Take Back the Night can be a life-changing event for those of us who regularly experience sexual harassment, misogyny, body shaming, or objectification. UMBC’s Take Back the Night, for those reasons, has the ability to be life-changing for absolutely anyone by caring enough about themselves and others to notice that these themes really matter in the overall shaping of rape culture and the extent that the “small stuff” can reach to. The speak out at this year’s event was something I have been preparing for a while now because of the mark it had on me at last year’s event when I was only one month off of a traumatic sexual assault. At last year’s speak out, a woman confessed her struggle about her rape and ended with, “I can now confidently say that the word ‘broken’ is no longer in my vocabulary” about her long recovery to better-than-before. I fell apart at that moment. Not only was I simply not “there” yet in my process (considering it had happened one month ago at the time), but I was just so inspired by the fact that she had gone through something that made her feel stronger. She was honestly broken at one point and is now unfamiliar with the word. Hearing those stories, knowing I was not the only one, it was everything to me.
I decided to combine the ten years of theatre experience I’ve acquired in my life and write a monologue. This was meant to be more of a performance, but turned out to be detailed letter to myself at the time of my assault, alongside a letter to my offender. I was inspired to write something after a year of the occurrence because I felt I had gained some knowledge about things I wish I had known when it had just happened. It feels like nobody actually understands, and like it can’t get any better. And honestly? In a few ways it doesn’t. Sometimes it even gets worse. However, there’s some things in our lives that we can think about that keep us holding on. I guess I just feel as if holding on was worth it, and I want other survivors of rape and sexual assault to know that.
Other than my own experiences, my inspiration for the writing came from kintsukuroi which is a Japanese word meaning “mended with gold”. Gold is a theme that has kept coming back into my life, and now I think it’s for a reason. My favorite song being “Golden” by Ruth B, an old friend writing a song about me called “Marigold”, and kintsukuroi was the part that hit home as to why gold means so much to me. When a vase breaks, it is to be mended back together with gold, and this is how I am able to see our lives now; all the more beautiful for having been broken. In essence, there is something much more enchanting about eyes that have seen things and been in hard places, but have had the courage to make it through. I see that in myself, and for any survivors out there reading this, I see it in you too.
My project consisted of volunteering for the event as set up/close down crew, leading the front of the march with “Survivors” sign, collaborating with Jess Myers and the Women’s Center to put on a successful event, and purchasing/choosing supplies for commemorating the event. Many people came up to me afterwards to just let me know that it meant a lot to them to hear my piece, and that helped me know I did something that effected someone. I was proud of the way it was done as well, I look at the video now and I am even inspired by it…performances like that really are what inspired me to write something from my own heart and create something meaningful out of a dark situation.
I would make sure it was memorized next time if I could do it over. From how much I practised and have now seen my performance, I could probably do it off of memory just from that! I knew it was mostly about the story and the experience that I had with getting through something tough in life. It almost felt like a mother reading a story to her child about everything she knows she has the potential to be. It was a letter to me, but so much of it could resonate with anyone trying to find meaning in their life.
I learned through this project that activism comes in many forms. As someone who participates commonly in protests and politically-involved activism, this kind of activism is just spreading the seeds for other budding activists. Activism is a way of inspiring people to care about a cause. Art does that more strongly than anything I know. It makes me realize the plays I have put on and the strong messages that they have sent. It makes me realize the intersections between political involvement, theatre, spoken word, writing, and the stages of activism. I felt that this project for me was a very vocal way of budding a thought of rape culture into a mind that might not feel so “involved” with the subject. This project brings back moments in which I have always included art to my activism, from singing the chorus to “Where is the Love” at a police brutality protest to political theatre choices and performances. It makes me realize how important it is to notice how I’ve done that in my activism, and how that makes me different from other activists around me. In a collective point of view, all kinds are necessary to begin a movement of people who genuinely care about something in solidarity.