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Written on the Body Paperback – March 21, 2018
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It's rare that something can both break your heart and renew your spirit. My heart empathetically broke from the rawness and intimacy these pages hold. As I finished I was left feeling inspired and awestruck at the power of queer people - not just to endure but to use our experiences as a tool to empower others, like these words certainly will. -- Karmilla Pillay-Siokos, Director of Slutwalk Johannesburg
This work is prayer. It is finding family, clarity and yourself in every page. It is a deep breath. Each story takes you closer to understanding what self-love is and how long the paths to ourselves can be. I am so grateful for this book and to each author that blessed its pages. -- Be Steadwell, Queer Pop Musician and Filmmaker
We are living in a pivotal moment of courage for survivors of sexual abuse to speak out. We see a massive ground swelling of survivors, unified by their stories, speaking up and saying #metoo. This timely collection is no different; it amplifies the voices of those trans and gender non-conforming people forced into silence because of identity shaming. The courage and bravery shared by these silence breakers becomes an invitation for us to become an ally in the work, to untie our bound hands, to lift our fists in unison, to tear the tape off our mouths, to reclaim our lives, and say in unison, #neveragain. -- sj Miller, author of Teaching, Affirming, and Recognizing Trans and Gender Creative Youth, series co-editor, Social Justice Across Contexts in Education, series co-editor, Queering Teacher Education Across Contexts
Becoming your self is the most daring act you will undertake in your lifetime. In some ways it's a bigger deal than being born, because it requires courage, determination, vision and a body that is your own. Written on the Body shows us how beautifully it's being done in the 21st Century and reminds us that the business of becoming your authentic self is never finished -- James Lecesne, co-founder of The Trevor Project
As a storytelling organization we are encouraged by projects like Written on the Body. This anthology is in the vanguard of a growing body of storytelling rooted in transgender and non-binary experiences. The acts of writing, reading and sharing these stories has the capacity to build empathy, to heal and to empower more individuals to share their stories as well. -- Nathan Manske, Founder of I'm From Driftwood
Written on the Body speaks to me as I'm sure it will other readers. It is gives voice and sheds light on a very important subject. One that isn't spoken about very much. Trans and Gender Non-Conforming bodies. People just want us to hide our bodies and not address them. We get this message from the time that we're children and it stays with us. For some of us, it never goes away. These wonderful stories share real life experiences. Experiences that people like me never thought we would be able to share. The shame and humiliation around our own bodies. Hiding and pretending. The assaults, rape and abuse we suffer at the hands of others. Sometimes thinking we deserve this treatment because we don't fit in. Feeling voiceless and powerless. Living our lives for everyone else except ourselves, until we cannot take it anymore. Written on the Body helps break this silence around trans and gender non-conforming people. It helps to empower us and educate others. It's an excellent read and resource, and just good for the soul! -- Kylar Broadus, Founder of Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF)
I am humbled by this collection of letters. The authors of this collection are at times unflinching, proud, triumphant, and brutally honest in their truths. Each letter is utterly personal, engaging with the text in this format draws the reader close inside quickly and I enjoyed this process immensely. Reading these letters, and the depths of what is shared within this book, I was struck with the same ideas, truths, and lived experiences that trans people have shared with me after watching FREE CeCe! Everywhere we went with the film. I am glad to see these voices lifted in such an indelible way here. -- Jac Gares, Filmmaker, Producer of FREE CeCe
Written on the Body beautifully paints the picture of what happens to people of trans experience when it comes to sexual assault and violence. This book provides the opportunity to tell our stories on a way that is our own, because these are our experiences. It is a way for us to find some type of healing, to find comfort and to provide some type of hope to many of us who are still dealing with these difficult issues. -- Bamby Salcedo, President & CEO of The TransLatin@ Coalition
Written on the Body is a much needed story of violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people that is deeply needed. Not just for the community, but for everyone who wishes to understand the violence that trans people are facing. It's a story for us, by us and this is the space where voices are needed most. Thank you for bring together so many narratives and creating a space for voices to be heard in a world that does not validate the experiences of trans folk. -- KT Richardson, Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Worker
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This book doesn't do that at all. You can tell it is written by people who experience these things firsthand. I can't even say how it feels to hear myself reading their words out loud. It was like giving myself a hug and replenishing some of what I've lost and covering myself in newly-made armor, all at once. Thank you.
