How to Not Forget

[Content Note: Rape culture.]

Over the last weeks and months and years, survivors of sexual trauma have been telling our stories in the hopes of breaking open the silence around sexual violence and revealing the vast scope of the rape culture to those with the luxury of ignorance.

This is not the first time that survivors, predominantly women, have spoken out en masse about sexual harassment and sexual assault. To the contrary, survivors tell our stories publicly in a terrible cycle, recountings of our pain obliged by the denial and apologia around every new allegation against famous men, or a student athlete gang rape making the national news, or another conservative legislator saying something gross about rape, or a judge giving a paltry sentence to a sadist whose defense attorneys assure us he's a good boy who just made a mistake.

Over and over, we tell our stories, hoping this will be the time that sparks a seismic, lasting change.

But eventually, inevitably, we are told to "get over it," by the people who have been made uncomfortable by the sickening ubiquity of our stories and want to get back, as swiftly as possible, to the comfort of never doing a goddamn thing about the unfathomable scope of the harm that other people suffer.

Institutional forgetting is one of the rape culture's most reliable defenses.

Which is why I am heartened to have encountered this message everywhere the past few days, in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court: We won't forget.

It is filled with meaning, that phrase of only three words. Surely, we shouldn't forget any of it — we should remember with lasting gratitude the heroics shown by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the other people who came forward, at steep personal cost, to share what they knew of Kavanaugh's many abuses; and we should forever remember the courage and strength of an overwhelming number of survivors who shared their stories in the futile hope of persuading indecent people to decency.

But it is directed, in this moment, primarily at the justice, the president who nominated him, and the senators who protected and voted for him.

We won't forget what you did.

It is a battle cry. It is the solemn vow of people who want to believe their votes still matter. It is a threat and a promise.

Some of the people saying it actually mean it.

They will remember the names of the senators who cast their votes for Kavanaugh, like Arya Stark remembers the names of the people who must die at her hand. They will remember them with a burning fury that fuels their commitment to the monumental task of removing these purveyors of malice from power, and simultaneously threatens to engulf them and reduce their own selves to ashes in the process.

I know what that feels like. I'm someone who decided not to forget a very long time ago.

There is a cost to not forgetting.

I don't say that as a discouragement, but as a warning. So that anyone new to not forgetting can make the necessary preparations.

So that you never, ever, let a moment pass in which you can do self-care. So that you never let slide by an opportunity to do whatever thing makes you feel incandescent joy. So that you resolve, right now, if you haven't before, to allow other people to care for you, to help carry your burden, to love you.

You're going to need them. Because there is a cost to not forgetting.

My best friend calls me the Lint Trap, because I remember everything. (Except for all the things I don't.) My memory is legendary among my friends, who celebrate like lotto winners when they remember something I don't, which always makes me laugh, because I have no control over and did not earn my strange ability to recall 20-year-old conversations nearly verbatim.

It is a gift. And it is a curse. And it is the thing that keeps me connected to the people about whom I write.

I have, in the fourteen years since I started this space, written a lot about people who have been victimized by sexual violence. There are 1,158 entries filed under the Today in Rape Culture label, and I only started using labels in 2009. I have written about a lot of survivors.

Most of the time, I'm writing about people I don't know. Sometimes, I don't even know their names, depending on whether the nature of the crime, or their age, or their continued peril, compels the press — or just me — to protect their anonymity.

I think of them often. I carry their stories with me, right alongside my own.

Very occasionally, I am contacted by the people about whom I've written, or members of their immediate family. It has, so far, always been to thank me for amplifying their stories; for taking up space, unequivocally, in solidarity with them. Sometimes they give me updates that make me grin and sometimes they give me updates that make me weep.

I cry a lot doing this work. It would be easier to forget.

But I want to remember them. And I do.

Not forgetting is always hard, but I will tell you this: It is easier to sustain not forgetting because you fiercely love survivors than because you hate politicians and judges.

Everyone who decides to not forget comes to that decision for a different reason. For me, doing this work is the only way I can give a reason to the things that happened to me — which I have to do, because I can't bear for them to have happened for no reason at all.

That doesn't mean I don't hate politicians and judges who treat survivors with sneering contempt. I do. I hate them with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns. I just love myself and my fellow survivors even more.

That sustains me. Find something that sustains you, too; that nourishes you in way vengeance alone cannot. You're going to need it.

Not forgetting lasts a very long time.

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