Have you ever had a moment where you think you know where a project is heading, exactly what you want to accomplish, then it heads in a different direction? Today I had that moment. I’ve had my mind’s eye fixed on women transcending child sex abuse and challenging the discourses around it which limit one’s potential. But today in an interview with a wonderfully wise woman something clicked.
I think the awareness had been hovering at the edge of my consciousness for a while but for some reason I failed to look beyond the edge. My guiding beliefs, my ethos, values and celebrates diversity. I’ve been seeking women of all ages (above the requisite 18), of all races and nationalities, and I felt proud of myself for acknowledging and fostering the polyvocality of women’s experiences with and after sexual abuse.
All this time I’ve been aware that sexual abuse and other experiences of abuse often co-exist, compounding the harm done. When parsed down to its simplest themes, the language to describe this abuse, the people who are subjected to it, and the possibilities for life after it, has much in common with the language that describes and limits women subjected to other forms of violence and abuse.
I realized then that my research may have begun with women and transcending CSA but it would not end there. On the horizon lies inquiry into the effects of negative cultural discourses around other forms of violence that women have endured and surely some have moved “beyond”. Close on the heels of this was another thought…one that made me ashamed of my previous “broad-mindedness”.
I’d received an e-mail from someone interested in my present study but the name in the return address was a man’s name. I responded with a message that contained further information about the study including the specifics of type of participant sought. My reply contained the general sentiment that if this person “fit” (which I assumed they didn’t) then I would welcome the opportunity to listen to their success story. After this I didn’t hear back from said inquirer which leads me to believe that I was correct in thinking that the interested person was male. At first I wasn’t bothered by this, but through speaking with a female participant today I realized how wrong I was in my rightness.
Let me explain. If, as I claim, women have few arenas and limited language in which to share stories of transcending trauma (like child sexual abuse) what must it be like for boys/men who grow up having less language and even fewer places from which to speak on transcending such abuse? For in our hetero-normative, binary passive/dominant culture boys/men aren’t even supposed to have such experiences much less experience moving beyond them. I realized then with shame that I had dismissed another human being just as I have been dismissed, because they didn’t “fit”. So much for polyvocality and valuing diverse views…
I now realize that after (or perhaps alongside) my inquiry into women transcending CSA, I must not only look at how women transcend other forms of violence against their person, but I must also consider the perspective and effects of language on men who’ve experienced abuse and moved beyond it. So what happens now? Well, after giving myself a mental (duh!) smack on the forehead , I sent a follow-up message to my presumed male inquirer soliciting his story if he was still interested and willing. How has that turned out? I’ll have to get back to you…
For now a sense of shame at my researcher’s hubris mingles with excitement and a renewed sense of purpose. It is easy to forget that the constraints of gender cut both ways (or multiple ways if you really consider the range of physical, mental, sexual identifications which exist). It’s not that I wish trauma on anyone, but I know such experiences exist. And just as I know that I MUST believe that transcending trauma (physical, mental, sexual, emotional) is possible for ANY human being. There are many ways in which we wound one another as we go through life. It is my hope that by broadening the scope of my research I can contribute to more ways in which we can heal ourselves and support the health and well-being of others.