And I mean RAPE in all its disgusting heaviness—like bricks weighing down a chest and pressing against a throat, or, the kind of choking fog that pulls you into a deep abyss.
Rape is depressing. I’ve worked in the sexual violence prevention and response field for the past ten years--
I know. I’ve also been sexually assaulted more than once and been lucky enough to have enough support to bust out of the confines of what the word “rape” alone can do to a body, to a soul. Not everyone is so lucky, and this reality makes me ache.
I think this is part of the reason that positivity and hope are central to my approach to ending sexual violence. Not happy-go-lucky ignorant hope, but a kind of hope rooted in creativity, faith in people, and the power of critical dialogue: the stuff activists like Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal were all about. It’s not the “kumbaya” we associate with naïve optimism or hypocrisy; it’s the “kumbaya” of connection and spiritual unity, “Come by here,” a genuine longing for compassion, for change.
Augusto Boal used to invite his workshop participants to “Come closer.” I too, invite audiences to engage in hopeful dialogue with me through the use of humor and music. And though there is pain underlining the very reason why I perform about gender violence issues in the first place, I use optimist humor to attempt to disarm the idea of “rape” as something that swallows everything. Rapists may have taken, but they don’t get it all. They don’t get control over how we name and frame and re-claim our experiences.
Our rhetoric of rape does not need to be hopeless. It does not need to be dark or dank, our language stuck in a cycle of revictimization. Our rhetoric of rape can also move beyond survival into celebration, fierce wit, and self-reflective humor. In other words, if we’re going to try to end rape, why not put some positive force behind it?
I’m tired of talking about rape in ways that make me depressed. We are complicated beings capable of recognizing both the horribleness of rape and the potential of our talk about it to transform the world around us. We need a fierce optimism to inspire us to continue answering hotline calls, to prevent us from burnout, to engage us in radical acts of self-care. We need a kind of profound hope that inspires audience members in our prevention programs into lively, multi-dimensional dialogues about ending sexual violence.
This is not to suggest that “rape” should lose its nastiness. On the contrary, our anger about rape is integral to a desire for the transformation of our rape culture world. Coupled with creative, critically clever activism, our frustration and anger at rape culture can be channeled into self-sustaining movement that helps us to heal, refuel, and remain inspired.
No, rapists. You don’t win.