness, blackness, and Latinidad. But perhaps the biggest way I have healed and found my own voice amidst these legacies of power that flit about in my bones and sinews of my body is through music and performing my music for others.
But it has been anything but an easy road. Unlike art that happens in the privacy of our own homes or object art that is displayed for folks to see apart from the person(s) who made it, performance often puts our bodies on the line. Music performance in particular, I argue, opens us in a way that other forms of performance do not. The ways that soundwaves via music physically move us can opens us and our audiences in a way that makes us more vulnerable. Audiences pay a high price, literally, for the privilege of being moved in this way. But what if you as an artist are dealing with trauma, especially one that is silenced and covered over, like childhood sexual abuse? Everything from the way I open my mouth when I sing, to a lyric that could be interpreted in any number of ways, all make the body visible and audible in ways I can never totally account for beforehand or after.
As survivors of childhood abuse, we can be “triggered” by an event or person in performance, especially because we are probably handling fear and nervousness related to stage performance anyway. I experience these moments as a freezing of my mind and body. I disassociate, or pop out of my body and life, sometimes for days or weeks after the event. Dissociating is not always bad: for many people who work unstimulating 9 to 5 jobs, putting themselves in another place in their mind is how they stay at their job. For me, it’s not so helpful. I write songs around things I need to say… Sure, I could write all sarcastic campy songs—and I love artists who do that—but it’s not really me. It’s my privilege and my right as an inheritor of the work of queer of color artivists before me to resist being shoe-horned into any aesthetic. Queer artists have made incredible art that challenges the autonomy of authenticity as the only way to make art… but the way I happen to make art is tied to sharing my experience of being alive as honestly as I can.
Being the artist I want to be means being present in my body, wherever I am, whoever I am with. It’s one of the ways creativity is truly healing for me and a lot of folks: it feels so good that it brings us to life in a way that we differs from our everyday lives. As someone who experienced csa, my body went from something very foreign to me to an instrument that I am learning to listen to and move with better and better each day, through musical practice. Other people do this through kink and bdsm, through dance, but it can be anything for which you have so much affinity that you can’t help but want to be absolutely in your body when it happens. I think of performance less as showcasing talent (I don’t personally believe talent is a thing) as allowing people to bear witness to the work I’ve done to be in my body, which is another way of saying of being in my life. (I think it’s also why artists who have never struggled much in their life don’t hold my interest for very long).
So how do we become qtpoc artists in white-dominated fields, especially those of us in rural spaces with a dearth of venues and where interpersonal connections are paramount? How do those of us who want to engage the music industry resist the ways it reproduces modern day colonialism through both sound and visuality? How do I not be triggered by older white men who are inappropriate and the fact that 99% of the people who are in positions of power in the music industry are themselves older white men?
One solution I have found after years of struggling with this is that I have decided to avoid spaces that make me feel bad so that I can shore up my energy for the challenges further ahead that I want to approach with an open mind and heart. I decided that what was bad for me was also bad for my art. These people couldn’t have my heart and soul via my art and then disrespect my body and person week after week.
Artists who are in a marginalized position with respect to cis hetero white supremacist ableist patriarchy are, in a sense, making ourselves vulnerable to power on purpose. Because of that, perhaps, it can take a while for us to remember that we do have agency. One of the things I did recently was I decided to stop attending an open mic that was bringing up my trauma on a weekly basis and getting incrementally worse. In one evening alone, I counted eight much older white men who overtly hit on me. One man who was at least eighty years old came and sat next to me one evening and it didn’t even occur to me he was hitting on me until a far piece into the conversation. Because I didn’t act on his interest (but I continued to chat in a friendly way–which is part of my *job* as a musician, so it inherently puts me in an awkward position to be sexualized in this way), he spread a rumor that I was a lesbian. Projects like HEAL help me think about the power dynamics that have been curated throughout history that enable a person over the age of 80 to feel so entitled to a 30-something year old (and I often pass for younger) that he felt justified to make up a lie to explain why I wasn’t interested. The fact that he needed an explanation is power.
Another time, an older white man I had never seen or talked with came up to me and put his hands on my shoulders and started moving them in circles. He told me there was something in my face that he liked. He said some other inappropriate things, and what amazes me in all these interactions is how siloed the rest of the world feels in those moments. I’m surrounded by people I consider friends, and yet they have no idea what is going on. I wish all community spaces were feminist and anti-racist. Without those frames, I risk looking like someone who is ruining the “vibe” of the place if I say anything, which really goes to show how most ostensibly progressive spaces are really only liberatory for certain people in them (in this case white straight men). Many open mics use a welcoming rhetoric. However, this rhetoric is sometimes undercut by coded language and the behavior of attendees. For example, one open mic I attended recently had, “no the spoken word” written in their promotional materials. While this could simply be read as disallowing anything other than music, the genre of spoken word often codes as Black (rather than simply saying “music only”). I have found the proscription against spoken word to be the only regularly disallowed form of performance in open mic settings in New England and I believe it is a way to signal anti-Blackness while purporting to be inclusive. Sexual harassment of queer people of color is another example of how open mic spaces are exclusive.
A friend helped me frame my experiences by (flatteringly) saying that this is what everyone who gets famous has to deal with. But, and I started thinking about how messed up it is that celebrities deal with harassment of all kinds and no one calls it out. Selena Quintanilla was shot by an adoring fan, Sinéad O’Connor gets called crazy for having “daddy issues” without anyone thinking about what her dad did to create those issues. I want to be heard, like anyone, and, I am going to do my best to become the best songwriter I can. If I achieve recognition for this work, is this what I have to look forward to as a queer person of color who moves through the world identified as female?
I have only a partial answer: part of the work of being an artist means trusting that the work will attract the audiences that it speaks to. I look forward to finding audiences who feel sustained by my work, while learning how to not have them feed off my body as sexual object. But one of the most healing aspects of performance is that, as we create our art, we potentially find new communities.
