One Billion? Or Just One?

Sigh. Right now, as I write this, dozens of people I know–and thousands, if not millions, of people all over the world–are gathering to mark One Billion Rising, a V-Day project that calls for a kind of giant global dance party against sexual violence. All week, people have been asking me if i’m going to go. And all week, I’ve been shrugging my shoulders like the worst kind of grinch. Eh. I am just not that in to it. On the one hand, I’m happy about ANY event that keeps rape and sexual violence from being the kind of shameful, unspoken secret that people carry around inside of them like somehow they’re to blame for something someone else did. But on the other hand, I am JUST NOT THAT IN TO IT. My feelings about V-Day have always been ambivalent. I think their work is superficial, sometimes patronizing, and often fails to recognize the ways in which the specifics of women’s race, nationality, economic status, etc etc etc affect their ability to “rise” above rape. There is a really solid critique of the project here, and I’ll leave it there because I am too busy to go around reinventing wheels.

Despite my wariness about V-Day, though, I’m not a 100% hater. I don’t think that a global dance party will end rape, but I do think there is something to be said for responding to violence with joy and love, when you can. Not in the immediate, but in the aftermath. Too often, we talk about rape as the kind of thing that ruins lives, the kind of thing you never get over. And don’t get me wrong -rape changes a life, and not for the better, but it is also possible to heal from sexual violence, to get to a point where it is no longer the every-day-all-the-time-thought, where not every minute is marked with anxiety and terror. It is possible…eventually, with much support and love and help… to feel happy, whole, hopeful. Even after rape. It is not easy. It is not guaranteed. But it is possible.

I’m very open about being a survivor of sexual violence. I am less open about what that meant in my life, how deeply I hated myself, how ashamed and terrified I felt for years after the assaults. And part of the problem was not just that I was scared and hurt. It was that I could not imagine ever being happy again. I imagined myself as broken, as someone who had been robbed of something I could never get back. But eventually, I found a way to crawl out of that hole. I went to therapy. I became an activist. I listened to other survivors. I learned everything I could about systems of violence and how they worked together (sometimes people find this overwhelming, but I found it comforting. It made me understand how little I was at fault for what happened to me, and how much I could do to work for change.) But before all that, I found this poem: “To My Friend, Jerina” by Lucille Clifton. Oh my gosh. I cannot even begin to describe what shifted inside me when I read it, how less-alone I felt.  For years, I have carried Lucille’s lines in my heart, a mantra on the bad days: “but listen,/the girl is rising in me, not willing/to be left to the silent fingers/in the dark…” It was the first time I knew a poem could save a life. I really believe it helped save mine.

So, I’m not at Daley Plaza, busting a move in a flash mob. But I’m not rolling my eyes quite as often as I usually do when someone mentions the Vagina Monologues. Do I think One Billion Rising is really the start of a revolution? No. Do I think it risks being the kind of low-key one-off event that substitutes for deep and sustained grassroots activism? Duh – yeah. But do I think talking about rape matters? Yes. And even more, to talk about it with a kind of hope, a show of solidarity? It won’t change a system, but you never know… It might change a life.