transition

I wrote this just after my first internship and I doubt I am the only young woman to panic at the stages of transitioning from child to adult:

 

My beige mack ties me up in a waist band of calm;

chosen to match my two-tone low cut heels.

 

Coffee mug in hand, containing hot chocolate

that threads me back to my marshmallow days,

 

Comfort from those high school stresses,

the successes that carried me to this internship,

 

as I transition my way into an adult world,

where people email someone sat next to them.

 

Moving from homework to no home and underpaid work:

I am a teenager; a young adult

 

who could have died for my country a thousand times

in the last two years, but only just allowed to vote.

 

Show me where my shadow of debt can shed itself;

make a suggestion of where I may be of use?

 

When I was six I held a sale for Water Aid

and I still tick the £5 box. But I’m not sure

 

that researching or fighting for ‘human rights’

in a ‘Western culture’ that abandoned my ambition,

 

has worked, because I’m not sure

of what I was once ambitious for now I’m here.

 

But I still smile at the child who points and says,

‘Look mummy, that’s the woman who works at the BBC’,

 

I was that woman; but not a woman

and where am I going next?

blazer

I wrote this at 19 on an Arvon course. After being sexually assaulted the first time I found it especially helpful to reflect on my childhood and connect back to my experiences then: 

 

My school blazer held tools to paint

a mask in place: lip gloss and powder

to match the self imposed uniform

we shared.

 

They fell into the space where

my hymn book should have been.

Bound in yellow card with the

worst hymns.

 

So the book was left at home and, slowly,

I allowed the creatures of my ambition

to nestle there. All fast asleep,

dreaming of a day

 

When I might choose the words

I speak and sing. Miniature dragons

breathing futuristic fire of the trail

blazer I would be.

 

All left close to my heart; while

the pockets I thrust my hands into

contained the meagre beginnings

of this plan.

 

Notes, grades, speeches, briefing papers,

clips of quotes tumbled together

with the slips of paper slid between

friends in class.

 

My breathing army to fuel

the fiery dragons. Hand up to

heart. Gently waking them

to the world.

feminism for all

I wrote this for the first feminist poetry evening I organised at uni; looks awful on the page but I love reading it out:

 

Feminism for all.

Feminism for faces of fortune; faces of failure,

Not feminism for a few,

Not just for faces in frames; for famous feminists,

There are no forgettable feminists,

Our famous friends do not fade but

feminists for the future.

 

 

Feminists are not failures,

Feminists may frown at you for:

playing the fool, fighting

but feminists have fun too.

The frankness of feminism may scare you.

Feminism if the fable of the future

  • not a façade but a fact.

 

 

Foes of feminism facilitate forward thinking; fact finding.

Factions foster thought but

faith in fundamentals is at the forefront.

The frightening goal of feminism:

feminism equals fairness and freedom.

Frightening thought indeed: freedom.

Fairness for all; not for a few.

 

 

Far- seeing thoughts-

Familiar thoughts under a frightening name.

The fright of family overthrow.

Feeling for family;

family faces do not run contrary to fighting for freedom,

for fairness- a fantasy of feminism;

A fantasy where women are not all fainting fairies,

a fairy tale where the princess rescues herself.

 

 

Feeding family or feminism? Well, no

equal pay enhances feeding family,

fairness is the foundation of a firm society.

Feminism is functional.

Anti- feminism

  • a fascinating failure of fact.

But I have faith in fact finding, forward thinking.

 

 

There are many fallacies of feminism but

there is no fashion set,

Feminists wear what we flipping feel like

 

  • not for flattery,
  • not for feminine dignity,

 

Oh to fall from femininity,

but for ourselves; for me-

forgetting friend’s thoughts,

Abercrombie and Fitch fades but feminism fits.

 

 

Feminism is not a synonym for femme fatale,

Feminism is not for failures.

Nor is feminism for the far extreme,

for the forgotten cat lady without a fiancé.

Feminism is not for lesbians,

for the failed without a fella.

Feminism is not even just for females,

Feminism is fairness for all and all includes men,

Men should feel the need for feminism.

 

 

Feminism is not for the few;

Feminism is for you.

body

I wrote this when I’d just started university, a time of huge change for many people: 

 

My relationship with my body changes every day,

I can’t find any continuity within myself,

and I definitely should not have read so

much ‘Mrs Dalloway’ before going to bed.

