How Surviving Sexual Trauma Became An Inherently Feminist Act For Me

By Alle C. Hall

In the United States, April is National Sexual Assault Month (SAAM). The focus is to prevent sexual violence—which are golden words to this survivor, who began her journey in the early 1990s. Back then, we were barely called survivors. To law enforcement (primarily male, then) and the medical establishment (same), we were victims. The perpetrators retained that power, even if solely in our terror-based thoughts and dreams.

Perpetrators remain primarily male.

Surviving and thriving are inherently feminist.

I am a survivor. I am thriving. 

Taking back my power was inherently feminist; owning my sexuality was even more so.

Female power and female sexuality are two states of being that the patriarchy does not want us to contemplate, let alone claim. Witness the current assault on abortion rights. The fear behind it is that if women claim their power, men will have none. If women are in charge of their own sexuality, men will never get laid. 

Patently ridiculous. Still, ingrained. In women as well as men. And taught to children.

Sexual assault is the ultimate expression of male dominance. So is sexual harassment. Don’t dally in the rationalization of the degree of the supposed pain each engenders in the object. Both are attacks, plainly saying, “Your body is there for me.” Street harassment, all sexual harassment, means, “It’s only a matter of time and inclination.” Sexual assault, rape, and incest merely take the violence to the level that the perpetrator feels capable on inflicting. Perpetrators remain primarily male. The objects of their savagery are still primarily female

The depressing, even overwhelming stats: according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) one out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. For men, it is one out of ten. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1.5 million women and 834,700 men are raped and/or physically assaulted annually. For girls and boys, it’s one in four and one in 33, respectively. 

I was one of those one in four. Yet I am thriving.

It came slowly: a job that I liked rather than hated; a date or two; a man that was masculine without being macho; a healthy relationship, a wedding, two sons. Home ownership. A job I loved—writing—a novel. It started in a park, where I lay on the ground and feeling on my skin the sun, scattered into shadow by cherry blossoms. According to my newly-purchased ‘The Courage to Heal‘, I was no longer a victim. I’d earned the title of survivor

I felt so strong. I felt the way life hinted at, when I listened to talks by second-wave feminists, female politicians and Women’s Studies professors. I believed I had the power they talked about and demonstrated. I didn’t act anything like powerful. I got myself fired from most employment or hated them. I ran from any relationship that wasn’t a one-night stand. I kept moving; I mean, country to country. The first time I was able to remain in a single city, I changed lodging six times in three months.

I am by nature a happy person, but I was miserable. 

I came close to being diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, which can result in longer periods of depression than Bipolar I. When my depression hit its investable nadir, I overate. It was a moderate success, as existences go; lacking love or passion, lacking direction, lacking much in the way of true friendship even, for I didn’t know how to love or be loved. 

Finally, I acknowledged how scared I was by sexual abuse and violence that characterized my childhood. Buoyed by my tai chi practice and a long-held understanding that women are people, too, I was able to let in that I could find God through a variety of paths—or no path, just God. 

I realize that for many survivors, the concept of any deity that runs the universe could raise arm hair. How could God allow abuse? 

I hear you. That’s why it is wonderful that this mountain called healing offers many a path up it. You will get there. One step at a time with many pauses to catch your breath, to have a cigarette until you don’t want one. To revel in the view. 

I’d always had my sight set on a true partnership. I didn’t care the gender of the person I was in it with as long as love, understanding, and mutual respect were its bedrock.

And desire. I wanted a deep and passionate relationship. Which is why those one-night stands ripped at my soul, as diametrically opposed as they were to that which I knew. Now, I count myself lucky that none of them became relationships. They just would have been one-night stands that simply went on longer.

At the time, forever—which means years and years—I thought the reason I could never work desire and fulfillment into a one-night stand was because of some vague idea about not trusting men. Once I let in that my childhood was shattered by incest, I had a definition. I was a survivor. 

I gave up the aspiration of a relationship. That turned into five years. Then a friend invited me on a bike ride. It was July 4th. When we finished, she said a friend was saving spaces at a well-known fireworks-watching park—and then she did a literal double-take. “You know, you and he might really get along.”

We did. 

Before we slept together, there was six months of lovely fooling around—the kind I never got to do, in my teens, because I was an incest survivor. Due of my feminist belief that intercourse was something I actually got to do rather than lay there for, I was finally able to actualize that theory. I found I could say, “Not yet,” to things I wasn’t ready for and that he—masculine without being macho—did walk out. I found that I could initiate. I found that love is possible for abuse survivors. I found myself in the drivers’ seat of my sexuality. I’d found love. 

800.656.HOPE (4673) will point you toward a local sexual assault service provider in your area.

Alle C. Hall has developed her career as both a magazine editor and author of numerous short stories, essays and flash fiction and nonfiction. “As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back,” Alle C. Hall’s debut novel, has won three Firebird Awards and is a National Book Award nominee.

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