Friday, August 19, 2011

SLUTWALK DC KEYNOTE ADDRESS, (transcribed)

SLUTWALK DC  - 13 august 11
Keynote speech (transcribed)
Andrea Bredbeck

I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be standing here - surrounded by sluts. SLUTS. What an amazingly powerful little word. The only word I know of that can be thrown as a weapon and also catalyze the conversation about sexual assault and rape right into the global public arena in a way that nothing to date has ever accomplished before. Look where we are. Just look where we are.

When my very first boyfriend’s father attacked me in the middle of the night I couldn’t hear my own breath. It sucked right in and disappeared when he launched his 200 pound frame on my sleeping teenage self. At first I thought he was an escaped Baboon or an abominable monster, magically resurrected to suffocate and snuff me out.

Do you know that the adrenalin rush of fear that happens in life and death moments often causes an influx of fluid in your mouth and in your genitals?

So women are told they must’ve wanted it. They were wet.
Because we live in a world that wants women to be shamed. Period.

Whether over or under, much or little, sex worker or U.N. diplomat, fat or thin, dark or light, rich or poor, sexual or celibate, dressed in baggy or dressed in tight, flat chest-ed or buxom, wet or dry, the T. O. O. ‘too’ word is almost always associated with female. As long as a person is too much of something, whether it’s too sexy, too smart, too quiet, too strong, too weak, it serves to excuse whoever is pointing the finger, from holding themselves accountable for their own choices and actions.

I lived through the first rape with a heart chant. It went like this. “…She’d die if she knew. She’d die if she knew…” I stayed alive by loving the mother in my very first boyfriend’s family. I also effectively rendered myself invisible by believing the socially sanctioned dictum that with-holding the truth is a loving act.

It isn’t.

Not speaking the truth, not telling, was a well-intentioned, dishonest, self-protective robbery, of a piece of my very first boyfriend’s mother’s personal narrative. By me. AND it was the best adaptation I could create at the time.

Don’t mislead yourself here. I never once woke up and just decided out of the blue that I wanted to spend my entire life focused on rape and sexual assault. No one in their right mind would choose to dwell in these things just for shits. No. I came to this work because I was violently, sexually,
victimized.

When I had my first flashback and my Post Traumatic Stress kicked in, we didn’t even know the words. I had no idea what was happening to me. No one did. I promised myself then, that if I survived, and I could help it,no person was ever going to have to do this journey the way I have.

When my parents responded as if they could not bear the reality of me, I believed myself unbearable.

But look at us today. Look around. We are an enormous group of people. Real, live, bear-able people. Talking about the realities of sexual violence. And Slutwalks are springing up all over the world. We’re in over 30 cities in the United States. We’re in Amsterdam, Australia, Hong Kong and Germany. We’re in New Delhi, the U.K. and Mexico City. And every one of us, in our own uniquely, idiosyncratic ways, is determined to take the globally accepted thinking about sexual assault and rape, and grab it by the balls.

No matter who are you, what your gender is, what you wear, you are NEVER responsible for being assaulted.

One of the reasons I’m so grateful to the Police Officer in Toronto who made the foolish comment about not ‘dressing like a slut unless you want to get raped’ that catalyzed this global phenomena of Slutwalk, is that it is now clear (I hope) to most thinking people, that slut-blaming, slut-shaming, victim blaming, and victim shaming have nothing what-so-ever to do with anything real or honest in the conversation about sexual assault. So, a big loud thank you to Constable Michael Sanguinetti.

Nothing people put out exists in a vacuum. Here is a truth about shame: The power of shaming is in direct proportion to our willingness to internalize it. So if we truly want to stop slut-shaming and slut blaming, we have to take a really hard look at how feeling shame has not only hurt us but also enabled our own denial.

Imagining ourselves to be at fault for what happened, creates a mythology that we held some level of control over the crimes that were imposed.

Inside it sounds something like: “If only I was different, all of it would have been different.”

What is actually true is that when someone is sexually assaulted they have no control what-so-ever.

This heart-breaking reality is so excruciating that even the pain of the shame we carry seems less awful by comparison.

So here we are now, in the midst of a global conversation, shifting the blame and shame off of the victimized, and what do we do? We point our fingers in the other direction. It isn’t us. It’s them. We can blame the perpetrators.  As if any of those people woke up one morning and decided they wanted to spend the short precious time they get to live their lives, as perpetrators of sexual violence.

