I used to think of myself as the architect of my life. The one in control. The one who dreamt up the plans, who was responsible for the construction and who, as a DIY kind of architect, mucked in there to do most of the work. At the end of the day, it would be me, who would stand back and admire the (hopefully) edifying structure, laying claim to the good and the bad, the triumphs and the failures. I believed, whole-heartedly, that the responsibility for building my dream life rested with me. Now, when I look at my life, I see that already it is a complex beast, more of a higgledy-piggledy, hodge-podge form, one of those strange-looking houses with rooms built on progressively by different owners, with different needs and different ideas. A rambling, ramshackle, barely held together assembly, built on land that I don’t own, and from foundations that were laid long before I entered the picture. The house has had many previous owners, who’ve all left their imprints, their directions and, long after I’m gone, there will still be people here, doing the best they can with these rundown, worn-in materials, trying to gather them into some kind of coherent construct, trying to marshal them into their own dream life.
We are not alone. No matter how potently we may feel lonely, no matter how betrayed or abandoned we may feel by the world about us, we are not the only ones stranded here, not the only ones feeling like this, not the only ones responsible for the way things are. Each life is a complex, ever-changing and progressive construct built by many, dependent upon many for its reality. Life is not an individual matter. I used to think that life was about learning to stand alone, on your own two feet. That was what ‘growing up’ and becoming an ‘adult’ meant, right? I don’t think so anymore. I cannot control my own life anymore than I can consciously control my own heart by thinking it into beating in time to Beth Ditto’s ‘Standing in the Way of Control’. This is a frightening thought. Without control, without a plan, a map and a step-by-step method that I can direct, doesn’t life just end up being a bewildered, frightened lurch through an intricate labyrinth? Won’t you just end up wandering dazed through an endless network of infuriating, directionless passages, hoping ever more desperately that you’ll somehow stumble your way onto the ‘right’ path?
The secret is that there are many of us stumbling about these tortured paths. Each of us is made to feel alone, cut-off, exiled in their own hellish maze. That is the rapist’s design – his power lies in isolating you, getting you on your own, away from other people, where he can more easily disorient and mislead you, closing you off in a blind alley of his own careful construction. Solidarity is the way out. It is the escape from his perverted course, the only way back out of that hideous cul-de-sac. Solidarity means many things: it means you are not the only one, it means you are not responsible for what happened to you, it means you are not responsible for righting the wrongs that were done to you, it means there are people who care and who will help and who are doing all they can to prevent this from happening to anyone ever. The best thing about solidarity is that you only have to know it’s there to take advantage of it. It’s not tangible, it’s imaginable. Once you have been made aware of it, once you have had a single experience of it, you can conjure it up whenever you desire. It is yours to call upon. When you don’t have strength – you can borrow it from others. When you don’t know what to do – you can recall what they did. When you feel alone – you can sense them there, in your corner, willing you on.
This is why telling our stories is so important. When we speak, when we voice what was done to us and how it feels, we don’t just do it for ourselves. We do it for everyone. And by everyone, I mean everyone, not just other rape survivors. We break down the barriers that divide us and instead we establish common ground. We reject violence, intimidation and isolation and instead establish solidarity, empathy and truth. Disclosure creates a culture and a resource of solidarity that all people can draw on. This solidarity strengthens all of us, reminds us that human life is a shared endeavour, one for which we are all responsible. In caring for our own life, in caring for the people in our life and in acting with honesty, integrity and consideration we lay stones towards that edifying structure, that dream life of liberty, security and dignity that we all long for. When we tell our individual stories, we reveal what is really at stake, we discover that what feels like a personal failing, an individual tragedy, is actually a social failure. What happened to us could only happen because of systemic injustice and a culture of violence. When we come forward, when we speak up, whether we do so privately or publicly, to a friend or to a court of law, we speak also on behalf of all people and we speak out against all human rights abuses, against all crimes of violence, against all attacks on human liberty, dignity and security. We become that force of solidarity that will help us heal, that will help others heal and that will dismantle the hovel of violence in order to create the world we all deserve.