I don’t remember the first time I was raped, but I know it happened.

I don’t recall when the memory was lost. I can’t answer #WhyIDidntReport.

I do recall remembering exactly what happened, in re-traumatizingly clear detail, two years later: in the middle of an assembly at school on reporting sexual abuse. And then, I did report. Loudly. In the form of a high-pitched yet guttural scream that seemed to have gathered strength from the time the memory sat dormant in my brain.

Around me, other children–other girls, as far as my ten year old self could tell–had also begun to cry (although none quite so spectacularly as I, unfortunately for my social life). The administration at my private Christian school created an after-school support group for all of us. It lasted for six months or so before either they or we decided it wasn’t worth the effort, wasn’t worth re-dredging up our memories over and over with no real resolution. So eventually I forgot, again. At least, I thought I did. But I never really forgot.

I went through a tumultuous adolescence marked with mental instability, self-destructive behavior, and questionable relationships with men and masculine-identified folks. Standard survivor fare; I won’t bore you with those details. What I will say about that time is that I never fully recovered the memory again. I recovered more of it. For instance, during a particularly intense overnight therapy session at a residential treatment facility when I was sixteen, I remembered again where the rape took place, and I remembered penetration. But still, the full awareness of it was, mercifully, kept from me by my psyche.

When I was nineteen I was raped again, and I remember everything about it. It destroyed me, psychologically, but it didn’t reveal the memory of what happened when I was eight. It did, however, induce all sorts of PTSD and dissociative identity issues that forced me to confront my unprocessed trauma. I went into intensive therapy with EMDR, a course that lasted for about seven years. I managed to reintegrate myself, despite not having access to the actual memory of what occurred when I was eight.

Even without details, I can see the shape of the memory. Bordering the gnawing, gaping gaps in the record, there are some clear lines. I remember my excitement over an older white boy thinking this ugly Black duckling was pretty. How good that felt after the years of bullying and torment I endured. How cool I thought I was when we hung out on the jungle gym and flipped other kids off. Him calling me at my house: me, giggling, my mom, hearing me, asking who I was talking to.

And I remember…a nonlinear empty space. (And something involving the lunch tables, something involving something of his inside something of mine. I don’t try to pin down specifics; I truly consider it a gift that I can’t recall what happened anymore.)

Then, I remember my head down in my folded arms after school, crying. A note from him in my third grade yearbook that I think said something about how ugly my hairy armpits were but I could never tell because I scratched it out immediately after I first read it. My grades dropping, my interest in life degrading; partially because I’m not a fan of standardized education, but mainly because my mind was occupied with blaming myself for whatever happened in that empty space. And later, of course, there is the aforementioned mental instability.

What have I learned from this culture about survivorhood and memory? From watching season after season of SVU, from watching now two women in my lifetime testify that a potential Supreme Court justice sexually assaulted them, from the Mike Tyson trial, the Cosby trial, the Very Special Episodes of various sitcoms and dramas? What is important, when you are raped, after a rape? Remember as much detail as you can. (Remember, even, what you were wearing.) Remember not to take a shower, so your body can remember what they left on you, and you can prove this has happened. Remember to try to leave some memory of yourself on them, a scratch, some DNA, some irrefutable scientific proof. And if you can’t? If you didn’t? If your brain’s split-second decision when it realized you were under threat was to shift you into a different state of consciousness while the trauma occurs so you cannot remember the trauma outside of that state? If instead of smells and sounds and sensations there’s just an ominous void where a part of your childhood should be?

What can you do when you’re doomed to know, but never remember?

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood rape. In fact, I didn’t come to terms with it fully until I was raped again. Part of the reason I had difficulty in validating my experience has to do with the importance memory holds in legitimizing one’s status as a survivor, which in turn derives from a cisheteropatriarchal, white supremacist prioritization of the rational and material over the emotional and the spiritual.

When it comes to sharing experiences of rape, we love details; we love when someone’s juicy underbelly of trauma is served up raw for the re-devouring. Narrative structure is important, too. (Make sure it fits the range of acceptable assaults. Make sure you’re weren’t fucking them consensually first or laughing with them first or drinking with them first or flirting with them first. Make sure you’re white, nondisabled, cishet, thin, and attractive.) If you’ve got physical evidence, bruises, bleeding, we’ll of course take those, maybe rub some salt in those wounds for good measure. And you’ve always got to have the corroborating witnesses, preferably of the highest caliber (so not your drunk ex-BFF who’s consensually banging her boyfriend in an adjacent hotel bed and oblivious to your screams).

But when you just straight can’t remember? When your evidence consists solely of a promising life dashed upon the rocks and an empty space? There’s no empowerment to be found there. No statute of limitations to beat out. Neither our society’s system of justice nor the current pop cultural/political moment occurring around sexual assault readily accommodate the slippery nature of trauma memory.

