cock’s crow

after lying awake for at least 4 hours, at 02h45 this morning, i posted this tweet:

It’s been 20 years since on this date, at almost this exact hour, a man broke into my house & raped me. Wish it didn’t still keep me awake.

the irony is that for many years now, the date has come and gone without me even noticing it. this time however, maybe because i was home alone, i succumbed to paranoia. i knew that i’d armed the  security beams, yet i still got up at least once to make sure. on more that one occasion i held my breath, training my ears for any perceived sound, making sure that this time no one had snuck into my house, that there was no-one lurking outside my bedroom door, unlike that other time.

it reminded me of the one time i stayed alone in my other house after i’d been raped in it. i spent the entire night walking the length of the house, from the front-door to the back-door, convinced that the guy had come back and was trying to figure out a way in. and ironically i was probably right because not 2 weeks later, when i was out of town and had 2 women staying in the house, he found a way back in and nearly broke down the bathroom door to get at them. fortunately they fought him off, but i came back to chaos and having to change all my locks, as he’d taken off with my keys.

last night i lay and listened to a cock crowing inappropriately somewhere out in the dark. i tossed and turned and tossed and turned some more. and when i finally fell asleep for 45 minutes, i had a spectacular nightmare about someone trying to break into my house, wielding a huge knife – with my screams once again stopped in my throat. silenced. helpless. mute.

i wrestle with thinking it weakness – that i once again allowed that man power over me, my life and my actions, versus recognizing the strength in realizing my vulnerability and making sure to defend it –  like putting in perimeter security beams after waking up to find 2 men on my property.  some people might think that 20 years is a long time to still be affected by something, but i don’t think that they realize that rape changes one forever. you will always have a different perspective than someone who hasn’t experienced that violation. you will never again consider yourself immune. that’s the biggest loss. and the journey to healing is one you’ll travel till it ends in a grave or a pile of ash.

i did later tweet this, in honor of all survivors and also in honor of myself:

On this day I’d like to say to all survivors: there is a steely strength in even your most fragile moments. Know you’ll be ok. #thisiknow

i might have stumbled on the side of the road last night and bumbled bleary-eyed through my day, but know that i will get up. in fact, know that i am up – and moving right along. some of you are ahead of me on this journey and some are coming up behind.

i wish us all strength and maybe i’ll see you out there on the road.

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sugar monsters

if you have not yet read “dear sugar”, do yourself a favor.

till a few months ago, nobody knew who dear sugar was. there was a huge, much-anticipated reveal and we now know that dear sugar is actually published author, cheryl strayed.

i don’t care.

what i do know is that i go through phases of reading the column and then my life takes over and i forget. then someone or something reminds me and i fall in love with her writing and humanity and the pathos all over again.

it’s real, it’s visceral, it reaches out of the computer and squeezes your heart until you feel you cannot breathe and sometimes the tears that streak your cheeks leave trails of blood.

like tonight in her column, “monsters and ghosts“. it seemed like it was written for me.

earlier today, i had a more than 2 hr interview with a journalist who is writing an article about me for a woman’s magazine. of course, even though i keep reiterating that i am not my history, that it is merely what happened to me… despite so many years of healing, today’s interview still left me shaken – this journey backtracking down dark roads, unexpectedly overcome, vinegar tears squeezing, unwanted, past guarded lids.

i have to remind myself: today i am standing firmly in the light. i am the guardian of the 4 yr old within, the 4 yr old from whom her childhood was abruptly and abusively ripped. i keep a watchful eye. i protect her and reassure her that she’s safe, that the monsters and ghosts have been long buried, that no one can harm her. they might still sometimes try to resurrect themselves to wreak a similar devastation of years gone by, but now they are mere chimeras, powerless unless we feed the insatiable maws of memory.

i am grateful to have travelled so far down the interminable road of healing. i would prefer not to stare into the distorted mirrors of my past, reflecting the mangled monsters that for so long haunted me. however, i do understand that for many, knowing that they are not alone and hearing that someone else, too, knows that “here be dragons”…is a comfort. it makes me peel back my eyelids and hold up my flaming torch.

i don’t taunt the darkness, i don’t draw it out.  yet i’ve stopped fleeing only to find it nipping, vicious, at my achilles-heels… instead i bow to it in respect and i say namaste.

in the insistent light the monsters and the ghosts, slowly, almost imperceptibly, melt like the watery wicked witch. in my heart, safe and protected, where the only thing grimm is a fairytale, my ruby-slippers sparkling, i am home.