That’s only part of what makes Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence so critical. Another reason is its unusual focus: most of the entries are written as a letter to a part of each author’s body. Given that bodies are integral to both trans/non-binary identities and sexual assault, this narrowed focus provides a wealth of insights. Feet, rib, back of the neck, voice, hands, dimple, “to the one hair that grows out of my cheek”: each is recognized with a story about who they are, what they symbolize, the role they’ve played in each survivor’s life. Some of the stories are about transness, some of the stories are about abuse and trauma, and many are about both.
One of the book’s surprises is that most of the pieces are anonymous. Authors are listed on a back page, but not associated with the letter(s) they wrote. This structure preserves privacy, but it also somehow forces the reader into a more intimate relationship with the letter and the body part(s) to which it’s addressed. There’s no name, no gender identity (often), no biography to situate the letter and body part(s) within a particular life. Instead, the body part(s) stand alone, telling only the story the author chose to share. It heightens the impact, somehow.
Another surprise is the correspondence between Alex Valdes and Lexie Bean that helps open the book. This is a very special conversation. Each asks the other a question, building upon the answers. “When do you feel safe?” becomes “When did you find your trust again? Did you ever lose it?” “What do you cover under covers?” becomes “Where is your voice when you can’t find it in your breath?” It’s the kind of correspondence most of us wish we could have with someone special.
You know those books that leave you without words? I don’t, which is why this review has been so hard to write. I’m one of those people that has so many opinions that I’ve got opinions about my own opinions. Seriously!
I finished reading ‘Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence’ almost two weeks ago and the stories have been resonating within me ever since. I started this book thinking about my own experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence.
I wondered if I would have the courage to write a letter to one of my body parts. What body part would I choose? What would I want or need to say to it? Would I have the courage to write the letter anywhere but in my mind where no one could accidentally stumble across it? If I did manage to write that letter who would I trust to show it to? Regardless of your history I’d encourage you to think about those questions for yourself. It’s really quite a daunting prospect, isn’t it?
I thought about experiences shared with other sexual assault and domestic violence survivors over the years and how we’ve connected over shared thoughts and feelings, regardless of the legal terminology of what was perpetrated against us. The survivors I’ve had the opportunity to share with so far have been cis women and men, and they’re some of the bravest people I know.
I wondered if I could ever claim to understand what a trans or non-binary sexual assault or domestic violence survivor has experienced. While I’m fairly confident there’d be aspects of their story that I could relate to based on my own experiences, as a cis woman I can’t and won’t claim to understand what it’s like to be trans or non-binary. To be trans or non-binary in today’s society and then compound that with (in so many survivors) countless experiences of abuse by multiple perpetrators? I can’t even begin to imagine.
We need books like this one to open our eyes to the pain of those who’ve experienced the unthinkable and the incredible ability people have to overcome what was intended to destroy. While you can never really walk in someone else’s shoes, by reading this book you have the honour of being granted permission to truly see aspects of people that are usually hidden by façades.
You’ll likely feel practically everything in your emotional range while reading and due to the content I’d advise against reading it all at once. Different writing styles and content provide varied reading experiences throughout the book. Some letters were poetic. Others were visceral. There’s so much heartbreaking trauma content, yet there’s also so much strength and hope.
While considering the courage of the people who have contributed to this book, a quote from Brené Brown’s ‘I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame’ came to mind. Brené explains eloquently what I cannot:
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences - good and bad.”
To the survivors who have contributed to this book, there are so many things I want to say to you, amongst which are … I hear you. I believe you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in awe of your courage. You are extraordinary!
If I could choose just one really powerful quote from this book: “What they didn’t know is that I’m trying to heal from what happened to me; I’m not trying to heal from who I am.” - Lexie Bean.
How do you rate a book like this? I don’t think you can rate someone’s experience so instead I’m rating the courage, the heart, of the people who have not only looked within themselves to come up with words that reflect their experience but have also had the bravery to shine a light on them. To me that deserves nothing less than ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book. I feel honoured to have read it.
No two letters are the same, but each is addressed to various body parts - some hated, some that the survivors have learned to appreciate and love, and some that they've dealt with surgically. Each is written by a SURVIVOR. It's a humbling read, one that should be made available in schools.
ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers, for my reading pleasure.
Top international reviews
It a book I'll revisit and stir out those emotions again knowing others have walked that path too, that i'm not alone in those dark places, that shared pain can bring light as well as tears