José Muñoz’s talked about the world-making power of performance. Art can create new worlds or speak to one that exists already but is silenced (or both). The best I can hope for, maybe, is to meet my audience while I am still alive, to keep trying to generate the world I want to see through my performance, and to keep connecting with other artists for whom achieving individual recognition is inseparable from community-centered movements toward social justice. I’m always amazed by how many people are covert artists: How many times have you discovered a friend makes art that you didn’t know about? Let’s talk about and celebrate art as a critical and crucial way to heal from trauma. Let’s prove the scientists wrong.
I want to thanks Hyunhee, a new friend who I just found out is also a musician, who proofed this post and offered a lot of really helpful feedback. Thanks to Hyunhee, and Ignacio, and to you for reading. Comments/questions welcome.
Thank you Elías for this thoughtful piece and your contribution in understanding the many ways CSA affects us.
Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Walter Castaneda.
Walter Castaneda, age 28 is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that lasted over a decade. He’s an El Salvadoran-American, Latino, student, bisexual, and community organizer living in San Diego, California. As an advisory board member for the Heal Project, Walter brings his personal experiences to the table to offer better solutions for all survivors, especially men because of a lack of resources he’s faced. He believes that everyone plays a role to protect the lives of innocent children, encourage male survivors to thrive in their healing journey, and shift society’s narrative of sexual violence against men, especially those within our LGBTQ community. He is currently working on organizing a support group for gay, bisexual, and transgender male sexual violence survivors with folks and support from the San Diego LGBT Center, Centers for Community Solutions, and San Diego Pride.
The abuse lasted for a little over a decade, from the time I was 6 years old. The experience, in many ways, has hindered who I’ve always been. It’s stopped me from seeing and embracing my full identity. Before I began to take care and love myself, there was confusion, blame, guilt, shame. The shame I felt and continue to feel makes me want to hide or disappear. It was so severe that I attempted suicide twice when I was younger.
I felt responsible for his sexual advances because I got hard, and I orgasmed every time he touched me inappropriately. My body was just responding physically…emotionally I was in a different place. The years of abuse stunted my emotional growth and created confusion for me on many levels.
At the same time that the abuse was happening, I was growing up following the example of and advice of my father — a very traditional man. His idea of what it means to be man was steeped in machismo. As a young Latino boy I received messages like I wasn’t allowed to show emotion or express myself. I was to be the “man” of the house. That I had a role to play as provider and protector and decision-maker. I was taught in the form of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. All for “good” reason, to teach me how to be tough and survive in the real world. Instead, it provoked chaos. Deep inside, I was learning how to compartmentalize the pain from the sexual abuse and cope with it – on my own as a 6, 10, 14, and 17-year old boy. Overtime, I began to internalize and develop a persistent negative perception of myself. It created confusion and feelings of disappointment for letting my family down.
When I started having sex with other men that were not my abuser, I was forced to come to terms with my sexual orientation. I’m bisexual. However, I didn’t know right away. Some time went by where I believed that I was gay. I came out as a gay man. I believed that if a person had sex with the same-sex that they were gay. Not long after, I acknowledged that my attraction and feelings for women hadn’t left and was equally as important to me as those for men. After doing some research on my own, I came to a conclusion that I was bisexual. But it wasn’t always easy, I felt shameful anytime I had a sexual experience with another man. The feeling hasn’t completely gone away.
I have mixed feelings about sexual experiences. There’s the feeling of happiness. There’s also the feeling of shame. A painful feeling of humiliation. It’s caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. I’d experience this every time I orgasmed while being abused. Actually, I’d mix these two feelings up. It felt great, but it felt wrong. It felt wrong for one reason: because it was a sexual experience imposed on me, forced on me. It also didn’t help that my sixth grade sexual education class was taught from a heteronormative perspective. It caused so much confusion. I began to have a negative association with my sexual experiences – especially gay experiences outside from the abuse.
For a long period of time, I thought my sexual orientation was highly influenced by my experience of sexual abuse. While there is research that links childhood sexual abuse and internalized shame, there is no evidence to support the misconception that I am bisexual because I was abused. A model of comprehensive sex education that includes sexual orientation in grade school would have been beneficial — a resource to turn to. It would have helped me understand that my same-sex exploration wasn’t because of the abuse. It may have helped me understand sex without feeling a sense of shame.
Up until a few years ago, it was tough for me to understand my sexual orientation. Undergoing sexual abuse made me feel like I wasn’t man enough because I enjoy same-sex sexual experiences. I’ve overcome that thought. I’ve learned that sexuality is fluid. I didn’t know the abuse was a bad thing because I was too young to understand that part. I enjoyed the experience because it was a form of exploration and curiosity as a child. Now, I understand the long-term effects that I experienced because of the abuse and why I enjoyed it. Understanding why I enjoyed the feeling of an orgasm, when my body was responding physically, has helped me understand why I’m not responsible for the abuse. It’s allowed me to talk about my experience in a very open way. I’ve let go of most of the shame. Each day, is an opportunity for me to emotionally evolve and grow.
Every morning, I look in the mirror and see myself. My whole self. Over the course of four years, I’ve learned to take better care of myself in ways that benefit my mental health and overall happiness. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve continuously asked myself hard questions. As a result, it’s been rewarding in the fact that I learn a little more about the person I am today. I share my story with others to inspire and encourage, not just survivors, but everyone to practice self-care. I’m learning how to love my whole self and disassemble the negative perception I developed as a young boy.
We all face struggles with our identities. Through some raw, honest, and difficult conversations with amazing people, it’s inspired me to take leaps of faith and work through these struggles. Healing is a journey. It’s not a race to see who gets to the finish line fastest. It takes time and patience. It takes going back to those dark places, somewhere in the very back of my brain – to face them with courage, strength, faith, and hope.
Sex is positive. I understand that, but I struggle learning how to embrace it.
Societal norms have also reinforced these feelings of shame. Stopped me from embracing sex. I ask myself, “Why am I afraid of sex, although I enjoy it?”, “Why must I be drunk to let loose?” and “Would I be bisexual today if I wasn’t sexually abused?”.
I’m in a different place in my life than I was six years ago. I look back and smile proudly with gratitude because I’ve traveled on this journey with my therapist, friends, and family. Nonetheless, I still have healing to do. April shines a light on sexual violence. I see so many organizations, activists, and survivors use their voices to create awareness. It gives me the motivation to continue to use a negative experience and turn it into something positive. It gives me the strength to continue to advocate for survivors and to heal. Finally, it gives me the faith that gives me the ability to believe that it gets better. Will you join me today by subscribing to The Heal Project, like us on Facebook, and help create awareness, not just during April, but year-around? Your support is important to me and survivors across the world.