I’m reminded of the difficulty I had in claiming a political identity as a survivor now, in this moment of #MeToo reckoning, with the development of newer hashtags such as #WhyIDidntReport. So many of our methods of personal resistance against rape culture focus on storytelling, splaying your experiential guts onto a screen of various sizes as a form of empowerment. I do absolutely support survivors who want to tell their stories. But as someone who doesn’t particularly want to feed more bodies to the prison industrial complex, and as someone who remembers the name of their rapist but no details in one instance and a bunch of details but no name in the other, I haven’t participated. What would I say? I keep looking out on my feeds to see if any of the stories resemble mine, an empty space; none so far yet.

The confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh was re-traumatizing for me, as it was for so many other survivors. In my case, it stirred up some latent feelings of inauthenticity. In Dr. Ford’s testimony, she leaned on the Western medical-scientific view of memory as primary in determining legitimacy as a survivor, basically stating that she knew she was assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh because of how traumatic memories encode themselves in the hippocampus. I know I was raped because of how the memory encoded itself into everything else in my life. Could I testify, if my childhood rapist were somehow nominated to some public position? Could I sit in front of that kangaroo court and try to plead my broken life against my rapist’s hippocampus?

(This is one reason why I’m an abolitionist. I don’t believe our current paradigm of justice can account for all the ways one can testify. My testimony is embodied, and so my vision of feminist justice involves a de-centering of narrative testimony, particularly when it comes to rape and sexual assault.)

Our (U.S.) society associates forms of knowledge gleaned outside a rational-scientific framework with femininity and Otherness, thus rendering them inferior in a cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist context. Our society is also a rape culture, and so no amount of remembering in perfect detail will ensure that a rapist is brought to what passes for justice here. So why should I, or you, dredge up our trauma on demand and offer it to an uncaring society with no guarantee of return on our investment? Why prop up the idea that a survivor’s memory is ever worth anything under heterosexist patriarchy?

Again, I don’t want to discourage survivors from telling their stories. I only want us to consider what we accomplish, who is excluded when we emphasize this tactic, and what ideas we’re reifying. Even in the best of circumstances memory can be unreliable, and constructing a homogeneous experience of survivorhood is impossible. There are survivors who remember every last detail, who know but cannot remember, whose memories are completely intact but organized nonlinearly, and whose understanding of themselves as having experienced sexual assault is shaped by the impression the event had on their life rather than any recollection of vivid details of the assault. Some of us contain all these and more. A feminist survivors’ movement must de-center the rational-scientific paradigm and consider all the ways we can know we were harmed, or risk perpetuating cisheteropatriarchal oppression.

Neoliberal capitalism is obsessed with choice: the illusion of it, anyway. Same with patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, settler colonialism—they all sustain themselves in part by making our oppression our job. We internalize the rules so we can flog ourselves for breaking them, over and over again. We proclaim, loudly, that we deserve what we get, that we are oppressed because we choose it, and we must only wish away or ignore structural burdens in order to experience freedom. We fight other oppressed folks who dare to name our oppressors as entities outside ourselves. The ways our oppressions internalize themselves are often so insidious that the ideas our brains produce in their thrall can appear revolutionary, at least to us, at our current level of awareness. (See Kanye thinking a white supremacist chestnut is the key to black liberation.)

I’ve been thinking about why I’m fat, lately.

In the past, I declared that I was fat by choice. It was important to me, then, to grasp at what few shreds of individual agency I could. I needed to feel like my existence as a fat person was a rebellion in the sense that I could quit any time, and not doing so was a middle finger to society. At any point, if I just paid a little more attention to my body, if I was just a little less frivolous with my food groups, I could leave the abundance of fatness behind. I just choose not to, right?

(I see them, now. Ghostly relics of internalized fatmisia: my insistent proclamations that I had a choice in the matter of being fat. Relics adorned in the garb of an illusory agency, a complicity in my own destruction that was difficult to resist when I was deep in my feelings about having had little say over the trajectory of my life.)

For some oppressions I live with, the origin lines are relatively linear to me. Ask me why I’m Black and I will tell you a story of chattel slavery, a colonial project undertaken as the greatest wealth redistribution project in human history, and a category created to distinguish humanity from property; ask me why I’m femme and I will tell you of babies carelessly assigned a gender based on a glance at external sex organs, a patriarchal society’s desperate efforts to contain femininity, and my own journey reconciling my internal experience of womanhood with my apparent gender.

My fatness, though, reaches from all directions. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about patriarchy, his tyrant son, rape culture, and the wrath their mortal instruments inflicted on my young psyche. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about ableism and the forced drugging of psychodivergent adolescents. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about capitalism, its capricious devastation of our food environments, and its sorting of humanity into useful and useless. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you, again, about the razing of a continent through enslavement and colonialism. There are so many reasons, and I realize, now, that all of them are outside my control.


I had a 23andMe health and ancestry test gifted to me a while back by a friend. Last week, I got the results, and part of my health analysis stated that I was likely to be average weight. After I stopped grumbling about Whose average?, I started thinking about the course of events that tipped the scales of probability in favor of fatness. Not in a wistful, if-only-this-hadn’t-happened way, honestly. Just musing on the fact that my body, as reviled as it is, is basically a monument to the success of capitalism (and white supremacy, and settler colonialism). Like, look what having food accessible abundantly (to a few) and insisting we prioritize productivity over well-being to increase wealth (for a few) can do for a body. Or, look what tormenting brown folks whose bodies crave taking up just a little more space than your narrow white selves are comfortable with into yo-yo dieting in order to fit a white supremacist ideal can do for a body.

