[volume]

By: Jenuine Poetess

they will never go back
will never relinquish
will not diminish
any of the space they have decided
is theirs to take up

she will stop stooping
and cowering
and making herself small
she will not step aside
fold herself into pockets
shrink under the magnitude
of your not enoughness
evident when you name her,
“too much”

he will not cater to
care for
kowtow because your journey
to consciousness is humbling
because your path to awareness is painful
because checking your privilege is
uncomfortable

she will not take on
take up
take over the burden
of your brokenness
with unceasing apologies—
because no,
she is not sorry for existing
not sorry for surviving
not sorry for having wounds in need of healing
not sorry for feeling, everything
not sorry for having the audacity to thrive

they will not tone down
shut up
calm down
cheer up
they will not make themself anything
other than authentic
just to suit your desires
your pleasure
your sense of entitlement

he will not make himself
less
timid
dim
to accommodate
your inadequacies
your insecurities
your incompetence

they will not ever fit back into the box
into the quiet
under the rugs
inside the shadows
into the corners and closets
where they were for so long
relegated

there is no reining in
no rewinding
no undoing
no erasing
who she is become

there is no more stifling
once we have
unsilenced

Unsilent Blog Monthly Spotlights

The Unsilent blog will consider non-fiction narratives (in the form of poetry, prose, personal essay, memoir, etc) on any subject at any time.

Sometimes people like to plan ahead or have a theme/goal to work toward.  Somtimes courage needs a little heads up.  To that end, please peruse the loose schedule of spotlighted topics for each month throughout the year (if we’re missing any important themes please be sure to let us know)!

At the start of each month, we’ll post a call for narratives and list the themes spotlighted for that month.  Again, we will consider and publish non-fiction narratives on any theme or topic at any time; you don’t have to wait for the month.

JANUARY
• Codependency
• Slavery & Human Trafficking
• Psychological / Emotional Abuse

FEBRUARY
• Black Lives Matter
• Teen Dating Violence
• Intimate Partner Violence
• Bloodstories

MARCH
• Womyn’s Herstories
• Deaf Culture & Experience
• Self-care & Radical acts of Self Love

APRIL
• Autism Acceptance
• Arab-American Experience & Identity
• Child Abuse
• Sexual Assault

MAY
• Mental Health
• Lupus/Invisible Illnesses
• Asian-Pacific Experience & Identity
• Spiritual Abuse

JUNE
• LGBTQ PRIDE
• Belief/Faith stories of inclusion/exclusion
• Eating/Feeding Disorders

JULY
• Abilities/Disabilities Acceptance
• Migration Experiences
• Body Image
• Illness and/or Injury

AUGUST
• Survivor Stories
• Parenting & Child-Free Identities
• Community Violence

SEPTEMBER
• Latinx/Hispanic Experience & Identity
• Suicide
• Self-Harm

OCTOBER
• Cancer
• Domestic Violence
• Infant Loss & Miscarriage
• Bullying

NOVEMBER
• Police Brutality
• Racism
• Indigenous/Aboriginal/First Nations Experience & Identity
• PTSD

DECEMBER
• Family
• Trans* Experience & Identity
• Peace & Global Violence
• Grief & Loss

To sum up: please for sure do send in your truths.  Any time.  Any topic. As often as you need to.

Your “Christian” Refusal to Affirm LGBTQ Lives Is Really About Prejudice and Privilege

By W.

Because of the circles I am in, I am constantly listening to white straight religious men discuss the morality of same-sex marriage. Maybe there is a place in Christianity for the affirmation of LGBTQ people, they say. Maybe. They aren’t really sure. Probably not. It’s hard to find a good biblical argument to support it. They feel torn up about the issue, because they have friends on both sides of the debate.

I calmly state my opinion, and hold back my rage.

Why is it I am always holding back my rage?