Thanks so much Walter for your honesty, vulnerability and advocacy.
Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Hyunhee Shin.
Hyunhee is a queer survivor of child sexual abuse, family violence, and sexual assault. As a person with psychiatric disabilities and the child of working class, Korean immigrant parents in rural Pennsylvania, Hyunhee brings to this work her personal experiences of violence in the context of intersecting issues of race, class, immigration, gender, sexual identity, and disability.
TW/CW: child sexual, physical, emotional Abuse/ PTSD
When I started learning about child sexual abuse four years ago, I was working at a feminist foundation fresh out of college. I didn’t realize I was a survivor of CSA at the time, but I did hold onto other childhood traumas — physical and emotional abuse from my father, the pain of growing up poor immigrants in rural Pennsylvania, navigating mental illness.
I didn’t know at first, but as I delved deeper into the subject matter, I was being triggered just by doing my job. I knew I was a survivor of abuse and that I identified on a deep level with the survivors I was reading about. It wasn’t until half a year in, my memory as a child of being sexually assaulted by a group of neighborhood teens surfaced and I realized that what happened to me was child sexual abuse.
One of the fascinating things I learned about the brain is that one of the ways it protects you from trauma is to hide those memories away. That sometimes, despite your brain’s best efforts to keep them concealed, a steady hammer of triggers can break the walls down and reveal your past trauma to your conscious mind for the first time.
Reeling from this repositioning of memory in this new context, I waded through the mud and haze of PTSD in the months that followed. I navigated coming out as a survivor to my employer while struggling to focus on a project that had me immersed in readings and research looking for practical tips on preventing CSA. My supervisor was warm and supportive and patient. I couldn’t have asked for a better support while working full time on an issue area I didn’t realize would trigger me.
I went back to therapy and worked hard to get a baseline handle on my wellness. I sought support from a tiny handful of friends I trusted — it felt too soon to talk about the abuse in more than a whisper to many others. Once I felt confident that I wouldn’t stomp all over professional boundaries, I slowly started reaching out to survivors I knew in the field. Learning with them and diving deep into the ways trauma impacted my life was incredibly transformative.
In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about trauma and how it affects my life. There were the obvious things, like classic PTSD symptoms — avoidance, hyperarousal, anger, guilt, insomnia. There were the ways in which my PTSD made best friends with my bipolar disorder and sought to pull the rug out from under me whenever possible. There were the myriad distortions I believed about myself and how I related to other people that I could now trace back to childhood trauma. One of the many things I’m grateful for is the realization that I was not an inherently shitty, mean, and unfeeling person.
Trauma threw my heart in a thick glass box and gave me a toothpick to chisel it out. It’s not that I lacked empathy because I was some sort of sociopath. I just had a harder time accessing those feelings largely because of what happened to me. Once I cracked the code of my emotional inner life, I started working hard to chisel out of the glass trauma box. I explored vulnerability with my therapist and tried connecting with emotions beyond rage and despair. I started dismantling bolt by bolt the iron fortress around me that I deluded myself into thinking protected me. I stopped seeing myself as an island, an independent person who could help and support others with their needs, but never needed help myself. I started to understand that acknowledging that I needed help and reaching out for support from loved ones isn’t a sign of weakness, but is a source of strength.
Over time and with the help of survivors in solidarity and loved ones, I developed my emotional intelligence and empathy. In holding space for myself, I learned how to hold space for others who were navigating similar journeys. I tapped into those particular feelings in my body and heart that helped me build trust and hold space with other survivors. I realized how powerful deep empathy can be in helping ourselves and each other heal. I took stock of all the times someone has said to me that they felt safe and deeply understood when we talked, or when complete strangers have opened up to me, or anytime someone shares something with me they’ve never shared with anyone else. It’s a power I’m learning to tap into and harness to help pay my healing forward.
Survivors of child sexual abuse are forced to bear the burden of violent experiences early in life. Post traumatic stress is well documented and researched. How might we build power together if we spent just as much time understanding post traumatic growth? And not in a way that undermines or diminishes the pain we suffer in the aftermath of violence. Just in a way that also uplifts those survival strategies that become great gifts. Survivors have a remarkable ability to take the pain that we’ve been forced to hold and forge it into an inner light that heals ourselves and those around us.
When I think of my favorite fictional characters, like Harry Potter or Avatar Korra, they were all kids who harnessed great power from the pain and violence they suffered. Our superhero origin stories stem from a root trauma. They grapple with the relationship they have with their power and the origin of it. These stories sound not so different from ours. We are the heroes we’ve been waiting for.
What’s your post traumatic super power?
Thanks so much Hyunhee for your bravery and superpowers!
Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Hari Ziyad:
Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose, and writer for AFROPUNK. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.
TW/CW: Child Sexual Abuse, Survivor, Racism
As a writer who constantly deals with the question of Black liberation in my work, I’m often asked, “What does a free future for Black people look like?” I never quite know how to answer. Any response would posit to be the solution to a problem over 400 years old, and any answer less than a book’s length couldn’t possibly address all of the complexities that have festered in the bloody cracks of those broken centuries.
I usually reframe it as a question of what liberation would feel like, and somehow words are able to come to me a little more quickly then. Perhaps it’s that I am so used to my eyes playing tricks on me–claiming there is so much color in a world that feels more Black and white (violence) by the day–that I trust them much less than the rest of my body. My body has always seemed to know when things weren’t right, even when I hadn’t the sense or maturity to listen.
The way I think about the sexual violence that happened to me as a child has had many iterations over time. When I was younger, I convinced myself that my body was wrong, and that what had happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal. At the time, I thought I was only convincing myself that I was misreading the way my body collapsed into its center at every sight of him, or the way my memory began to fog the nights in question over until the details suffocated underneath the clouds. I was creating a new truth–it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
But I think now I was also convincing myself that I was misreading how my body gave itself to him. I was telling myself that my erection, probably one of the first I’d ever had, asked for what the rest of me soon after received. And that was what I meant by “It wasn’t as bad as it seemed.” If I were old enough to want it, at the cusp of my first decade, I was old enough to get it.
