Guest post: Telling the truth

Jake talks through her family’s reactions to learning she was sexually abused by her father

I am an incest survivor; my father sexually abused me during my adolescence. I kept his secrets for as long as I could, swallowing back the knowledge of who he really was and not who everyone thought he was, I kept to my allotted place amongst my sprawling dysfunctional family while going out of my head over the fact that I was apparently the only person in it who could see just how dysfunctional and poisonous it actually was.

But it became apparent that there are things I couldn’t do in my life, in my relationship, in my healing, if I kept this secret, so I broke one of the most sacrosanct rules of patriarchy. I told the truth.

My family narrative is that my father is an intelligent, gentle, nurturing, selfless person, that he is a Good Man, a Good Father, a Good Husband, so the conclusion was drawn, not that he was actually a bad person but that he couldn’t possibly have raped me because he was a good person.

My family narrative is also that I am just wrong, my sexuality, my theology, my politics, that I am manipulative, a drama queen, crazy, so the conclusion was drawn, not that I am crazy in part because he raped me, but that I accused him of rape because I am crazy.

One of the things that terrified me about this experience is how quickly patriarchy strips itself bare of the pretence that women matter, how quickly it rips the sumptuary off to reveal the bones and teeth of a system that sees us as expendable, and must protect the male perpetrator at all costs, up to and including sacrificing female children. Also it shook me to see the practical outplaying of how women, for reasons I really do understand – economic, emotional, social – are often the maintainers and defenders of that system. We sacrifice our friends, our daughters, our sisters, for a place in a system that has nothing but contempt for us.

After I had made the initial declaration of what happened, there had obviously been a discussion that did not include me and did include my father on all the ways I could be wrong about this. And so I was asked: are you sure? Did you mistake him with someone else? Are you doing this to get a reaction?

The absolute, impenetrable wall of denial was incredibly destabilising and crazy making. I think if I wasn’t as old as am, or had the support system I had, or hadn’t been involved in feminism as deeply as I have, it would have succeeded in completely unhinging me, which is the aim really – if the daughter is crazy then the father is innocent.

The whole experience left me shell shocked, I just burrowed deep inside myself and became almost langaugeless, which for me, being a writer, is a really big deal. Just the act of letting go of this truth, of refusing to keep his secrets, which my body has grown around, was a kind of body shock, a kind of trauma, like breaking and resetting a leg, it’s going to take a while for the necessary break to heal, and it still might always hurt.

It’s still too soon to know what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost from this. I may have lost my whole family, almost all my history, all my blood line I have access to, but then much of that history was a poisonous lie, and my family relationships were built on quicksand and toxic fumes.

I decided to change my name, at least for writing, I carry my male partner’s name now instead of my father’s, which is something I never thought I’d do, sometimes we capitulate to the patriarchy to survive it.

Honesty is supposed to be the best policy, but while I’m still licking my wounds after blowing a hole in the roof of the world, I’m not sure. Ideally it is, but then ideally men would not abuse children.

This act of disclosing abuse within the family is not something I suggest anyone does unless they feel they have no option, no other place to turn, make sure you have a really strong support system, I wouldn’t have survived this except for the women who love me.

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