Imagine with me here for a minute. We’ve got a small boy in his PJ’s praying every night by his bed. Wishing and wishing that someday he could grow up to be a rapist.

No.

Stereotypically, men are supposed to be strong manipulators of mass. They’re socially conditioned out of their capacity for feelings and empathic connectedness. Yet when they behave like the violent oafs we culturalize them to be, we imprison them, where they are often victimized before we send them out to do it all again.

Rape and sexual assault draw their point of origin from our global culture.

Let me not be misunderstood here.

To sexually assault, to rape is a choice. It is indisputably, absolutely a fucking choice when one person rapes another. And it’s mostly men that are the do-ers. And it’s mostly women that are the done-to’s. And women rape too. And men get sexually assaulted. And little girls and little boys and babies of every ethnicity on the planet. And gay people rape gay people. Third gendered people and people who choose to be non-gendered, the hearing and the deaf, the athletes and the differently – abled, are all wounded by sexual crimes. Old, young, and everyone in between. We are all at risk.

And it has nothing what-so-ever to do with the clothes we put - or don’t put - on our bodies.

Because we live in a world that propagates rape and sexual assault.

And here’s the kicker. We are all responsible.

One of the loveliest things about being human is our ability to learn through experience. One of the deadliest things about being human is our ability to learn through experience. Way too often we take our individual tragedies and transform them into gross generalities. This is bullshit.

So I’ve been hurt by someone who had a skin color different than mine. Am I supposed to be wary of ALL people with that skin color?

NO.

When something else happened, perpetrated by someone with the same skin color as the person who originally hurt me, people treated me like I was an idiot, for not having realized that ALL people who look like that are dangerous. This is ludicrous. On the other hand, if I speak any of this out loud, I’m a racist. And we teach this in some form or another to our children. All of the time.

We have a globally sanctioned foundation for every ‘ism’, for every group hatred, we’ve ever been able to come up with.

As long as we have an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ we can live a paradigm that makes hatred, blame, shame, sexual assault and rape inevitable.

This is called Global Rape Culture. And it serves us. Because as long as we have an ‘us’ and an ‘other’ then ‘we’ are not like ‘them’. And then ‘we’ can pretend that what ‘they’ did, or what happened to ‘them’, will never, ever happen to us. And if it's already happened to us, we can cling to the 'other' and 'us' and pretend that it will ‘never, ever' happen again.

But what if the entire construct is faulty thinking? What if the beliefs we form after trauma are simply that. Trauma beliefs that appear necessary at the time, in order to survive but that certainly do not deserve the sanction of becoming the foundation on which to base our religions, our governments, our ecological policies and our lives.

It is difficult AND entirely possible, to choose a life that does not enact belief, conviction and action out of individual pain and trauma. It is not a given that we are to live in hate. In fact, if there is any given here, it is that we are supposed to live, choosing a life that is foundation-ed in love.

We try so hard to be an US and a THEM. Inside and Outside. WE and OTHER. Good guys and Bad guys. Angels and Devils. Slut and Unslut. Yes.  No. Living. Dead. Shamed. Shameless.

This paradigm is old. Done. OVER. Because within this construct, there is no possibility for real recovery.

We are mortal and we are conscious. We get to live and walk around in a body AND we know we’re going to die. To hold both truths SIMULTANEOUSLY, to live the futility of committed-ly adoring the impermanent, means choosing to live in the real discomfort and ambiguity that comes with being human.

How are we to live if we don’t have the balls to feel every bit of what’s involved in the process?

Is it really possible that we are simply too selfish a species to choose to feel our own real pain?

Is it really possible that we are simply too selfish a species to choose to bear witness to the pain of others?

I don’t think so. I think it is totally possible. We are able to CHOOSE to share our grief and out of this grow another kind of joy. A joy that sits in the bosom of reality. Often painful. Sometimes not.

The problem is that these truths  are often apparently contradictory AND simultaneously true. When we speak them they give rise: To creativity. To connection. To angst. To love. To pathos. To sexuality. And to the POWER that comes with all of these.

When we dwell in our truths we are not controllable.

People can choose not to sexually assault. And we can choose not to perpetuate what is now a global rape culture.

The reality is there is no ‘us’. And there is no ‘them’. Them is us. Us is them.