The thing about bodies is that they won’t let you stick with a lie for too long. They will slowly unravel, and I eventually came undone. My body both craved unsolicited touch from strangers and would react with extreme violence to the same, with no understanding of the line separating the two responses. The longer I stuck with the story that my body was malfunctioning, the more and more violent error messages it gave to me and the rest of the world also lying to it about what it experienced as Black, nonbinary, and queer, too.
My harm-doer is dead now, and, after lots of work, so are many of the things keeping me from listening to my body today. With him, however, I lost something that I still cannot see or name, much like that free future people keep asking me about. A free past, maybe. But I did not lose this feeling, of being forever altered before I even had an original self to be. Of knowing something was mine before the world that sold my ancestors into slavery took it from me. Again.
I think Black liberation feels like that thing lost–like having a self, an innocence that is undamaged. Of not always being wrong before you even open your mouth. Of not always being criminalized before the crime. Of not always having your body turn into a cage, or a cage surrounding your body. Of having pathways to redress. Of mattering.
It feels like the joys of childhood, before that is taken away from you. And it starts with children, Black children, the world having not yet been able to completely take them from themselves, even though it has always already began hunting them. This is why I center Black children and ending childhood sexual violence in everything that I do. If we could protect this thing I cannot name, but that Black children feel–unbridled Black joys and rages and everything that comes with being fully alive–then perhaps we will finally see what that future might look like.
Thank you Hari for your time, energy and forethought.
Welcome guest blogger J’aime Grant
Dr. Jaime M. Grant, author of Great Sex: Mapping Your Desire, is a sex coach, researcher and writer who has been active in LGBTQ, women’s and racial justice movements since the late 80s.
Recently, she has served as principal investigator for the National LGTQ Task Force’s ground-breaking reports on aging, Outing Age 2010 and transgender discrimination, Injustice at Every Turn (2011). A recent Huffington Post editorial on college policy and rape on campus, “Sexual Assault on Campus: College Policies Support Rape Cultures,” appeared in May 2015. Her forthcoming anthology, Friendship as Social Justice Activism(University of Chicago Press), is co-edited with Rohit Dasgupta, Niharika Banerjee, and Debanuj DasGupta. A feminist, sex activist and a clean and sober mother of two, Jaime lives and practices in Washington, DC.
TW/CW: sexual assault, addiction, depression, emotional and physical abuse
I am not a survivor of child sexual abuse. No one in my family ever touched me inappropriately. No one used me to gratify themselves sexually – not even once. However, and unfortunately, I am a survivor of sexual assault. In my journey to heal from the trauma, I found myself in a treatment setting for addiction, food issues or depression. All of the helping professionals – from the therapists to the psychiatrists to the medical doctors – all of them suggested that I dig deeper into my history of sexual violence
I spent a good part of my twenties and thirties in weekly therapy trying to address the outcomes of emotional and physical abuse as a child. My compulsions had compulsions. When I wasn’t drinking, I was bulimic. When I didn’t have my head in a toilet, I was getting high. When I was out of drugs, I dosed myself with sugar. Then I’d throw up. I did rehab and got sober at 29; I had great therapists for a decade and I often found myself searching for something to help me understand all that had happened to me.
Being among the loving and generous people involved in The HEAL Project has helped me understand that I already know my story, and that the daily conditions of my childhood combined with white supremacy and sexism colluded to make me extremely vulnerable to sexual predators in my youth and adult life. It’s clear to me now that a major risk factor in my abuse was a sexist framework of my ‘worth’ as a white woman and a failure to provide me with any resources or tools toward sexual self-determination.
Mostly, my childhood was filled with silences and horrible caveats about sex. My mother often told me that she would ‘snap my spine’ if I had sex outside of monogamous marriage. And that sex ‘was not all that it what was cracked up to be.’ The only other ‘education’ I received was a confusing book that explained pollination in great detail but explained human reproduction in only the vaguest of terms. There was nothing in the book about pleasure, about playfulness, about intimacy or connection – about the incredible gift our sexuality presents to us.
Alongside this lack of education and violent messages around abstinence, there were what I think of as amplified messages about me personally, about my body, my worth as a white girl, and coaching about how to act to be ‘appropriate’. Everyone in my family told me that I was the ‘beauty.’ I had long blonde hair that drew white cis boys and men to me in droves. People touched my hair all the time. Strangers congratulated my parents on my attractiveness, older men were full of comments that my family received as ‘compliments’. The only problem was: I was too loud and too ambitious. My mother told me that if she had looked like me as a young girl, she never would have spoken a word, and that I should ‘just sit there’ and let all the treasures of blonde and blue-eyed femininity come to me. My weight was another major drawback. If only I’d lose some, and have more self-control, then I’d have it all. My brother’s nickname for me in 6th grade was Thunder Thighs. When I was in 7thgrade, I went on Weight Watchers and the whole family would wait for me to come out of the meeting and tell them how much weight I’d lost. Everyone would cheer. Finally, I was on a winning team! I lost 25 pounds that summer, but gained it all back in short order when the internal chaos of being ‘hot’, 14, and resisting sexism didn’t evaporate with the weight. My only relief from yo-yo dieting would come my freshman year of college, when in a support group around food addictions, I discovered bulimia.
What The HEAL Project has taught me is this: our families don’t need to intend to harm us to do harm. My brother didn’t have sex with me, but he did tell me that I should forgive my college boyfriend for sexually assaulting me, because he had done similar things to girls during college, and it was just a part of growing up. When my mother met this ex — randomly, on campus as I moved in for my sophomore year – I was clearly shaken and she said: I think I could forgive him for just about anything. Certainly, in observing my mother’s life with my father, I had learned that it was a woman’s job to forgive and move on. That in fact, this was the glue that held any family together.
I’ve had suspicions that my mom was a survivor. She grew up an only child with two alcoholic parents and a half dozen doting, alcoholic aunts and uncles. She had a lot of attention and love, and from the little bits of her story that have either been leaked or momentarily exposed — two raging, difficult parents. She definitely had no education about sex, about anything other than moving from being a good virginal daughter to a happy productive wife and mother. One story that has been told with great hilarity about my mother is that in her early 20s, she asked her parents if she could move into the city with a girlfriend to be closer to her job as a legal secretary. Her father didn’t speak to her for three solid weeks, and that was that. She lived with her parents until she married my father at 26. One night, on a break from college, my father told me (after a six pack) that my generation had the right idea about sex because the women in his generation were told: ‘sex is dirty, sex is awful, sex is something you should never do.’ And then when they got married, it was supposed to be this wonderful culmination of their path as good, chaste women. He said: For a lot of women, it was a terrible shock.
That terrible shock was a crater of grief and depression that undergirded my entire childhood. It led my mother to repeat the mistakes of her parent’s generation – out of fear and out of love for me. I never went on a single sleepover as a child. I thought my mother was being horribly mean. Now I can see that she was trying to protect me by keeping me in her sights. This is another ‘clue’ I have around sexual violence in her story. My entire life with my mother, she never apologized for anything, but on her deathbed, she sincerely apologized for telling me to forgive my college perpetrator. I only wish she were here now, so that I could hold her and tell her that I understand, that we were both casualties to a construction of ‘normative’ womanhood that set us up for sexual violence throughout our lives.
Today, the process of digging deeper into my story has had many rewards — both personally and in the larger work for sexual liberation. I’m a long-time pro-sex organizer and coach. I’ve created a tool for sexual liberation, Desire Mapping, that I present via workshops all over the world — many CSA survivors discover or come to better understand their abuse histories in these workshops. I’ve written a funny and (I hope) deeply engaging sex book. I am in a vibrant and ongoing talk about sex with my two children – my white 18- year-old queer son, and my mixed-race 9-year-old bi-identified daughter. Everyday acts of sexual education and liberation fuel my recovery. Being on The HEAL Project advisory board has been a big part of that healing. It has put me in the company of brave fellow travelers who are also digging at their sex stories and, in doing so, learning new and more powerful ways to share them as a force for ending sexual violence.
Thank you for your words and work J’aime!
Vita Eya Cleveland is a phenomimal woman! She is a poet, a composer and musician. She is the founder of TWOC Poetry, a brand/YouTube channel she created to increase proper media representation and knowledge for marginalized groups, focusing primarily on experiences as a trans woman of color. Her series, “Tea (T)ime,” touches on subjects from racism to respectability politics, and everything between and outside.
Vita E’s talents have taken her across the country in a very short span of time, performing at Campus Pride in North Carolina, competing as a finalist in “Capturing Fire Queer Poetry Slam” in DC, and doing work with Black Lives Matter in the Midwest. She has recently formed a duo with J Mase III, known as #BlackTransMagick. When she is not performing, she spends a great deal of her time as the Social Media/Communications Coordinator for awQward Talent Agency, the first agency of its kind to specifically uplift the work of trans and queer artists of color.
Vita is one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board and created the opening music for the upcoming Heal Project’s Pure Love online talk show set to debut March 15, 2017.
TW: Sexual abuse/Sexual assault
You ever find the weirdest revelations in places that likely wouldn’t make sense? This is definitely one of them. For the record, this won’t necessarily be safe for work, and if you’re a family member reading this, I love you, and you’ve been warned.
I’ve been masturbating since I was about 11. By then I had already had some version of “the talk” with my mother, which was capped off with the threat of beating me within an inch of my life if I ever got anyone pregnant. So needless to say, until about 8th grade, I hadn’t learned much else about sex I was definitely not allowed to have. When I finally learned what masturbating was, I was literally the personification of, “if you shake it more than twice, you’re playing with yourself.” For a while, I never stopped shaking it.
I’d get myself off around 2-3 times a day, and it only left me wanting more. But as a young person, and even as an adult, there was one activity I could never manage to make work: I have never, and I mean never, been 110% comfortable with receiving anal sex, from anyone, or from myself. The part that bothers me the most about it, and the part that tells me the most about how I’ve managed to heal from prior abuse (or more accurately haven’t), is the realization that even when I’m alone, the idea of being inside myself always terrifies me before it pleases me.
There are a few reasons for this.
When I was a teenager, I came out to my loved ones as bisexual, and for some strange reason, the topic of me masturbating would involve itself in the conversations I had with others. People would ask me questions about if I did, how I did it, blah blah blah. When I answered the questions, the most grossed out faces would meet mine and I would hide in my own closet of shame – I’d almost never have fulfilling orgasms. Fast forward a couple years to the more unfortunate reasons, and I’m being molested by a classmate and gangraped by an ex partner in the same year. I never tell anyone – why would I? Back then, I was a “man,” and men don’t get raped, right?
A few years of repress, repress, repress, quite a bit of drinking, a lil’ bit of therapy, and a few heteronormative relationships later, and I’ve had no one push my buttons. Now I exist as a Trans Woman with an overwhelming desire to feel a partner love me in one of the most vulnerable ways I could imagine, with way too much baggage to allow it to happen. I want to feel that softness, that full relinquishing of my guard, falling into the safety and pleasure of my lover. I get close sometimes, and with the right partner in bed with me, I’ve even managed to like it. It usually took a massive panic attack and a lot of crying, which only a couple of lovers would entertain. The rest would mostly be as repulsed as the people who asked me about it when I was a kid, or impatient enough with what it took to make my dream real and stillit hasn’t really happened.
I figured my answer was simple. I’d do it myself! I’d make this an investment in my ability to love ALL of my body, so I could eventually share that part of myself with someone on a regular basis. So I bought toys, bought the special lube that makes it easier, bought a dildo that I realize in retrospect was waaaaaaay too ambitious, lit the candles, played the music, and had a go at it! Except, it’d never go anywhere…..until recently.
The right glass piece, the right music, and a night of patience gave way to tears. Inch after inch, a dream came true, and I came so hard on my own, I literally cried. As my body shook, I felt myself being forgiven, for all the times I wasn’t strong enough to stop the pain caused to me by others. As I screamed, I felt tears of thanks from the flow of the night, and the full feeling of wholeness inside my body. I remembered what it meant to breathe through the motion of loving myself, slowly with intention, no pressure or shame, no more hating how long it takes, but embracing the victory of an orgasm that feels like therapy.
