Many Identities (trigger warning)

By Tricia Barker

Walt Whitman said, “We contain multitudes…” and he might be right.  The older I get, the more identities I gather; but as I inhabit each one I try to hold on to the essence of kindness, even when that kindness need only be directed toward myself.  

Survivor of Men’s Violence and Girl Next Door: When I was sexually harassed by a man I considered a friend, I was in my early twenties.  Statistically, my age put me at risk for this, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I wanted to check out Iowa City as a possible place I might attend graduate school and this man assured me I could sleep on his couch and investigate the city.  On several occasions, I clearly told him that I was not interested in him romantically. 

I was not a siren.  I wore a lot of baggy clothes.  It was the 90’s and that was the fashion.  I was a girl next door type—friendly, open, and kind. I didn’t wear make-up or heels.   What I looked like shouldn’t be the point, but I want readers to understand that stalking and harassment happen to so many women that any stereotypes about how she presents herself are invalid.  The only stereotype that might apply is that I was young and trusting.  I believed in the best in others, including this person I thought was my friend. 

Looking back, I know I should’ve picked a safer environment for myself while traveling. However, by the time I realized I needed a hotel room, I believed he might get more verbally abusive and violent if I tried to leave his apartment.  I was confused and shaken. I kept trying to reason with him and couldn’t believe what was happening was actually happening to me.  When he finally went to sleep, I feared a call to the police would wake him, so I pretended to sleep on the couch and kept butcher knife under my pillow.

Near Death Experiencer and Rape Survivor:  This occurred only a year and a half after my near death experience, so I was in a place where I saw the goodness in everyone, even him. I believed I had power to help someone lost in darkness see the light and change his ways.  

Healing from incidents of violence and aggression is a part of the memoir I’m currently writing, though the main focus is the spiritual awakening after my near death experience.  A year after this frightening encounter in Iowa City, I was stalked by an acquaintance who offered to publish one of my poems in his homemade literary journal.  My boyfriend and I were travelling through his city, and we stopped at a poetry reading he hosted.  I gave him a journal that included one of my poems and a black and white picture of me.  He asked for an address and phone number to send me a copy, so I gave him my parents’ information.

I forgot about him, but he called my parents and got my address in South Korea.  Along with the journal, he sent a package with close to 150 different explicit poems, mainly about oral sex.  I did not read them all and burned them in a dumpster along with the rest of the contents.  He blew up the picture of me from the literary journal and made one life-sized and placed it in his bedroom; he took blurry pictures of all the other places he hung my photo.  I was hoping for a care package from my family filled with snacks from the U.S.; instead, I received that upsetting delivery. If you have been stalked, please consider asking a friend to take pictures of the odd things your stalker might send you if you can’t bear to look at them.  It is important to document. 

I immediately wrote the guy a concise, angry letter, telling him to never contact me again. Something cautioned me to send it express mail.  He sent a postcard back, telling me that he had four restraining orders from other women who “misunderstood” his romantic nature, and he also had a ticket to South Korea.  Harassers, stalkers, abusers, and rapists rarely see themselves as doing anything wrong.  They see themselves as persistent, romantic, or misunderstood.  Many times, they blame their victim, just as society often asks accusing questions about the woman. Victims, however, should involve the police.  

Bystanders can help as well. I am forever grateful to this man’s friends who stopped him from traveling to South Korea.  Jackson Katz talks about the bystander approach for men, and what an important role it can be in these situations.   

A few months later when I was raped by a South Korean acquaintance, I found out how deeply ingrained sexism is in the local police force.  Several foreign teachers told me how they reported cases of assault and rape only be told by the police force that they were “whores who deserved it because they drank in public.”  In my situation, I was asleep in my apartment and not intoxicated, but my closest South Korean girlfriend assured me that I would be shamed if I reported the rape.  

Loving Feminist:  Despite these three episodes and a violent experience with my first husband, I adore the good men of the world—the protective ones, the kind ones, the moral ones, the loyal ones, the spiritual ones, the innocent ones who listen in class and consider how they might help protect women in this world.  I adore women, too.  I know so many of us are stronger than we ever imagined we would have to become in our lives.  I love the thousands of kindhearted students I have met over the years.  

Traumatic moments in my life are the exception, not the norm.  Unfortunately, trauma burns bright in memory and takes a while to release.  I’ve learned to switch from fear to awareness and gratitude in my life.  As hard as that switch is, it is critically important. 

I proudly call myself a feminist, but I don’t associate feminism with outrage.  I associate it with love for myself and others.  I associate it with education and helping women, men, universities, schools, and legal systems learn how to better deal with men’s violence.  I am proud of the many millennial women who have quickly reported incidents of stalking, harassment, and rape. 

I also understand how the intimidation and fear that stalkers provoke can shut down women’s voices.  My stalker found me twice—once through a private email account, and once through a work account. He faked an email “reply” that made it look as if I had emailed him a quick note asking how he was doing.  He wrote pages about himself and provided a link that listed the names of women he had “lost contact” with over the years.  I imagine some of these women were more terrified of him than me.

Protector and Teacher:  By the time he sent the emails, I knew how to protect myself.  I reported his communication to the police and everyone close to me.  I made sure the officers at my college knew his name and face.  I continued to ramp up my self-defense courses and weapon training.  I’m no longer an innocent, trusting woman.  I’m on the fight for safety, for good, for a world no longer filled with so much male violence and dominance.  I don’t fear terrorists as much as I fear ordinary men.  The terrorizing of little children, teens, and young women has to end.  Education is the place I began involving young men and women in helping make the world safer.

For too long, I let sick men prevent me from speaking my truth.  I didn’t want to be found too easily; but I’m standing in my power now and will not be terrorized.  I will speak, publish, and share my truth whenever I am lucky enough to have the chance.  I will do this not just for myself, but so that other women will know that they do not have to shut down their voices because of male aggression.

Many Identities:  There are many identities I could pick for myself.  I’m a woman who had a beautiful spiritual awakening at a young age, and a woman who survived a lot before and after that moment. I’ve had great love and great tragedy in my life.  I feel blessed to have worked as a teacher and a professor.  Being an educator has been one of my favorite identities because it has allowed me to begin the healing process and also to help others grow and create more of what they want in their lives.  

My hope as an educator is to empower men and women to create peaceful, sustainable lives.  I encourage women to choose a partner who will help protect them from harm, and if she is with someone who harms her physically or verbally, she should tell others (including the police) and plan for a safe departure.

Mostly, I hope that we all might be met with grace, no matter what our journey brings.

Healing is possible for everyone.  Grace and mercy do not mean talking with or befriending anyone who has harmed or threatened us.  It simply means holding a vibration of peace, safety, and wellness for ourselves and the world.  We are all worth the work it takes to heal ourselves and this planet.

tricia

Tricia Barker experienced a profound near death experience during her senior year of college, and this experience guided her to teach overseas, in public schools, and at the college level. Currently, she teaches English at a beautiful community college in Fort Worth, Texas.  Tricia’s memoir in-progress, Healed, chronicles the moment of her accident, her near death experience, and other moments of trauma that affect many women. The book focuses on being of service to the world as a way to heal from trauma.  You can follow her blog at https://triciabarkernde.com/
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