advocate, Buried Survivor, culture, false accusation, false rape allegation, game, guilt, liar, opinion, Rape, rape culture, satire, Sexual assault, shame, Shielding, Shielding C, Shielding Cournoyer, Silence, stigma, Survivor, Survivors
Awhile ago, I invented a really fun game. This is how you play: Within thirty minutes of reading these words, you have to walk up to a total stranger, and tell them, “I was raped.”
You get 50 points if you can do it, and it doesn’t count if you say afterward that you were joking or this was all a test. 25 points if you can only do it using an intermediary device like a letter or the internet. 100 points if you say it directly to a loved one. Points accumulate every time you play. Tell 10 loved ones, you get a thousand points. If you can’t do it at all at all not even once and anonymously and over the internet, you get to shut the hell up forever about girls who cry rape for attention.
I’ve played every day for decades. Most of the time, I lose.
I know what you’re thinking, normie. You’re thinking, “But Shielding. You really WERE raped. This gives you a natural advantage.”
I know that’s what you were thinking. Don’t even try to lie.
It’s fine. I get it. Because you’ve never had to play this game before, you think of shame as something accidental. You’ve heard that people who were raped feel great disgrace, and you figure it’s some glitch in our thinking – that once we’re informed that it wasn’t our fault and that there’s no reason to blame ourselves, the logical spigot from whence the shame descends will dutifully turn itself off.
You think that if you were to lie about rape, it would be just your own good conscience making you feel terrible. You haven’t admitted to yourself that the prospect of playing my game scares you for other reasons.
Do me a solid. Focus on what’s happening in your mind when you picture yourself saying those words to someone who really loves you. What images make you afraid? Are they all just you, sitting there judging yourself in private? No, they’re not. Don’t lie. You’re imagining how people would stare at you. You’re imagining seeing in their faces all their concern for you, their pain for you, their love for you. You’re imagining feeling embarrassed at that concern, guilty for that pain, undeserving of that love. Aren’t you?
There’s more, though. Isn’t there. There are the people who don’t love you, and there are people you love who you still don’t entirely trust. Imagine telling one of them, and in their concern, you’ll see judgment – their gears shifting, reassessing before your eyes what kind of person you are. Over their pain, you’ll see disgust. They really didn’t want to think about that kind of thing today. In their love, you’ll see pity. They’ll never forget you are weaker, messier, lesser than you were.
And there’s the knowledge that you carried with you into this experiment, that it’s impossible to back your story up. You’re stuck on the images of that one day when those loved ones are going to look at you, while you stand there stuttering and trying to explain, and their faces will lose their love and their concern. You will be seeing shock, betrayal, outrage. You will lose your people.
This, too, is shame. Sit with that feeling awhile for me. Make yourself familiar. I want you to recognize it when it comes to you again. I’ve seen it touch you before, when you didn’t know what it was. When no one asked you to think about it. I’ve seen you at the table, when I’m telling my story, clam up and look away. You thought you were making yourself invisible. You thought it would be bad if the eyes of anyone else in that room, full as they were of concern, and pain, and love, and judgment, and disgust, and pity, and shock, and outrage, and betrayal were to land on you by accident. You didn’t realize that you weren’t the only one looking away.
I’ve seen you feel ashamed across the internet. I put my story there:
My blog recorded a thousand hits for that piece after it went live. On Facebook, where I shared the link in feminist groups and on my own page, there were loves, and likes, and shares. There were comments. Almost all of them had one big thing in common, though: they came from other survivors. I know this because they told me so, putting their names right there next to mine.
They are all people who already play my game.
The people like you, who never had to, clammed up and looked away. You were afraid that a like, let alone a share or a love, would make people look at you funny. You didn’t understand that the people like me who shared, who loved, who commented, were every bit as scared. You didn’t see me squeezing my head with both arms on the couch the second after I published. You can’t see me now, as I write these words, hunched over my kitchen table with my hands going up again and again to press against my mouth.
It took me thirty years to work up to my confession.