I reason with myself that these are good men. They are trying to be loving, and kind. They are sincere. They don’t mean to be prejudiced or bigoted; they really don’t. I have seen them in a hundred scenarios be generous and thoughtful and caring. It’s just this singular issue where they seem to be stuck.

One of the men says with a sort of sympathetic authority that before you can ever affirm same-sex relationships or any variety of gender identities, you have to wrestle with the following arguments, which he lays out for our consideration. He speaks from a place of soulful conviction and authentic deliberation. His words are well-reasoned; his arguments logical.

My answer to him, were I able to eek it out past the screaming in my heart, would also be well-reasoned, logical, and full of soulful conviction. But I cannot make myself grant him the pleasure of an equally measured response, as if this were merely a friendly intellectual discussion.

Because we are not debating a mathematical equation. This is not an academic classroom.

We are tinkering with people’s lives, and it’s not a game. What I want to say would come out in a fury, and it would sound like:

You have the luxury of discussing this in your ivory tower. Meanwhile, your LBGTQ brothers and sisters bleed on the street.

You may think you are so torn up about this as you try to decide your position. You have no idea what torn up feels like.

You may weep as you do your best to “follow your conscience” and lovingly say no to the beautiful couple in front of you who has asked for your blessing to their marriage. That thing you think is your conscience speaking? It’s your prejudice. I know that sounds harsh, especially because you want so badly to be loving, but I am telling you, it is your prejudice. That part of you that feels queasy and uncomfortable and afraid—that’s the devil talking. Love doesn’t sound that way in the ear of the heart. It just doesn’t.

Do you know how I know it’s not your conscience speaking? Because it’s not your damn life! The conscience doesn’t speak to you about whether other people are right or wrong. The conscience speaks to you about you.

Do you know how many gay and lesbian people can tell you that their conscience KNOWS God loves them, God approves them, God make them this way? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.

Who are you to think you don’t have to listen to that?!

I feel like the women who ran to the disciples saying they had found an empty tomb. “No way,” said the men. It wasn’t their experience, so it must not be true.

Damn it. Listen to them!!

Could you set aside your privilege for five seconds and listen to someone who is different from you? Stop reading the opinions of other straight white religious men to try and help you make a decision about this topic. Read someone else for a change. We’ve been listening to the likes of you for millennia. Listen to us. We are people too.

What is it going to hurt you if gay people get married? I’ve racked my brain and came up with nothing. What is it going to hurt gay people if you deny them their worth? A hell of a lot.

Stop wavering! The only reason you have the “time” to waver and balk before making a decision is because your privilege allows it. Your privilege protects you. Your privilege means there is no consequence to you if you don’t listen to the cries of the oppressed. You are NOT the one hurting over this “issue.” Because it’s not an issue. It’s a person. It’s people. You are hurting people.

Why won’t you go ahead and affirm your LBGTQ brothers and sisters? What are you afraid of? That you will stand before God some day, and God will say to you, “I wish you hadn’t been so loving. I wish you hadn’t been so merciful and accepting and kind? I wish you hadn’t been so empathetic and understanding?”

That can’t possibly be it. You must be afraid your peers here on earth will call you weak, call you wrong, call you wishy-washy.

Stop being a coward. Stop hiding behind your privilege. Stop telling the oppressed what they have to prove to you before you will accept them. Stop. Just stop.

[birth. story.]

By: Jenuine Poetess

at all hours of
day and night
they come to me
ready for birth
gasping pains
gripping contractions
gestation complete