Septimus has died.

 

I would say my body is my own but I do not think

I own my body; I’m convinced I am my body

-my body and my past. It depends on the day

and the people and my mood what I’ll say.

My mind is changing.

 

But I have no way of knowing if I do have a mind,

my body seems stuck for now- such a  shame;

My confidence is dictated by my skin

but I know wanting men’s approval is a sin.

That’s not what matters.

 

Saying sorry is so British but I may take it too far,

I’m genuinely sorry- just for existing sometimes,

But I don’t know I definitely do exist-

my minds memory tells me my body persists.

I think I’m changing.

wipe it off

Written at around 16 when I was starting to get a little sick of make up:

 

Smudge the smudges all away,

Let the spots stand raw,

Mascara may mask the mystery,

But what does it really stand for?

 

Remember that child? That child

with the clear skinned smile,

the child with the freckled face?

 

Well that child is not my child,

but the child of the human race,

 

Wipe away the cracked foundation,

it serves no purpose anyway,

Looking that little more beautiful,

won’t increase your chance of a say,

 

Remember that moral? That moral

you were taught as a child,

a child with a freckled face?

 

Well that child thinks covering your

freckles is silly & somewhat base,

 

Cleanse the shadow all away,

The shadow that opens your eyes,

For open eyes with a closed mind,

are susceptible to lies,

 

Remember the past? The past

without worry as a child,

The child with the freckled face,

 

Well that child considers the

money & chemicals all to be a waste.

goethe

Not sure if this counts as a poem but I wrote it when I was about 14 and it still brings a smile:

 

‘He who cannot draw on three thousand years of history

is living from hand to mouth’

and they who write of only he, not she, must be from

a land stranger than the South.

never cheat on a redhead

I wrote this when I’d just turned 18 in response to an ex cheating on me:

 

You’re a fool for failing me,

You’re a fool for fooling around,

You’re a fool for forgetting to see,

You’re a fool for ignoring what we found,

 

You wasted the foundations we laid,

You wasted the dream that we dreamt,

You wasted the memories we made,

You wasted it because you think you’re exempt,

 

You scattered your pride to the sea,

You scattered your semblance of sanity,

You scattered all the confidence in me,

You scattered it for the sake of your vanity,

 

You were arrogant in acting your crime,

You were arrogant in assessing the aftermath,

You were arrogant for all of the time,

You were arrogant in aborting the moral path,

 

You’re a fool for failing me,

You’re a fool for fooling around,

You’re a fool for forgetting to see,

You’re a fool for ignoring what we found.

what does a relationship without consent look like?

This article is a guest post from an anonymous contributor, who asked to share their story about a relationship where consent was never understood. 

I could talk for a living, but I cannot talk about this. This wasn’t meant to be an open letter to you, but it turned out that way. This is not about you though, it is about me, and about how I am letting go of the anger and the bitterness and the feelings of inferiority.

We were in a relationship for two years, from the age of seventeen until nineteen. Through school graduations, dances, the start of university and all the ups and downs of two years. We is not a word that is comfortable to use, I no longer want to think that I acted as a unit with you. I am writing this to make myself understand, to make you understand, and to make other people understand.

My hands shake as I type, I once loved you but I hate you now. This is not a story about rape, at least not to my mind. It is a story about consent, something I did not know existed when I was seventeen.

It is not something I ever thought could happen to me; it is also something I did not realise had happened until recently, until an encounter with you made it clear. I lost my virginity to you when I was seventeen. It was at my house, in my bed, my parents were away for the afternoon. It was the first time we had been left fully alone. You had broached the subject earlier in the day, and I said no, I didn’t think so.

You pointed out I had said before that I thought maybe we could have sex in the Summer. You said it was now Summer. I said I still wasn’t sure, and you said that was fine. Later, one thing led to another and it seemed like this was happening. I felt like I could not disappoint you, that I could not let you down, even though in my head I never wanted to do anything less. But I still wasn’t sure.

I was shaking and I still remember the marks of my fingernails on your thighs; how much is hurt, how it felt like I was being ripped apart. All that was running through my head was that I did not want to do this, and how we stopped because it was so painful. You didn’t stop until my hymen was broken, you seemed to feel like you had to do that, and I was shocked at the blood. I remember thinking this did not seem right.

