How Does One Break the Silence about the Pain?

zora.jpg

What does #LoveWITHAccountability look like?

"If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoy it." ~Zora Neale Hurston

The rhetorical question most especially in instances of unspeakable violence is how does one break the silence about the pain?

So often victim-survivors of child sexual abuse, adult rape, and white supremacist violence are either encouraged/coerced to mute their pain OR not display any residuals of anger or outage when discussing their pain. More often than not, the feelings of the harm doers/perpetrators AND bystanders supersede the actual violence or harm that was caused.

Silence is Broken

jamesbaldwin.jpg

James Baldwin was speaking to white people in response to all of the white supremacist lies told/taught about Black people in AmeriKKKA

I also apply this profound quote to those who overtly and covertly blame survivors of incest, child sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence for breaking their silences. When we are able to break our silences, even if it means completely relinquishing family loyalty, we are often called crazy, liars, delusional, and/or mentally unstable by any and everyone who has a need to protect themselves, protect the ones who violated/battered and the ones who condoned it. Sometimes it is the same person, often there are many directly and indirectly involved. No form of violence happens in a vacuum.

No More Masks

autnjessie.jpg

I came across this photo [circa 1971] while packing up my apartment.

My Great Aunt Jessie Neal Hudson and I never had the opportunity to get to really know each other. Despite this I always felt a connection to and with this trailblazing woman. Part of the connection is definitely because of the biological lineage that I inherited from her matrilineal line. The other part, however, is because we were both molested as children. Similar to me, Aunt Jessie also told what was happening to her either during or shortly after the abuse began.
There is a discrepancy in the narratives about the timing of what happened after her disclosure to her mother (my great grandmother). What is 100% certain is that for most if not all of Aunt Jessie's life she struggled hard with feeling like there wasn't enough done to either protect her and I would offer console her. It was easy to focus on her alcoholism than it was to focus on her desire for love with accountability as a balm on a festering wound that alcohol could never heal.

Aunt Jessie told me part of her story during one of possibly only two one on one visits with her in her beloved Chicago. It was in 1993. I initiated the trip because I wanted to spend time and get to know her. I didn't share any part of my story as an incest or rape survivor with her at that time.I also never took the opportunity to share with her before she became an ancestor in 1996.

Over these past few months, I've often imagined what would've happened if Aunt Jessie knew what happened to me when I was a child. Would she have demanded that both my parents do something post haste or would she have buried her head in the sand. If she knew in 1993, when I was 24, would she have asked me why in the hell was everyone still acting as if nothing ever happened to me? I'll never ever know the answers to these imagined scenarios. I know that these wretched child sexual abuse legacies thrive in an intergenerational familial code of silence.

 

‘Being Well Ain’t No Triflin Matter’: On Romantic Relationships

Three years ago today, I made a conscious decision to get off of the (extremely unhealthy for me) romantic relationship track to solely focus on digging deep to get to know the “me” that I know as Aishah Shahidah Simmons in this lifetime. This conscious and intentional digging and digging and digging through therapy and vipassana meditation along with the love, encouragement, and support of many–most especially my Dad– led me to unearth the profound imprint of the impact of child sexual abuse on my life. I had absolutely positively no idea that this is where the journey to take me. To be honest, had I known, I may not have taken it. I’m not solely talking about what happened repeatedly to me over a period of two years from the ages of ten to twelve. I’m also talking about my being taught to love and care for my beloved perpetrator *without* him ever being held accountable by the two people whose responsibility it was to protect me. What messages did I learn and completely embody from the mental and emotional acrobats I did to wear a mask for decades to both protect him and my beloved parents for over three decades? While this is about the past, it’s also grounded in the present. This isn’t about demonization of my grandfather or my parents. We can’t continue to “equate criticism with assault” (Toni Cade Bambara). It’s about speaking/writing the complicated truths to acknowledge, explore and be accountable to the painful contradictions. No one, no one is all good or all bad. To be human is to be fallible.


I am not anti romantic relationships – not by a long shot. I am ALL about romantic love. I experientially know that one can do incredible work on themselves and with their partners while in relationship. I also know that I couldn’t have done (or begun) this specific work partnered. Yes, during my relationship sabbatical I crushed hard. I am grateful for that magical experience, which taught me love with accountability and without strings attached. It also led and fully supported my own eWOMANcipation from the shackles holding down my mask, which was slowly suffocating me. No, I haven’t committed my life to being single, but I also am not pressed if that’s what ultimately happens.


Today – the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. – I will embark on a fairly intense travel schedule across the country to screen NO! and to also talk about rape and other forms of sexual assault. For the first time ever I will be very intentional with sharing my experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse to underscore my evolving understanding that the deafening silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a pivotal role in co-creating rape culture in all other institutions – religious, academic, activist, political, and professional. These institutions are not separate and as long as we move as if they are separate and not interconnected, I do not believe we will ever get to the root of eradicating the violence. I am grateful to be in an incredible national and international community of survivors who are engaged in healing justice through activism, all forms of cultural work, scholarship, and theology. They teach, challenge, and inspire me every single day.