Let me tell you the story of a story that I didn’t write.
I knew that the movie Room would be a difficult watch, but I was blindsided by my emotional response to the scene in which Ma, played by Brie Larson, tries to commit suicide—and by “response” I mean that I became a blubbering mess of tears in the theater. The scene brought to mind moments from my own life. Many aspects of the relationship between Ma and her son mirrored my own relationship with my mother. Through watching the movie, I was able to reflect on the relationship, and see the ways in which I had grown from it, and other ways in which I’d been stunted by it. The film actually helped me to process things in a new way, which I continue to be grateful for. So I decided to write a column about trigger warnings, reasoning that if I’d been warned ahead of time about that scene, I would have never have had that emotional response, and, in turn, that moment of catharsis.
But I never wrote that column, because a week later I watched the movie Beasts of No Nation. I expected the film to be grim, as any film about child soldiers would be, but I did not anticipate the scene, halfway through the movie, in which the Commandant, played by Idris Elba, ushers one of the young soldiers into his bedroom and forces the boy to engage in sexual acts. The effect of watching that scene was like having a part of my soul ripped from my body. I felt hollow. There was no emotional outburst, as there had been with the most harrowing parts of Room, instead there was just … nothing.
And I had that reaction because his story was my story, a story that is included in this collection, anonymously, along with dozens of other accounts from other writers and poets. Like so many others, I was violated by a person I trusted at a time when I could do nothing to fight back. And like the others, I have spent years dealing with the shame and fear that comes with such a violation. And so, this issue, dedicated solely to poems and essays from survivors of sexual abuse, is a testament to that pain as well as a chance for healing.
The response to this call for submissions was more immediate and steady than any that we’ve ever put out. They just kept coming in, day after day, and I want to thank every writer featured here for their bravery.
I share the story of my reaction to Beasts of No Nation because it taught me the value of trigger warnings, and though they have become over-hyped in the past few years, I still owe our readers one before they browse this issue. You will find hope in many of these pieces, but they are all difficult to read in their own way.
We live in a world perpetually balanced on a fulcrum between impossible beauty and impossible evil. Sharing stories like these, and supporting groups who have the resources to fight the criminals who perpetuate these acts around the world, helps those whose lives have been touched by that evil see that, through connection to others, they can still feel that beauty.
All of the proceeds from our Patreon account in the month of December will go to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. I won’t link to our Patreon here, because this is not a fund drive for us as an organization. RAINN does good work, and they need your help, and during the month of December their donors will be matching donations up to $40,000. This can make a tremendous difference in providing help to those who desperately need it.
We can also not lose sight of the fact that we have just elected a man to the presidency who has bragged about assaulting women. Whatever may come of this new era in American life, we cannot afford to lose our awareness of the individual rights of each person—men as well as women—and the very real, very painful, consequences of even the most subtle violations.
In closing, I want every person reading this to know that if they are struggling with issues stemming from sexual abuse, rape, or harassment, I will make myself personally available if they need to talk. I personally can’t imagine anything more important that I could possibly do with my time. I pray for love and healing to you all, and let’s work together to make this world a better place.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673 (HOPE)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255