I am a midwife
guardian of the threshhold
delivering truths
as courageous ones labor them
into the light

the wound is a womb
out of which such
stories
poems
narratives
are born

the fruit of our
waking
breathing
surviving
loving

I am a midwife
delivering
unsilence

I have learned too many times what love is not

By: Stefanie Mundhenk

My Abuser shows up everywhere
But lately it’s been in the boys that I love
The face of one, the arms of another
I’m always shocked when I see him
And he always laughs a little and says “Oh, Darling, didn’t you know?
You can’t escape me. I am always here.
I will turn his loving fingers that trace down your spine into claws that grip your arms, vice-like when you fight.
I will change the hands that used to run through your hair into brushes that paint bruises on your skin
I will change his smile into a Cheshire cat grin, and all the perfect things that he says now will make you sick when they become the placating words he says after he throws you up against the wall with his powerful arms that used to hold you quite warmly.
And you will be confused because on some nights, I will turn him into the enemy, but he will still bring you flowers just because it’s Thursday or hold you until depression finds another stomach to rest in.
This will happen to every single boy you date, until you begin to question your sanity, but not before others do.
They’ve already started to ask why you see smiles like the Big Bad Wolf baring his teeth and insist your claim that you feel burned by touch has to be an overreaction.
They don’t understand why you can’t shake the feeling of adrenaline shots on skin-to-skin contact
And neither do you.
After all, abuse is the only crime where the credibility of the victim is on trial as much as the guilt of the accused. It’s the only crime where the question in court is ‘Did it even really happen?’ rather than ‘Did we catch the right guy?’”

When people question my reality,
I want to ask them; have you ever loved the wolf? Have you gotten close enough to see what he looks like in the second before he devours you whole?
As he paints me red and brown it becomes apparent that I was only created to be his canvas
His fingerprints on my ribcage are the boundary for my heart of ashes, instructing it to never stray too far from him.

I’m getting to the end of this poem and wondering when I switched from my abuser’s voice to my own

He laughs a little and says “Oh, Darling, didn’t you know?
You can’t escape me. I am always here.
The lines between you and I begin to blur until, years later,
It’s just you beating yourself up
I pass the torch of abusing onto you”

And like a good little victim,

Good girl
Doesn’t-make-a-scene girl
Never-overreacts-girl
Quit-being-such-a-baby girl

I have not yet put it out,
Now I’m
Gas lighting myself when I’ve chased away everyone
That used to do it for me
Or never really did
I’m still not sure whether
I’ve ever really suffered yet
Beyond the confines of my own mind

I spend a lot of nights staring at the leftover antidepressants in my medicine cabinet
Holding a bottle of whiskey
And I wonder when I started drinking myself to sleep and why I cannot seem to just give up,
Why I can’t raise my white flag in the wind and admit that life, for me, is really over

People tell me all day that I have not yet given up because I am brave, but in all honesty
I think I cannot die because
I’m drenched in so much sin that
Even the devil is afraid of me

Her Name Was Hope

By: Q.

I gripped the bathroom counter with an intensity mirrored in the gripping pain in my abdomen
Black spots, swimming like fruit flies in the southern summer filled the thick air in front of me as I stumbled to the toilet
Angry Crimson searing flesh
Hot cold sweat
Ripping and gasping and silent tears barely pushed out from the eyes screwed shut
And there was blood everywhere
All over
I threw away the bathmat so my mother wouldn’t know
And I took the pink baby booties I had shoplifted from Toys ‘R Us out of my bottom drawer
I sat in the bottom of my closet, in the corner with my old backpacks, holding those shoes against my womb sobbing for the baby, the toddler, the child, the teenager I would never know

I’m older now
My body is rounded and my life is heavy in the hips, ready for the carrying of a much welcomed birth
The second’s slowly ticking by with my eyes glued to the stick on the edge of the bathtub
One line
I closed the bathroom door and slid onto the floor, throwing the failed test against the wall and sobbing
Hot tears too familiar
Burning in my chest cavity a swimming in my head
Hours later I come out and take the pink baby blanket I bought at Toy’s ‘R Us into the closet
And I sit on the floor, in the corner next to my wedding dress, pressing it against my womb and crying for the baby, the toddler, the child, the teenager I may never know

And when the doctor reminds me that having children is unlikely I am reminded of the trauma my body has already experienced time and time again
And perhaps I cannot carry a child when the hateful remnants of my many violations grow and fester, a black sludge in my womb

Where I pray for only light

I say that I am Okay

By: Sarah St. George

I say that I am ok because I don’t want to worry anyone or bore them with the petty details of my inability to accept reality.

