It’s April, which means it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). I know how important SAAM is to our work to prevent and respond to violence. There is also a part of me that dreads this and so many awareness months and days throughout the year. Every year there is an overload of horrifying statistics that still barely scratch the surface of the lives of people in my communities. I become pessimistic with what awareness can do. Don’t people know how bad things are?
I heard a quote from Toni Cade Bambara recently (thanks to the Nap Ministry and the book Rest is Resistance for sharing this), “What are we pretending not to know today?” Sometimes Awareness months or days feel like an exercise in what are we pretending not to know today. At the same time, I know how important Awareness days and months are for so many people and causes. Many organizations rely on them to help with fundraising and get out important messages.
Many people find them empowering – a chance to be seen and to speak when more people might listen. Many of us in trans/nonbinary communities are familiar with the constant pressure to explain ourselves, to justify our lives, to help people recognize our right to exist by making ourselves digestible, easy to understand, simplified and nice. A similar thing happens to survivors. There’s pressure to prove our suffering or prove that we deserve safety and didn’t deserve to be harmed. I have often been told that the way to change people’s minds is by being “a nice trans person,” with the implication that I must never be upset and always answer every question. I know now that isn’t anyone’s responsibility. I also know that engaging in non-judgmental conversations can help decrease harmful beliefs, as seen in work called “Deep Canvassing.” We know that the opportunity to be fully seen as ourselves can be liberating.
For me, SAAM and other awareness efforts become an exercise in holding on to two truths at once, even when they seem so different. For example,
- Sharing our stories can be healing for some people. AND each person gets to choose for themselves what, when and how to share.
- People need to be aware of these issues. AND awareness isn’t enough. We need action.
- Hearing other people’s stories can be empowering and healing. AND hearing stories can be overwhelming or bring up trauma reminders.
Now it’s April. A month of sexual assault awareness. For me this means a month of practicing taking care of myself and leaning into complexities. I’m sharing here some of the things I find helpful, in hopes that others might as well.
1. Challenge either/or thinking. I remind myself that it is okay to sit with complexity. I practice reminding myself that I can hold on to multiple truths at the same time. It is okay to change the choices that you make from day to day or year to year. It is okay to need different things at different times.
2. Pay attention to my social media use. I use all of these tools to help me become more aware of what’s in my feeds and to notice how it affects me:
- Mute stories or posts from specific groups temporarily. Each platform has different tools. Here’s how to mute stories on Instagram.
- Pick and choose which stories to watch.
- Pay attention to the time I spend online. Make choices about when to use based on how I feel. This article can help with ideas on noticing or changing social media use.
- Find accounts, people, or posts that are hopeful and affirming. I do this by searching for things I like (cats, vegan food, disability justice). I also glance over an account’s page before I follow to decide if they share content I want to see all the time. You can search for tips depending on the platform you use.
- These tips on filtering and blocking content can help you navigate a number of platforms and situations.
3. I try to make conscious decisions about what I share and when.
For example, I recently wrote a long rant about a struggle I was having, but after taking a moment to think, I realized I just wanted to share that with close friends. I rewrote my post to be more about the point I really wanted to make. I’m a super private person, so other people will make different decisions and that’s great! I also like to share messages I find hope and comfort in, not just things I’m mad about.
4. I find hope in action.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence says Awareness + Action = Social Change. I love this, and when it comes time for Awareness days or months, I seek out messages about actions. These don’t have to be big events. FORGE will be posting 30 Days of Action for April. Maybe some of these messages will resonate with you.
I also change the narrative. I think about what actions I can take for myself and my community to support safety. I share those things with others, often in person instead of online.
I seek out messages of comfort and care amongst the push to do more all the time.
5. Practice self-soothing techniques.
Before doing something that makes me feel tense or anxious, I do some breathing. If time allows, I’ll pull up a short video to guide me on deep inhales and exhales. If that doesn’t make sense, then I’ll count as I breathe. I like a slightly shorter inhale and longer exhale for anxiety. It is important to note that this is not for everyone. It’s only in the last six months that breathing exercises have been useful to me. I used to really hate the suggestion to trying breathing!
I put down my phone and notice something nice around me.
I text a friend. I have a couple friends that I’ve specifically talked to and we can just text hi. I don’t need to say more, just hi.
Everyone has different tools that work for them. While we commit to taking action for ourselves and our communities, we can also commit to taking care of ourselves and our communities. These are the complexities that we hold onto every day that aren’t as contradictory as they seem at first.