I didn’t believe my friend when she was raped.
The last few years in Tucson have been a struggle to survive. With the battles in our communities and legislation targeting brown people of color on indigenous land – we have nearly killed each other and the work and the fight and the fighting has made us all sick – susto. It deserves writing that will never end now that it has started. Through it all, I now reflect on two moments when I know I fucked up. I monumentally fucked up and hurt other women. When it first happened, she was and we all were sorting through statements and over ‘what does this mean to this movement’ shit. She may have at first said something(s) and later they changed which isn’t uncommon with sexual violence and doesn’t delegitimize what happened to her or her voice at any given moment. Sexual violence is haunting and what happened to me with a family member fifteen years ago took me almost a year to tell anyone about. My mom. She knew and never questioned me aloud, but my family raged in confusion. My grandparents led my smear campaign.
‘The divorce and custody battles were just really hard on her she has got to be making this up for attention. Her father, our son would never do this.’
But he did and I still can’t name it. I never filed a report, never told a counselor, I didn’t bring it up in custody hearings, and haven’t explained to my friends who insist that I masturbate but I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO because touching my naked body disgusts me (for a number of reasons) and I haven’t talked about it with anyone the way I go over it with myself. I’m sure it accounts for my inability to have physical intimacy, even hugs are uncomfortable when they’re unwanted and they’re usually unwanted.
After this past summer I even wondered if it’s why V couldn’t force a sexual connection or some shit with me. I questioned myself over and over.
The loneliness of something I can’t even verbalize that was happening in my subconscious made me suicidal about things I could verbalize and understand like break ups. So my moment of attempted overdose or short episode with antidepressants seem unusually common and associated with the moments they took place in but I’ve come to understand that I carry my trauma everyday regardless if I acknowledge it and it shapes my behavior and response.
When she said she was raped, she didn’t use that language, in those first days she didn’t say to me, “I was raped”. She told me and one of my best friends at the same time. I refuse to go over details of what was said and will limit my details because the space to go over this with all of us – belongs to her. Arguably some friends (a word that has become interchangeable to also include: community member, co-worker, social justice acquaintance) thought they probably just had sex, that some of what happened was consensual and she didn’t want to follow through with it and so it was date rape, which apparently isn’t rape-rape in our disgusting shaming language for those who drink alcohol or like to fuck. There is nothing wrong with liking to have sex. We were all friends, all us comadres, going through a lot of shit in Arizona – we deserved to get dressed super cute and go out for drinks. There were nights we drank A LOT. I was going through a break up and thought I was going to die, as usual. Reflecting on the time we had as comadres, a tight inseparable group, it forever transformed me. My home girls, mujeres, had my back and I mostly healed that break up and got through it because of them and jäger bombs. We always took care of each other, took cabs, three or more of us, had our usual spots, and didn’t fuck around with guys. We went together and left together and slept over at each other’s places. On “Chican@ prom night”, a huge night for our community, it was different. We didn’t carefully plan our night besides our outfits; we’d be with hundreds of our friends and community members. I suppose we assumed we’d be safe. That there was no way something could happen to any of us around movement men we worked with. We didn’t plan designated drivers or anything like that, the night was predictable except for the predatory behavior of one, who now, obviously had a plan for his night.
We all went to a film premiere and then to a local bar for drinks and dancing. He was a creep. He was drunk and sloppy and grabbing on women half his age, he wanted to dance; he wanted to celebrate and be the center of attention. Women’s attention. I left before they did. We asked around about rides and getting people home and left.
In the next two days I found out something went intolerably wrong, and I didn’t know what to think of it all. There were talking circles and whispers and meetings and time moved slowly but it also went quickly. Inescapably slow and quick, so I have a hard time remembering each day. I think for the most part there were young women who never believed her (and still don’t), young women who always have, and those of us who thought nothing at all — who wanted to be neutral.
Neutral on rape.
The privilege of not knowing what to do and checking out. Checking out was easy. There was so much work to do as usual. Subtlety, my best friend and I combined the work we had been doing with work that needed to be done along lines of gender and sexual violence. She was more on point than I was (usually) and I basked in her energy and kind of said “fuck off” to everything else.
A month later after some unnecessary drama, I chose to think what everyone else in Tucson seemingly thought and I pulled the same shit my grandparents had done to me and like my former male teachers and people I looked up to, my only concern was Ethnic Studies. What does this mean for our comunidad, our fight? In my eyes, she did something that allowed for me to minimize her almost instantly and we fought over email exchanges that were cc’d to other young folks and that was that. I was Team Ethnic Studies (how the fuck did that happen and why wasn’t I just team myself?).