I once pitched an article on rape culture to Cracked.com. Not a great topic match, you might think, for a site that’s known for comedy. But neither is “5 things I learned as a sex slave in modern America” – and here’s that article, existing:
I kept my pitch impersonal, and focused on six pieces of important, little-known information – such as the fact that pedophiles can be treated with sex-specific therapy:
I edited and edited again in response to feedback I received by Cracked writers but was ultimately told that Cracked would not publish a piece about rape culture. I pointed out that they’d recently published a piece about sex slavery. It was then explained to me that this piece was different because it was actually written by a staff member. That’s why it didn’t matter that the woman he interviewed remained anonymous.
Cracked knew who the source was, then. Cracked did not know anything about me or my ability to write well about rape culture. I wrote about me, ultimately, because I believed people would listen to my important messages if they knew who I was. Messages like, “Pedophilia can be treated before children are molested.”
When I discovered the Institute for the Prevention of Child Molestation and its Action Plan based on a solid study of 16,000 people, you have to understand, I did what the plan prescribed. I told people about it. I used my social media, linking the study in my status. I held my breath, and posted. There was no response, so a few days later, I posted it again, and again after that. I finally made a status yelling at the internet for ignoring me. That time I had some bites – two or three friends reposted.
A fellow survivor messaged me privately to explain why he wasn’t able to share it. He didn’t want people looking at him like they were starting to look at me.
It’s harder for male survivors. I don’t deny it. People always associate male survivors with child abusers, so they have to worry about people looking at them like that. But the stigma is also worse, because rape is something that’s only supposed to happen to women – so coming out as a survivor means a reduction in male privilege. I guess it’s the same for male normies.
But seriously. Children can be saved by you swallowing your fears and reposting.
What I have witnessed again and again is that normies and closeted survivors are weighing the lives and souls of others against your fears of being weird. You have decided reliably that having people look at you the way they look at me is way too great a sacrifice.
You don’t know that I wrote my story long before I published it yesterday. That I pitched it first to magazines like XO Jane, where I read a piece (http://www.xojane.com/issues/why-i-talk-about-rape) by Emily entitled “Why I Talk About Rape.” You don’t know that I wrote a dozen versions of different lengths and that I sent my pitch a few times to a several different publications when I received no response. That I knew I could write it well, that I knew it was a story worth telling, but maybe I was crazy and after all my message wasn’t that important.
But when I went ahead and published on my blog, the comments that I did receive were not just subtle praise.
“Make this post public,” I was told. “More people need to see it.”
I did it. Swallowing hard, I removed the people from my restricted lists who might just judge and pity and be disgusted. There was no disgust or pity expressed by those people, of course. Just silence. My article didn’t catch and spread like I and others wanted. I couldn’t pretend it was because of bad writing this time.
I remembered, today, that Emily’s piece had been preceded by an article that was a transcript of an hour-long conversation she had with one of her rapists. She’d taped it and everything. That made her story different.
I thought, when Cracked writers told me they didn’t know who I was and couldn’t trust me to write an article about rape culture, they meant that they weren’t familiar with my writing style. I know better now.
My telling the world who I am will never be enough to make you know me. A taped confession with my rapists might do the job, but not me, on my own, talking. You don’t dare risk believing in me. What if I’m lying? What if I’m wrong? What if it’s not just me, all alone, but you and your beautiful magazines that help other people looking crazy and stupid and weird?
Doubt is our burden, like nobody else’s. I said this once before. Survivors are all alone. When you normies try to make yourselves invisible while my people look to you for help, you have to realize we’re the ones who disappear. You have no idea at all that in my desperation to be heard I stayed up all night a couple of times in a row tweeting my story at Twitter handles devoted to survivors, and feminism, and any celebrity I could find, big or small, who speaks on social issues. No retweets, of course. At least one person blocked me. I don’t know if maybe I was breaking some kind of Twitter etiquette. When you’re buried you can’t tell if anyone can hear you. You run out of options and start shouting in peoples’ faces. Then at least you know who’s blocking who.
I’m asking you, normie, for some help. Nobody’s going to believe in me unless somebody people might believe is willing to put his name right there next to mine. My name is Shielding Cournoyer, and I am a survivor. Dig me up.