This may come as a surprise to some, but I like deflecting attention away from myself. At least, I like deflecting attention away from certain aspects of my self. [spacing deliberate] At this point in my life I am completely comfortable with putting my physical health on display. It’s something that can’t easily be hidden, though many of my disabilities are “invisible.” Still, when you have a tendency to jerk and twitch, convulse into seizures, have debilitating migraines, etc., it’s difficult to play normal. It’s also marginally acceptable. At least those who know me well aren’t usually made uncomfortable by my mention of physical illness. It’s the mental illness that makes people squirmy. The life experiences that don’t fall gently on the ears.
I’m thinking about this now because, as I read “trauma blogs” to select for my dissertation research sample, I cannot help but compare them to my own. Many of the blogs that I find discuss their trauma in detail, bare their souls so-to-speak. Not only in blog entries themselves, but in their profiles they identify themselves as survivors of a myriad of abuses. My blog doesn’t do that. My blog positions me as an academic and a feminist, someone interested in politics and trauma, but not the raw meat of the trauma victim. Their blogs are personal to the point of being uncomfortable and I’m still afraid of putting some people off. You see, I’m not sure who all reads my blog and there are people, people in my family, who, if they read some of the stories that I have to tell, would no longer speak to me. I realize that this is a chance I am not yet willing to take. I could, of course, start an anonymous blog, like many of the bloggers who I follow. Yet something prevents me from doing so. Perhaps it is that I would feel hypocritical. In my research, I boldly proclaim the importance of breaking silences; I advocate for the removal of stigma from those traumatized by rape, sexual and child abuse. Because they have no reason to feel shame; they didn’t do anything wrong; the shame should fall on the shoulders of the perpetrator not the victim. But it doesn’t. Mostly this is because perpetrators don’t tell the stories of the abuse that they have rendered. They want silence. And silence is what the public wants as well.
Tonight, I had dinner at the bar of a local restaurant. I had been reading blogs all day, selecting ones for my research sample. The bartender asked me about my dissertation work and I told her the topic. Her response was: “yeah, that’s something that no one wants to hear about” tacking on “except in theory,” which was, I assume, her attempt to be polite given that “hearing those things” is part of my chosen line of work. But I recognized truth in what she said. When people ask me my dissertation topic and I tell them “trauma and narrative,” they want to hear more. In the past when I’ve explained the work that I’d like to do with veterans, they want to hear more. As soon as they hear the words “rape” or “sexual abuse” they no longer want to hear about my dissertation. Ultimately, there are dining table traumas and kitchen table traumas and one doesn’t talk about kitchen table traumas in polite company. In fact, kitchen table traumas don’t really get talked about at all. It’s more like there are three tiers of where the food of experience is served: dining table, kitchen table, and yard scraps. If anything, intimate traumas are yard scraps–thrown in the dirt and eaten by only the mangy and starving. Eaten by those who’ve also had their lives turned into yard scraps. [Reminder: this is some of my exploratory writing and I’ve yet to really perfect the metaphors.]
Perhaps I’ve chosen the trauma blogs because they are yard scraps rather than in spite of them being yard scraps. Someone has to dust them off and show them to be, not refuse, but sustenance for readers who are desperate to find someone, anyone, who will speak and listen.
Why do I write? Because I want them to be heard, and, someday, I’ll be ready to be heard too.