By Dr. Rosa Sierra
"This is no confession. I’ve got no slate to clear."
TW/CW: Frank discussion of child sexual abuse survival
I’ve seen your repulsion and it looks real good on you
Accompaniment to Spotify playlist “Do you fake it for me like I do you 5/29/21”
True Detective, Season 1, Episode 2
Jan: Such holy bullshit from you! It’s a woman’s body, ain’t it? A woman’s choice.
Marty: Well, she don’t look like a woman to me. At that age, she is not equipped to make those kinda choices. But I guess you don’t give a shit what kinda damage she’s doing to herself as long as you’re making your money.
Jan: Girls walk this earth all the time screwin’ for free. Why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can’t stand the thought.? I’ll tell you! It’s cuz suddenly you don’t own it the way you thought you did.
I can’t remember ever being a virgin. What I do know—in a deep, bodily sense—is the aching shame and self-loathing that goes with being used as a sex toy for pedophiles from an unforgivably early age.
Not that I believe anymore that I have a goddamn thing to be ashamed of. Not cognitively, anyway. But the transmission of culpability and shame from predator to prey, to enable the rapist to keep indulging their darkest desires with a clear conscience…oh, that’s real. It’s pervasive and affects every aspect of who you are, how you experience yourself and your body, and how you learn to relate to the world. It poisons how you perceive your value as a person and how you learn to spend the social currency you carry as an unwillingly sexual being. The very things you’re secretly taught to do to get your need for (what you think is) love, bring hellfire from the righteous when brought to light. Not because they didn’t know but because they did.
This is no confession. I’ve got no slate to clear. I’ve got a question, though: why is it we pretend this method of control isn’t a thing until we see it on TV? Then we tweet our outrage and slap our masks back on to dull the festering stench that singes our nostrils.
Josh Duggar case - The Washington Post
One of my earliest memories is of my white-haired great-grandmother sitting me down on her lap and, with watery eyes and halting speech, warning me that someday boys and men would want to touch me in ways I wouldn’t like. It might be soon, it might not, but it would happen and I should be ready. I still feel the catch in my throat that kept me from telling her. Bless her heart. She tried.
Hole, Best Sunday Dress (Unplugged, 1996)
I’ve cancelled my subscription to the twisted cultural mindset that justified the willful ignorance of my repeated child rape and systematic breaking of my mind. I suppose, when I started tearing loose from that grip was when I started to use my growing agency, as a pre-teen and adolescent, to take a bit of control of my life and use my body for my own benefit instead of everyone else’s. The choices made for me throughout my short life mirrored themselves in my actions; and out came the bibles and self-righteous condemnation. Lord knows no one wanted to face what was done on their watch, not just to me but throughout the generations. Nor was anyone interested in admitting why this type of perverse indoctrination had always been practiced as a necessary evil throughout our family and community. Some things you just don’t talk about. It’s part of gracefully bearing a woman’s God-given burden.
Miley Cyrus, Doll Parts (Hole cover) (2020)
I chose the Duggar story deliberately as child sexual and physical abuse are routinely used by US evangelicals, like Quiverfull families and Dominionists, as a way to groom kids into strictly-delineated, politically-motivated gender roles rooted in an incredibly skewed interpretation of Scripture. Predators thrive in these communities and on the fringes where a lot of non-religious believers dwell. For context, my abuse occurred in my Texas hometown where Trump's former Evangelical Advisory Board member Pastor Robert Jeffress cut his teeth in the early '90s, whipping the townspeople into a homophobic, book burning frenzy. Of course, systematic child abuse with political aims isn't restricted to these communities, and it's often more about extermination than grooming.
Shortly after I submitted this piece, I heard about the grim discovery of 215 First Nations children's remains, buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School here in British Columbia, Canada. The school was run by the Catholic church from 1890-1969 and then as a day school by the Canadian government until its closure in 1978. Several years back while I was in Utqiagvik, Alaska, dearly departed Iñupiat Elder Fannie Akpik taught me about the long history of genocidal practices at the US and Canadian residential schools, where children were torn from their communities and subjected to all manner of abuses in order to "kill the Indian and keep the man." Many children never returned, disappearing into furnaces and schoolyard graves. Those who did come back were scarred mentally and physically by the brutality they had endured, their trauma resonating down through the generations, disrupting culture and community to this day. This, of course, is the aim of such calculated abuse--break the child's spirit and sever ties to the culture you seek to destroy. It's not sin if you're carrying out God's will, and if you feel any kind of bad about what you've done, you can always be absolved.
It's straight out of the colonizer's handbook. I still remember the outrage in 1992 when Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live and dared the world to fight the real enemy, only to be pilloried and gaslit into oblivion. On a much smaller scale, innumerable child abuse survivors are silenced in much the same way by their families, schools, churches, and communities every day. Until now, I'd only told a tiny handful of folks about what I endured. I still hesitate because the internalization of my abusers' guilt and shame has been so complete. I haven't been a Christian for a while, but there's still a nagging sense that I'm making a lot of angels in Heaven cry because I've chosen to brazenly expose my shame and bring the disgrace it entails. A sense that I'm not bearing my burden gracefully or learning the right lessons from God's plan for me. But if their God's plan requires open-secret campaigns of rape, murder, and psychological warfare, then I say fuck it sideways with a rusty rake.
You can read more of Rosa's writing here.
Dr. Rosa Sierra is a disabled Chicana psychotherapist living in Canada who has written and taught in the academic and clinical worlds for about 15 years. She comes from a place of generational and childhood trauma and poverty rooted in family and societal dysfunction, and adds that "the writings I've done that are closer to the heart of my lived experiences have been much harder for me to share".