I will always remember you saying afterwards that if this were a different culture, and I were your bride, you would not have stopped. I remember the bitterness in your voice when you said that. I remember the colour of my face, which was white as a sheet. I remember you made me hot chocolate. I remember the sense of relief that this mystery had been solved. I remember feeling terrible, and sad and scared and taken advantage of it. I remember the reaction of my friends to the fact that one of us had finally had sex, I couldn’t tell them the truth. The closest I got was ‘lie back and think of England’.

We had sex maybe five times in two years, every time the refrain ‘please make it stop’ ran through my head. I remember the conversations about it, the coaxing the beguiling, the thinly disguised manipulation, the disappointment in your voice. I began to feel insignificant, small, I lost my sense of self. I felt trapped, I could not talk to anyone and I did not know what to do. Why did it hurt so much?

I went to doctors, I really tried. But the thing is, sex was always on your terms, it was your domain, you initiated everything. You tried to teach me things, the implication being that I was the one at fault; belittling me, patronising me, I didn’t know what to do. To you, it was all my fault. But actually, it was all your fault, you didn’t understand that this all started too early, you were too persistent.

I dreaded each sexual encounter. I began to make excuses not to visit, not to stay over. I felt like I was failing at being a woman, I felt there was something wrong with me, I believed what you said, I was chipped away.

There was something very gendered about how we dealt with it as well. When we broke up I immediately felt relief, then sadness. Despite all the flaws of our relationship (and the good parts), I took a long time to mend and heal, to regain myself. I feel now, that this is because I was unable to fully comprehend or deal with the sexual side of our relationship. I realised it was not normal; I did not realise that this was not my fault.

I did not know what consent was. I know now, but it was a recent realisation, something that only began to dawn this year. When I was having sex with someone,  I asked to stop because it was painful and he immediately obliged. When I thanked him and said not many people would do that he seemed shocked, and said ‘What kind of people have you been getting with?’. And I mumbled, ‘not very nice people’.

You made me feel that I was in someway physically or psychologically damaged and that was why I would not sleep with you, or perform sexual acts with you. I know now you believe that I damaged you. You and your new girlfriend decided to ambush me one day to testify to that. That was painful, as she told me that I had damaged you, damaged their sex life, and all I could think was this is my problem, it is not yours.

I was so embarrassed and so angry, and I stayed so calm. Well, calm for me, I have a raging temper. So many people tell me that I am tough and strong, with you I am not strong, but that day I tried to be. I will never, ever forgive you for that day, for bringing her with you, I won’t forgive her for ganging up on another woman like that. I will never forgive you for saying I damaged your sexuality, your physicality, your self esteem, that I emasculated you. You damaged me! FUCK YOU!

Why don’t you understand that it was you who damaged yourself, by damaging me. It was a horrible experience, and I kept thinking a) don’t panic, and b) You don’t get to do this anymore, you don’t get to make me feel small.That encounter was weird, and it forever confirmed to me that you are an arsehole. It is a shame, I like your friends and family, but I do not like you.

The story of the confrontation with you and your new girlfriend was discussed with my close friends, and with my lovely mum. Everyone was aghast, they were so angry on my behalf. That is when I began to rally, and understand. When I came to terms with, and applied the correct terms, to what had happened.

When a dear, dear friend said that they couldn’t understand how you did not feel bad about your actions, why your conscience hadn’t kicked in. They pointed out what had happened was not consent. If you understood, I could forgive you, but until you do I can’t. I do not crave your love, your apology, your respect, your friendship. I have wonderful friends who have helped me so much. I would never discredit or undermine the sufferings of people who have been raped by saying I have been raped. I have not. I would not even say I was sexually assaulted, there is something of a grey area. All I know is I have been badly affected by this, something was wrong and the repercussions of it have continued to damage my relationships with people and with sex.

Some people may think I am making a fuss over nothing, that I need to check my privilege. I understand why they may think that. My unbridled anger may not be appealing to people either, but hey ho. As Charlie says in the Perks of Being a Wallflower

‘I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.”

One of my best friends seemed hesitant to understand, despite my repetition of ‘It’s not rape, but it’s not consent either’, that hurt, but I hope she understands now. I don’t really know what else to say. If I see you again I want to punch you in the face, but I probably wouldn’t, as it will fuel your narrative that I am emotionally unhinged.

