I read your beautiful and heart-filling statement 3 months ago when your trial was at the peak of its media coverage. The fact that your words have not been glossed over like a media trend has inspired me to believe that we as a society are indeed evolving and learning how to listen. Your story has maintained a steady heartbeat, moving others to stand up with posters and megaphones and a well-aimed rage that have already changed the way we look at rape.
So many articles have (correctly) asserted that justice did not find its way to rapist Brock Turner, that Aaron Persky is a despicably immoral judge, and that the insult of this trial's result demonstrates how rape survivors continue to be assaulted over and over again by a justice system with warped priorities. But I want to highlight an equally real and beautiful truth that has not been covered in as much detail:
You are going to be all right.
In your letter to Turner, you say that you are "still learning to accept victim as part of [your] identity." Accepting that "rape survivor" is a part of one's identity is a strange and terrifying beast. Even allies with the most wonderful intentions can make acceptance scarier by painting us as lost souls that will never recover. Often this portrayal seeks to convey the atrociousness of rape itself, but it leads survivors to believe we must forever wear a badge of disgrace and victimization. No one needs ever to accept "victim" as a personal descriptor. You survived. You were not silenced. You fought every day for us. And you won, because coming out of this has made you -- and will continue to make you -- an emotional powerhouse. You have been victimized. But you are no one's victim.
My story was never in the media. No trial ever happened. So ours are two very different experiences. I cannot begin to fathom what you have had to cope with in the aftermath of that life-altering night. I have survived a number of kinds of abuse, though, and the way that I give meaning to my experience is to be, like you, a lighthouse for others. I wouldn't be who I am if I had not fought through those black ocean waves, and though I certainly do not count any survivor lucky for the event that turned her into one, I am thankful every single day for the lessons I learned from it. I wouldn't know how to cope with tragedy if I had not swum through that ocean. I would not know how to listen with unfiltered compassion. I would not know how to let pain flow through me uninhibited and without shame or to open up to the extraordinary strength one finds in vulnerability. I would not have the power to stand up for myself and others or to show people that each of these things makes me stronger. The journey through the darkness and my determination to find and turn on the light have made me who I am. They've made you who you are. And girl, you are a badass.
This letter is not in any way meant to tell you something you don't already know. But amidst all the voices speaking up about the awful injustices in this case, I wanted to turn on a light. Because you are still with us.
Thank you for being a lighthouse. I am with you, too.
Learn Krav Maga
THE BADASS FACTOR:
Krav Maga is a self-defense system devised by the Israeli army that combines martial arts to train natural reflexes for real-world, life-threatening situations. I'm hoping it'll teach me how to hold my own in a fight (not to start one, mind you. Badasses don't start fights. Assholes start fights.).
I buy a Groupon for 5 classes at the Krav Maga Institute. For someone whose martial arts training consists of slapping Pelham County's resident douche Tripp Brockway in the face once in 9th grade, Krav Maga appears daunting. But according to the KMI website, the instructors welcome all levels of experience. So off I go to class.
I learn open-handed slaps, how to throw a punch, and why never to hand the red-orange rubber knives to one's partner. I notice that the women in class -- outnumbered two-to-one by men -- are much quicker to laugh. My partner, Kala, and I bond over how awkward a first-date topic Krav Maga can be, and we laugh at my instinctive exclamation of "Weeeee!" as she throws me to the ground. Meanwhile, the guys drill techniques over and over with intense hyperfocus. I wonder why this difference occurs, especially since women are more likely to train in self-defense because of past abuse, whereas men tend to be more drawn to the masculinity-boosting cool factor of martial arts. I don't want to draw uninformed conclusions, though, and Kala has already seemed to disprove this hypothesis in mentioning that boxing is a beloved pastime in her family.
We move on to choke-holds. Kala acts as the attacker, and our shiner-sporting instructor, Robert, asks her to grab my shirt collar instead of my throat. She probably doesn't know much about trauma triggers or the one I have around my neck, but she grabs my collar without question. I escape her over and over, kicking her knees out from under her.
Then it's my turn to attack. I notice quickly that my desire to support her is making me a literal pushover. Kala rolls over me with ease again and again, not even using the knee-kick we're supposed to be practicing. Finally, she stops me and says, "You need to bear down on me more. I'm not using the right technique because I don't have to."
She lies on her back, and I straddle her, propping myself up on my knees. She tells me to tighten my grip. My mind would have gone into shock by now with this much pressure around my throat, but this time, I don't back down. I tell myself she's not going to push me over this time. Reading my mind, she raises her foot and kicks one of my knees out from under me. I collapse onto the ground in an awkward heap, and she stands.