When something horrible happens to one of us. Something horrible has happened to all of us. We are all that we have. This is what we get. And we can choose how we want to be, even when it’s hard.

At the peak of the race riots in 1974 in Boston, a black man, (Yes. I’ve said it.) he was black. I was white. And it mattered  when he forced his way into my apartment. In the middle of the assault my phone rang. That man hung me by my hair. He forced the phone against my head. My father was on the line. My Dad told me he loved the chicken I’d cooked the night before, and the salad. He told me he loved me. The rapist mouthed “Talk or I’ll kill you.”

I didn’t say: “Daddy I’m getting raped.” There was no way he could stop it. He was all the way in Marblehead, Massachusetts and I didn’t want my father that I loved, to feel bad for the rest of his life, because he was helpless on the other end of the phone.

When that black man slammed his way inside my body he roared racist epithets  I’d never even heard of. “Fucking white cunt-whore.” He climaxed with : “Another white girl bites the dust.”

Did he choose it? Yes.  Was it wrong? Yes.  Did he come out of his mother’s womb ready to rape white girls working against segregation? No.

So here is what we’ve got: THE NECESSITY OF EMPATHIC CONNECTION. 

When I was a little girl, I asked my mother why people hurt each other. My mother told me that it’s “JUST THE WAY PEOPLE ARE”

That’s fucked.

We now know and can prove scientifically that human beings are wired for empathic connection. We are a gregarious species. We are a species that imitates. Unimpeded by social anxiety, we choke up when we see another crying. We crave connectedness. It’s what comes naturally to us. When we are empathically connected we are truly UNABLE to harm each other.

The only way for one human being to rape another is to break the empathic connections we all come with.

Violence begets violence begets violence.

BUT feeling, listening, and telling the truth beget connection.

An enormously famous therapist once told me that “… the events wrecked my life.” I was left with an important question: ‘If what he said is true, then what comes AFTER a wrecked life?’  

Any of us here today, who have lived through sexual assault, are living the ‘after’. Right this minute.
Lets assume a scenario where both the perpetrator and their victim live through the assault. What happens after – for both – and for their loved ones, is eerily similar. Living through a sexual assault inexorably changes the people who have lived through it. Forever. The trauma event, no matter how many people try to pretend, shame or blame it away, will NEVER have NOT happened, once it has.

You see, one of the more challenging things about being a person, is deeply knowing that everything matters. Every. Single. Thing.

Once you rape, once you’ve been raped, once someone you know or love  has been raped, you ARE different. It doesn’t ever GO AWAY.

What we ARE able to do is: Feel the enormity of the initial story. Feel the enormity of the adaptations we create in response to the initial event. And out of these feelings, shift our relationship to the traumas and to ourselves. WE CAN heal. And this includes healing for our traumatized world.

This process is so simple that people can (and often do) easily pretend they don’t understand it.

A reciprocal loop of discourse and validation has to be in place. It is this exchange, this movement that keeps the channels open so that our innate capacity of empathy can recover.  The horrific details of violence do incredible harm.

BUT IT IS THE OMMISSIONS BY DENIAL THAT PROPAGATE OUR GLOBAL RAPE EPIDEMIC.

Our species needs to be UNABLE to do harm. This is effortless when empathic connection is accessible. The totally natural scar tissue that grows in the heart when we realize that people can do horrible things, that the world is not as we thought and hoped, can be mitigated through our reciprocal loop. The cycles of violence repeat because we do not choose to bear witness. What can mitigate much of the damage and enable us to grow into harvesting the incredible strengths that are possible after trauma, has primarily to do with the environment into which we are received AFTER.

Yes. I am saying that the story of the events, no matter how grotesque, if received into an environment where telling and listening is standard fair, will not leave the same extensively damaging psychological scars, as that same grotesque story when it is met by systemic denial. It’s pretty straight forward. If we want vicious Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) to continue to grow in horrific exponential leaps, all over the world, all we have to do is continue to model our behavior on our global culture of invalidation. But.

If we truly want to stop rape and sexual violence, we have to stop rape culture.

My face smothers in the sand. Hands tied up and behind. Waves crash. Gun shots and screams echo off the cliffs. The Pelicans are silent. I raise my bum. Just a little higher. I use my desecrated body to pave the way for the rapist. Easy access to my body may keep my husband alive. If my husband knows what this rapist is doing, then he’ll fight. If he fights, he’ll die. I hear my breath rasping. I hear the earth throbbing. I want my husband to live.

