My occupational therapist mentioned said something about how brave I was in the context of my last post about being poked (short definition molested as a kid, see previous post for full discussion). I’m not really complaining at her, I don’t think she meant it in a way that was bad, but the phrasing reminded me of the whole “Brave for Sharing” squid, that I am now inspired to complain about. It’s related to the “unspeakableness” and “incomprehensibleness” of child abuse that are much talked about, that I also complained about last time. I’m going to zero in on that now.
On Being Called Brave by the Very People One Must Fear
I used to tell people I was molested as a kid a lot. For a period in early college it was something everybody knew about me. I had just started really knowing how to talk about it and I was very excited to be able to finally express in comprehensible terms its effects on me. It had always come up often in my thoughts, long before I knew how to put it in words; it was a major aspect of my life, constantly there, that I didn’t know how to talk about. Being poked is a world. My relationship to power, to social boundaries, to my body, t0 my sense of purpose and value, all of those are colored by what happened and my thoughts about what happened. Poked is a world much like Autism is a world; it connects to everything. Once it had a name it went from an internal obsession to an external social obsession. I wanted to read everything I could find about it and relate it to my experiences and to poked friend’s experiences. I wanted to talk about various details of it all the time, often in a theoretical way rather than as a personal emotional conversation. Child sexual abuse became my main Classic Autistic Special Interests. It still is one of them.
People always gave me compliments for talking about it; it took a while for me to realize that this was a way of telling me to stop.
I would tell people about it whenever it came up in conversation. Sometimes I was just trying to make some point about a tangentially related conversation. Sometimes I was just trying to have an intellectual conversation and explore theories about why the abusers do it or why it’s so damaging or what policy mesures could prevent it or thing like that and I was using personal experience as raw data. I wasn’t just trying to vainly talk about me all the time; I just like the topic and had a legitimate claim to expertise. But it was alway treated as a huge personal revelation that must be a “step in my journey” or something like that. The implication is that despite all evidence, there was no possible reason I could be talking about it except as some sort of psychological venting.
I was never particularly ashamed of what happened to me. I was tricked and manipulated into cooperating, yes, even sometimes asking for it. I was gullible, but I was five. And my motive was kindness. It was something my abuser wanted; it made her happy. I wanted to make her happy, even if it hurt me. I’m proud of the kind sacrifice for a good friend that I thought I was making. I was never ashamed until people taught me that I should be. I was never afraid to speak until people told me I was being brave.
I Know All About Dirty Compliments
People don’t say you’re damaged goods any more, out loud. People don’t admit that they see you as less of a man, or less valuable as a woman. Now people cleverly disguise it with compliments. People tell you how brave and strong you are for the slightest word; mere mortals never dare talk about such things. They say it’s impressive that you survived, even when there was no life-threatening violence involved. The implication is mere mortals would of naturally kill themselves rather than leading the life I must now lead. People treat every mention as deadly serious and personal, because they would never want to tolerate hearing about my existence for less grave a reason. They reassure me that they could never understand or speak for me. Because I’ve apparently experienced something beyond the human capacity for empathy.
They say they are being nice; they think they are being nice. They are certainly being nicer than they feel. They only seem nice in comparison to the people who still tell you your life is ruined or the people who deny the reality of your experience and tell you to get over it. They are reassuring you that they will not even attempt to understand you, lest they misunderstand you. When they say “I couldn’t possibly know what that’s like,” I want to say “No you certainly couldn’t without asking somebody know knows. May I tell you what it was like, so you know?” But they don’t want to know. They want to zone out the details and other me so they don’t have to let the gross mental picture into their representation of the world. It’s telling that when people tell me I’m brave, it is usually instead of actually responding to the content of what I said in any way that proves they didn’t stop listening when they heard what the topic was.
They think they can pass as nice and educated and caring by giving compliments. But I know all about dirty twisted compliments; I know better to accept them now. Green lady didn’t call me a dirty whore to control me. She controlled me with compliments. She told me that I was the best she’d ever seen at the special game we were playing. She told me I had finally found something I was good for. She even called me brave when I stoically endured what she was doing.
Yes, I’m brave. I was always brave. It’s easy to be brave when you’re desperate. I was brave when I was first poked. The difference when I started talking was that I had something to say, not that I was brave. The something to say was what I wanted to focus on.
There are good reasons not to talk completely flippantly about what happened to me. For example, I know now that I might trigger somebody and I don’t want to do that. I have also found that really bad people might try to use it against me; this has worked and I’ve gotten more careful. There are also good reasons not to tell random strangers about any sort of important emotional life experience. But it should still be true that I can casually talk about it with somebody I trust, who isn’t triggered and whom I can talk about missing my dead mom, for example. With close friends I can talk casually about it, and they can talk casually about it with me. But a lot of people who might be able to be close to me still get disqualified because they can’t wrap their minds around how old news this is for me. If I’m complaining about a nightmare, sure, that’s a personal conversation. If I’m analyzing pedophilia themes in Anime, it’s probably just a geeky conversation.
I really do believe that most people still stigmatize child sexual abuse victims, but just know better than to say so overtly. The mechanism is clear. Child Abuse is treated as a distasteful concept not just a bad action. They find it distasteful out of proportion to how its bad. You can make a video game with a flippant treatment of murder and unless it’s particularly extreme it is considered less offensive than a realistic and tasteful portrayal of child molestation would be. Yet murder is far worse than child molestation. If you don’t see why; get out of my blog. Even poked people argue against public portrayal or casual talking about it. We’ve mostly bought the line that it means “not taking it seriously”. We’re afraid of the alternative, people who really do minimize. But we can do better than choosing between to ways not to exist.
Poked happens. I’m tired of having to be brave to talk about it. To paraphrase my new community. I’m poked, and it changed my life forever, and I’m okay. I’m fine!