so many hands in
In her book, The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison says: Empathy means realizing that no trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries. Like silence, I’m thinking. Which is language. I keep trying to have these conversations. Addicts say: The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. “No worries” is not an apology. What happens if I never confront the person who sexually abused me as a kid? Trauma (like gender) (like desire) (like race), it seems, gets all over everything. Do people still believe in the mind/body split?
Once, when I was teaching at Pima, I held individual student conferences in our classroom. Adjuncts didn’t have cubicles, much less offices, so I set up the desks in a way that we could sit across from each other, rather than next to each other – a table for their essays between us. My answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” wasn’t “teacher” until I got to high school. When I was in elementary I said: “brain surgeon” or “the guy behind the curtain at an execution – the one who gets to throw the switch.”
I saw a fight the other day in Denver. Two grown men at the train – one of them was eventually pushed onto the tracks but that was more for effect than consequence. Denver is not New York. I didn’t try to stop it because violence turns my body into a girl’s body. What I mean is, I remember the girl’s body I became in someone else’s hands. When the fight was broken up (by teenagers), I stood on the platform and tried not to think about sugar. On the ground there’s no electric third rail. I had heard yelling before I got to the platform and from that distance it looked like a game of chase being played among kids.
After all of the allegations of sexual assault surfaced about Jian Ghomeshi but before they talked to him directly, the CBC said that firing him wasn’t a foregone conclusion. An anonymous source told the Globe: "Had he expressed remorse, or offered to seek treatment, the CBC would have had to consider its next steps carefully... Given a chance to speak, Mr. Ghomeshi insisted he had done nothing wrong. His employment was terminated on the spot. The decision was unanimous." How many times have I been the guy who just wants to throw the switch? It wasn’t until I was 37 that I could say (out loud or to myself) that I had been sexually abused by a family member as a kid. I’ve tried every way I can think of to kill that person who lives inside my skin. What Ghomeshi did to those women has absolutely nothing to do with BDSM.
At one of the conferences, a young woman started to cry when I joked that her essay needed a lot more work. We’d had a congenial rapport and she was something of a cynical, tough girl so I was surprised by how hard this hit her. I remember seeing my hand - my white, newly male hand - reach across the table to comfort her. To whom and for which part will I ask forgiveness? The hand in the air and, at the last moment, not letting that hand land, even lightly, on her arm. I’d been on testosterone for almost 2 years.
The literary world is catching up with the rest of the world. My therapist wonders at my insistence on having a relationship with my perpetrator. It’s not for him, I tell her. There must be a way of holding ourselves and others accountable without overlooking our humanity. If we share parts of the same body (and we do), then I’ve got to trust myself enough to learn how to use them. This reminds me of Jamison again. They pretended we knew each other rather than acknowledging that we didn’t. And: There is no end to this fantasy of closeness. So many hands in the air. I don’t know what that way is.
~ TC Tolbert, Assistant Director
PS. Even though it's not an official Casa Libre event, I'd like to invite you to my book launch for Gephyromania on Tuesday, Nov 11 at 7pm. It will be at the Temple of Music and Art as part of the Intermezzo series. I'll be reading with Caren Beilin. I hope you can come!
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2/19 Quiet as Creative Force: dismantling the language of writer's block and the materiality of composition, a lecture & writing workshop w/Ocean Vuong
2/20-2/22 My Own Small Self: writing childhood from multiple sources a writing workshop w/ Kristen Stone
3/21 Performance Poetics | The Exploration of Sound a writing & performance workshop w/Teré Fowler-Chapman
4/13-5/18 Penning the Nasty (the tender, the sweet): An Exploration into Writing Sexuality
a writing workshop w/ Kati Standefer
4/24-4/26 Poetry in the Grocery List a poetry workshop w/ Stephanie Balzer & Sommer Browning
11/22 Curiosity Symposium on the topic: The Sublime
12/10 Edge Reading w/Javetta Laster, Farzana Marie, & Anton Smith
12/12 Trickhouse Live
w/ Tom Cho, Stephanie Jo Brunson, & Sam Ace
Please note that Casa Libre will be closed from 12/15/14-1/15/15
1/23 Trickhouse Live
w/ Susan Briante & Malachi Black
1/28 Edge Reading
w/Leilani Clark, Liza Porter, & Erin Zweiner
2/1 Lamplight Reading Series
Trickhouse Live: An Integrative Arts and Performance Series