Self-styled ‘abuse survivor’ … and proud?

I came across this statement on Twitter recently. It pulled me up short.

Abuse survivor opinion tweet

I hadn’t gone looking for it or anything like it. It appeared in my timeline, ‘retweeted’ by one of the people I follow.

As I read the words of the tweet, I remember thinking that I’m a ‘self-styled’ survivor. I also remember that I didn’t have the slightest urge to rage at this tweeter and that made me smile. There have been times when I would have felt very angry indeed, as were many of the people who replied to the tweet on Twitter, hurt on behalf of all ‘survivors’, and so got myself very worked up in spirited defence.

It’s perhaps a measure of how far I’ve come that I was able to quietly reflect and focus first on reaffirming for myself why I sometimes choose to declare that particular status and, with another smile, realise that I feel confident in it. I have gone on to wonder in the days since I read it what might have prompted such a statement from the author of that tweet. It could simply be the work of a ‘troll’, someone who gets a kick out of making inflammatory statements online seeking a reaction, particularly one of hurt, from others. I deliberately chose not to look up the author of the tweet, for the sake of self-preservation, at a vulnerable time. However, since writing the bulk of this post I have now taken a look. I saw that the author defines herself as someone who writes about false accusations and ‘pseudo victims’. Sometimes people make things up, some people do generally like to play the ‘victim’ in life. I’m not deriding the woman, I haven’t looked deeply enough to know what she’s really about. I’ll just say that I think the tweet that prompted this post was misguided.

However, this post isn’t really about that tweeter. This post is primarily about me. I know, I am such a narcissist …

I wanted to write this post because communication is hugely important to me. I believe that good communication is fundamental and can be a real force for good by facilitating greater understanding, Unfortunately, in the years since my status as a survivor of abuse became apparent I’ve learned that many people don’t care about much beyond themselves and their own. Empathy and understanding are too often in short supply, while intolerance and ignorance proliferate. What are prejudice and intolerance if not a lack of knowledge, more specifically a lack of understanding and the absence of empathy? Add fear to ignorance, and watch intolerance and prejudice spread like the proverbial wildfire.

I want to reach out to those people who do care enough to want understand more than their own immediate experience … those who can see past the end of their own noses. I know, now who’s making inflammatory remarks?! What the hell: I’m not perfect and I do despair of reluctance to take a broader view.

I don’t wear the label ‘abuse survivor’ like a badge. It’s not who I am or what I’m about but it is a large part of my experience. I was abused for many years, and beyond childhood. The effects of those abusive experiences have been devastating and have pretty much decimated my life – wrecking my health and costing me, among other things, a career, relationships and a family of my own. I don’t say that lightly. For me, to ‘whinge’ is to cringe; I’m relentlessly positive, driven and upbeat and find it difficult to be otherwise. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails that have anyone think me a negative or downbeat sort of person.

I don’t declare myself abused and decry the terrible impact of it for fun or attention. I say it because those are the facts and because the impact was so great that recovering myself and my life became a full time occupation. I use the term ‘abuse survivor’ when I need to begin to explain my circumstances and also to connect with other survivors.

My Twitter bio. includes the phrase ‘abuse survivor’. Despite the title of this post, I actually don’t see myself as being a ‘self-styled’ abuse survivor. I am a ‘self-styled’ Wordsmith. That word, a cheeky nod to my love and life of writing, also appears in my Twitter bio. Describing myself as an abuse survivor is nothing more or less than a statement of fact. I use it on Twitter because it’s there, and via WordPress blogs, where I’ve found it possible to connect with other survivors – for mutual support and learning. It’s not to say ‘oh poor me‘ or ‘oh look at me‘. Given the amount of shame that survivors feel – that one is pretty much universal – that’s hardly likely. It is to say here I am, this is a part of my experience and I’m here if you’d like to connect. 

Where does pride come into it? Well, I imagine that ‘survivor pride’ … no, as far as I’m aware that isn’t a thing nor am I trying to make it one. I use the term loosely for the purposes of this blog post only … is something akin to Gay Pride. Once again, it’s not about narcissism. We don’t have ‘Heterosexual Pride’. We don’t have it, because we don’t need it, anymore than we need ‘White Pride’. Homosexuality, however, has long been the subject of oppression, abuse, ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. It remains illegal in parts of the world, and persecution is not uncommon.

If I’d held on to my sense of self faced with that lot, I’d be damn proud too.

And that’s how I feel about being proud to be an abuse survivor. I can’t change what happened to me, it was vile and appalling and has come close to killing me more than once. I’m not proud that it happened but I’m proud that I am not bitter, that I am a kind, caring, empathetic, inclusive, creative, vital … and witty(!) … person in spite of it. I’m extremely proud that I’ve achieved that after such terrible experiences and in an ongoing fight to thrive in the face of a scarcity of empathy and appropriate support and resources.

Like so many things in life, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not apply to ‘abuse survivors’. We are not a homogeneous group. Each survivor’s experience of abuse is different – abusers too have abuse in common but are otherwise varied. Abuse is often a life-altering experience with recovery sometimes life-long, but there are some for whom the impact is smaller. There’s no right or wrong way to be an abuse survivor. It is what it is according to each individual’s experience.

I have encountered enormous strength of character, courage and kindness among survivors. But that’s not to say that these people are ‘saints’. They are real people – as complex and varied as anyone else – who happen to have also endured something truly terrible. Abusers don’t discriminate, they’ll abuse whomever or whatever they can get. Abuse happens in all areas, all walks of life.

I could describe in graphic detail some of the abuse that I have experienced and that of other survivors I have got to know, either through work or friendship. I have knowledge that bleach couldn’t sanitise, but bluntly disgorging it here to attest to the veracity of the ‘abuse survivor’ would be crass. That’s not to say that I don’t think greater awareness of what people have to endure, survive and how they can struggle to go forward in life, and why, wouldn’t be helpful.

