Monday, November 29, 2010
Food As A Passport To Remembering Abuse (Trigger Warning)
Kateryna Fury is a 26 year old New Mexico native that works for equality for all, with a writing focus that deals primarily with disablism. She is currently working on writing several audio plays, a book, and blogs regularly at TextualFury. She lives with her two cats, who constantly break all the rules and encourage her to pet them and play. When not satisfying her kitty overlords she writes, and writes, and writes some more!
Pumpkin pie is soft and creamy. It is the only Thanksgiving day food, that I can eat without becoming ill. Mashed potatoes are also fine, but they must be different than the recipes from my family dinners. Turkey - I can barely type the word. I can barely say the word. I will not eat it. I have been forced to eat it by people using my vulnerability against me, and I react to it with a mental allergic response. It is not somatic but the PTSD triggers hard and fast.
This is what I expect of Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I remembered something that gave me a sense of relief. Today as I continued to process the revelations, I am left staring down the barrel of my gender identity issues. I have had gender identity challenges my entire life, they are based in my autism. Many autistic women face challenges due to accusations of decidedly unfeminine behavior, and I have not been exempt from this sort of attack. This is the root of the numerous incidents of sexual abuse that have dominated my life and the cause of the demise of an semblance of my childhood. I was prostituted to ministers and the supposed holiest people I know at the age of three, raped by my father, and then raped at gun point by a high school boy, who didn’t understand that I was triggered when I stabbed him with a fork at school, because he put his hand on my shoulder.
I have testicles AND ovaries. I once tried to cut off my breasts to become a boy. I have never really appreciated my femininity. Because I am intersexed physically, I am aware there is more to this. Maybe if my mother had eaten, I would have been a male child. Maybe not. I do not consider myself to be of one gender, however, I feel neither male or female.
I have spent years keeping this a secret, and on occasion I still publicly fail to disclose my identity. I don't think the failure to share the intimacies of my body publicly matter. My carer knows. My best friend knows. My sister of choice knows. I know. To me, these are who matter. I dress according to the way I feel, and even my male side is prone to wearing dark red lipstick. It feels sexy. I have fought and clawed my way through life, trying to exist, and I have been told repeatedly that girls just don’t fight back. It is a fiction in a bad life time movie that women can never do damage; that we are eternal victims.
It wasn’t JUST the media that sent me this message, nor was it subtle. It is my nature to fight back when I am in danger. I have very good survival skills. I am fully capable of killing you, if you try to kill me. I won’t murder you, but I won’t let you murder me. This has been unequivocally a part of who I am. I have wondered repeatedly about when I was raped and beaten for the entirety of Thanksgiving weekend (so Wednesday night on through a Sunday night), why the fragmented memories didn’t match the normal abuse batterns… did I even try to fight back?
Therapists told me no. If I had tried to fight back then, he would have killed me - except he thought he did. I have very real memories of meeting Osiris, the god of the dead in Egyptian Mythology and having him put me back in my body and ordering me to live. I have marks on my chest that match where his hands were. My father wanted me to die, and he did not try CPR. I don’t know whether or not he checked my pulse. I am very aware that this could be a response to the very serious trauma to my brain from being bludgeoned with a gun - I was left for dead.
Children love their mothers, and a child believes virtually everything a parent says, until a mother reveals her human imperfection. No matter the health of relationship in question, mothers are indeed human, and are therefore subject to the same social pressures as everyone else, thus leading to tension in the relationship. My mother spent my entire life telling me that we don’t fight back in my family. The men are the abusers and the women in my family are there to be hit. She has said less of this to my baby sister, but the same underlying message existed. Women don’t fight back.
I have had doctors in a mental hospital torture me over my efforts to fight back and yet I continued to fight. My agency was denied, because children aren't allowed to fight back, unless they are penis bearers. My father made it clear that if we fought back we would die, and yet I have concrete memories of the times I fought back. My siblings sometimes declared their hatred of me, because my morals resulted in a world of literal hurt.
When I was somewhere between the ages of 11-13, I was raped again and I fought back. The police told me that they wouldn’t let the boy press charges -- you see, I took a bit of rebar to his head, his father’s car, his house and let his dog go (never came back). I was willing to kill him for what he did to me and yet once again, the police told me that women just aren’t allowed.
The media affirms this message as well. In movies, it is extremely rare for a woman to fight back unless she is already a victim with years of self defense training, hiding in terror and her abuser finds her. She then either kills him, takes him back and tricks him, or is rescued by the new romance in her life.It is not often that on the instance of the initial attack, that a woman fights back. In horror movies, the attacks come in waves and it is finally after a breaking point, or the loss of all of the human shields that the female fights back - and death is often the result. Running away, with the cliched fall so that the bad man can still get you is the typical script in horror films. This is an acceptable reaction and is something I approve of -- just don’t trip.
