This weekend, Meg and Dave and I were in a performance of “A Memory, A Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer”, to benefit Victims of Violence. All of the monologues and dialogues were excellent (though I have a few qualms to be addressed separately), but one piece in particular - Eve Ensler’s “Fur is Back”, as performed by Meg - really struck a chord with me.
“Fur is Back”, for those who don’t have time to go watch videos, is an account of being That Girl at the Party - the one who actually answers the question “how are you?” and “what’s up?” honestly. The one who talks about the unspeakable things. In Ensler’s monologue, she melts down and is removed from the party.
This isn’t my experience.
Oh, mind you, I always worry about being That Girl! Because I do answer honestly. I do talk about it. Every time someone does the party-small-talk “what do you do?” and I answer “I work at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center,” I have that half-second pause where I don’t know if the person will light up or shut down. But as time goes by, I’m finding more and more that it’s the former.
Because here’s the big not-so-secret of what we do:
People actually want to talk about this.
I have pointed this out to my family and friends. “Watch - the first person to talk to me at any party will ask me a question about rape.” And it is always so. Sometimes before I even get my coat off. When people know I’ll be at the party, I swear they sometimes lie in wait. I walk in and it’s “So what’s going on with SANE funding?” or “Someone I know was sexually assaulted - what can I do to help them?” or “here are some business cards of people who might like to have one of your workshops.”
It happens when I’m out dancing, or at the coffeeshop. It happens at science fiction conventions and online. Some days, half of my incoming e-mail is related to sexual violence.
Because people want to talk about it.
They just need to know that it’s safe. That you’re safe.
Because sometimes it’s just that they don’t want to be That Person at the Party, and that’s why they’ve never brought it up. Sometimes they’ve never talked about it at all, because they didn’t know if anyone would be receptive to hearing them.
But once they know that they can talk to you? The floodgates open. And suddenly there’s a panel at the convention about it, and a group of people at the party brainstorming about legislative advocacy, and person after person talking about what happened to them.
I have said sometimes that this is a big part of the power of what BARCC volunteers do - that, just by being visible, we enable these conversations. By being someone who can be spoken to, we make the topic no longer unspeakable.
And when people know they can speak, oh, do they.
Because they have always wanted to.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have these conversations. Make it known that your presence is a safe space. That you will listen. You may be surprised at how many people want - need - to speak.