Anonymous guest-writer from two weeks ago comes back under “featurecreature” to discuss what it means to live in our world after the trauma of sexual assault.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by sexual assault, please do not hesitate to reach out to a peer advocate.
We, survivors of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and all forms of PTSD, are the unconscious of society.
You can see me walking around in Val every day; unlike the radically wordless space of the unconscious mind, you can speak to parts of me: “Hey! How’s that turkey sandwich?” But you cannot speak to the part of me forever taken and changed by the sexual assault I underwent as a teenager.
Let’s start from the beginning to make sense of this. Trauma is specifically an event so overwhelming that it cannot be processed and placed into normal meaning schemes. We spend our whole lives learning that we control our bodily functions, that only we have access to our private parts, and that if someone else is allowed access to our private parts, this is our choice.
Sexual assault and domestic abuse destroy this concept of bodily wholeness. The experience destroys what we learn from day-one. Traumatic events overwhelm the brain so that it can’t even process the event in language; instead, it has to return to more infantile modes of thinking in order to record the event: smells, sights, touch, and other sensations are imprinted on the body indelibly. This somasensory memories replace normal narrative memory.
I can tell a story about having lunch. I came to val. There were lines. I ate (a hamburger: yum). I left. I pooped afterwards. (Comic relief?) Trauma, it has been scientifically proven, breaks these mechanisms; and trauma victims undergo a wave of numbness and amnesia that keep these events outside of normal, narrative, language-based memory. Victims are forced to remember the event with their bodies. Don’t touch me in a certain place: it brings back all the bad memories. Don’t let me near that smell: his smell that lingered on me for days despite countless showers trying to get it off…
This means trauma victims have been cut off from language. We have no language to describe our defining events. Any attempt is a mere translation into words. Judith Butler tells us that language constitutes our beings socially. We are only recognized in society so far as we can speak in language. The part of me that experienced sexual assault will never be a part of society as it is.
Additionally, we haven’t even developed the language surrounding trauma. Imagine: you witness a scene. He rapes her. The police ask you: What happened here? You try your best to answer. We have a verb to express his experience as a speaking subject. What word do we have to describe what is happening to her? Answer: we don’t. There is no verb to describe experiencing rape. This exists across as many languages I know (please, if you know of a language where this is not true, post in the comment section!) Same with: He beats her. He shot her. He molested her. The victim remains in object position, robbed of her subjecthood because no one has been able to speak what it means to undergo these things. There is no way to make the victim speak her experience. It is outside language. So from the objective bird’s eye view, she cannot be constituted in language and therefore cannot achieve subjecthood. (One can, of course, invert the sentence and make it passive, but one is still using a verb that does not describe her experience. It is the rapist’s experience, foisted onto her; meanwhile, the perpetrator disappears into the oblivion of the passive construction. Not exactly speaking the experience of rape either).**
We, victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, molestation, car crashes, physical assault, war crimes, victims of PTSD, we are grammatical anomalies. We do not exist in language. We cannot speak the meaning of our defining moments within the realm of language; therefore, we do not exist socially (because we cannot be constituted socially). We are the unconscious of society.
Still, healing means putting the mind and body back together. This means recognizing that this range of traumatic events do happen and that they need language. Speaking means using the body’s set of tools (the mouth, the tongue, the vocal cords) and the thinking mind together in unison and in order to reintegrate body memories into normal narrative memory. This is what the “talking cure” means. Victims of trauma often find healing through talk therapy. While this allows them to find personal truth, they still have no appropriate words to describe their experience. “What was the low point of your life?” I have no way to answer that question. That is why I propose a verb to describe my (and many others’) experience. Because I am sick of silence. Because I do not want to be the wordless invisible unconscious. I want to be comfortable with all of myself in the daylight.
I “underrussed” him. It doesn’t sound right yet. We need, as a culture, to build up the meaning and the horror behind that statement: the nightmares, intrusive thoughts, guilt, shame, pain, rejection, misunderstanding…
But if such a word were to exist (and to exist for other forms of trauma, too) it would mean the event that has most formed me in my young life would finally be capable of social recognition. It would mean that society cared enough about me to constitute me into a recognizable being. All of me, not just the polite-conversation-chat-about-the-weather-me, would finally exist in conscious space.
**I do not mean to argue that all rape occurs as male violence against women. There is also male-on-male rape. Female-on-female rape probably exists, as well. In all my studies on trauma theory, interestingly enough, I have never come across a single case. But I do not want to rule out the possibility.