I say that I am ok because I don’t want to be an eeyore or a party crasher, dragging friends and family into the abyss that was once my smile.

I say that I am ok because brevity is valued above honesty. No one has the time of day to help me find the pieces of my heart and put them back together.

I say that I am ok because I don’t want anyone to think I am crazy. I don’t know how to explain that little bugs have been planted into my head sucking the blood from my dreams and making me feel things I do not.

I say that I am ok because if anyone sees how fragile my grip on reality is, they will lure me into a mirage. A dreamworld that will become cold and dark when the sun comes up.

I say that I am ok because I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to always be so far away from here and now. Chasing something that doesn’t exist into the center of nowhere.

I say that I am ok because I don’t want you to know that I don’t hear words when you talk to me. Only a medley of stabbing silences. Your face is home to many ghosts.

I say that I am ok because desperate, whiney, and pathetic are not attractive. I can’t find anything constructive or creative to do with the fragments of myself but perhaps you can burn them for fire wood or make a trophy to show off to your friends.

I say that I am ok because ok sounds so much better than lonely, starving, and dying inside.

I say that I am ok because it’s easier than to tell you that I need you and find it difficult to breathe without you.

I say that I am ok because I am not vulnerable. I don’t build my life upon a foundation of words. “I love you” is just pretty little lie that doesn’t do any good or harm.

I say that I am ok because I don’t want you to lose a minute of sleep or change a single one of your plans out of pity and guilt.

I say that I am ok but I don’t want to be ok. I want to be exhilarated, ravaged, exhausted, ripped open, torn to pieces, and made whole again in the rapture of a smile.

I wish it were ok not to be ok. I’m tired of pretending. I just want to feel even if it means being destroyed every moment that I am crushed under the weight of your hollow allegiances. Every moment I am breathing.

Love Letter to My Body

By: Anonymous

when he told me
my long legs would
look really good
if I just lost some weight
and maybe I should join the
volley ball team
I made a silent pact with myself
to not get thinner

when he told me
my face would be so pretty
if I would just lay off the snacks
I began sneaking food

when he told me
my body would look nice
in a two-piece
if I’d only put in the effort
I made it my mission to keep
my belly soft and round

when he told me
if I just wore some make up
took some care with my hair
maybe the boys would date me
I opted for neatly tucked
hair buns and
non-glossy chapstick

because you see
when a wolf reveals
his preferences
savvy prey
disappears herself

I don’t know how I knew
at thirteen
to read between the lines
how to translate the language
he was speaking
into:
“cover up”
“blend in”
“stay plain”
“do not attract attention”
“your generous curves and ample figure are your armor”

I don’t know
how I knew
to know these things

it didn’t happen
until my blood came

a changing body
a newly cycling self
a gaping wound
maybe that is why–
my bleeding drew him

maybe he wanted to mark his territory
stake his claim on
my blooming breasts
be the first to
taste my waters

in scoffing snarls
his eyes mocked
when I recoiled from
his arrogant displays
his greedy grooming

some girls dreamed of
dates and dances
I carefully constructed escape plans
defense plans
take-all-my-poems-and-run-through-the-night
plans

some kids wish for
outfits, cute shoes,
shopping sprees at the mall
I hoped someone would
kidnap me
on the walk to school
heart pounding at every
car that slowed
thinking
“maybe THIS will be my liberation”

because when home is an
unwakeable nightmare
the worst things imaginable
seem entirely manageable

because when home is a
snake pit
anywhere else feels
safe

because when home is a
palpable darkness
cold with a calculated cruelty
even hell’s flickering light
seems inviting
warm

