This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for childhood sexual abuse, mentioned throughout and with details.
I had avoided the recent attack on survivors of childhood abuse, because ironically, of the way Stephen Fry chose to show he is a contemptible human being devoid of empathy and basic human compassion. You see I was abused by my uncle, for a sustained number of years, he not only “touched me in that nasty place” (and how much does that highlight the appalling attitude of so many cis gay men towards vulvas) but buggered, beat and abused me until I reached puberty. Then his “apology” came out, and for a moment I thought, well everyone makes mistakes, and when someone has a serious mental health condition I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately the apology was all about his distress, and showed no learning, so, I pulled this post out of drafts. It matters because far too many people agree with Fry, conflate trigger warnings and censorship, and turn away from survivors of abuse.
Reading this fabulous piece by Paris Lees and the original piece, and apology, I was struck by how far away from understanding the impact of childhood abuse so many are, and how even when it comes to mental illness privilege comes shining through.
Survivors of child abuse have lower life expectancies, higher rates of all mental illnesses, higher rates of certain physical disabilities and health conditions (most likely related to high stress levels in childhood). As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am more likely to attempt suicide, experience domestic abuse, self harm, have an eating disorder, die prematurely, and live in poverty than someone of my age, race, class and gender who did not experience childhood abuse.
Surviving, no, thriving, is down to a number of factors. As a child I had one person in my life who gave me the unconditional love and support a child needs to grow. My grandfather is the sun towards which I reached as a young child, and without him I am unsure I would be here today. However, any life is more complex than the influence of one person over it. That move from survivor to thriver has largely been around not running from my feelings, but instead learning to accept that they and I matter. When I talk to other survivors of CSA, or read their accounts this bravery in the face of the type of events most people consider to be too fantastical to even survive, is a common thread
We are born vulnerable, reliant on the adults around us. Hopefully we attach to significant carers and in doing so learn that those adults can be trusted, will meet out needs both physical and emotional. For some of course, that never happens, and they grow up with the fractures and pain that causes. For others, like me, their world is shattered with that first act of abuse. I dont often talk about the actualities of what happened to me, ironically for fear of upsetting readers. After seeing people defending Fry however, with similar claims of pity for survivors, I feel compelled to be more blunt. Imagine being a toddler, still stumbling to walk, lisping their words, their world a forest of big legs and warm hands. Then imagine the incomprehensible pain of being sodomised, being unable to breath as a large adult male’s weight presses down on you. Imagine choking on a penis, thrust down your throat, imagine knowing, before you even start school what spunk feels like, imagine being told the pain makes you a good girl, imagine being told you can never tell anyone.
Fry accused survivors of self pity, because some have campaigned for the world to accept they exist. For, make no mistake about it, the world prefers to believe we do not exist. We have to put our selves back together with minimum support (the majority of survivors receive no therapy, and do not have Frys millions to pay for it privately) If our abuse is historical we are accused of being gold diggers, if we self medicate we are criminalized, if we sell sex to survive (because work with mental health conditions is exceptionally difficult) we are pathologized. Amid all of this some survivors, of many forms of abuse, including CSA started asking for one thing, a warning before they viewed content, so that they could decide whether to view/read/listen. Not for a ban, not for a change to the content, simply a warning so that they could decide how fractured they were that day and if a mental deep breath, or more, might be needed.
That process of self assessment, of saying my feelings matter is vital in recovery. When you are abused your feelings are ignored, when my Uncle raped me he taught me that how I felt must be subsumed, that I only existed as a vehicle for the sexual gratification of others. Trigger warnings/content notes are a way for the world to say to survivors your feelings matter. Lubobottom writes with their usual breathtaking power here of the effect of triggers on them.
So I dont want your pity Stephen Fry, I dont want to hear again how terrible what happened to me was, guess what, I know that. I need society to start taking abuse, rape, child abuse, seriously. I and all survivors, need to not be swept under the carpet, as a dirty secret no one wants to face. Those who use trigger warnings are accused of censorship, of not wanting to live in the real world. In fact the reverse is true, people like Fry dont want to consider that in the room with them is someone who was raped at 3, buggered at 4, beaten at 5, sodomised at 6, strangled at 7. They want to hold onto their myth that everyone had lovely lives, and any problems can be solved by a brisk walk or session of mindfulness.
Sorry, (not sorry) that our existence makes you uncomfortable, sorry (not sorry) that when we demand a trigger warning you are forced to think about the inhumane things mankind does, sorry (not sorry that) that it is in fact you who cannot cope with the real world, the world a survivor inhabits.