Just a short note today to take issue with a new-fangled theory about which pronoun to use describing one’s own rape: An academic feminist who graciously read one of my essays turned my pain into an academic exercise by taking issue with my use of the pronoun “my” to describe my rapes. This theorist explained that using “my” insinuates that I blame myself for my rapes and that using possessive pronouns make the rapes the survivors’ possession. She also wrote that she would not “want to identify that closely or take possession of being raped.”
I wholeheartedly disagree with all three of these points and argue that to shy away from using the grammatically correct pronoun “my” falsely separates oneself from one’s own trauma and only slows down one’s own and the world’s healing process. To me, not owning one’s trauma is at the heart of many problems in this world because by facing one’s own pain one can more easily empathize with the experiences of others. If we are to move forward in a progressive, healing, and inclusive manner, we each need to face our own trauma to be able to teach the next generation to be strong and move forward with insight and wisdom.
To insinuate that using “my” means the survivor somehow blames themselves for the assault is illogical. Survivors often blame themselves, just as society blames rape victims, but this is not because they use the pronoun “my.” The issue of (falsely) blaming oneself for one’s rapes is separate from what pronoun a survivor uses to describe their rape. Such theoretical nonsense will not make our world, feminists, or trauma survivors stronger. It also will not help our children or young college students heal because if survivors divorce themselves from their own trauma at the instruction of their teacher or parent they may be stronger temporarily, but the wound will fester underneath the facade of strength or happiness. Trauma is in one’s body at a cellular, emotional, and even some would say a spiritual level, so to disassociate oneself from it on an intellectual level can only be a temporary fix. I believe one can heal the fastest by facing one’s pain, not by running from it.
Additionally, a survivor of rape or other trauma uses the pronoun “my” because the rape is their experience, just as an incarceration, a beating, or a birthday party is. It is the only logical pronoun to use, because that is how we speak English. We say, “I was robbed,” or “We were broken into,” or “I was raped.” Similarly, we say, “she or he raped me.” The rape belongs to both the rapist and the victim. This is tragic, but reality, and by trying to distance oneself by not owning or possessing the crime is pushing both sides away from healing, truth, and wisdom.
Maybe we do not want to take possession of our deep pain, but to pretend it isn’t one’s own will not help our world. “Identifying closely” with one’s rape is how we learn to empathize with other survivors and even perpetrators, because we can closely understand the pain inflicted and how that pain mingles with other painful experiences. Many perpetrators also feel pain, have had trauma in their lives, and as a society we need to understand all different kinds of pain to be able to not raise more perpetrators. If we do not claim and understand our own pain or if we spend time taking issue and writing articles about the usage of my to describe one’s own rapes, we are only postponing our own healing and perhaps even the healing of those around us or those we influence.
Divorcing oneself from one’s own trauma, which is felt on so many levels, is exactly how our world will not come to a place of understanding one another. I am not a psychologist, but in addition to years of reading about trauma and survivors, I have heard hundreds of women in person speak about their own trauma, and the ones who make progress in healing are the ones who do not run from their pain. Instead, they face it, own it, speak about it, and by doing this, they are able to move forward and grow stronger, all the while lessening the control their trauma has over them, and in doing so are able to bring up and teach their children or students to be morally courageous by always looking inward first to see the source of one’s emotions.
I have referred to my rapes as “my rapes” for twenty-nine years. They happened to me. I own them, and I experienced them. They exist in my brain and my body, and they have affected my life in countless ways. In day-to-day life, in healing workshops, and in therapy I have shaken, screamed, and physically felt my shame, rage, and fear on a cellular level. That is not theory. That is real, and being in touch with what one’s body and psyche has experienced by embracing one’s own trauma is really the key to how we can have empathy for others and how we as a society can move forward in a progressive and healing manner. I believe that because I faced my pain head on, I moved from being a victim, to a survivor to a thriver. My rapes will always be a part of me, and in various odd or miscellaneous ways may affect me to the day I die, but by embracing my pain, I experienced many levels of healing. By doing this, I have been able to teach my children and adults around me that facing, owning, and naming one’s own feelings is the easiest way to understand much of the trauma in the world today.