Friday, April 15, 2011

Dissociation and Trauma: Notes on the Effects of Atrocity in an Atrocity-denying Society (focus: prostitution)

image of a white man with his head in the sand is from here

One point of view put forth by many people across region and religion, across era and ideology, is that the individual person is one entity. I'd argue this is oversimplistic in two regards and that the implications of holding to this belief put women in many forms of misogynistic danger.

1. Any individual in a social world is also part of that larger world, and reflects back to that world it's own dominant viewpoints and perspectives. We come into worlds that tell us who we are, for example. And once we are told who we are, we belief and absorb much of those messages, however erroneous or destructive they are.

One example of this, is the use of the term "b*tch" or "sl*t" or "wh*re" for some women. There is an idea out there--a profoundly male supremacist one, that SOME women are those terms ALL THE TIME, and that OTHER women are those terms SOME OF THE TIME. I'd argue no woman is any of those terms any of the time, but I come up against men and women who disagree with me on that. Including feminist-identified women. Far more often, it is anti-feminist men who want to build a case against SOME women--such as women in systems of prostitution, or women who don't obey men, or women who speak their minds, or women who enjoy sex, or women who want sex a lot, or women who can engage in casual sex and not be too concerned about the feelings of their sexual partners.

The sexism and misogyny, and often racism and classism too, embedded in these terms and in their usage, indicates a general willingness to accept what the Master tells us about who women are, by accepting what the Master tells us about who SOME women are. To accept that SOME women are b*tches, sl*ts, or wh*res is to imply that all women can be, and also that it is impossible for all women not to be.

I cringe when I hear women use those terms about other women. I get furious when I hear men do it, and I generally call men out on it.

2. There is another idea that individuals have whole selves, speak in one voice, have one dominant point of view on matters, and that their actions indicate an inner integrity. This means that when someone acts one way, we often assume "that's the truth of who they are" as if there's only ever one truth of who someone is.

I find that assumption to be so deeply flawed as to be absurd. As someone who is a multiple trauma-survivor, I can tell you that the unified mind theory is bogus. Integrity is more illusion that reality, particularly if we grow up in a society in which ethical integrity is non-existent, such as in the U.S.

Trauma survivors find many ways to cope, adapt, and organise their lives so as to avoid coming into contact with material from the past or present that must be shut away.

I cope by blocking out some feelings while consciously experiencing others. When something traumatic happens, I'm quite adept at putting away enough feelings to allow me to keep functioning, and then later--hours, days, weeks, or years later--feeling what was put aside. This makes me quite handy in emergencies, such as when someone breaks a bone or experiences another form of trauma. I'm good at staying calm in the face of such upset, while other people I know just get overwhelmed immediately. I had a job where things like this could happen, and my co-workers would often want to "get Julian" when something serious happened to those we worked for--namely, young adults.

This means that if you ask me how I feel about something that has happened recently, I might have differing answers depending on when you ask. This doesn't mean I don't have some sort of moral or ethical compass. It does mean that only parts of me can show up at any one time, and who you speak to will likely be those parts. To assume "there's only one voice or opinion or experience" of something is to not really get what disability from trauma does to a person.

For those of us who have varying disabilities, such as those caused by physical as well as psychic trauma, most of which is usually social and political--even a dog bite is a social event, if people are responding to you and the dog during or after the bite. If people immediately explain to you that the dog was afraid of you, what then do you do with the fact that your experience was that the dog was the aggressor, not you? If you're told "you shouldn't have walked so close to the dog", then how much are you being blamed for the bite?

I'll segue from that example to another. Men procuring women. 

In the world I live in, if a woman approaches a man for sex, it is assumed she welcomes whatever comes next. The sex he has in his mind to have is projected onto her as the sex she welcomes having. Never mind that she may not want most or any of the kinds of sex he has in mind to have with her. Never mind that she may be dissociated, and only part of her is wanting contact with him at all.

When I realised that it was always only part of me that was present when I was approaching a man for some kind of attention or contact, and different parts of me were present when I was approached for contact from a man, I realised "full sexual consent" was a meaningless term for me, in my life. I could not and cannot give "full sexual consent" because I don't generally know all of how I feel about something right away.

Most women in prostitution enter those systems at the age of thirteen, on average, globally. Most of those thirteen (more or less) year olds are survivors of multiple forms of economic, social, and family trauma, and those traumas are bound up in larger systems of abuse--whether the system be capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, cultural colonisation, or genocide.

How is it then, that men think approaching a woman for sex, or being approached for sex, automatically means she is giving full consent for what follows. How can he know that? The point here isn't to say women cannot give informed consent. It is to say that any man who arrogantly proclaims that he only has consensual sex is deceiving himself and living in profound denial about how the multiple worlds of trauma survivors really works, usually if not always.

I've recommended to a heterosexually active men (HAMs) I know, that they not engage with women sexually, because it is so very painfully clear that they do not responsibly and ethically engage the women they have sex with--such as to care to find out what forms of trauma they have survived, to have compassion for the complexities such trauma causes, and the concern to know how they survived it. Most men, I find, do not care to know this about anyone, including themselves.

I recommend that most if not all het men stop being sexually active if they cannot know or willfully refuse to find out to what degrees women are survivors of sexual or other trauma. And, it should go without say, this means that any het man who chooses to procure, rent, or buy a girl or woman inside a system of prostitution is guilty of a human rights violation, and a sex-specific crime, whether the violations or crimes are recognised as such by the larger society he lives in. Because the odds are high that he's attempting to economically or politically exploit a human being to meet his own needs without regard for her own well-being.

To those who argue that prostitution is victimless, I'd like to remind you that most prostitutes were thirteen when their pimps first raped them or welcomed other men to rape them. And if you want to believe multiple rape survivors who are being pimped are free to choose to have sex with you, you're living in such profound denial of reality that you really have no business being sexual with anyone at all.

Chances are that you know men who will argue that some women are "for sex", by which they mean that some women are "wh*res" or "sl*ts". And if you believe that, you're likely to regard specific groups of women as having less rights to dignity and respect, and less inherent dignity and respect, than the lower levels of each that men generally assume women have who aren't categorised by those misogynist terms.

To any man or boy reading this: if you hear any male use those terms about anyone who is female, please tell them to stop it, and explain why it's sexist as hell for them to do so. Simply ask them how many men they know who are sl*ts, b*tches, and wh*res--not in a haha funny ("that dude is my b*tch") way, either. But in the way that results in prostitutes being raped and murdered with no one caring at all. In a way that makes all girls more vulnerable to rape inside and outside the home. In a way that makes women across region and race vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual assault wherever they go, however they dress, and whatever they do for a living.

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