Writing in a Time of Plague

The first time I wrote on this blog in my truest voice, it was a declaration of independence from audience. “I am done speaking to the bodies of men,” I pronounced; “To the helpmeets of men.” I decided to write first and foremost for myself and, as a distant second, to address an imagined audience of other women who had survived sexual assault. Anybody else who wanted to listen? Was certainly welcome to do so, but I would make no adjustments for their comfort.

As last year began winding down, however, I started itching to leave this stance for greener, less plundered, pastures. Tired of five years of filling-in-the-blank “current occupation: rape survivor-in-recovery,” bored with my own intimate overexposure and the incessant “I… I… I…” of confessional writing.

I wondered what else I might want to say, if I no longer felt compelled to foreground the issue of violation.

And then my country elected a rapist as president.


* * *

Regular readers may have noted the unusual absence of any political discourse on here since November 9. In the election’s immediate aftermath, I almost stole to repost here a version of the hiatus notice Laurie and Debbie posted on Body Politic: “Both of us are regrouping, forming new priorities, figuring out how to live in these times, taking care of ourselves, each other, and the more vulnerable people around us. We may well be back with a new focus to this blog—or the same focus.”

I am still deciding how (or whether) to refocus my words and resharpen my priorities in these times. Only one thing feels clear: this anointing of the Pussy Grabber-in-Chief makes speaking the truth about sexual violence an even more pressing issue than ever before.

* * *

Mine is a sexuality queered by rape. By which I do not mean ‘and so it was I came to like girls’ but rather ‘this is how as straight and pure a thing as desire becomes bent to its knees.’ Fearful of giving offense; as terrified of its own “no’s” as of its truest “yes”; forever poised to relinquish lust and resistance alike, believing that to play dead is all that can save me.

As if playing dead and being dead are all that different, in the end.

As if a silent mouth and a mouth filled with dirt are somehow opposite states, and not two ends of a rope pulled so hard away from each other that they meet again on the far side, indistinguishable.

I… I… I… I…

Speaking may or may not hold salvation, but in cleaving to silence, we are already surely damned.

* * *



I have always found prescient whatever trick of language made these two words so proximate in English.

Which is not to say I will play word games with either concept. Nor will I use “rape” as a metaphor. To call eco-protests such as #NoDAPL a stand against the “rape” of the environment is to obliterate awareness of the widespread and systemic sexual violations, both historic and present-day, of indigenous women. To call capitalism a “rape” of laborers and resources is to erase remembrance that a key source of US wealth lay in the horrifically-euphemized “forced breeding” of enslaved black women and the plunder of their bodies, their sexuality, and their offspring.

These are irreducible violations and intransitive horrors. Untranslatable, one to the other.

And one man who is both now holds supreme elected power.

* * *

Metaphors both reveal and disguise, like doors in language that both open and close meaning. Albert Camus understood the power of metaphor, when he wrote The Plague [La peste]: “All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”

He also understood the non-negotiability of facts: “But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is one of knowing whether two and two do make four.”

Two and two make four. Four and four make eight.

A rape is a rape is a rape is a rape.

Against any regime that seeks to render such facts obsolete or negotiable-for-a-price, I shall choose to stand, as Camus’ character Dr. Rieux does, with “all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”

* * *

What if my I… I… I… I… sounds out not like a stutter but like a keening? Mourning and protest, raised up together?

Ululating that signifies as much battle-cry as grief.

* * *

The human penis is a delicate organ, as complex and miraculous as a kidney, a liver, a uterus, an ocular lens suspended by ligaments within its vitreous bath. A flaccid cock, cupped softly in a warm hand and just beginning to twitch with the blood flow of desire, is as primal and sexual as any erection.

But voracious power seeks above all to deny its own interdependence. Its vulnerability.

And so we get the turgid cock alone: the tearing thrust, the phallus, the brutalizing metaphor, the grabbing hands, the rapist’s threat, the gun, the billy club and badge, the screaming fighter jet overhead, the ominous nuke quivering in its missile silo like an attack dog barely contained by its leash. We get sex tape blackmails and ‘how many beauty queens skewered on my dick before the other guy folds in fear and admiration, raising me up on his own abasement.’ We get fascists in the White House.

An infestation of vermin, foraging for carcasses.

* * *

I have never understood the use of roofies, nor the appeal—sexual or otherwise—of penetrating the inert and comatose. No more than I have ever understood why my own rapist returned week after week to reviolate a body long since gone limp with despair and surrender.