Recognizing and Recovering from Trauma: Lessons I’ve Learned from Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

By: Keith Sena, essay originally published on February 17, 2016

Two nights ago I received an email from someone with whom I seldom communicate.  I’ll call her Bayonet, since it sounds almost like bane would with a feminine ending (“bane-ette”).  For almost my whole life until recently, Bayonet was a major part of my life.  Now she wants to know, “How are you?  I have been wondering.  How are you feeling about your classes?”  The questions are simple, and so are the answers, yet I can hardly bring myself to respond.  How do I answer those questions from a person who has caused me immense suffering?  How do I communicate with her, when I know the only reason she is no longer hurting me is that I have distanced myself from her so she is no longer able to hurt me?  How can I tell her I am still recovering from what she did to me, when I know she would take it personally and berate me for saying so?

Bayonet is one of the main two people who have caused me trauma.  The other one I will call Grizzly. They have both been extremely abusive to me.  All the trauma Grizzly has caused me is from my time as a toddler to when I was 16 years old.  (I am 23 years old now.)  Since he has changed for the better, and I have taken great strides to forgive him, he and I pleasantly communicate often.  Two nights ago he and I shared an inside joke over the phone.

Even though Grizzly and I have a good relationship now, I am still affected by what the person he used to be did to me.  While coming off fluoxetine (generic Prozac) a few weeks ago, I had three nightmares about Grizzly.  In one of those nightmares, I slashed my throat in a suicide attempt.  Upon waking, I had to run my fingers down my neck to be sure I had not cut myself; then I got out of bed with a renewed appreciation for life.

Most of my childhood was being hit and yelled at.  I experienced my parents’ divorce when I was four years old, and then the divorce of my father and stepmother when I was 12 years old.  The happiest time of my childhood was my 72 hours in a mental hospital, since nobody hit me or yelled at me in the mental hospital.  I was there on a “5150 involuntary psychiatric hold,” but it felt voluntary since I was eager to go there to escape my terrible domestic situation.  I am only scratching the surface of how these experiences have formed me as a whole person.

I have not always recognized my trauma when I have experienced it.  When a person has been accustomed to living with trauma for almost their entire life, how can they see trauma for what it is?  I suppose the answer may be different in each case.

In my case, the answer was listening to a speech when I was 21 years old.  The speaker said humans enter the world afraid of only two things—darkness, and death.  I do not remember being afraid of darkness or death in my childhood, but I remember being afraid of Grizzly.  The fact that Grizzly terrified me in my childhood so much that I forgot about fearing darkness and death put into perspective for me the trauma he caused me.

In the weeks before that speech, I had been experiencing what I would later look back on as the beginnings of recognizing my trauma.  During those weeks, whenever I thought about what Grizzly did to me, I would start shaking and taking rapid, shallow breaths.  (Later I learned to call these occurrences panic attacks.)  I did not understand why those memories affected me that way; it made no sense to me that something from the past would cause me such distress.

After the speech, my experience gradually made more sense to me.  While I could not stop the panic attacks, I finally understood them.  For years, I had largely hidden the memories of the abuse from my consciousness; but they were being dragged onto the showroom floor of my mind against my will.  I stopped trying to fight it, and resigned myself to letting the panic attacks run their course; they are mostly done now.  From this experience I derive my working definition of trauma: lasting distress from past unpleasant experiences.

While I was coming to recognize the trauma Grizzly caused me, I was being terribly mistreated by Bayonet; it was further injury inflicted upon longstanding injury.  However, the abuse she inflicted on me in my adulthood was never physical; thus it was harder to recognize as abuse.  She often manipulated me into thinking I was responsible for her misbehavior.  She is an expert at taking things personally and assuming the worst.  She is not big on consideration for others.  Many of the ways she abused me pertain to my autism spectrum disorder, and are not easily understood by neurotypicals.  She repeatedly suggested—in all seriousness—that I am autistic because of a demon, and that I need this autism demon cast out of me; she even gave detailed, deductive reasoning for why she considered me possessed.  She is not a difficult person; she is an impossible person.

