“How do you define consent? Have you ever talked about consent with your partner(s) or friends? Do you know people, or have you ever been with people who define consent differently than you do?”
Thus begins one of the best zines I have ever read on the subject of healing from sexual abuse. This zine is specifically geared towards friends, lovers and allies of survivors, and is written in an accessible, loving, realistic way, including writing and comics by a dozen or so contributors who are healing from or supporting others with abuse histories (many have experienced both). Their words are painful, but also comforting for those of us who have struggled in this realm – the message is not tragic, it is one of hope and community and, well, support.
Topics include: consent, boundaries, triggers, dissociation, power dynamics, survivor guilt, recovering from trauma, flashbacks, staying present, confronting rapists, denial, panic attacks, and more. Being in the middle of these experiences can feel out of control and indefinable, making it impossible to communicate with a partner, especially if they are taking it personally. So having these words to consult and share could really make a difference. The advice is straight-forward and specific, while still relying on your intuitive and empathic powers, which makes the healing journey feel more like an adventure and less like torture, no matter how painful it is.
“It’s okay for us to have to work hard at what other people take for granted. The goal is not to return to some arbitrary centerpoint of normalcy from which we were robbed as children. We are not deviants. The goal is to heal, to be on a continuum of healing,” writes Chris Somerville in his essay, “Safe Sex for Survivors.”
While we’re all aware that most sexual abuse happens to girls at the hands of men, this zine also includes a lot of writing from the perspective of male survivors, and several stories of men being pressured into sex by women, which I’ve rarely heard talked about. Also, this zine manages to avoid demonizing abusers while holding everyone accountable for recognizing power dynamics and honoring other people’s boundaries. In one piece, the editor writes about the fucked up act of initiating sex with a sleeping person, and admits to having done this herself:
“Do they think about our abuse histories? Or the fact that we can’t say “no” when we’re asleep? Do they understand our complex defense systems and how vulnerable and terrified we might feel waking up to this assault? … The truth is, I used to crawl in people’s beds too. I thought of course all guys wanted it. I never considered the fact that I might be capable of assault. But of course, I am. A lot of us are.”
Whether or not you think you need it, whether or not you’re a survivor, or dating a survivor, or even having sex, you would probably benefit from reading this zine. And the people you choose to be intimate with will probably thank you for making their safety a priority.