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One of my teacher's Toni Cade Bambara used to always say, "It's the community you want to name you."

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Full body bow of gratitude in honor of my very dear The Feminist Wire managing and associate editor sibling/comrade/friends for lifting up my name and labor in concert with others whose work both precedes me and also stands with my own in the anti-rape movementS. #NORape

Toni Cade Bambara Ascension Day

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I have several photos of Toni Cade Bambara and me. This one, which was taken by my father Michael Simmons in October 1994 at the Hatch-Billops Collection in New York, is my favorite photo of the two of us.

Toni had my back in so many ways. The profundity of this reality is that I was one of so many who Toni taught, supported, nurtured, encouraged, and challenged. I am grateful that I am one of the many beneficiaries in the United States and internationally.

¡Presente Toni Cade Bambara Always and Forever          March 25, 1939 - December 9, 1995!

 

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Acclaimed Black Feminist writer, cultural worker, Toni Cade Bambara asked this timeless question over three decades ago in her classic road map (aka award-winning novel) The Salt Eaters. The question is as relevant now  (if not more so) than it was when she first wrote it.


I believe the foundation of my #LoveWITHAccountability work is deeply connected to and intertwined with Toni’s prophetic question. 

Why #LoveWITHAccountability

Created by child sexual abuse survivor, adult rape survivor, and award-winning filmmaker/cultural worker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, #LoveWITHAccountability examines how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse (CSA). Funded by the Just Beginnings Collaborative, #LoveWITHAccountability also examines how the silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a direct role in creating a culture of sexual violence in all other institutions—religious, academic, activist, political and professional.


The overwhelming majority of us are taught from birth that regardless of any transgression we may experience from any bio/chosen family member, we must protect the family at all cost. When child sexual abuse survivors privately or publicly break our silences about the sexual harm we experienced as children by bio/chosen family, we are often accused of allowing negative forces to harm ourselves and others, not being mentally stable, not caring about, and/or loving those who “love us the most” – our bio/chosen family.  There’s a painful, uncanny irony that, in the name of familial love and loyalty, CSA survivors are overtly coerced, and covertly encouraged to remain silent. It’s that same familial love and loyalty didn’t keep us safe as children.

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#LoveWITHAccountabiltiy’s focus is on tackling the global epidemic of child sexual abuse through the lived experiences, insights and perspectives of  Black child sexual abuse survivors and advocates.  Similar to my film, NO! whose lens examines the global atrocity of rape through the experiences of Black/African-American rape survivors, #LoveWITHAccountability will be culturally specific and simultaneously accessible to many CSA survivors and advocates regardless of their race, ethnicity and culture.

Addressing and eradicating CSA must be placed on national race, gender and sexuality agendas as a societal (global) ill that impacts ALL of us either directly or indirectly. #LoveWITHAccountability is building and creating space for Black CSA survivors and CSA advocates to use their lived experiences, testimonies, and work as the foundation to co-envision how we can eradicate CSA. When we unapologetically shout and advocate for #BlackLivesMatter, we must be inclusive of CSA and other forms of intra-racial gender-based violence including but not limited to adult rape and domestic violence. 

#LoveWITHAccountability moves with the unequivocal belief that CSA must be eradicated and yet, it will not be eradicated through the prison industrial complex. Personally, I  believe transformative justice (TJ)  is one powerful way that we can move forward with addressing and eradicating CSA. I do not believe in a one size fits all model. TJ is not the only way. There’s also restorative justice and other accountability and healing actions that can be implemented. 
CSA must be addressed through compassionate, accountable transformative justice and understood to be one of the root causes of so much harm that is currently happening in the world.  I am transparent about my not wanting to be connected to anything that is advocating for the state to intervene in detrimentally racist, classist, sexist, heterocentric and transphobic ways. Based on painful her/histories and contemporary realities with criminal (in)justice in Black communities, I’m not interested in #LoveWITHAccountability becoming a part of some federally funded initiative that is attached to a bill that will legitimize locking up more Black and People of Color. I believe the current criminal justice system plays a pivotal role in enforcing the silence about the violence. Simultaneously, I am unequivocal in my unwavering belief that harm doers, including the bystanders, should be held accountable. 

Troubling the waters  -- I believe we have to move beyond this belief that CSA will end in our lifetimes. Ending CSA should always be one of the key goals for liberation. I fully believe we can make seismic shifts towards meeting that goal. Parallel seismic shifts have already happened in other anti-violence (rape and domestic violence) movements but not without detrimental compromises. 

This is deep, delicate, relentless, patient, compassionate, loving, transformational, and healing work to undertake. This is why I am unwavering in my belief that while we have an end goal in mind, we must also view this movement to end CSA as a multi-generational all people on deck effort. If we don’t, we will run the risk of “haste makes waste.”  I don’t want to win many battles while the war still ravages. I’m not interested in devastating compromises that leave any of our survivor siblings behind on the battlefield. I want to compassionately and accountably end this war that spans generations. 


The first #LoveWITHAccountability gathering is an online forum that will be hosted on the online feminist publication, The Feminist Wire from October 17, 2016 - October 28, 2016. Over twenty-five diasporic Black cisgender women, trans men and gender non-conforming people, and cisgender men CSA survivors and/or advocates were invited to share their experiences and perspectives about what accountability looks like when tackling CSA. 

