FOLLOW YOUR FEAR!!!

It’s time for FOLLOW YOUR FEAR DAY once again!
Last year, I announced the writing of my graphic series,
Testament. This year, I had something different in mind…

When I took up martial arts as a teen, I should have known I was going to break something. But even though cracking my shoulder came as a painful surprise, it quickly seemed like not that big a deal. Granted, it was the most severe injury I had sustained up to that point, but being unable to move my right arm properly gave me a great excuse not to do homework. It was almost worth it. After all, even as an adult, when all the grappling locks and katas had faded from my memory, the confidence that martial arts gave me meant that I was never afraid to walk down the street at night.
That confidence has served me well. I have defended my friends against attackers and remained calm in life-threatening situations. It’s liberating to know that there’s very little a person can do to you that you can’t deal with. But that all changed.

One summer, as I strolled down a busy downtown street on a sunny afternoon, a man, a complete stranger, bee-lined his way out of the crowd and came at me. Before I could even process the threat, my right shoulder (the one I’d been too stubborn to let heal properly the last time it was injured) was dislocated. Not just a little. When I looked down at it, my shoulder was gone- the joint had found its way somewhere into my back.
I stayed strong all the way to the hospital- as is my habit, I joked with the EMP’s that the worst part was that the incident ruined my plans for the day. Ironically, when it came time for the “laughing gas”, I was no longer finding any of this funny. It was being tied down to the bed that did it- tied by tubes being inserted into my veins and nose, as I lost all sense against my will, with strangers having complete access to my body. That was when the helplessness sunk in.

In the months that followed, I attended physiotherapy- diligently, at first. I was still chilled by the warning by the fellow at the fracture clinic- that any further damage would likely lead to surgery, and a decrease in mobility in my right arm. I’m an artist. I need that arm. I need it to work as perfectly and meticulously as it always has. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost that ability.
But time quickly turns the concerned outrage and well-wishing of friends into a nuisance. I’d removed the sling, but still needed to remind people that there were certain tasks I couldn’t perform properly. Everything was a reminder of that feeling of helplessness I had felt on that hospital bed. To think that a single stranger in a single moment could affect my life so drastically. And I hadn’t even seen it coming.

Because it’s the world we live in whether we want to acknowledge it or not, I get followed, harassed, and even assaulted on the street on a fairly regular basis (I can think of about 51% of the population that knows how that feels). I used to hold my head high, practically daring them, in my head, to try something. Now, I must remind myself that I can’t count on my trusty right arm anymore. It’s been taken out of the fight. I have a weak spot.
The fear of further damage to my arm has led me to downplay just how serious my original injury was. I’ve been afraid to admit how badly- and how easily- I was hurt. This wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it has shaken my confidence. And that loss took my liberty with it.

For years, I’ve been holding back. There are so many things I’d like to do, to try. I’d like to go bowling with my friends without worrying about over-extending my rotator cuff. I’d like to take more than one parkour class without disjointing my shoulder in the process. I’d like to reach tall shelves, re-organize my closet, to stretch in the mornings without the constant fear of the potential damage I might cause. I have popped my shoulder doing things as simple as rolling over in bed. I carry this weight of worry on my shoulder like a parrot that won’t stop talking about how fragile I am.
Well, that parrot can shut the hell up. Taking a cue from my physio exercises, which focused largely on pulling motions using giant elastics, I’ve decided to take up a sport that mimics the same actions, while also giving me my focus and combat-ready confidence back.
By Follow Your Fear Day on August 24th, I will have tried archery for the first time. If I like it, I will continue with it, until I feel I am ready to get back into my martial arts training. I will not let one little injury, or one crazy stranger, keep me down. I will regain that carefree confidence I once had, and kick some ass while doing it. So that hopefully, next time I get jumped in the street, they’ll be the ones heading to the hospital.

I’ll be presenting a talk about my experiences at FOLLOW YOUR FEAR DAY, this Saturday, August 24th, at the Tranzac (292 Brunswick Ave). Doors at 7:30, show at 8.
Get your tickets today!

