The Fire Inside Us

girl studying with books and macbook at a coffee shop Photo: Alanna Bagladi

I feel like I cry a lot lately.

I think I have to. I research and write plays about sexual assault, so I have to read, digest, analyze, and create material about a very difficult subject. I know more about exploitation, rape, and abuse than the average person and I started doing this work in the first place because people kept sharing their assault experiences with me. I host a lot of sad stories in my heart, so I can tell them with the care and commitment they deserve.

I’m glad I’m not numb. I’m glad I can feel the shock, horror, and sadness that come with empathizing with another human being who is both a victim of a crime and a survivor of violence and terror. An event that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their identity.

But if you’re reading this, you’re probably the choir I’m preaching to. You more than likely know a person who has been hurt (statistically EVERYONE does). You want the world to be better and you want people to know what’s happening.

Rarely do I go to sleep not thinking of mothers who have lost children to this epidemic. Those who couldn’t save their daughters and sons from being shamed, silenced, and targeted after they had already been raped. Whose kids have committed suicide after developing Rape Trauma Syndrome and PTSD and depression. I know their names and the names of their children. And I say them whenever I can.

And I shudder thinking of all the names of parents and children I will never know—especially the trans survivors and survivors of color that will never be said, never be written about by a report that could reach me. I am thinking of you always. You are in my heart, my dear ones.

I believe we need to read and we need to weep. It makes my soul burn when I read about corrupt judicial systems and teenagers being cyber-bullied without consequence. I burn so hot and for so long I have to speak. And I rant and rave and post on Facebook. But one day I asked myself: is that enough?  I knew I needed to do more.

The things I read make me despair. And if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you have felt the deep kind of pain that makes you question any semblance of order in the universe. When I despair I say, “What can I do? This problem is so big and so strong and the people I admire the most have not defeated it. What can I DO?”

Here’s the answer—anything. I write plays because that’s what I know how to do, and because I work with the most incredible people on Earth. I’m not a politician or policy-maker or doctor or journalist, and I don’t have the money to donate to any worthwhile cause. This is what I do have—I’ve got a best friend who is just as passionate, a million times more brilliant (Alyssa Vera Ramos), and she supports me even when I’m feeling crazy stressed and crabby. I have the fact that when I write it makes me feel like I am DOING SOMETHING with my anger and despair. It makes me feel less helpless to give hope to those who are hurting. It makes me think that if I can change someone’s mind, that might be enough for one parent to know how to comfort their daughter in pain, for one community not to blame her or shame her.

We are the people that must read what our sisters in the blogosphere/feminist web spaces are writing and reporting on. Once you’ve been in this game for a little while you know traditional media sources are not on our side. These days, I feel like my blogging feminist sisters are family. They let me know every day that I have people on my side, people who care about this as much as I do. People that let me know other people want justice and peace and healing just as much as I do.

And you might think it’s easy to just compose a think piece and share it on social media. No. These women endure harassment from every corner of the internet, are constantly mocked and undermined, and endure death threats just for trying to speak the truth. These are the people who call out those in power when they hurt or abuse people, who can actually change the culture just by creating a community of accountability.

We are the people who must weep. We are the people who must remember these names. Daisy Coleman. Rehtaeh Parsons. Audrie Pott, JadaThe one in two transgender people that will be sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes.  The untold numbers of black and Latinx women attacked and sexually assaulted by police—think of the 13 black women Daniel Holtzclaw raped alone. 

We are the people that need to start the difficult conversations with those who want to stay in the dark. We must become the allies that fight and protest and organize even though every day we take losses.

Crying is our sign of strength, our sign that we haven’t given up, and the salt in our tears will burn, burn, and burn until we do something. As feminists, as allies, as people, let us weep and remember and keep the fire inside us alive, as we change this world together.

Cathy Muskett