16 days… a lifetime

i was 4. auntie kay’s sons held me down and rubbed up against me in the pantry, threatening to tell everybody what my stepfather was doing to me if i told anyone.

at 8, my favorite cousin jacques did the same thing in the potato field above my grandfather’s house. another secret to add to the BIG SECRET i was already spending all my energy guarding…

at 9, dulcet-toned uncle arthur told me he’d give me 5c if i opened my mouth when he kissed me goodnight.

i was in the principal’s office for career counselling when i was 12, when he nonchalantly stepped behind me and slid both his hands inside my shirt and over my breasts while telling me that i was smart enough to be a doctor.

around 14, the dirty old man who was my piano teacher, forever made me toss aside any aspirations of music… and my mother never could understand why.

and then there were the countless perverts i stupidly exposed myself to, hitching to and from school each day. all of this in addition to what was happening when my stepfather could get me alone…

we’re nearly at the end of the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children campaign. a campaign which always leaves me ambivalent, seeing that i think 16 days is an arbitrary and somewhat ineffectual amount of time! this needs to be a year-round campaign.

after working on the slutwalk for so long this past year, i was a little exhausted and had to just take a moment to step back. however, 2 nights ago an hour long interview i recorded months ago about being a survivor, went out on kyknet and ever since, i’ve been overwhelmed by messages in my inbox from women and men who are walking the same path. so, the reality is, there are still too many of us. the statistics are still too high – and in my opinion, if it stood at 1, it would still be too high. there are still too few of us reporting, speaking out, realizing that no matter what we were doing, wearing, saying, sexual assault is never our fault.

if you’re a survivor, report, find someone safe and trusted to speak to, carry your head high and realize it’s not your fault. and know that YOU CAN SURVIVE THIS. if you’re someone who wants to know how to help, there are many organisations which work with survivors. buy a heart on the rape crisis website or make a rape care handbag for rape crisis or the jes foord foundation. 

during last year’s 16 days akona ndungane of akmosaic and i were motivated to start a website called i said no, a place where survivors can break the silence and tell their stories, anonymously or otherwise. there are also links to resources. if you have a story to tell, why not start here?

p.s. despite those incidents listed above, i would like to thank the many wonderful men i have met in my life who have proven to me that not all men are monsters…

my slutwalk jhb speech

this was my speech for slutwalk jhb, september 24th, addressing the crowd before the march.

because other speakers were dealing with the controversy around the name and with statistics, i kept what i spoke about pretty personal, seeing that i started this initiative out of a passionate need to “do something”. i did this not because of  some intellectual understanding (that too), but more out of the knowledge of what it means to be a survivor and wanting to find a way to create a world where, idealistic as it may be, there will be no more of us.  

Welcome to Slutwalk JHB – it’s been months in the planning and I can’t tell you have happy I am that today has finally arrived .

Though I have to say – I wish we didn’t have to be here. I wish we didn’t need a Slutwalk Jhb, I wish we didn’t need marches protesting sexual violence, marches that need to point out that there’s never an excuse, that no one by definition ever deserves or asks to be raped. That rapists rape people, not outfits.

When I first heard about that ignorant comment that women should not dress like sluts so that they don’t get victimized, I had a visceral reaction. I happen to know from experience that what one wears has absolutely nothing to do with getting assaulted.

What I’m wearing is the closest approximation I could find of what I was wearing when I got raped. Does this outfit really scream, “Rape me?” the reality is that rape is about violence  – and a short skirt, or too many drinks at the bar, or a checkered sexual history, or choosing a same-sex partner is never an excuse for assault. The statistics are staggering – I won’t get into them as Jenn Thorpe will be talking about them later, but I will say that there are too many of us. You might see numbers on a page, but behind every number is a face and a name and a shattering experience that takes years and a strength you cannot imagine to overcome. I call us survivors the society of the secret handshake – the handshake that says, I know you. I am you. And there are way too many of us.

When we first started organizing slutwalk jhb I felt that reclaiming the word slut was not necessarily relevant to us here in South Africa. Addressing the issues of sexual violence that permeate the very heritage of our land seemed much more important. However, words are important. Words are powerful things. We can wield them to wound or we can rally them to right age old wrongs. And just recently I remembered  something that made me rethink the reclaiming of the word slut.