It is the female who is unfeminine in movies that is the villain - either a caricature of a woman with sexual appetites such as Famke Jansen’s role in a James Bond movie, or a woman who is viewed as ugly, 'othered', or is somehow defective. These are our female villains. Any villain who is beautiful, tends to be portrayed as not acting independently of others. It is also supposedly understood to be more scary for a waifish beauty to be bad. A beautiful villain, supposedly subverts the norms of who we understand as comfortable with a violent situation.
Women become their traumas and this is the other message I have struggled with my entire life. None of my traumas are my identity, even if they have chipped away some of the facets of my personality, or left scars on me that changed the outcome of my personal growth. The good moments in my life have had just as much impact and therefore, I am the result of everything I have thought, read, heard, and learned -- every person I met, every person I did not meet and every bit of media I have heard. It is not my trauma that makes me who I am.
We have a tendency to remove the humanity from she who fights back. You are no longer human, you are rape. You are not actually a woman, and therefore; it’s okay once more for you to be violent. There must be something wrong with you, if you are a woman who fights back; this is the pervasive message I have been living with. There have been years I nearly killed myself over the simple fact that I did not fight back. I could not live with the idea that I did not, even as a small child, try to get away.
I remember when I first began to wonder why I didn’t fight back, it was after I was told by a therapist I would be lying if I claimed I had. I sat there quietly for the rest of our session, I was in a mental hospital at the time. The first time, I watched her face and I wondered if she had ever been hurt too, and if she had fought back. She had long plastic nails, that she tapped on her clipboard. I felt like she was angry at me, and my more experienced interpretation of her expression still reads anger. She transformed from someone I could talk with, to a cold wall of rage, when I asked about trying to get away or maybe hitting him back.
Even as I am writing this, I am re-playing in my mind the moment I picked up the gun. There was no hesitation. I pointed it at him. I remember his face. His eyes betrayed his shock, surprise, and then anger. I pulled the trigger. He didn’t get to mock me first, he didn’t get any lines out like the cliche, “You won’t do it.” He had lunged for me and I fired the gun until the bullets ran out. To this memory I add new fragments, but it is like a single frame of video. I see him in it with a police officer, but everything is hazy, I am just aware that he is convincing them that nothing is wrong. I am not surprised, because I never expected that if the police came, that they would rescue me.
I have found that the most painful idea in my life was that I would just let him hurt me. This of course, is not what happened. And no victim EVER lets their abuser hurt them. Even if you cannot or do not fight back, you did not give him permission, and my personal battle was learning this. Fighting back is pivotal in my mind as something important - even if you don’t win, you must try.
I know as an adult, fighting back entails more than shooting or stabbing someone. It can be the moment you open the door and smell someone’s pumpkin pie and think “I am free”. Even if that is not true, that little moment can give you a hint of the truth for years. I have shifted association of food during Thanksgiving from being all disgusting and triggering based on being raped, force-fed and torn apart. Why was pie safe to consume? I still can’t eat my mother’s version of mashed potatoes. My father didn’t like green beans, so those were safe until the allergies happened -- but the pie has been as much of a mystery to me as my wondering who I used to be.
I was not reborn in that moment after all, the idea was just a way of coping with the blatant lies I was told about who I was allowed to be. It is amazing to me how many people, in the name of supposed survival, reject the idea that women can be strong at all ages. This has effected my writing, my game play and what I could do. This is not trivial in any way shape or form. The core of who I was did not break, and that is important. My spirit never broke, and who I am is essentially the same on the base level as who I was before. This means perhaps I did not really lose my innocence, but instead it was hidden away, so I could survive.
I do not cry much but I am crying now. How can I not cry for I know there are other little girls, women, and people in between male and female, who wonder if they fought back -- who are told every day that this is an impossibility. Children do not have the knowledge yet to think critically and surmise if people are lying; this is a skill we learn as we grow. A facet of being nuerodiverse in this world, and everyone fits in there somewhere, is that people learn these skills at different rates. The ability to critically assess a situation or the media, is something that must be taught or it must be learned. Not everyone is capable of this and children have to learn from somewhere.
I am left questioning the validity of mental health for women, children, and anyone with chronic pain or PTSD. How can so many therapists, both male and female, believe that women just don’t think of fighting back? Making self defense a taboo or something that is only allowed after a violation is incredibly dangerous. This is a part of the forbidden dialogue of rape itself. We are warned to not talk about rape as survivors. Even at the age of eight, it was hinted that I deserved to be raped. Was eight year old me just so sexy she deserved it? That’s what I have been told. I also came forward within the statute of limitations, but because it was my father that raped me, I was told that my case just wasn’t worth the District Attorney's time. They believed me, they just didn’t care because I was a little girl. I have never forgotten being told I am not enough of a person, and though that wasn’t the first time, that was the moment I lost faith in the world itself and knew I that I have to stand alone.
Of all the lies that came out of the trauma, it was the lie that I was somehow the worst female in the world, worst at femininity, worst at self defense, not deserving of being being loved and that I was utterly alone that haunted me. I was told that no one else would know what it was to want to die, to suffer, or to fear and that I was defective. I do not want to kill myself today, and this is the first thanksgiving in a very long time.