While she was abusing me, I recognized a little of it; but much of it eluded my recognition for years.  The biggest help in recognizing it has been living in Baylor University’s Honors Residential College (HRC).  The people here tend to be kind, caring, respectful, friendly, and plenty of other synonyms one could mine from a thesaurus.  The picture accompanying this note is from our most recent community dinner.  Living in community with them and consistently experiencing how they behave has put into perspective for me how terrible of a person Bayonet is.  Once I recognized my trauma from Bayonet, I had to deal with it along with my trauma from Grizzly; accordingly, during my first year in the HRC, I had chronic insomnia, chronic panic attacks, and chronic suicidal thoughts.  The HRC community has been invaluable to my ongoing recovery.

However, I could not have articulated my experience this clearly without having heard and read testimonies of sexual assault and rape survivors.  I have never been sexually assaulted or raped.  My intention here is not to portray myself as having it as bad as survivors of such heinous violations of personhood; on the contrary, I am convinced they have it worse than I do.  From what I can tell, they have all the same effects of trauma as I do—though for different reasons—plus more.  I have never cut myself or attempted suicide in real life, as many of them have.  Neither have I had PTSD, as many of them do.

At least some rape survivors feel like their bodies are no longer their own; one described her body as a crime scene that she inhabits.  However much my body was hit, I never felt like it was not my own.  I cannot comprehend what sexual assault and rape survivors experience, and words cannot adequately convey it.  While I sympathize with them, I am incapable of empathizing with them because I have never experienced what they experience.

Let me emphasize it again: I am neither diminishing the experiences of sexual assault and rape survivors, nor overstating my experience as if it were as severe as their experiences.  My intention here is to draw, with acknowledged limitations, comparisons between their greater trauma and my lesser trauma to understand the phenomenon of trauma in general.

I’ve often heard sexual assault and rape survivors attest these two points:

1. Because of lack of education about sexual assault/rape/consent, they were not aware that what was done to them was sexual assault or rape.

2. As a coping method, if they know it was sexual assault or rape, they tried to repress their memories/feelings and behave as if it did not happen so as not to be affected by it.

An example of the first point is a survivor account I read.  Long after her rape, she was in a college classroom listening to a lecture.  The professor was explaining sexual consent.  Right there in the midst of the lecture, she realized she was raped.  She had to leave class early.

Examples of the second point are two survivor accounts I read.  One wrote, “I just shoved these feelings as deep as they would go assuming I would be better off trying to deal with everything after I graduate so I would be distanced from the incident and that my grades wouldn’t suffer from trying to handle the repercussions.”  Another wrote, “I had blocked my assault out of my memory […].  I just didn’t want to think about it.  But […] I could not go any longer forcing all of these dark memories down and hoping they would just go away.  Because they never would.  I just wish I would have known that earlier.”

Their testimonies help me understand my experience.  Comparable to the first point, because I did not know how people were supposed to behave, I did not recognize how badly Bayonet was mistreating me; yet it still affected me without me realizing how bad it was.  Comparable to the second point, I had suppressed my memories and feelings about what Grizzly did to me; but trauma does not just go away unacknowledged, and must take effect eventually.  I suspect these points correspond to common human reactions to traumatic experiences in general.

Now I’m going to cry myself to sleep.

Pulse

By: C. T. H.

when you speak
your words wrap
tight hands
around my gasping throat
stifling me in
choking silence

when you look
your calculating eyes
over my body
surveying the geography
you think you own
your greedy gaze
scorches

when you touch
your poison arrows
wither life
traces of death
scarring everywhere your
fingers
trespass

i am here
against nightmare odds
every breath a rebellion
every
heart.
pounding.
pulse.
a revolution