(Basically, y’all should be worshipping fat folks as gods of the fucking free market, patron saints of capitalism. Something other than pretending we don’t exist, or actively working to ensure we can’t.)

I know that genes aren’t destiny. I also know that I am what society made me. It is vital, then, to me, to find and name origin lines, because I do not believe in a fat liberation that does not also seek the dismantling of the structures that created my fatness.

But. But.

I’m not looking for reasons why I’m fat so that I can make it so less fat people exist. Despite my belief that our current food environments are designed to maximize profit rather than human happiness, and despite my belief that our ever-diminishing access to guaranteed shelter, abundant leisure time, and safe outdoor space is making our bodies and minds sick, I also believe that humanity contains a diverse array of naturally-occurring, joyfully normal body types, sizes, and shapes. I also believe that good health looks different for everyone, and is not a moral obligation.

(Especially when we’re in no danger of extinction from any “obesity epidemic”, but we are damn sure in danger of extinction from capitalism and white supremacist imperialism.)


I read a HuffPost article that really resonated with this desire I’ve been cultivating, to have the origin lines of my fatness identified (“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”, September 19, 2018). In it, the author, Michael Hobbes, prints the words of actual fat people, their stories of medical discrimination, inaccessibility, and wage theft. He also touches on the impossibility of losing weight and the paradox of individual choice in a society that works against you. I felt seen, affirmed: we know it’s not your fault, in article form. And I felt angry, because in that article are so many injustices. So many of my fellow fat folk pouring out their experiences, maybe hoping for understanding from their oppressors, maybe hoping to inspire their kin.

(I channeled that anger into wearing a crop top to pick up my parking permit at school, hoping my belly fat would disgust someone so much they’d say something and I might bring the full force of my rage to bear upon them.)

Of course Hobbes is saying things that fat acceptance activists have been saying for ages; diets don’t work, fat stigma kills. He’s just acting as a thin interpreter. And as Margitte points out in her incisive rebuttal (Everything you know about ‘obesity’ is still wrong, September 24, 2018), he’s still approaching fatness as a problem that needs to be eliminated. He is still linking fatness with health. Margitte, in response, implores us to stop searching for the cause of fatness and instead work towards liberation via building a society designed for all body sizes and shapes.

But when I read her words, I felt myself chafing against the idea. Why? I had to think about it, sit with it, make sure it wasn’t another relic of internalized fatmisia. And then I discerned my problem. It wasn’t the idea of working towards liberation, but the idea that I had to stop being concerned with the cause of my fatness. Because, like I said, I can’t see a true fat liberation existing in a framework where fatness is not a choice, and as long as patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism are still standing, my fatness will never, can never, truly be my choice.

Even my current level of health is not my choice. I think one reason Hobbes’ article resonated with me is that I have a deep longing to be healthier than I am, but I’m up against structural obstacles that make obtaining the health I want difficult. It sounds like liberation to my ears for society to remodel itself so that eating foods that don’t trigger my IBS or fibromyalgia flares is easier, so that I can get the free time and access to exercise I need to soothe my crazy mind and achy body.

But Margitte is right in the sense that a society remodeled in this way would be remodeling itself in a fatmisic image. It would be remodeling itself to achieve the erasure of fatness under the guise of improving health, because we have not accounted for the root of our hatred of fatness. And when the remodeling project did not succeed, society would again turn its wrath towards us and demand we account for why we’re still fat unhealthy, because in a fatmisic society fatness can never be healthy. And our subjugation is not dictated solely by our socially constructed health status.

(Fat folks are expansive, billowing. It takes many tethers to tie us down.)


Is it paradoxical that I still feel some sense of choice to my fatness now, having firmly outlined my lack of such? Let’s see: I choose to love myself even when I don’t. I choose to rage against my creators. I choose to exist in this body, every day, even if that choice is only made by inertia. But no, I don’t choose to be fat any more than I choose to be Black, queer, femme, or crazy. These are all categories created to divide humanity into those who hold power and those who do not. I find joy in the family I’ve discovered through the sharing and celebration of these identities, but I can’t deny their nature, their intended, oppressive purpose. And my fatness strikes at the core of all of them, connecting them, nourishing them with its decadence. I could not exist as any one of these things without my fat.

(Like so many beautiful things in life, fatness is multifaceted.)

I want us to create a fat liberation movement that strikes at the core of our intersecting identities and nourishes other liberation movements. I want us to acknowledge and honor where we came from, acknowledge that we share the same root system with others who are oppressed by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. We all have different origin stories for our fatness. We have all been shaped round in part by the societies we live in. Our bountiful, glorious abundance deserves an acknowledgement of receipt, a tracing of origin points. Not so we can follow them back to their heart to destroy the adipose beast that birthed our kind, but so we can dismantle the structures that prevent our fatness from truly being a choice.