Who wants to fuck a dead thing.

I blot from memory the fact that those who weaponize their bodies already calculate life through profoundly different algorithms than my own. “Eugenics adjacent,” Flavia Dzodan terms the ideology of this newly-ascendant extreme right, in which the new US president represents the “ultimate expression” of necropolitics: “Necropolitics being a global expression of sovereignty in which the world is divided into those who are disposable and those who are not, those whose lives can be wasted and those who cannot. In this political order a new form of control is exercised over those whose lives are considered disposable or what Judith Butler would call ‘those whose lives are ungrievable’.”

To be fuckable, in this worldview, is to be told you are already dead. Dead-adjacent, at the very least. Ungrievable.

No surprise that rape is not only patriarchy’s favorite intimate kink, but also a longstanding weapon of war and tool of genocide. If I was not opposed on principle to such metaphors, I would tell you white supremacy was born a rapist.

* * *

Like our newly-inagurated president’s daughter, I too come from a long line of white-dude daddy dick issues.

I have another genealogy as well. A line of begats more intimate and personal than even the cock and pussy that conceived me: born of that which survived from that which was raped.

Pleased to meet you.

Call me rage. Call me lamentation.

I… I… I… I…

Call me one more warrior’s raw-throated cry, raised up for the resistance.


[Image: Ratking. Photographed at Naturkundliches Museum Mauritianum Altenburg, CC BY-SA 3.0.]

26 thoughts on “Writing in a Time of Plague

  1. Striking, shocking, cutting through the grey areas of politics with sharp-edged words. I hope the pain of revisiting your trauma gives you strength to fight the patriarchy and right-wing…how did you put it?…necropolitics of the current administration. I liked the other phrase…death adjacent? (Can’t scroll back in cell phone.) you use powerful words and such an ugly experience to frame your cry of outrage. It’s only a shame you words cannot reach the people who need to hear them the most. For their ears are stoppered by their self-serving and superior stance. They are too busy carving up the country into those marginalized and unworthy to notice they have become monsters.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do true monsters care that they are monsters? An unanswerable question, no doubt — but you’re quite right, our opinions have even less substance than vapor, in the minds of those so busily dismantling this country and the vast majority of the people who live in it… And so I do not even think of speaking to them.

      Far better to raise my voice with others also proclaiming: together we are still here, together we are still alive, together we shall resist all monsters!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A shock to the system, but perhaps a reading needed to cut through the disbelief that this administration is really happening. Denial doesn’t help any victim and pretending that someone capable of saying what our newly elected official said isn’t capable of the actions he reported is even more dangerous. Screaming in outrage is the appropriate response.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Samantha Bee did a recent interview with Masha Gessen (prominent Russian journalist currently in exile in the US) in which Gessen posited that the best response we can have is to keep being hysterical about what is happening. [“Best available” and “most necessary” not equating in any way to “successful,” in this scenario, to be clear. But just what is there.] And I think she’s right.

      I also feel exhausted just contemplating that option. But I know in my gut this is what’s needed.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The spike has been nailed – Silence is a Lie! Do not allow, do not let others allow, that silence to become a film of truth, or we will all be ‘playing dead’ to the dicks who rule (or make us pay for the right to let them overbear us in our grief and anger).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

      And may Lorde watch over us all…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Whew. “liking” this felt so insufficient. Somewhat adjacent, I saw that someone has created a new mini-series, I believe, of The Handmaid’s Tale. I cringed in horror. I know what it entails. I know how absolutely threadbare the difference between it and our reality now is (and has been). I can’t watch it. The details are already a near-constant background voice in my head, reminding me to know where the emergency exits are at all times.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t know why, but The Handmaid’s Tale has never had much of an impact for me. Other Atwood books floor me — and Cat’s Eye put me flat -through- the floor — but her speculative fiction? Eh.

      Probably just as well for me, if they’ve got and TV’ized it!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I haven’t read it in a dog’s age, so I no longer remember exactly what it was that gripped me so…but something electric in her evocation of adolescent girls and their interactions.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Who wants to fuck a dead thing? You just summed up the hetero-patriarchy in that question. Because the answer is–most of them. This was poignant, brutal stuff–and very different from the E. Alice I’m used to. More scholarly, more sure, more fuck you I know what I’m talking about here. I like it a lot. Welcome to the resistance.

    Liked by 2 people

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