*trigger warning: rape*
I was recently interviewed to be included in a documentary about different experiences of survivors of rape. This was a very terrifying , sad, and yet exciting experience since I had tried for many years for mainstream attention about what had happened to me, but no one really thought my story was ‘good’ enough until now. I was happy, however, to finally be able to tell my story on my own terms with a feminist in charge. I think it will be better that way.
Now I won’t hesitate to tell you that I am a very bitter person. Being raped as a college student really completely derailed my life. As someone who should have graduated from a top university in 2008 watching folks become doctors and lawyers as I take introductory courses at community college while at home, I struggle with a lot of personal guilt and shame about my life. The folks behind the documentary emailed me recently to ask about 3 significant things going on in my life to give a sort of end-of-movie update. I offered some things about me, but there was a definite need to have a ‘positive’ spin on things and to enter on what is ‘empowering’ to me and positive. I was given the example of how one survivor had found the love of their life and couldn’t wait to have kids with him.
Now this is where I got kind of annoyed; I felt my heart harden as I struggled with a twinge of envy of this survivor who had found a piece of her life fulfilled that I wanted, but gave up on ever having (the reasons why are very long and I won’t go into them). It got to thinking – why do we have to have happy endings? As someone who feels that her life could very easily be forever stunted by the apathy of a college administration about my experiences with rape and abuse ($100,000 debt & growing, a job that is below living wages, not sure if I could pay to continue/finish college, very limited social life, etc.) I am someone who does not find comfort in hearing how OTHER people have done well.
It made me wonder – is my story only worth telling if it has a happy ending?
Do we limit ourselves when we try to end on a happy note? When I was isolated alone at home dealing with the trauma of rape and being kicked out of school, I had a voracious appetite for reading the stories of other rape survivors. I quickly stopped reading them because they all seemed to bounce back – the most common story? They found a wonderful romantic partner who proved to them that not all people are out there to hurt them . This is a stark contrast to my experience where I seemed to only have gotten people who did not care about me – or worse – abused me, too.
Just because it turned out well for *you* it does not mean it will for *me.*
I think that telling the real stories of a diverse group of people is invaluable in the plight for social justice. However, that does not stop the occurrence of certain patterns in the stories I’ve seen. Do I have to end on a happy note? Can we just be real that as a black female college dropout with a mountain of debt and no (very little) hope of marrying my way out of perpetual poverty I am most probably eternally fucked? I know what I want to be happy – education, platonic love, romantic love, economic stability – but I do not have any of these. If I never get them, if I never succeed in getting what I want to be happy and live comfortably, is my life any less important ?
Of course it’s not, but I think these are questions worth considering. Every sad story does not have to tied to a theory of change, or a plea for you to sign a petition and make a difference. Maybe just listening to someone’s reality is enough. Let’s be honest, we live in a society that is far from equitable. It’s about time we start acknowledging that by including a diversity of stories – not just in terms of race, gender, socioeconomic status, but in terms of the endings these stories may have as well. It’s time to listen – to everyone.
What do you think? Have any of you felt similar frustrations? Do you find happy endings uplifting or discouraging? Plz weigh in below!