Robert calls for a break. As we both take gulps of water between pants, Kala tells me, "Normally, I don't mind taking it easy with simulated attacks, but chokeholds are different. Because that's what happened to me. I was choked in a park."
Kickin' knees and learnin' names with Kala subverted my expectations of Krav Maga. We both arrived here by a road laden with past trauma, and we evidently both value the inimitable healing power of humor and compassion. The KMI instructors actually embody the compassion/not-to-be-fucked-with interplay: Robert is definitely the guy you would not want to fuck with at a bar at 1am on a Tuesday, but he has devoted a full-time career to teaching people how to protect themselves. He's also a bona fide badass.
So the Road to Badass will require the ability both to defend against and empathize with others. (I love a good paradox, don't you?) After all, it was master of compassion Maya Angelou who said, "Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."
Besides, after 5 classes and a handful of bruised knuckles, I have found there is no way to talk about Krav Maga and not sound awesome.
I'm learning very quickly that in order to be a badass, you have to actually do stuff. I had kind of assumed a training montage à la Disney's Hercules would come out of nowhere, and I'd put on a leather jacket, break a measuring tape with my bicep, and call it a day. But alas, it is too late to turn back and blog about a cookbook or my sex life. I shall have to swallow my laziness and procrastination and be productive. Gulp.
Generally, when I want to feel productive, I create menial to-do lists that will make me believe I'm getting it together. But doing laundry, catching up on emails, and using the bathroom are not going to cut it on the Road to Badass. Badasses don't just do stuff; they get shit done.
But what do I want to get done? To start, I'm taking a closer look at those "What if I did that" musings that constantly flutter feebly at the back of my mind. What if I learned Russian? What if I went sky-diving? A handful of what-ifs like these have echoed through my thoughts for years. And there's a good chance that all these would-be goals continue to flirt with me because they are within the realm of possibility, even though I'll have to, you know, try. Gulp.
Here's what keeps poking at the back of my brain...
Badass Shit To Get Done
Of course, challenging who I am, popping and locking, and being able to kill someone with my face all sound quite daunting at first thought. My biggest goals too often drown in their infancy, because I so often hear accomplished badasses like Oprah and Muhammad Ali asserting variations of "Anything is possible" and "You just gotta believe." For a millenial seeking meaning, vague clichés that evoke belief in "the impossible" are as well worn as the alphabet. They have lost their meaning, like a word you say over and over again. I'd rather look at accomplishment through the lens of starting small. Unlike "just believing," this adage at least implies action. I could sit in a chair and believe for hours on end while staring at the wall and sporting a Gryffindor Quidditch bathrobe --and I have-- but nothing would get done. To mark huge goals off my list, I have hence aimed to start small, but to start something, even before I've convinced myself that it's possible. The root of accomplishment doesn't have to be belief. Sometimes, it's simply doing it.
So here's what I'm doing. I've registered for Krav Maga classes. I'm currently enrolled in an absolute beginners' hip hop class. I'm 24 pages into My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. I'm going to the first meeting for a new improv troupe this evening. I'm sending my 7th draft to a friend today. We'll see where these small starts take me. The only one I haven't accounted for is travel, but I assume I'll plan that further down the Road. To be honest, I don't really believe I'll be able to do that, but I'm going to do it anyway and see what happens. Gulp.
When I began this journey many moons ago, I had no idea I'd shed the old Case and discover a brand new best Self! I mean, if you had told me 2 months ago that Jennifer Lawrence would be playing me in Eat, Pray, Love Part 2: The Muppets Take Manhattan, I'd've said you were off your rocker, yet here we are! And who knew that by sheer willpower, I could grow 3 inches and bend spoons at will?
This is the kind of crap I plan on being able to say about that epiphany I plan on having whilst traveling along this Road to Badass. Amidst the craze of New Year's resolutions, I have resolved to uncover what badass means. Though I don't plan on skydiving into enemy territory or ripping off my own arm so I can beat Donald Trump to death with it (as enticing as that sounds), I shall be exploring various ways to incorporate badassery into my everyday life.
At the moment, of course, my big, unassuming eyes and I do not know what this journey will hold. An initial Google search has informed me that badasses don't wait for permission! They don't care about anything! They do clothes purges! They engage in something called a "scary gaze!" So that's what all those attentive men at the end of the subway car are going for. I'm learning already.
My own take on Badass finds its foundation in the strength to hold one's own intellectually, physically, and spiritually. In order to knock out these pesky adverbs one by one, I'll be reading lots of badass authors; searching for role models to be Badass of the Week; finally trying out meditation; diving into some gnarly self-defense classes; and sharing my experiences with my fellow badasses-in-training. Suggestions will be met with open arms and scary gazes.
I clearly have much more to add to the list, but the groundwork is laid. Come ride with me, my pretties. The Road to Badass awaits.