When I lived in the states, I hadn’t been home in a long time and  I landed up in Malta where I met a south African pilot. I was so excited to meet up with someone from home and to feel a connection with Africa – but then one day as we encountered each other, he said, “Daar’s die klonkie!” Now for those of you who don’t know, Klonkie is a derogatory term used for someone classified Colored. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard and I was outraged. I didn’t say anything in the moment, but I wrote him a letter and left it at the hotel desk, so he’d know just how offended I was.

However when I moved back to South Africa, and I had to name my company, I remembered that  encounter and I wound up calling my company “Klonkie Made Media” – because some people might think that someone who looks like me should be the klonkie maid in the kitchen, but look at what this klonkie can do, just look at what this klonkie has made, and can make possible. And so I reclaimed what was a thoughtless insult and used it in a way that I felt validated me. Now I still might not necessarily want to call myself a slut, but it has made me rethink the value of reclaiming the word. Just think of the word queer. Or nerd.

And just what is a slut in any case? My first reaction when I heard that stupid statement was, “Hell no, I aint no slut!”, but if you follow the logic of that statement., “women shouldn’t dress like sluts so they’re not victimized”, – I was raped, so therefore, I must be a slut. Now, ironically I felt lucky that I was wearing my baby blue pj’s and was in my own bed in the middle of the night when I got raped, because it made it absolutely clear that I was not at fault.

moment captured by angel conradie

moment captured by angel conradie

 However, what if I wasn’t wearing my baby blues? What if I was wearing this instead? (and this is where I took off my pj’s and put on my outrageous red tutu and revealed a much more skin-baring outfit).

pic by wonderwoman, jeanette verster

Would this outfit make it my fault? Because you know, there are times when I dress like this? Would the logic of that statement make it ok for someone to violate me?
We live in an age of media and advertising. We all want to look good, to feel confident, to know that  we can turn heads. However, our society seems to be at a point where the necessary education and guidance isn’t happening at home or at school. Our children are not being taught essential lessons about respect and consent . when I used to go to the burning man festival in the Nevada desert , the only rule in that temporary society was , whatever you do that involves someone else, ask them first. First get their consent. Maybe that’s a lesson that we need to carry over into the larger society – whatever you do involving someone else, first get their consent.

Maybe then, we wouldn’t need a Slutwalk in jhb. Maybe then my short skirt can be about the fabulous weather and not an unspoken invitation to unimagined horrors. I initiated Slutwalk jhb because I’ve been a firm advocate for survivor’s rights and for the need to break the silence, to realize that the survivor is never at fault, but I sincerely hope that there will come a time that Slutwalks and protest marches are obsolete. A time when consent is queen and yes means yes, and real men and women, honorable people, the kind we like to believe we are, can respect that no means no.

My dress is not a “Yes!” I’ll see you out there on the march!

pic by jeanette verster

slutwalk jhb thank you’s

about 4 months ago i came across a link to something talking about a slutwalk in toronto  and  i tweeted it.

my friend @angelsmind and i struck up a conversation and during a couple of exchanges during which she asked whether there’d be one here in south africa, she planted the seed that led to the email i sent to the organizers of slutwalk toronto on may 8th, asking if i could organize a slutwalk in johannesburg. so really, indirectly, angel conradie is responsible for the slutwalk that happened right here in johannesburg today. and she has supported this initiative from day one, blogging and tweeting and re-tweeting and i regret that when i was doing the thank you’s today, i did not point out that fact. so angel, here publicly, i would like to thank you – both for planting this crazy idea and for your support all the way. thank you, thank you, thank you!

ok, maybe if i’d known what i was letting myself in for, i might not have taken on what turned out to be a gargantuan task which is probably going to leave me with a major deficit in my bank account, seeing that we had no sponsors and credit cards were the only way to cover the costs. however, for me, this initiative was not optional. it had to be done and once undertaken, the only way out was through.

along the way i co-opted some amazing help. i could not have done this alone,  especially not without nadia assimacopoulos who became a confidant and sounding board and my go-t0 person, gina jacobson (@gnat_j) who was amazing at getting stuff done, sam beckbessinger (@greenham_sam) who did our website, media maven walter pike (@walterpike) who probably didn’t know what he was  letting himself in for the day he tweeted to find out whether there was a slutwalk happening in jhb, and blogger and ad exec akona ndungane (@akona1) with whom i conceived isaidno, a resource for survivors where they can tell their stories anonymously or otherwise (please spread the word).

