My Pain Is Not For Sale: I Will Never Publish Sexual Assault by J.M. Bates (guest post)

It is 1989 and I am four years old. I somehow survive a sexual assault. Terrible things happen to children all the time, and they are stronger than they look. Twenty-five years is a long time to heal from anything.

In 1991, I am sitting in a sand box in my parents’ back yard by myself when I decide that I want to be a writer. Though it comes to me randomly, it is a solid thought, as real as truth. A cardboard box full of storybooks in my closet is my best friend at the time. At the age of six I agree on this life plan of telling stories. In the following days I put pieces of colored construction paper together, staple them into booklets, draw cats on the pages with a Bic pen, attempt to tell stories to others when I am illiterate. I wind up writing books with titles such as “FUCK”, “FAST RICE”,  and “MOES” because I mimicked words I found lying around the house.

In 2000, I find myself behind a microphone for the first time in a friend of a friend’s basement, screaming punk songs and feeling my own repressed narrative bursting from my chest as pain fuels fury. The other girls in the band are smashing their own instruments as hard as they can and afterward we are all standing together in the electric hum with tears in our eyes and none of us knows what the hell just happened or exactly what we experienced together.

It is 2004 and I am eighteen years old, on my own for the first time. I do not have a mailing address or a key to the apartment I am currently staying. I am living in a real city with crime and corruption, after only living in a small town with crime and corruption.

I work up the nerve to enter a feminist bookstore. After some initial nervousness, I quickly feel comfort inside the room and for the first time in my life I feel complete safety and validation. The physical walls act as a barrier, solace from the external and even internal turmoil, the untreated anxiety and other generalized hell that comes with post-traumatic stress disorder. I walk around for minutes or maybe hours. After picking it up and putting it back down again multiple times, I buy The Courage To Heal because I heard about it from a Le Tigre song. Back at the apartment, I hide under the covers in the bottom bunk bed of the room I am sharing. The book is large and its pages spread detail the journey ahead of me.

I continue to unfuck my life. In 2006, I am in a movie theater full of men in the audience. There is a villain on the screen holding a woman against her will as he tells her exactly how he is going to rape her. The actual act is not shown but I still feel frozen, nauseated, like it is 1989 again. I look around the theater and see only the bored faces of the men in the audience watching the film, seemingly unaffected by the violence in front of them.

 Later on in the movie, the woman stabs the villain who assaulted her. I literally cannot stop myself from cheering out loud, maybe more like a roar than a cheer. Multiple men angrily tell me to “Shhh!” and “Shut up!” for interrupting the film. I see a few dudes’ girlfriends glance over at me. I can’t tell if they are sympathetic or annoyed.

It is 2015 and I am publishing my first novel. In these years of healing, I have also been observing and absorbing the world around me. I’ve read multiple books and seen countless movies and TV shows with sexual assault used as a plot device to instill hatred against a villain of the story or inspire sympathy for a character who has survived. I can’t help but look back at my own life and think how cheap this is, how easy, how callous, how overly simplified, and lastly, how completely overdone it is to take such a complex trauma and use it in such a way.

In this book and all of my future books, there will be no sexual assault. I am unwilling to use my own pain and the pain of others just to take a lazy writing shortcut. Though I may include survivors of assault in my books, they will be complex human beings who represent much more than what they have endured. The violence I include will only be the minimum of what I feel is required. Any sexuality I write about will always be consensual.

It is not escapism if it is exactly what the world needs right now.

J.M. Bates is a fantasy and science fiction writer from Chicago, Illinois. J.M. is pronounced “jam”.

Here’s the first chapter of Brilliant Shadows for free: