Last week her book SPEAK came under fire from a man who decided that the two rape scenes in the book should be considered "soft pornography" and it should be banned from his school system. Fans of SPEAK, free speech and sanity responded in legion and hopefully exposed this kind of censorship for the fear-based rhetoric of the clueless and narrow-minded that it so obviously is.
The irony that this man chose to try and censor a book in which the main character responds to her rape and the way her high school peers treat her afterwards by not speaking was evidently lost on him. He tried to silence the silent and, I hope, much to his shock and awe, the roar was heard around the world.
Silence is the enemy of the abused. Silence is what allows abusers and abusive situations to flourish. I know this to be absolutely true because, as a child, I was abused by my father. I tried to tell and was either told that I was a liar, that I was making things up or in one memorable case, that I must have deserved what I got. So I gave up trying.
I grew up and left my father's house at 17, got jobs and my own apartment and tried as best I could to make a life for myself. I did okay, but every time I tried to join into conversations with friends about our childhoods, they would look at me like I was some sort of freak and then quickly change the subject, or say, "oh, that's too depressing/too awful/too messed up, let's talk about something else". It didn't take long before I got the message that even among friends, I wasn't welcome to share things that were part of me.
When I was 23 I stumbled into an Emergency Medical Technician's class at a local community college. It was then that I felt like I had truly found a home. Among these people I could talk about not only the tragedies of strangers, but my own dark history and shockingly, they LISTENED. They didn't shrink away, or try to change the subject or make me feel different or like Debbie Downer every time I opened my mouth. I also found out why EMS people, including cops and firefighters, tend to socialize only with other EMS people and it was the same reason I had as an abuse survivor...non-EMS people, or civilians, just didn't want to listen.
EMS is a tough business though and I left after a few years to get married and take a shot at being a writer with a more or less regular kind of life. And after 22 years I'm doing okay. But unfortunately, I still have those moments when I forget that the world for me is STILL divided into EMS people and civilians and that the vast majority of people would rather I be silent about parts of me and parts of my life that they find too depressing, too dark or too upsetting. And the irony HERE is, the stories I tell, for the most part, I don't find depressing or upsetting, they are just things that have happened to me and are part of my life. I am completely okay with them and in fact am a little protective of them, because they are MY memories, MY badges of survival, MY LIFE.
It is wonderful that so many people have come together to support
Laurie Halse Anderson and SPEAK, and other banned books and authors. But please remember, that while you all are SPEAKING LOUDLY, don't forget to LISTEN. It's one of the most important things you can do to support the people in your life. And I'm not just talking about survivors of abuse. Survivors of any trauma, any extreme experience need to be listened to. They need to be allowed to talk until there's nothing left to say. They need to be allowed to share what's happened to them without judgement and without being shut down or cut off because they're being too depressing. I know that's a tall order. I know it's asking a lot, but it is the kindest gift you can ever give to another human being...being a witness for them. Think of all the good that could be done, and all the bad that could be averted, if everyone felt that someone in their lives had listened and really heard what they had to say...Speaking Loudly is admirable, but I believe that LISTENING can also change the world, one hurting human being at a time.