What “Going Public” feels like four months on
Each time that someone tells me that they have read my book and that it was a meaningful experience for them and made them think about things they hadn’t thought about before — each and every time, I feel my story is recognized and affirmed in my decision to go public (https://btlbooks.com/book/going-public).
I also feel a healing touch.
And for a survivor, all those feelings are a gift beyond words.
Some of the individual responses I have received — and there are pages and pages, and I read every word — are beyond amazing. They are so personal, so open, talking about fundamental values and principles. They give me such a profound sense of love, support and hope. A healing hug.
I’d like to find a way to share these responses, their substance and tone, as well as what they mean for me. They keep coming, every day.
There is a noticeably stark contrast between the responses I have received to date from men and from women. I assume I may also get more complex gendered reactions, but I wanted to share what I have seen so far.
None — literally — of the women I have heard from, both old friends and strangers, express shock or surprise at what they have read — other than I am to be counted among the huge number of survivors out there. There is no sense or hint of a “revelation” about the problem or its scale. Their responses are always about recognition, resonance, understanding and affirmation (yes, again, pass it on!). Particularly if they have had their own experiences of sexual violence, the recognition and affirmation that the book provides is incredibly healing. I know that for me at the time these assaults happened, someone telling me “me too” would have been life-changing. But far better late than never.
Some of the women who have written to me tell me that they are disclosing their own experiences to me for the first time. This is a huge honour and a big responsibility that I take very seriously. Each of us has a unique personal situation that impacts how and what we can say. Some of us have more support than others, more privilege, more vulnerability, or different consequences for our choices about speaking up. We each have to find our personal comfort around disclosing — certainly not everyone would want to or needs to do this publicly — but I hear consistently from survivors that telling some others, gradually, is an important part of the recovery of their sense of self and their self-esteem.
I am grateful and send love and support back to every one of the women I continue to hear from. Please keep your responses coming. Let’s “join the dots and name that stain”, as Rebecca Solnit encourages us to.
Hearing from others saying “me too” is what I always hoped would happen with my book. But what has taken me by surprise are the responses from men (a few of whom have also told me “me too”), and the notable contrast with the “unsurprised” women .
The messages that have perhaps touched me the most and have made me think the hardest have been those from men, often people I have known many years and some of whom were in my life when some of these events happened.
For most of my life, the only people even more awkward and uncomfortable talking about sexual violence than other women I knew were the men. Some of this is the usual — men of my generation at least have been socialized to feel uncomfortable talking about “feelings” (including anger).
You know the scene — an emotionally difficult topic is raised (any emotionally difficult topic) and the older men in the room do some combination of the following:
· change the subject abruptly
· cough and say, “well that’s too bad…” and then change the subject
· walk away and leave the conversation
I have also worried about telling the men in my life for slightly different, although closely related, reasons than I have been so hesitant to talk to other women (all this is described further in my book). I have been concerned that they would cope with the emotional intensity of my disclosure by becoming angry with who and what caused this. And certainly almost every man has expressed some version of fantasies of doing violence to one or more of my perpetrators, but that isn’t what has really stood out.
Most of the men write explicitly, and humbly, about having got a whole new understanding of something that they now think about it differently. Many revisit and question their own past experiences. Maybe sexual abuse was happening around them the whole time but they did not understand it then as they do after having read my book. They recall a particular teacher, or scout leader, or coach — but they did not have conversations about it, the adults never talked about it. They had no way of knowing what they should or could do. Did they miss a chance to protect someone? And without themselves directly experiencing an assault, or being raped, or abused, their innocence survived. Which I hardly want to begrudge them.
But innocence can become ignorance in adults. As my story shows I was let down constantly by the adults around me. As other responses to the book underscore, I was not alone in this. No one wanted to come out and say that the church minister was a creep around boys/ girls, or imagine that the girl getting an abortion had been raped, or ask why the boy in the woods thought little girls were his sex toys. Many of the men who are writing to me are asking themselves: surely if I had understood then, I would have acted?
Their shock is visceral and raw. They are able to tell me how this makes them feel. It raises questions for them of course about how many other women whom they know have had similar experiences, and what about their daughters? Reading my book was upsetting, shocking, jarring — but they did read it and their reflections and acknowledgements are very important to me and so important to the movement we must continue to build to which male allies are critical.
I can hardly believe how much I am being given back. Both the satisfaction and the excitement of reading these responses is giving me a deep feeling of peace — and of wholeness. There were some hard moments writing this book, some bad PTSD times. But I am so glad I did it.
I am grateful for each one of these messages supportive and affirming messages. Please keep them coming.
Julie Macfarlane is Professor Emerita at the University of Windsor, Director of the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, and committed to breaking the silence and changing institutional cultures around sexual violence and the treatment of survivors.