Rae, Follow Your Fear Day 2012

See you there!

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Made For Walking

Last month, a Toronto police officer giving a lecture on rape prevention advised those gathered that the best way to avoid being raped was to stop “dressing like sluts.”

At that, all the rape victims in the world finally realized where they’d gone wrong. From Canada to Iraq to South Africa to the United States, everyone donned a parka, burqa, or Virgin Mary costume, and no one was ever raped again.

Because, that’s how it works, right?

I mean, come on, some eleven-year-old children are just totally asking for it, right? Take real good look at a Catholic altar boy some time. Goddamn begging for it. Could you resist the little tramps? When the Japanese invaded Nanking and raped thousands of people, some multiple times, some until they died, you just know it was because of all those sexy lacy thongs those saucy little minxes were wearing. And when my unstable boyfriend suffered a psychotic break in the middle of the night, woke me up with violent touching, and proceeded to torture me until I was barely aware of my surroundings, it must have been because of those damn button-down pyjamas I was wearing. Pyjamas which I’d borrowed from him.

It was a cop who’d sworn to look out for us who said this. Someone I might turn to if I’m ever attacked again. Someone I’d count on to be on my side, to see that justice is done. But justice is an easy word to throw around, whose meaning is fluid, hard to recognize and understand, just like the word “slut”. Exactly what is a slut? What constitutes slut-dom? Its meaning seems to change according to its circumstances, much like the word “rape”.

When I was a kid, I thought a “slut” was just someone who’d sleep with anyone, without being picky. But I noticed that when some people did this, they were called “studs”. This was confusing. So I looked for differences in behaviour- what marked a slut from a stud? It seemed to me that a ‘stud’ is defined by sexual conquests, getting many people to obey your sexual whims, having sexual power over those from whom you take what you want (which all sounds pretty rape-y to me). A ‘slut’, on the other hand, was someone who let herself be used for the pleasure of others. Usually suffering from poor self-esteem, she seeks the lowest form of attention and affection, becoming an empty vessel without desire or agency to be used and consumed by those who don’t really care for her. But unless you get a t-shirt that says all that, I don’t really see how you can get that across via clothing choice. Which is when I discovered that, apparently, “slut” refers to females (and only females, for some reason) who wear clothes that men traditionally find sexy. Which simply means “not much clothes at all.” Which, of course, doesn’t take into account that different men find different things sexy. Some go for lipstick and heels, some for glasses and sensible boots.

So if it isn’t the clothing itself that defines a “slut”, and it isn’t merely a submissive but invisible attitude, then what? Most definitions seem to agree that quantity of sexual partners, or a willingness to have sex, are intrinsic to the identity of a “slut”. Which sounds pretty close to the definition of “stud”, except there’s no suggestion of coercion here, no “making someone your bitch”, as it were. Females who, somehow through dress, express themselves as sexual beings.

But, aren’t we all sexual beings?

So, if a “slut” is simply any woman who doesn’t retch or freeze at the thought of having sex, then a “slut” is basically any woman with sexual agency? Or am I leaving something out? I’m so confused!

The problem is that this word that carries so hurtful a meaning doesn’t seem to actually mean anything at all. But it isn’t going to go away. Like it or not, it’s a part of our language, even if we don’t know what we’re saying when we use it.

So I guess that means that the meaning is open for a new interpretation, huh?

And there are women in this city who have decided to take it back.

If “slut” is to mean “a woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality”, then fuck it, I guess I’m a slut! And I am proud to be so. It took me a long time to get here. It was a hard climb from Victimhood Valley to see the Sexual Liberation Summit from where I stand. Maybe I haven’t quite reached it yet, but at least I have my goal in my sights. And you have no idea how hard it’s been.

When you’re raped, you stop being you. It’s like being assimilated by the Borg. Suddenly, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s being used for someone else’s purposes, without your consent. We here on Earth like to believe that human rights are absolute, inalienable facts. You have some sort of soul or mind or consciousness that is housed in a fleshy structure, and that structure is your only means of interacting with your environment. You are that structure. It is you. You have exclusive rights to it, and only you may decide what happens to it and what it’s used for.

