“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living.” Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
I have always thought that to write, you need to have something to say; that to write, you have stories to tell. Not always. Sometimes, writing is all about the stories that cannot be told. To write is to have Silence.
“You cannot talk”
“There is nothing to say”
“This will be our little secret….”
Your model, your hero, the adult in the house, the one you trusted, the one who is supposed to protect you, that person tells you to shut up, not to say anything to anyone. He tells you that he knows better and that this is just between the two of you. He often winks and places a conspiratorial finger over his mouth to indicate your sacred alliance. Hush, Hush! You are told that you are small. You are told to keep quiet. These words have made you. These words have been breeding and birthing your Silence. This is how you entered Silence. Silence as a cathedral. Silence as your only religion. This is what I call to have Silence.
I never really thought about the concept of Silence. How it is manufactured, how well-constructed it is, how meticulously it can be enforced, how strong and persistent it can be. Specially when it comes to such stories.
The stories of power. The stories of oppression. The stories of abuse. The story of incest.
Woven by different strategies, but sourced in the same systematic violence, the soldiers fabricating Silence are innumerable. A guerrilla of fathers, great uncles, big brothers, grand-fathers, standing just by our side, all walking thirsty and hungry, like warm-blooded zombies, imposing their rules: Submission and Silence.
Because she was always so arrogant and so secure and always very talkative, I did not suspect my mother had Silence too. I did not suspect, I did not expect and also, may I add, I did not care so much. She never told me, but understanding where I come from, where my family comes from, and also what happened to me, the diseases, the toxicity, how people behaved with each other, I have a certainty now. She was penetrated by Silence too. And she is still under its rule.
It is stunning to encounter the same stories over and over again. It seems we are not learning its lessons. From my family to any other family, from my system to any other system, Silence is so similar: it shuts you down. It is such a terrifying and wide well-organised Monster!
Manipulation. Oppression. Annihilation.
Silence has different colours of expression. I myself possess a precise repertoire and palette of them, depending on the person I am with and of the circumstances. For many decades, I dressed myself in a very protective and WhiteSilence with my mother: “Poor mum, this will destroy her!” I have also dressed in a very guilty-trip Blue Silence when confronting my sister (I don’t do anymore): “No need to talk about what happened. Who knows; she might not remember…I don’t want to traumatise her again”. And of course, down deep I also had this raging coat of Red and firy (and shameful) Silence towards my abuser: “What´s the point? He is too old now, he is going to deny everything anyhow!”.
My oversights, those of my sister, all that is nothing exceptional. Look around…Pain is everywhere. Studies in France reveal that in a typical classroom, there are 2 to 3 children who are sexually abused, in their own home, every day, every night, by someone very close to them, in their close circle of care. Please try this experiment with me - try to think back when you were at school back in the days - when you were let’s say 6 or 7 or 8 years old : Remember… Who was irritable in your class? Who was always late? Who was always sleepy? Who was trying to blend in? Who was trying to be funny? Who was bullied? Who had Silence?
Perhaps it comes down to that: perhaps it's too hard to admit that those who are supposed to love you the most, love you so little, that they are able to crush you, to destroy you. They don’t care about what happens to you! Maybe this is too huge of a mess? Perhaps it is easier to imagine that the violent caresses had at the start, some kind of a good intention? There is a persisting myth that incest could be love. Misdirected, misunderstood, but you know “I loved you, more than my own life, it was out of too much love…..” Incest is not a story of love! Incest is domination. Incest contains the seeds of fracture, the seeds of chaos and disaster.
It is one very large piece of the puzzle that cradles violence. It often starts from there.
Silence aims to prevent the victims from denouncing the aggressors, but also and foremost it is preventing from formulating something that is unheard of, that cannot be explained, that cannot be contained, that cannot be expressed: the logic of oppression. It prevents us to even see ourselves clearly as victims, and to be recognised as such by others. So, where do we start? Is there the slightest possibility of weaving meaning between Silence and the missing words? As the system of Silence is a very well-oiled system, it reinforces the victims in the idea that they should not speak. Is the experience of incest, like any act of extreme violence, too inconceivable for anyone who has not lived through it, to find the words to denounce it? Is the violence such that we prefer to believe that it is radically foreign to us, and send it back to Silence?
Perhaps it is also too difficult to accept that the mythology of the family-home and the sacred nest, the indispensable, the inalienable and in fact the traditional place of love and care, carries too often a net of bruises and servitudes. It is too difficult to tell yourself that the family cocoon is not always the place of absolute love and protection, that we collectively like to (re)present. What if home is an infected, infested, inhabitable nest woven with hatred. Perhaps if we agreed to hear the word incest then we would also have to understand it, to integrate it, to discover its nature. And to see that it is not a question of a pathology, not the question of an individual perversion but of a whole system of domination.
Silence doesn't come out of nowhere.
We expect fierce protection from mothers, an ability to love unconditionally, with omniscience. We expect them to go beyond their own stories. But, mothers too are the fruit of our worlds of Silence. Incest never comes out of nowhere. No generation suddenly wakes up to rape. The rape of children by their parents, the rape of the little one by the older ones, the rape of the small by the big. Incest happens in families where it has already happened, where parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts have already been the victims of violence. Where mothers have already been victims. They, too, have learned Silence. They too, the mothers whom we are so fast in blaming (I have regrettably done my part in that too!), the mothers who we say closed their eyes, that they are were accomplices, they also learned, as little girls, very early, the meaning of the word Silence.
The body is not something we just have, a possession of a kind; it is our general medium, our channel for having a world. For being in the world. If our body, our channel, our medium is enslaved from very early on, our whole relationship to the world and our position in the world are altered. Families impacted by incest, function like very special and weirdly constructed universes navigating around emotional neglect, physical or psychological violence and also of course manipulation.
I grew up wanting to be thin. I admired the androgyne bodies and strangely felt akin to them. I remember myself as a young teen, squeezing the fat off from my thighs pushing it away to see how big or how thin my bones were. As they were bigger than anyone else’s my age, I was telling myself : “I have heavy bones!”. And of course, I blamed it on my Greek ancestors. I needed to blame it on something or someone, cause when I was meeting my family, I saw that my body disappointed them. My mother would pinch my cheeks and slap me on my butt in front of everyone, asking me with irony if I had gained weight “again”. My uncle would take a short look at me and say with a sadistic smile: “Someone likes to eat around here!”. I always wanted to answer something, but I could not. I wanted to say that they should stop, that they embarrass me, that they were bullies. But I did not. I did not have the language. Instead, I would look myself in the mirror with disgust. Instead, I would build grief and anger and shame inside of myself. Instead, I would try to starve my body, take laxatives or drink vinegar, or harm myself in other dangerous ways. I did not know the neglect, I did not know the manipulation, I did not know the oppression. I did not know that the Monster was getting at me from the inside and from the outside eating me alive.
What are the words you do not have?
What do you need to say?
What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in Silence?
Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your biggest fears. Perhaps for some of you today, it is time to surrender and to let out the Silence.
Cause Silence will not protect you.
Like the lies?
Blue - like in the French expression, we say “Bleu de peur” - You turn blue when you are scared….
And those are only the numbers of reported events….
often led by a Patriarch.