 

[i] The mainstream anti sexual violence movement comes from a radical feminist grassroots herstory. In the early 1970s many rape crisis centers were founded by women survivors, many of who did not have social work, counseling, or psychology degrees. They were majority volunteer organizations with explicitly feminist politics whose work was directly linked to the personal being political. Depending on where we start and fast-forward twenty to forty years later, this national and mainstream movement (on and off) campuses has become extremely professional where in many instances activism is looked down upon.  Over the years, rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters have become more invested in gaining legitimacy with the criminal justice system, the medical industry, and the social service industry. Many have moved from being grassroots anti violence movement organizations that were accountable to the communities that they served to solely professional organizations that are accountable to their institutional funders. In many organizations, survivors are viewed as clients/consumers as opposed to their own social change agents.  (Janelle White interviewed by Aishah Shahidah Simmons for NO! The Rape Documentary, August 2000. This information is not included in the completed film. However, it is part of the NO! video archives.)

Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice

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It is an absolute honor to have my praise sandwiched in between Dorothy Roberts’ and Sonia Shah’s praise for Haymarket Press’ reissue of the classic groundbreaking text (with a new introduction) “Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice” by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez

Paying Homage in Queering Sexual Violence

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Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement edited by Jennifer Patterson

Paying homage to a true survivor who preceded me - Great Aunt Jessie Neal Hudson and working to create a world where my nieces Zari, Avye, Kylin and nephew Ameachi along with all children of their generation and younger are safe and free from sexual and physical violence in their lifetimes.

More information on the website.

“Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric Silence Breaker” in Queering Sexual Violence Anthology

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In late February 2010 white queer feminist sibling survivor Jennifer Patterson asked me if I would contribute an essay about my child sexual abuse for her anthology in process Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement (QSV) I didn’t know Jennye very well and she definitely didn’t know the details of my incest herstory. She reached out to me both because of [my film] NO!’s impact on her life, but also because of my publicly identifying as an incest survivor. I was both horrified and terrified at the thought and told her as such. I essentially told her that I would consider the invitation but doubted that I would be able to participate. Less than one month after Jennye’s invitation, the life of the beloved family member who molested me over a period of two years in grave danger.

That was a major turning point in my life. I began taking the small steps, which over time became giant strides and leaps in my own rebirthing process. I took an unflinching look at my incest herstory and its last imprint on my life. Through that process, I put pen to paper or key to screen and for the first time in my life I took an unflinching and yet, deeply compassionate look at what happened to me as a child and the subsequent latter years (three decades) of the man who molested me never being held accountable by my parents in his lifetime for what he did. This is not a mommy/daddy dearest narrative but instead an opportunity to reflect upon what #LoveWITHAccountability looks like in the most compassionately humane ways.

My essay “Removing the Mask: AfroLez®femcentric Silence Breaker” is one of over twenty-five essays and poems written by radically diverse LGBTQIA activists, scholars, healers, cultural workers who center queerness while we/they write about sexual violence. This anthology is a paradigm shifter in a society and dare I say frequently pathologizes queer survivors.

There are no words to express the depth of my personal gratitude that Jennye never ever gave up on her vision because there were many reasons along her six-year journey to just throw in the towel.

The anthology is hot off the press and available for purchase TODAY. For more information about the anthology and the upcoming readings (May 10, 2016 in NYC at Bluestockings is the launch), please visit the website.

SPREAD THE WORD and GET YOUR COPY TODAY!!!!!

On Incest, Migraines, Vipassana Meditation, Therapy, Healing & Cleansing

The onset of my living with severe migraine headaches began when I was ten years old. I firmly believe that my headaches were a physical reaction to my being repeatedly molested by my grandfather and never removed from the environment. My body was screaming because I could not. After twenty years of being completely dependent on over the counter and prescribed medication for my headaches, I went cold turkey because of deep concern about the impact of the side effects on my body. I was fortunate enough to have a lifestyle that enabled me to ride the headaches out through shutting everything down for the day or two when they would emerge. Two years later, I took my first ten-day vipassana meditation course in 2002. My work with a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual trauma and my dedicated meditation practice have served as anchors through the headache and other storms.

Last autumn, thanks to the generosity of my dear friend Enid Lee, I was introduced to a doctor (Dr. James Cartwright) who drastically changed my hardcore essentially vegan diet. Since that time, my headaches have almost disappeared.

I spent a significant part of yesterday afternoon and evening revising an essay that I’ve struggled to write for five-years. It’s the first essay that I’ve ever written that interrogates What it means to both learn and be encouraged to interact with, deeply love, and care for someone who terrorized me as a child for two years?

I tried to get out of writing this “peace” for years and my sister-survivor, comrade and friend Jennifer Patterson gently supported and encouraged me to “go there” in print in her forthcoming edited anthology Queering Sexual Violence.

This morning I awakened with a headache that’s not quite a migraine but it is intense. I haven’t had one in a quite a while. I sat on the mediation cushion and observed the sensations. Usually, I struggle with feeling defeated when headaches occur. This morning, I actually feel liberated. I understand that this is part of my process. I went to a very deep space and buried place to unearth what I revised and sent at 12:31a.m. This headache this Thursday morning is part of the cleansing.