we had amazing speakers, film-maker@gillianschutte, feminist writer @jen_thorpe, journalist @fionasnyckers and @akona1 and crimon organized the collection of rape survivor handbags which will be distributed via the jes foord foundation. andre van tonder of jmpd was an immeasurable source of help and information in getting the right permissions for our event and went beyond the call of duty to help us make it happen. and then without paul/stranger and the other amazing marshals from think bike, our event would not have been nearly as safe and successful as it turned out.

thank you. thank you. thank you.

i think we achieved our aim of turning up the volume on the conversation around sexual violence and victim-blaming. i think we engendered much debate,though this is but the beginning. i might have initiated this event in jhb, but it belongs to all of us and  i think we need to find our own ways to make a difference. how can you help change the prevailing mind-set? how can you educate someone else about the importance of respect and consent? it’s up to us. we have to make a difference. even though right now i’m exhausted and i want to forget about being an activist for just a nano-second, really, this is just the beginning of a long journey towards building a better world for us all to live in.

and though this might be very long-winded, i just wanted to make sure that i acknowledge the amazing people who made today possible, including everyone who dressed up and came out in icy weather to show their support. thank you to the people who donated, to the marshals who were amazing, to my friends who responded to my frantic calls and showed up to assist. and to the various women who came up to me, identified as survivors and thanked me for what i’m doing, thank you. i’m doing this for us.


slutwalk johannesburg

it was the middle of the night. i was in bed, wearing baby-blue boy’s pj’s.

so i was obviously asking my rapist to break into my house and sexually assault me, right? because that’s what the police chief in toronto implied earlier this year, when he said that women shouldn’t dress like sluts so that they don’t get assaulted.

and when i was 4 and my stepfather decided that i was the perfected receptacle for the outpouring of his sexual desire, i was, by extension, obviously asking for that too. not so?

i know this might sound shocking to you, but victim-blaming and shaming happens all the time. remember the movie with jodie foster?  and there are so many other non-fictional examples (scroll to the bottom of that linked page) that leave  my skin crawling.

this is why, when i read about the slutwalks happening in toronto and around the world, it resonated inside me like a gong. i *know* from experience that rape and sexual assault have nothing to do with what you’re wearing or what you’re doing. there is nothing wrong with sex. at least, as far as i’m concerned, there is nothing wrong with CONSENSUAL SEX between CONSENTING adults.  rape, however,  is not about sex. rape is about violence. and how someone is dressed, or the fact that they might be sexual, or even like sex, does not mean an open invitation to assault them.

slutwalk johannesburg is one of over 70 international slutwalks. we need everyone who believes that it’s time to stop blaming survivors for the violence perpetrated upon them, who believes that it’s time to do something to change our “rape culture”, that it’s time to break the silence, to come march, stomp, skip, walk and make your voice heard.

dressing (or identifying) as a slut is not a prerequisite for our march (what *is* a slut, in any case?!). come as you are! wear your pj’s, your ball-gown, your tracksuit, jeans, fish-nets, whatever,  just come! slutwalk johannesburg is not primarily aimed at women. sexual violence can happen to any of us, male, female, whether we’re 4, 44 or 104.

our tentative date is july 9th. join the fb page for updates and a slew of very informative links and  follow us on twitter to show your support. if you’d like to volunteer to help make this happen, please contact us at slutwalkjhb@gmail.com!

no matter what you wear, or what you look like, or what you’re doing, you have the right not to be sexually assaulted, and if you are, you have the right not to be blamed for it.

don’t blame the victim, blame the perpetrator!

man-made memories; 16 days? not enough!

it’s the last day of the 16 days of activism and i planned on posting here every day since day one. life is a river that runs its own course though, and other things have taken precedence. suffice to say, look out for a survivor website, http://www.isaidno.co.za  being put together by myself and akhona over at akmosaic.

for some reason i woke up at 01h40 last night, started reading the first paragraph of jonathan franzen’s new book, the corrections, then instead spent the next few hours writing down something which came to mind while i was getting a much-needed massage earlier in the evening.

i’m not sure if i’m going to leave it here as it seems to be the beginning of something much longer, but in my continued insistence on breaking the silence for myself and all the other all too real nameless and faceless statistics out there, here is what i’m calling, for now,

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/87388434/Flickr

trust...

 

Man-made Memories.