Folks around the country would call me as a respectable mujer and ask if they could show the film to raise money, they heard there was controversy and wanted to hear it from me. I would call one of my teacher/mentor from the movement and let them know and usually my answer was “yes– Yes, if I were you I’d show the movie.” I’m really struggling now with how sick it all sounds because it was all sick. But I was willing to do anything for Ethnic Studies, ANYTHING. I would’ve then and I will do as much now as long as I’m not negotiating anyone’s dignity in the process.
I remember when he called me, from Save Ethnic Studies, in a panic. He knew then the power I held so he manipulated me and convinced me she was enemy #1.
I’m just a man and I have no say in this, but you’re trucha and if she gets this around, she has eighty some page report on our community. This will destroy us.
Of course he needed me to engineer a solution, a way to exploit young people in the name of social justice education. And I was a pawn in this modern nationalist epic novel. I could be the down ass trucha home girl who was loyal to her Raza, gets arrested, cooks comida, works with the young students and is never mentioned in a history book twenty years from now. This is all so romantic to a young organizer. And I loved everyone involved in this fucked up mess. I even sat down with two women I thought would jump me with words, one being the perpetrator’s partner (I realize I haven’t mentioned that yet, yes he had/s a partner which complicated the situation even further) and tried being – neutral. When we met, she gave me a gift, a fox and chocolates. My friends told me not to do it; she wanted me to be a bridge. I am a bridge in so many ways, I understand that. If I could make peace I would but only recently have I realized that I can’t now and I couldn’t then. Even if my education taught me that I could change the world, I can’t take on every task or every hit that comes my way.
But I still did. I tried to organize a meeting with everyone at the table – all the comadres at least. Like, ‘let’s sorts this out as women.’ I was still in this mentality like it was a women’s job, my job, to sort through shit, find what was good and exemplify behavior for our community. I do this now, but I also do shit that exemplifies anger and lust and human shit. And CAN WE TALK ABOUT HOW it’s not just my job to give a shit because I’m identified as a woman? So in the end, this was all silenced. She went away, literally – she moved out-of-state and out of the country and slowly the whispers became softer and softer. Our community dragged itself forward but this became the norm for all of us. Everything that happened then and since deserves endless words and stories or lessons for future generations and this generation right now.
During Freedom Summer, organizing became mundane and everyday. There were moments of hope and of accomplishing what we once had but what happened and was silenced will also be told.
I had a long emotional affair that was overdue to become physical and at summer time it did. When I kissed V I thought of my friend. In feeling like a slut – it was the same friend who named us both sluts after all, I would think of her. I would also think of his girlfriend. My political analysis of what we owe one another shifted in moment’s time. When he tried to fuck me when we were drunk it was because over all of this that I was able to know anything at all about consent and that I can change my mind. I CAN CHANGE MY MIND. When I’m drunk or he’s drunk or I can change my mind whenever the fuck I want. Or I can say no or I can say yes to this and no to that and seriously HE JUST SHOULDN’T HAVE TRIED WHEN I WAS DRUNK to begin with.
L and C are now my friends. I think.
L and I had lunch, she poured over journals and emails and texts. We spent a day together too, she’s been around now. It makes me feel alive. It is because of her resilience and resistance that I gather the will to act. When I hug her I don’t understand how she even lets me touch her. Hug her, to be around her glowing smile or share words with me… words to share with any of us.
C, she came to an event recently, she donated ten dollars to malintZINE. She hugged me. I thought her text messages were strategy, to get me to have lunch with her, so she can rip me apart, deservingly, although that’s never been her style. If she wanted to give me a regañada, I would sit and answer whatever she needed me to for her healing. She said she respects me still. I don’t understand. I lent her a book. My copy of Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her.
“The half life of love is forever”
Maybe these things mean not much to anyone other than myself; possibly them. I have and will continue to reflect on these past few years and my own behavior. It is through my reflection that I need to account for what has happened and document. Accountability to me is speaking my truth. Acknowledging the ways in which I can and need to grow. Responsibility is challenging myself to behave in ways that will cause growth to happen. I have a responsibility to L and C to do work from here on that moves towards – NEVER AGAIN. It wasn’t through ethnic studies that I learned in lak ech, tu eres mi otro yo. But through two ethnic studies alumni, both younger than me, who offered me forgiveness and room to grow. Creating some Chicana girl code of accountability and responsibility. To taking care of each other and never assuming anyone else will. To loving other women and loving yourself.