I believe in freedom of speech. That author of that tweet exercised hers. I’m happy to say that I’d fight for any abuse survivors right to declare themselves as such, and for their freedom of speech.

GENDER GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED!

Gender matters, but it’s not the be all and end all. Much like unbridled alliterative headlining … obsession with gender difference and superfluous gender labelling are rife.

We’re discovering that gender, like sexuality, can be more fluid than first assumed. Whilst natural conception requires the combined attributes of a biologically, or traditionally, gendered man and woman (functioning penis, vagina and reproductive systems); this does not preclude innovative gender identification.

My home is a mix of old and new – traditional and contemporary with added personal ‘creative innovation’. It’s personally appropriate; it’s ME.

We evolve, we grow, we move on. Out with the old, in with the new, is sometimes the best policy, but traditional, progressive, even unique, can co-exist.

Gender difference and gender identity have, arguably, never been such ‘hot potatoes.’ Personally, I find the idea of someone being transgender an easy concept to accept. I’m not a scientist, I have an entirely arts-biased brain, but it strikes me as both logical and natural. We as humans have common foundations but myriad variation, also exists. Like grey eye colour, left-handedness, homosexuality, or a third nipple. It’s neither right or wrong, it just is. Be yourself by all means, but to dismiss or prohibit others difference is to discriminate. Being gay, of non-binary gender, or a six foot, left-handed woman with ‘ginger’ hair and size 10 feet, does no harm. The same cannot be said for discrimination, intolerance … or narrow minds.

There are religion-based arguments against such thinking. While I respect the right of others to diverse beliefs, in my view as an atheist those arguments have no basis in fact. Fact matters, particularly the fact of whether harm occurs. Your beliefs are your choice. Believe that the world is governed by green invertebrates from the planet ‘Zog’ if you so choose. If ‘Zogans’ should decry all but white male supremacy; seek to ban abortion in all circumstances; see same sex relationships as abhorrent, and insist women should always wear pink dresses and high heels; it’s your right to do so too. Unless you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything else causes harm, you have no right to impose your views on others. To do so would be harmful and contravene their right to think and act differently.

I don’t have the right to  tell a biologically born woman that she may not self identify as a man, or feel and be neither exclusively male, nor exclusively female. I don’t feel remotely threatened by the notion or the difference. Curious, yes. I am that about very many things. I’m fascinated by life and people in all their complexity, diversity and mundane minutiae. I love learning and encountering ideas beyond my experience.

I feel like a woman (cue: music!) How much of that is biological, how much is cultural, may be difficult to determine. Some women love pink, but a fondness for it isn’t a requirement of femininity. A woman could be a mother, shave her armpits, wear frilly dresses and favour the floral. She could also play golf, wear boxer shorts and ties, ride a powerful motorbike, detest the frilly, and go out to work while her partner looks after their children. A woman could be all of this, some of this, and none of this … as could a man or someone of non-binary gender. Assuming of course that society respects an individual’s right to self-determination.

Presently, my choice of bathing product is largely determined by price, by virtue of a tight budget. Shopping online last week I favoured a blackberry and ginger scented bath soak. Its labelling promising that I’d ‘feel recharged’ was neither here nor there. When it was delivered I saw that the product is assertively labelled ‘ MEN’. Unlike my previous choice of the ‘stress relief’ variant from the same brand – which is not gender labelled. Similarly, ‘feel blissful’, ‘feel relaxed’, ‘sleep easy’ and the particularly optimistic ‘feel heavenly’ are not gendered, but they are pastel coloured. All the other Radox bath soak products in the range are primary coloured and bear the ‘MEN’ tag. Presumably, men don’t seek to sleep easy, feel relaxed, relieve stress or reach celestial heights? As a confirmed woman, I’d quite like to ‘feel recharged’ or enjoy ‘muscle therapy’. It does feel a tad odd, as a women living alone, having a product in my bathroom that’s prominently labelled for men.

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Engendering consternation

I don’t have any male cheese in my fridge or female bread in my food cupboard. I’m not typing on a keyboard for women, nor do I plan my life with the help of a non-binary diary.

Come on Unilever UK and Ireland, I challenge you to GET WITH THE TIMES! Men can like pink and pampering. Women can favour primary colours, be assertive and dominant. They and every other gender variant can be all things in between.

PUKKA, procurer of expressive but none the less arbitrarily named teas, has also got my non-binary gendered goat. Tea is neither male not flipping female, to say otherwise is definitely not pukka! I like a cup, or a pot, of tea. Builders, fruit and herbal are all fair game; decaffeinated is my preference. PUKKA sell a blend, described as ‘a delicate dance of organic cranberry, rose and sweet vanilla’. It’s a particular favourite of a female friend of mine and we often chat over a pot or two. It was originally called Harmonise, an arbitrary but inoffensive moniker in my view, then it was re-branded …

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Pretty … sickly

I do and have done many things as a woman, dance delicately is not one of those things. Considering the prospect of a ‘delicate dance’ of cranberry, rose and vanilla flavouring a cup of tea denoting womankind, just boggles my brain. I’m inclined to stop buying it in protest, but respect my pal’s right to continue to enjoy it, and anyway she bought my last box and it would be rude not to use them. Although, she too is not enamoured of the name. It’s a wonder we can stomach a beverage described in such nauseating terms.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this, perhaps over a cuppa? I’m off to ‘feel recharged’.

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Time for tea?

Please note: This is not and can not be intended to be an in depth exploration of gender. Nor do I seek to trivialise gender identity issues. It is merely my opinion, delivered, I hope, with due respect and trademark humour. As ever, I welcome … nay, covet … comments, discussion … and tea.