I’m about  3. It’s a gorgeous day in Franschhoek, fabled valley of the Hugenots. The sun beats down strong on the fig trees and grapevines outside. Inside, in the kitchen of the gabled house my grandfather long ago built with his own hands, it is cool. Mercifully dark and shady. Friendly. Familiar.

I’m care-free, perched on my knees on a chair, happily leaning over the table, eating my pap. The sugar, which has melted on the meniscus of the porridge, is deliciously liquid, a sweet little planetary ring along the edge of the plate which I am almost loathe to disturb.

I’ve just learnt a new word.

My grandfather, whose sight is failing, walks past me into the cooler depths of the house and  I run after him to test my new vocabulary: “Pa, wiet Pa wat? Pa’s ‘n moerskont!”. For those unfamiliar with the colorful and highly communicative language that is Afrikaans: I’ve unknowingly just called my grandfather a c*nt!

I‘m so proud. I’ve not only learnt a new word, I’ve used it in a full sentence!

Almost instantly I’m torn from the sweet, white world that is my breakfast and ejected from the cool womb of the house. My bare feet dance on the hot cement of the stoep and the leather from Pa’s sjambok does not need sight as it sting-sings against my skinny legs. I am weeping with both humiliation and consternation. An early lesson in things I will not understand.

My first memory….

Though maybe I lie, memory being  fickle, shifting sand-dunes in a snow-ball desert constantly jostled by some careless hand.

Maybe my first memory is being unbearably excited at being discharged from hospital when I’m about two. I’ve just been operated on to remove a hernia i was born with. Though even this memory is unreliable as I remember no pain, just looking at the world outside the window in anticipation.

I’m waiting for my mom to come and get me. With this memory is associated a dress so beautiful, I still wish to recreate it. It makes me feel like a princess. Precious. It’s lacy-pretty. Grey on a white background, with strands of interwoven yellow. At least that’s what I think, though when I try to recreate it in my mind’s eye, it’s like an unfocussed film reel.

Like the tattered, scratchy reels brought by the guy all the way from Cape Town on a Friday night to project against the wall in my grandpa’s dilapidated , but large garage.

Early Friday evening it was our job to sweep the garage. We’d put out rows and rows of benches and people would come from all around  the neighborhood and pay a few cents’ admission. Sometimes the lamp burnt the reel and then the lights would be turned back on while the two ends were summarily spliced back together. Sometimes the projector would break down. Irreparably. Which was a huge disappointment, but for most people it was the weekly entertainment. The only entertainment.  Before the classic spaghetti westerns, we’d get to see black and white movie-serials like Johnny robot, a huge clunking, in retrospect obviously fake military robot commanded by a little boy. Johnny robot obviously made a huge impression on me because it’s the only one of the movies I really remember from back then.

So that fuzzy second memory might not be entirely true either because it morphs with another of me walking down the street holding my mother’s hand. I’m probably all of 4 and I’m wearing shorts. Suddenly there’s a wolf-whistle from some guy on the street and my mom’s grip increases in irritation. I’m so confident and full of myself, I think she’s irritated because he’s whistling at me.

Another memory: it’s the middle of the night. My mom is working night shift at the hospital and I’m left in the care of  the man she recently married, my new stepfather. We’re living in Harrington street in Cape Town.

I’m 4.

A small pool of light from a lamp casts shadows as it tries to wrestle the dark, but it’s not a fair fight. The dark wins.

From the night stand comes the smell of yellow hair pomade. Yellow hair pomade which my stepdad whom I adore,  is rubbing “down  there”…

Astonishing how odors hold memories. Train cars that come whooshing into stations of one’s life . Nice. Neat. Contained high-speed gautrains. Next moment they,  shocking  you to a frozen standstill, disgorge unexpected hordes they’ve brought along for the ride. No matter where I am, the smell of yellow hair pomade will still instantly shock me back to that night. Strange that a smell so innocent can signal to me the searing loss of innocence….

Another memory to which I cannot place an age , 5 perhaps – in the pantry of that same house between the groceries and cleaning supplies, on the dusty floor : being held down and rubbed up against by the teenaged sons of the woman from whom we were renting the room. They’d cottoned on to what was happening in that impotent pool of light in the middle of the night. Realizing I believed it to be my fault, they used it against me.  They threatened to tell on me if I didn’t let them have their way.  The beginnings of blackmail. Secrets. Lies. Maybe if there’d been videotape, I’d have been saved sooner. But redemption was a distant island that lay across a wide ocean that stretched many years into the future.