I told myself that night, that I would always take note of how understanding and self compassion played a role in what I could easily call one of the most important pieces of my sexual liberation. When I share my body with a partner, I know to expect no less than the love I gave myself that night, or any of the other nights I’ve gotten up the courage to love myself in this way.
I still have a ways to go before I can share that part of me with someone I have feelings for, but I guess that’s the whole point of this. Remembering that I have time -and that my body is mine to please before it is anyone else’s- gave me something back that was stolen from me long before I could love it, long before I could love me. In a lot of ways I still don’t, but in this way, I’m learning, slowly and steadily, inch by inch, tear by tear, smile by smile. I am learning, and I am healing, and I’m doing it by myself, at least for now.
Thank you Vita for your words, bravery and for your existence.
By: Ignacio Rivera
My work to help end child sexual abuse (CSA) came to a screeching halt Tuesday November 8, 2016. It was the day a racist, white-supremacist, sexual predator, immigrant hating, people-with-disability bashing, LGBTQ hater and all around problematic human, Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of these United States of America. What has helped me begin to move forward, engage with folks and jump back on the important work I’ve dedicated myself to is community support and collective healing. What has transpired has been amazing. Love has shot across the world wide web, phone lines and cellular devices, to hold me/us. We are supporting each other, as we do when tragedy strikes.
To witness the unfolding of the election was a shock. Simultaneously, it wasn’t. The people of the United States of America have shown their true colors and idiocy. This “win” was “payback” for Obama winning the presidency. Remember the videos of white-shock and fear after Obama won? We are there, tenfold! This is a political/societal “putting us in our place.” Basically, there was no way a woman was gonna win after a Black man took office for two terms and boy did they show us!!!! As a trans person of color who is a survivor, I’m overwhelmed by the overt hatred spewed by our next President. It’s been an absolute struggle to get out of bed since the election. How can I move forward when THIS, on top of everything else, is happening? We are witnessing major struggles in several movements– Black Lives Matters, Say Her Name, Standing Rock, immigration rights, Trans rights and (insert marginalized groups of people fighting for their rights here). Why would CSA eradication be relevant when so many are struggling to survive and scrambling to figure out what will happen next with this new regime?
My inability to move forward has been in part due to extreme triggering. As a survivor of CSA and rape, I’m deeply disturbed by Trump’s response to sexual assault allegations and society’s acceptance of that behavior. It feels like the many people who’ve worked tirelessly to end violence against women, slut shaming, rape culture, victim blaming and violence against children were violated as bystanders watched and in some cases, approved of these violations, with their vote.
Are we on our own?
After this initial post-election shock, will we all dig deep into our own work, lose connections to our collective struggle and fall to pieces in the reactivity to survive this? There is a collective trauma felt ‘round the world and everyone is on edge. In addition to so many struggles happening in this country, this election casted a shadow on them, us and the future of our work.How do we focus on the work that has fuelled our spirits to struggle for a better tomorrow? How do we continue to talk, organize and make change around issues that affect the most marginalized of us in the midst of this atrocity?
What’s CSA got to do with it?
Doing the work to address and ultimately end CSA is a struggle to say the least. CSA is typecast as an issue affecting children and their families or as an invisibility to current movements. As an adult survivor of CSA, the threat isn’t accepted as imminent. My pain is, at times, viewed as an event that happened long ago. An incident, however horrible, which I’ve had ample time to get over or heal from. Even when people accept that long term effects of CSA–like PTSD, anxiety, drug abuse, insomnia, depression and stress– it’s deemed a private matter. Thus and yet again, the issue of CSA is not associated with our struggles or movements. CSA prevention, organizing and advocacy is experienced in a narrow political framework. It is that thinking, that added to my reluctance to post news, an Outing CSA or Sex (Ed) is video to The HEAL Project website. I’ve been dwelling on the ”What’s CSA got to do with our current movement struggles?”
All about Trump?
This stuck feeling is also due to the fear of refocusing. Now that Trump will enter office, will “the work” be about him? Will all our energies go to fighting Trump; taking our focus off of these struggles? What happens so often, especially with CSA, is the fight to end violence that we know will span generations gets discarded or put on the backburner when a more urgent catastrophe happens. Many are organizing on how to deal with the regime to come and how to stop it. The real work of preparing for this inevitability is daunting but it is not what should consume us. This is not the time to go to our respective corners and work by ourselves. We need to keep the momentum going in our movements as well as coordinate our efforts to keep Trump from destroying the progress we’ve worked so hard to attain. We don’t’ have to drop what we are doing to focus on Trump. We have to continue our work while simultaneously joining together.
If you think that reproductive justice, economic justice, racial justice, children/youth rights, criminal justice /juvenile justice System, LGBTQI and Anti-violence movement are not connected to CSA, think again! CSA and generational traumas live in our cells and inform how we move in the world. The residual scars effects our LGBTQI relationships, how violence manifest in our relationship, and our understanding of children/youth rights and criminal justice /juvenile justice system. If we can not make these connections in our current work it becomes hard to create holistic sustainable solutions to the issues we are fighting against.
It has been written about and learned time and time again our movement work is incomplete if we do not make the needed connections and alliances. Ask yourself how is CSA connected to reproductive, environmental, and health justice? Has your work taken into full account CSA and its lingering effects on your coalition partners? Is CSA silenced or ignored in your work and if so who does that serve?
As many oppressed people and movements struggle to clarify why their fight is relevant against the Trump backdrop, consider that this, more than ever, is the time to connect our hearts and our work. All of our work is relevant. All of our work is connected– if only by this declaration, “An oppression to one is an oppression to all.” My work to address and end CSA will continue. The importance of the work will not be diluted by Trump. It will thicken from dashes, pinches and splashes of brewing movements. Together we are stronger. We aren’t starting a revolution. The revolution has been happening. It just got kicked up a notch.
Special acknowledgement to the following people for supporting me/my work, lending ideas and words when I had none, editing help and all around love in creating this blog post. I appreciate you!!
