They say your body is a temple. To treat it well, nourish it, love it.
My body is a temple, so I need to bear responsibility for taking care of it, for treating it as such.
But my body is not my own.
At least that’s how it feels. After 23 years of living in a world where men’s entitlement to the bodies of women and trans people, it feels as if my body belongs to the men who have violated and abused my body. Yet we hardly acknowledge others’ responsibility for treating my body like my temple. Whether it be something as seemingly harmless as catcalling or being groped and forcibly grabbed drunk men or being raped by men who wanted to “make me straight;” whether I’m at home or in Amsterdam, Innsbruck, Skopje or Chisinau or any other place in the world, sexual violence is a seemingly normal aspect of my existence.
What’s worse is that I am far from alone in this struggle. When I first saw someone post a “me too” status on Facebook, I thought it was just going to be another futile copy and paste status that pops up from time to time, but never really gains monument or is paid any attention to by the majority of internet dwellers. But they kept coming. It was woman after woman sharing stories of violation and abuse, harassment and assault. Soon trans people joined the rally because as we know far too well, sexual violence is not something that only affects cis women.
And I kept being reminded of the fact that for every “me too” that was spoken, for every story shared, there are countless more “me toos” and stories that have gone untold out of fear or shame or threat.
Our bodies are not our own. At least that’s how it seems.
We talk about self-care and self-love. We talk about taking time to do what one needs to do to protect their mental and physical wellbeing. But we don’t talk enough about the need for collective healing and accountability, about holding space to be vulnerable and cry with one another and holding abusers accountable not only for their actions but the harm they caused. Even on the rare occasion when an abuser experiences the consequences for his actions, he still does not carry the burden of the trauma. As survivors, we are the ones who become responsible for healing from the physical and emotional pain others have put us through. We are the ones who have to deal with not being able to eat because of the nausea anxiety attacks produce or not being able to sleep from the nightmares or not being able to go out at night with friends because of the sheer fear of being violated again or finding the right medication to treat your PTSD or missing out days worth of activities and responsibilities because your depression takes over. Even if an abuser is fired or kicked out of school or – on the rarest of occasions – jailed, they do not have to carry the burden of the trauma.
They take away our agency and bodily autonomy, and leave us to clean up the mess. They think they own our bodies, but they don’t want the burden of the soul inside. That’s our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to fix what they did.
Our bodies are not our own as long as we are living in a world where sexual violence is normalised and accepted, as long as abusers still walk the streets. Shouting “me too” from the rooftops or engaging in self-care or finding community will only do so much. I wish I could end this with a solution or a model for what restorative justice might look like so that abusers carried the weight of the consequences, but there is no easy way out. That’s the nature of trauma. If someone runs over your foot with a car – regardless of intention – they can pay for the damage or serve time or whatever other consequence there may be, but it is impossible to transfer the physical trauma from one being to another. Your foot will still be broken. And an eye for an eye is no solution because causing more trauma won’t heal the trauma that already exists.
It’s a heavy and harsh reality to understand and accept that. It’s something I have tried again and again to accept but still deny because it is infuriating that while my abusers are all walking around free in this world, I’m trapped in this body that I’m trying to heal and reclaim.
Our bodies are not our own. Maybe one day that will change, but for now I’m going to continue fighting to take it back.