Sometimes, in the quiet, private space of my own mind, I allow myself to feel the force of my disgust. I allow it to unravel within me, aware that, once unleashed, it is almost impossible to pack neatly away again. Allowed out, my feelings of disgust recognise no bounds. It may always start somewhat hesitantly, beginning each time with that sensation of shock – how could…? – but once it has gained momentum it loves only too dearly to rampage over every element of life touched by rape, identifying indignantly and ferociously the rotten seeds that allow this behaviour to come forth into the world. My disgust at the rapist. My disgust at his actions. My disgust at a world in which rape happens so consistently. My disgust at the half-hearted attempts of the justice system to respond to rape. My disgust at the sexist and mysogynist behaviour that I perceive only too readily all around me. My disgust at all the consequences forced upon me by the rapist’s actions while he still roams free – literally free, but also consequence free. My disgust at a world still unwilling to face up to the responsibility of doing what it takes to build a world that is safe for all human beings.
When I’m feeling brave or indignant, I allow the disgust to rip through me, to enflame, burn and consume me without attempting to hose down its intensity. It tears through all of me with ferocious force, turning me inside out and leaving me charred and smoking by the end. When I’m in the grip of it I permit myself to engage in dreams of retribution, dreams of taking back the power with the same kind of careless, disinterested, irresponsible attitude that the rapist felt entitled to. I imagine creating a symbolic bonfire, a colossal, flaming, hypnotising pyre to exorcise the demon of rape. I see myself dancing around it, chanting and incantating with glee. You want to turn me into an outcast, a ranting, raving witch? Well, you done it! You want my hysterical, unhinged, feral howl? I doubt it. But here it is anyway. I will roar with anger and pain, smoke will billow from my lungs and obstacles in my path will wither before they can present the slightest inconvenience. I say to myself: my day, our day, will come. I will not go quietly. I will not accept your inconsiderate, disrespectful status quo. I will demand more, demand better, each and every day. You just watch me.
Disgust is personal. It’s subjective. Whereas anger still terrifies me, still feels dangerous, disgust feels perfectly acceptable. And accessible. Disgust is about me. It’s about how I feel, what I like or dislike, what I believe to be right or wrong. You can’t argue with disgust. Whereas anger is interpersonal, disgust is personal. What’s disgusting to me, may be pleasurable to another and vice versa. Whether or not we agree with someone’s verdict of disgust, we must accept that that’s how they see it, that’s how they feel. Although I experience a great sense of release and relief when I allow my disgust out for a ride, I know that it is a dangerous beast. Disgust returns me to a sense of self, a sense of strength, a sense of righteous – and self-protective – indignation but it is a wild animal that cannot be tamed. Disgust must always be handled with caution and vigilance. While I need to be allowed to feel my disgust, from time to time, because it is a perfectly legitimate response to what I have been put through by the rapist and as a result of rape, I need equally to remember to limit it to that private space. It is never acceptable to act out of such an intense and savage emotion, to unleash fury and violence into the world or to inflict one’s own outrage and pain on others. Disgust is a private emotion not a justification to act. To feel it is necessary, to enact it is unethical, irresponsible and potentially criminal.