Becoming/Unbecoming – A True Account of Fictionalised Events
My book is called Becoming/Unbecoming - A True Account of Fictionalised Events, by Una (which is a pseudonym) I've been writing and drawing it for 5 years.
It started as a personal thing, something I didn’t mean to show to anyone, but is now an almost complete, novel-length graphic narrative (or comic, if you like)
I started drawing it after I needed yet more therapy (I had already invested much time and effort in recovery) after a work related incident triggered post traumatic stress symptoms and I found myself facing an extraordinary level of bewilderment about what the problem might be from the various people involved. I often find that what seems blindingly obvious to me is dismissed and denied by others, women and men alike, and I just thought 'I'm so tired of this, I want to put this thing to rest once and for all'
I wanted to be able to understand what had happened to me as a child and adolescent properly, using my own voice and not viewed from the perspective of the various professionals who have an interest in sexual assault and its consequences. I felt I was the person who was always the subject of everyone’s discussion but who never got asked for an opinion or got to speak in the first person and I think using your own voice is crucial, it really helps. There are some VAW great workers out there but I have met professionals who were putting forward survivor's stories, and while I can see they meant well, they were inadvertently reinforcing the stigma this way and drawing attention to themselves as 'experts' when actually, it's more important that survivors are seen as experts of their own experience.
I have always known that what really prevents progress for individuals and society as regards sexual violence are cultural attitudes towards rape, sexual assault and its causes but until recently there has been little discussion outside feminism about where this culture comes from. Personally, I completely internalised myths around rape, that it was all my fault, something I had done; the ‘fact’ that I was a slut had somehow caused or justified the many physical assaults I suffered and then later the ‘fact’ that I was in some way unreliable, flakey, a bit mad, was something that was up to me to fix and not anyone else's problem. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, sexual violence always ends up being the responsibility of the person on the receiving end of it.
I've been shunned and belittled and generally painted as mad/bad (delete as appropriate) by family, community and peers and held on to the lion’s share of the shame for the actions of other people for years. It took decades of hard work to overcome this and in fact only a couple of the professionals I saw were any use, because professionals don't know what to do about it either. Mostly I was helped and encouraged by other women.
Drawing Becoming/Unbecoming has helped me to make sense of what happened to me in a social, historical, gendered context and I hope it might help other people to make sense of it too. Where does responsibility lie for the prevention and cure of sexualised violence? Why is it mostly perpetrated by men and mainly directed at women and girls? I believe sexualised violence affects all of us, whether we have experienced it directly or not and it needs to be challenged openly and normalised. It is pretty common after all.
There is no sexually graphic content in the images at all, I wanted to avoid it and to convey the the everyday nature of sexual violence (and bust a few myths while I was at it) and it's sort of a letter to my family, who never understood.
The story is set in my late childhood between 1975 and 1981 but reflects on contemporary events and cultural values too, in an attempt to explore what has changed, if anything. I grew up during the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper, so was exposed from a young age the worst kind of misogynistic victim blaming from police, media and those around me and I wanted to frame my own experiences against this background.
There have been so many news stories and lots of feminist activism over the last couple of years especially, but I have personally been grappling with the problem of victim blaming and rape culture for more than three decades, since long before rape culture had been named, since long before people even recognised that Post Traumatic Stress can be related to rape and sexual abuse. I had often felt that I couldn't use or access all of my experiences, that I was living a sort of split existence, always partly in hiding, always struggling with awkward or triggering situations that to other people were ok. I'm so glad people have started talking openly about how predators get away with it.
Until the advent of the internet and social media particularly, it was very difficult for women to share their thoughts and experiences with others who had experienced the same, and even harder to organise for activism. There are many brilliant projects around at the moment which aim to fight VAW and this gives me hope.
Clearly, the book is a difficult read but it has its own moments of humour and lightness. I hope that nothing in it would trigger post-traumatic symptoms in anyone, but I do feel a little ambivalent about trigger warnings. I want people to consider the distress caused to others, who are not in a position to openly articulate this distress, when they use rape as entertainment. It happens all the time in novels, films, soaps, comedy etc. but I object to the idea that I am somehow 'explosive', that I will be ‘triggered’ and that people should be careful around me in case I 'go off', I feel this just adds to idea that the madness lies in me and I don't think it does. In any case triggers are unavoidable, in the news, in the street, thoughtless comments etc. so the only things that actually end up carrying trigger warnings are the things that are trying to fight rape culture. Maybe we need to find a different term for this.
I'm in discussion with a small publisher about my book, so hopefully it will be available soon. I feel optimistic at the moment that something is shifting in the culture, that there is a chance for change. Sexual violence is the biggest single issue facing women of all backgrounds across the globe, it causes so much misery and there is little justice in sight, so I hope I'm right.