Monique Meadows (jg)
Luz Maria Marquez Benbow
Content Notice: This article is part of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire. The purpose of this forum and the #LoveWITHAccountability project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading.
By Ignacio Rivera
Love is overwhelming. I’m not referring to the act or ability to, but the very idea of it. It holds many meanings—interpretations. Love is subjective but love should be good—right? In that good love, how does accountability show up? What does love with accountability look like? Specifically, what does it look like in the context of survivorship? The practice of accountability has gained more attention in the last several years. We sometimes revel in the philosophy of accountability but the lived experience of what that looks likes varies. I guess you can say that love and accountability are subjective. Dually, we may have universal guidelines that aid in our interpretation of what these things mean separately and united. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a long-time comrade and a fellow recipient of the Just Beginning Collaborative Fellowship for child sexual abuse survivors of color, asked me to contribute to her project and ponder this quandary.
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REPOST: FIGHTING A CULTURE OF SILENCE AROUND SEXUALITY THAT BREEDS CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE: INTERVIEW WITH THE HEAL PROJECT FOUNDER IGNACIO RIVERA
“Our society’s view on sex is important to understanding, preventing and dealing with child sexual abuse. We live in a hyper-sexual society that exposes sexual imagery but does not talk about it. Sex education in public schools has almost been erased. In the midst of this silence, we are left to form our sexuality in secret. This culture of silence and shame around sex and sexuality creates a breeding ground for child sexual abuse.”
ORIGINAL WAS POSTED HERE.
Hari: Ignacio, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today and for all the work you do. Can you start by just giving a brief background on yourself and how you got involved with work around childhood sexual assault (CSA)?
Ignacio: Thank you for talking with me. Well, I’m a New Yorker currently living in Baltimore. I’m a long-time activists with roots in grassroots organizing. I’ve worked across many movements and continue to work in trans, POC and sexual liberation movements. I’m also a performer and that is where my work around CSA pretty much began.
H: And how did those experiences inform or evolve into The Heal Project? I know it’s funded by the Just Beginnings Collaborative, correct? Could you tell me a little bit about that organization and how you came to your current work?
I: Well, while I was performing my show in 1999, in which I tackled issues of sexual orientation, parenting as a survivor, and my relationship to sex, I decided to create The HEAL Project. I wanted to offer folks resources and create a forum for other survivors of CSA.
The actual gathering of folks didn’t work very well. Back then, people weren’t talking as openly about being survivors. I toured with that show for four years and in that time, I had audience members come out to me privately, however. There were so many but they weren’t ready to openly discuss their trauma.
That, and I had no funding so The HEAL Project was put on the back burner until several months ago. I was lucky enough to receive an email inviting me to submit a concept paper for the Just Beginning Collaborate Fellowship. I accepted the invitation, went through the process and was selected. It’s a fellowship that funded eight survivors of color and ten organizations to continue their work on addressing CSA at the beginning of the year. I’m privilege enough to have been funded for two years on my project--the resurrected HEAL Project.
H: As a survivor myself, I can understand not being ready to openly discuss this kind of trauma as there are soooo many levels and layers to the violence of childhood sexual assault that can leave a survivor feeling vulnerable in ways others might not imagine.
At the same time, and as you say on your website, our “culture of silence and shame around sex and sexuality creates a breeding ground for child sexual abuse.” So how might survivors just trying to protect themselves ensure they don’t contribute to the inability to have deeper, honest conversations about sexual abuse? In your work, how have you been able to combat this culture of silence while making sure survivors aren’t harmed in the process of starting these conversations?
I: When I think about the culture of silence and shame, I think back before abuse even begins. I’m thinking about the silence and shame around sex. The work that I’m doing with THP, is focused on sex(uality) education as a tool to address and ultimately end CSA. We have fear around talking to our children or to our peers, lovers, spouses about sex. Our culture does a lot of it.
We see it everywhere but we don’t have open, honest, vulnerable discussion about it. Knowledge is power! Those children who are most targeted are those on the margins. The most oppressed are targeted. The shy one. The Black one. The odd one. The queer one. The disabled one. In trying to protect our kids from “adult” matters, or in trying to protect them from teen pregnancy or STI’s, we keep information from them. Keeping this information, takes away that knowledge--that power.
If we were a culture that talked to our kids, our families about sex as if it were actually normal, and celebrated, things would be different. Not just the act of sex but body image, sexual health, boundary setting, consent, sexual orientation, forming healthy relationships, desire, masturbation--all of this is sex(uality) education.
When it comes to a culture of silence among survivors, this is understandable. It is an extremely difficult thing to come out about. There are many things and people to consider. This is definitely a personal choice. It took me years to say it to myself and then to say it to the world. Those of us who are able and ready to come out, should. It is an amazing thing to see people be unapologetic about their survivorship. That openness in turn helps other survivors either find the courage to come out and/or know they are not alone. I only hope that when people decide to come out, they have understanding and loving support. This was my thinking behind my Outing CSA social media campaign. You were one of the participants. Thank you for that. You, like the other participants, were able to introduce yourself and say it. Say, “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.” It’s a scary and brave thing.
H: Right, making sure sex isn’t always thought of as icky or embarrassing is very different than disclosing your truth as a survivor. But wouldn’t you say that in some cases it’s hard for survivors to contribute to a healthy conversation around sex in general before addressing their traumas?
I think I read in a profile about the project for Colorlines your very candid recollections of having trouble not being triggered when your daughter approached the age you were at the beginning of your abuse. For some survivors, conversations around sex and children in general can be difficult to have because they remind them of their own trauma. So how did you work through your triggers, and how might other survivors do the same if they are having trouble with conversations around sex and children?
I: I think whether a survivor is able to begin a healthy conversation about sex or not, there will always come a point where they hit a wall unless they address their abuse. In my case, the first 4 or 5 years of my daughters life were so hard for me. I was uncomfortable changing her diapers at one time. For bath time, I pretty much instructed her on how to bathe herself while I sat on the toilet, behind the shower curtain.
It was all super uncomfortable. I was obsessed with her covering her body, not letting her sit on anyone’s lap and a whole lot of other stuff. It was unhealthy. I finally got into therapy and began the long road to healing. I know therapy isn’t for everyone but it worked/works for me. I did individual, group, and art therapy. It saved my life--literally.