That Sunday at 11 o’clock on a beautiful beach in St. Croix where people got shot and I was tied up and impregnated, there was no choice about what to do. The rapists had guns. And they used them.

But the people that love me, and all of us who love others, ABSOLUTELY have a choice in how we respond after the events have been physically survived.

Of all the terrible things that happened to me, the thing that caused the MOST damage was the utter denial by my family of origin.
Denial of the reality of my experiences.
Denial of the reality of my stories.
Denial of the reality of living with the PTSD that I have carried.
And denial of their own pain, their own wounds, the scars they carry, at having their world-view shattered, by the closeness to them, of the violent rapes that happened to me.

When you accidentally slice your hand with a cooking knife, while making potato salad for friends, no one thinks it odd or T.O.O. ‘too’ much that your hand will bleed. The event may require something to mop up the floor but that’s to be expected.

Why the fuck would we expect anything less after the body is desecrated through the genitals? After trust is decimated with violence?

Sexual assault and rape ARE as horrible as we think they are. And there is tremendously difficult healing required in order to get well. Re-hab doesn’t surprise us after a Stroke. But long need for recovery, from these kinds of crimes is another of our socially well-kept secrets. These are crimes that catalyze life-long, multi-generational wounding. AND getting well is possible. AND the journey from rape to restoration is a long one. I have been at this for close to 35 years. It would have been much, much less had there been an environment of telling and listening in my family.

Speaking the truth of our stories, begets the truth of our stories, begets the truths and validation we need in order to heal. Listening to the truth of our stories, begets the truth of our stories, begets the truths and validation we need in order to heal. This cyclical, reciprocal, circular series of interactive loops, AND the courage it takes to stay in the arena and feel the full extent of the associated feelings, no matter whether there’s snot running down, eyes swelling up, sweat pooling. This is what is required to put an end to rape culture. We have to be willing to bear witness.

Here then, is what I’ve learned.

What makes the most damage - what drives it home - is the SURROUNDING MILIEU into which we are received. After the traumatic events have been lived through.

And this we all have a part in. We are ABLE to CHANGE. We are ABLE to BEAR WITNESS.

Just look around. We are doing the change right here. Right now. Together. While each of us is also alone inside ourselves. We are taking the first step in deconstructing rape culture. Me being willing to speak what I know to be true and all of you being willing to bear witness.

We (Join the Conversation) are making a documentary called ‘Living After Rape’. This film will explore with people who have lived through rape, people who have raped and the loved ones and connected, extended communities of both. Please. Come talk with us. Come film with us. Come speak your truth with us. Whatever it is. You can find us right over here. We’ll be filming all afternoon. Please. Help us bring ‘Living After Rape’ to the screen.

We have to tell and we have to tell. We have to listen and we have to listen. Tell and listen with our words. With our ears. With our eyes. With gentle hands. And ultimately - Tell and listen with our hearts.

I’d like to close with this one last thing …………(excerpt from final monologue, theatre piece: As If We Live To Bear No Scars, by: Andrea Bredbeck)

They tell me it’s my stance of opposition
that renders me assailable.
As if a fervent belief
could engender violent crime.

Is it oppositional to think
that drinking my tea in my teacup sitting at my table in my cozy home
is a kind of lying?
If in order to do it
they have to pretend away my pain?

Is it unholy to crave what’s real?
Is it a god-vow desecration,
a raping of the deity,
to search for the voice
that sings a song that’s true?

If I was a Peace Radical
and nothing bad had happened,
If I was a Love Advocate
and nothing bad had happened,
If I was an Environmental Researcher
and nothing bad had happened,
would my stance come into question?

They tell me it’s my stance of opposition
that puts me where I shouldn’t be.
Where I shouldn’t be?     Shouldn’t be?
Is it possible
to be where I shouldn’t be?
Is it?
Is it possible to be where I shouldn’t be?

How do we ever know
if we’re being where we should?

Hindsight they tell me.  Hindsight is clear.
Hindsight is brilliance
one step too late in time.
But living in hindsight
is like seeing in a backwards.
It’s hard to go forward
when you’re only smart in reverse.

They say it’s my stance of opposition.
that renders me assailable.

As if a fervent belief
could engender violent crime.

They say I run away from life
because I refuse to pretend away my pain.

As if we live to bear no scars.




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