And that is a lie.

Your body is nothing more than a walking meat pile, as public a commodity as trees or water or dead animals. Nothing stops others from doing what they want with it. If someone else decides that you have one arm, you have one arm. If someone else decides that you’re not a virgin, you lose your virginity. If someone else decides that you are a vessel for their pleasure, then that is the case. If someone decides that you die, then that’s the end of you. You do not own your body. That’s the truth. And yes- it is possible to prove it to you.

People often talk about psychologically surviving rape by “leaving your body”- mentally checking out so you don’t have to acknowledge the horrifying, empty truth being proven to you using your own body, your spiritual home as evidence. But what no one ever mentions is that, after you leave your body, you can’t get back in. That’s it. The locks have been changed, and someone’s repainted the interior an awful colour. Your mail is marked “return to sender”. You’re not there anymore.

Meet the rape-victim zombie.

Floating through her life with the understanding that the only purpose of her fleshy substance is to provide pleasure for others. Her own doesn’t matter. She is not a person. She is only an empty shell.

God. If only she’d worn the flats. Clearly, she was asking for it.

Let’s be clear: it is impossible to “ask for” rape. That is contradictory to the very definition of rape. But here we go with definitions again. What is rape?

Rape is the act of separating a person’s soul from her body. Rape is the act of seizing absolute power over another. Rape is the act of demonstrating to a person that their basic human rights are a fiction, they are not entitled to a mind or soul, that they are nothing more than walking meat piles existing solely to be consumed by others. Quite simply, rape is the worst thing in the world.

Despite ridiculous legal gray areas, there is no difference between “date rape” and any other kind of rape. From “incest” to “pedophilia”, we keep trying to tell ourselves that there are types of rape that are somehow worse than others. We forget that people are equal, and everyone has a right to their own body.

So why the victim-blaming? Why do we perpetrate the myth that rape victims are women who walk the streets at night dressed provocatively, instead of acknowledging the reality that they are people like you and me, who are probably raped in their own home, by someone they know? Some say it’s some deep-seated cultural misogyny, some say it comes down to a fear of female sexuality. And some just desperately need to believe that such a thing can only happen to “someone else”. Someone who made herself a target somehow. Someone who was asking for it.

In fact, you probably know someone whom it has happened to. Your friend. Your co-worker. Your wife. Your mother. Your daughter. Your son.

The truth is, it can happen to you. Yes, even if you’re a guy.

But that doesn’t mean it will.

You cannot live in fear. The streets of your city belong to you, and you have every right to walk down them wearing whatever you want. Your body is not a commodity, and no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or threatened, or to take your rights away from you. You own yourself, and no one can take that away.

The fact that we live in a world where rape is even possible is existential-crisis inducing indeed. I won’t tell you how to prevent rape, because that isn’t your responsibility. It is your responsibility, however, to NOT rape. It is every person’s responsibility to not be a rapist. We live in a society where we accept sexual assault as inevitable, the status quo. We live in a rape culture. But that can change, if we take control. Don’t be a rapist, and don’t be a victim. And when I say “don’t be a victim”, I don’t mean that it’s your fault if, god forbid, the worst happens. It isn’t. But victimhood easily becomes an identity, even to those who have never been attacked. If you have been there, remember, you don’t have to see a victim when you look in the mirror. You don’t have to see that red raw meat that you no longer recognize. You don’t have to live in fear. Be a survivor. Be free.

Tomorrow, we take back the streets. We take back the word that has so often been used against us. We stand up for our rights. We march.

Join me and countless others as we march the Slut Walk down Toronto’s streets. Meet on Sunday April 3rd at 1:30 on the south lawn at Queen’s park. Together, we will wear what we want, and proudly carry our sexuality, whatever form that takes, down the streets that are rightfully ours. And we will not be afraid.

Note: Read also my other blog, that I write with another fabulous lady, where I’ve posted a complementary piece on this same all-important subject.