As I was getting the help, I made connections with how I viewed sex, my shame around my sexual orientation, my ignorance about sex in general. I made a decision, that I wouldn’t teach my daughter through fear, and that was that. I began talking to her about her body, my body, unwanted touches, babies, and love. I didn’t freak out about questions. If I didn’t know something, we went to the library. Our relationship shifted for the better. From then on, sex and anything about it, was open for discussion.
H: As an artist, I’m really drawn to how you use art in your work--particularly theater and film. You talk about having done art therapy, and I wonder if that had an influence on the role of art in the work you do, and how you would define that role? I always think of art as how we imagine new, freer worlds before we are able to create them.
I: Thank you! I like that. I think art therapy was a defining point and art helped me release--theater and poetry in particular. The art therapy I did consisted of lots of drawing. I suck at drawing. I do stick figures. It didn’t matter though. I was able to express in a different way. I didn’t have to use words then. Later on, I chose to use words tell my story. Then I began the creation of my show.
Another component of THP is the theater initiative. I wanted to integrate art into THP so I’m working to create an artistic safe space for collective healing. In the coming months, I’ll be putting a call out to survivors in Baltimore. I’ll be looking for survivors who want to participate in a theater project called “The Fall of the Secret Keepers.” I’m hoping there are survivors out there that are willing and able to engage in this initiative. It’s a big step but so worth it.
Its an opportunity for survivors to come together, do some healing work and collectively create a performance around the issue of CSA. The call out will be posted in December. Weekly gathering for discussion, grounding, and creation will hopefully begin in January or February. I envision a gallery event showcasing visual art, poetry, videos, performance, and a Q&A. I’m excited for it.
H: Me too! That sounds so dope, and something I wish I could do.
You’re also putting together a sex ed toolkit, could you tell me more about that and how you determine the resources you are using for it?
I: I’ve had lots of conversations with parent, guardians, and other folks working with young people. Those conversations lead me to wanting to create a toolkit.
I want it to be accessible to everyone. I don’t want it to be a classroom lesson but real tips, exercises, scenarios, and pitfalls regarding talking to children and young people about sex. I’m using my experience as a sexuality educator for the past 17 years, my personal experience parenting--a now 26-year-old daughter--using input from other sex educators and parents to craft the toolkit.
H: One can see in your past projects and with this project that you purposefully represent the work of queer folks and people of color. Why is it important to recognize these identities in work around childhood sexual assault?
I: I recently did an interview with Darkness 2 Light, an organization empowering people to prevent child sexual abuse, and I addressed a similar question, I’d like to share that because a portion of it speaks to your question here:
“We must understand oppression as a consistent theme in dealing with how sexual abuse flourishes. Telling our stories is a part of the work to end CSA. The voices of survivors, especially those at the margins, must be amplified. In the age of Black Lives Matter, the continued history of racism in this country, the school to prison pipeline, people of color overly represented in child welfare system and prisons, clearly indicates that people of color survivor stories are of the utmost importance. Those affected the most, should be leading the movements crafted to help them. POC survivor stories will aid in the broadening of how we heal and navigate justice.”
In addition, highlighting queer, trans and gender nonconforming folks--especially those of color--is extremely important to me, in part because it is who I am. It is my community. I think identifying or being perceived as queer or trans, is a targeting factor for perpetrators. There is also huge overlap in how queer and trans people are isolated due to oppression and our sometimes difficult relationships to our bodies and sex. It makes sense for me to interrogate, and help interrupt this intersectional space of marginalization.
H: What else can we look forward to from you and The HEAL Project, and where can we go to stay up to date?
I: I will continue to connect with folks one-on-one, inspire participation in the Outing CSA social media campaign and Sex(Ed) Is campaign.
I’ll be beginning the process of collecting and documenting input from parents, guardian, youth advocates, survivors, and young people for the tool-kit. Be on the lookout for submission requests.
I’ve got two upcoming workshops. One at a holistic center in DC called Freed Bodyworks . I’m facilitating a workshop call “And Action! Expelling Shame and Conjuring Healing”, which will include theater techniques, visualization and movement to tell our stories and create collective healing from child sexual abuse, sexual assault and trauma.
Between October 13-15, I’ll be in Atlanta at the Sex Down South Conference. Among other workshops, I’ll be facilitating “Birds, Bees and Wolves: How to use The Talk as a tool to End Child Sexual Abuse”, as well as filming for my social media campaigns.
Folks can stay informed by subscribing to the website at heal2end.com, liking our Facebook page HEAL2End and subscribing to our Youtube channel, The HEAL Project.
I’d like to encourage people to check out our social media campaign submission guidelines on Outing CSA--for survivors of CSA--and Sex(Ed)is--open to all.
by Darkness to Light on
September 22, 2016
As child sexual abuse survivors begin to stand up and speak out about their own experiences, they are filling the world with their perspectives. One of those survivors, Ignacio Rivera, hopes to not only share a personal experience with abuse, but amplify the voices of others. Through The HEAL Project, Rivera is giving survivors a platform and encouraging healing. The HEAL Project aims to prevent and end CSA by making visible the hidden tools used to guilt, shame, coerce and inflict violence onto children. The project’s primary strategies are: building community, critical analysis, social media campaign, mobilization and education. We asked Rivera about The HEAL Project and about giving survivors a voice to share their story and heal themselves and others.
D2L: Tell us a little bit about The HEAL Project.
Rivera: The HEAL Project is a project I began 14 years ago. In 1999, after having done years of one-on-one therapy and group therapy, I began the process of reconstructing a poem I wrote to my perpetrator into a larger body of work. In 2002, I performed Lágrimas de Cocodrilo /Crocodile Tears— a personal account of my childhood sexual abuse and incest survivorship. I toured with the show in the U.S. and abroad for four years. I wanted the show to be more than a show. I wanted audience members to interact with me, give me feedback and participate in the newly developed HEAL Project—Hidden Encounters Altered Lives. The project’s goal was to connect people, specifically cisgender females who were sexually abused by other cisgender females. Although I currently identify as transgender, I endured my abuse as a young girl and teenager. When I was coming to terms with what had happened to me…
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