This last month has been frustrating and difficult for me. I am in the process of having my story of abuse published and it has been one obstacle after another.
The first publisher I signed with, told me the subject matter was "too controversial" for their conservative views and they needed to "distance themselves" from the project. The second publisher was fine with the topic but told me I would have to change every name and distinguishing detail of the people within my story due to the lack of prosecution.
And after I had changed any detail that could identify my perpetrators, the publisher then told me I'd also have to change my own name. You see, it wasn't enough that all those men would be protected with hidden identities, but now I couldn't claim in written form this life was mine. I'd have to make it a fictitious person's story to further protect my abusers and neglecters.
I understand the reality is that these publishing companies are just trying to keep themselves from potential lawsuits, but what it feels like is more people stifling my voice. More people telling me to keep my mouth shut and downplay the trauma.
And it feels like just one more time those that hurt me were let off the hook. Protect the abusers and silence the victim.
So I did what any healthy adult would do and started to throw myself a pity party. I felt bad for myself. I went from angry to heartbroken to having a peace and then right back to angry. It didn't seem fair that even those who had the opportunity to help me and protect me along the way were going to be sheltered from exposure.
I went back and forth regarding a pen name, trying to weigh the pros and cons of using one, and if it would diminish what I'm about to do.
Then Harvey and Irma happened;hurricanes that took out major cities, leaving thousands without their homes. And I thought of Charlottesville with white supremacists raging disparaging chants against the Jewish people, a nation that has been oppressed for thousands of years. Then I thought of the protests of confederate statues in prominent places where black americans are reminded of their status in our society. Suddenly my pity party seemed incredibly selfish and trivial.
All around us are communities of marginalized people whose voices have been stolen by bullies. Everywhere we look there are oppressed and afflicted people who need someone to see them and hear them. It doesn't matter if we agree with their political views, if we have the same religious affiliation, or we like their lifestyle choices. They are human being with emotions and souls. They have a right to be heard and acknowledged.
And all around us are bullies who want to keep those souls from being seen and heard. They feel threatened by those marginalized, superior to them, and filled with selfishness and anger against them. All around us are those willing to push the oppressed further down to make themselves feel better under then guise of "keeping our world safe."
Yet if we look at history, not once did silencing an already oppressed person actually make the world safe. Good never came from pushing someone else's spirit down. It only added to the misunderstandings, lack of compassion, and ultimately, hate in our world. Further silencing a community that's already not heard enough only enables the bullies to continue doing what is wrong.
And at the root of all of it is fear.
Fear is what kept me ashamed for so many years. Fear is what kept those who were supposed to protect me from encouraging me to speak out. Fear is what keeps most marginalized people from using their voice; why would they? They are used to being discredited and made to feel worse.
This country shouts "freedom of speech" yet spends an inordinate amount of time stifling that freedom in those it was created for. This freedom was supposed to take away the fear of talking about hard things, a right to personal opinion and dignity, but instead it has empowered those bullies to keep quiet topics that make societies uncomfortable.
I am reminded in my very trivial circumstance of using a pen name that there are countless other major communities of afflicted and oppressed people who are made to feel they are "not allowed" to talk about it.
They want to use their voice but others make it difficult for them. They want a voice that doesn't include fear. A voice that is met with compassion and empathy. A voice that brings others to acknowledge there is a soul behind it.
We need to start listening to those people and hear what they have been trying to tell us. Not with our own agenda, ready to react instead of respond, but as one person to another. One human soul listening to another human soul. We need to be seeking out those marginalized people around us - and there are plenty - then extend grace and love.
I have decided to not publish my book under a fictitious name, but I will instead self-publish proudly using my own name. Because my story isn't just about me. It is one example of all the other abuse victims who's voices have been stolen. I have the ability and strength to talk about this taboo subject, so I will, without hiding my identity.
Our opinions of black people, Muslims, refugees, homeless people, the LGBTQ community, or any other minority and marginalized person doesn't stop them from having emotions. In fact, our opinions are what can cause them to be afraid and ashamed.
The next time someone is vulnerable enough to share their story with you - whether face-to-face or through another medium - listen to them and hear them. You may be the only one outside of their own community that is giving them the freedom of speech. And their voice deserves to be heard as much as yours does.