I am doing much better, I feel good. I am strong, and I am brave. I am light years ahead of you, I am doing fine. So go fuck yourself, and at least you know you have permission to do that. But you will never read this, for those of you who have, thanks for sticking it out, it’s longer than I thought it would be. And if you understand, thank you.

one year

Trigger warning: sexual violence.

One year ago today I was raped and, about a week or so later, I started this blog to help me process everything that had happened. It has been an incredibly helpful tool for allowing me to reflect, and I hope has done some good in raising awareness of the problems we still face around sexual violence.

Rape is an act of silencing, and one of the most helpful ways to combat it as a secret crime, is to talk about it. I wouldn’t advocate this for everyone, and I certainly don’t think it’s a sign of weakness to not talk about your experiences, but for some people it can really help. I have gained strength from writing this blog and letting others know that they are not alone in what they face. Tragically, most people I know have experienced some form of sexual violence and many have been raped. Rape is not rare, it just isn’t discussed.

One of the more specific reasons I started this blog was in response to the police process which, in my experience, was at least as difficult as being raped. When you give a statement to the police you have to repeat yourself over and over again while they hand write everything. It’s a torturous process and, although it’s supposed to be your statement, I felt as if I had no autonomy over it because everything I said was paraphrased, or jotted down in an approximated version of what I had said.

This blog has helped me reclaim my voice and tell my story on my own terms. Feelings change and should be validated. My perspective on what happened has shifted through the year, with the benefit of hindsight and greater reflection. I have never lied, but it is almost impossible to communicate a whole truth to somebody else, especially in the aftermath of such a traumatic experience. Over the year, this blog has enabled me to reflect on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is never made possible in a courtroom.

One year on a lot has changed, what happened feels very far away and I am incredibly happy. I have been lucky over the last year and in this post I will reflect on what has happened in the past twelve months.

My five favourite articles 

  1. My first two choices go together in many ways and reference similar themes. The first is on Intersectionality and how my multiple identities interconnect and shaped how I responded to what happened to me.
  2. The second is about the importance of Checking privileges in any circumstances and, for me, that included after being raped. I have many privileges that have made me luckier than many in how everything happened.
  3.  The most difficult part of the experience for me was undoubtedly the Medical examination . Whilst this isn’t the most fun read in the world, I think it is important to know what survivor’s experience and how difficult reporting rape is made for people.
  4. This is possibly the most important article for me, on a feeling I never expected to experience: Shame. It shows the difference between what it is like to theorise on a subject and the lived experience of it.
  5. Perhaps the most formative of my articles was the First post, where I laid out my ideas for this blog and initial response to what happened.

Turning points 

Every month I have written an ‘update’ on what has been going on and how I feel in relation to what happened a year ago. A key turning point was definitely the article I wrote One month in, as it shows both the immediate sense of hindsight, but also the fresh impact of dealing with everything. Progress is not always made in an uphill curve, however, and Three months in was arguably a set back from me.

Whilst not every day is better than the one before, I am much better now than I was a year ago, and the article I wrote for the Ten months post, reflects a more positive outlook than anything contained in the previous ones. Reading back through all the ‘Month by month’ articles, it seems like a turning point in a renewed sense of optimism.

Possibly the biggest turning point was an article I wrote relatively recently: Face to a name. In this post I did just what it says in the title, ‘put a face to a name’ and deliberately undermined the anonymity of the blog. I wanted to be known as myself and chose not to hide what had happened.

Shout out 

A shout out to all the people who have written Guest posts for me. Now I have had a year to establish the blog I will start doing much more outreach to try and get people to share their perspectives on sexual violence, feminism and more. If you know me personally please feel free to send me articles any time, or tweet at me to get my attention otherwise.

The main thank you has to go to One of my best friends, who was by my side for the whole process. She wrote a series called ‘partners in survival’ early on in this blogs history, which I would highly recommend if you have time. If you’re wanting to know how to support a survivor then seriously, just follow her lead.

What I have learnt 

Rape is far too common but I have a lot of faith in our ability to reduce the stigma surrounding it and support survivors. I don’t mean to negate the impact being raped had on me, it was significant, but I am still placed in a very privileged position and am incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received. To everyone out there going through something similar: stay strong and ask for help. Most people who experience this will need support to process what has happened, particularly if you choose to report.

One of the most important things I have learnt is that, as difficult as the police process is, it is not impossible. Reporting rape and speaking out about it are important tools in helping us fight for a safer world.