In the wake of the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, several famous people, and many more less famous people, all have stepped forward about their histories of sexual assault; some have even spoken openly, for the first time, about their histories of childhood sexual abuse. #Me too, many have written on Twitter, joining a chorus of survivors.
It takes no small amount of courage, strength of character, and conviction to speak openly about one’s history of sexual assault, whether as an adult or a child. But it’s never easy. As a 52 year-old gay man who was sexually abused as a child, I still never find it “easy” to talk about any of these issues, even though I’ve now written an entire memoir about just that. “What will they think of me?” is the question that taunts, like a devil on my shoulder, when I think about what I’ve said openly to the world through the act of writing and publication. “Good God, I must be crazy...”
No amount of celebrity or stardom will ever shield a person from the deep sense of shame and betrayal they felt while, and also after, being sexually assaulted—as well as the guilt at not “speaking up” when the violation first occurred. In many respects, “survivors” are without race, nationality, religion, gender, sex or sexual orientation, because shame and guilt are universal experiences that plague us all, regardless of our so-called “differences.” What I know to be true today is that speaking openly about a history of sexual assault does, indeed, help us heal, if only because the dark silent night of guilt, shame, and betrayal is brought openly into the bright sound of day through the voice of the person who has survived. Make no mistake: sexual assault is never about “sex.” Sexual assault is about power; it is an act of violence, and it fractures the soul of the survivor long after their body “heals.” If Silence = Death, then Voice = Life.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned a few things through my own experiences:
- No one who has ever been sexually violated is ever “guilty” of anything, and they definitely have nothing to be ashamed of.
- Shaming myself over not speaking up sooner about being sexually violated will never help me heal; all it will do is make the shame I already do feel that much worse. If “now” is not the right time to speak, then that’s okay too. I need to be patient with myself, and then speak when I am good and ready. Not a moment sooner.
- Some things are real whether another living soul learns about them or not. No matter if I talk about the abuse today, or in five years from today, time won’t change the fact that it happened, that it was real, and it was wrong.
- Shame is never who I “am.” Shame is like a filth that covers, that crushes, that we sometimes even forget we once lived without, but that we can wash away. We do this, slowly, by talking.
- We are all in this together.