Johan Christian Dahl, An Eruption of Vesuvius (1824). The Metropolitan Museum of Art

If I share my trauma, it will be put on trial.
My memory will be asked to represent itself under oath.
The prosecution won’t rest until they’ve extracted the wound,
pulled threads to unravel me.
Trauma is a weak defense.

…the evidence will have gaps.
Moments of violence will retreat to grey matter.
Revealing itself when I least expect it.
Resisting the invasion of foreign agents;
The therapist, the lawyer, the lover.
Trauma is intentionally elusive.

…suddenly, I’ll be seen.
In America, embraced by other survivors, provided virtual solace.
In Sri Lanka I could barter it, for a chicken or sewing machine.
It disappears parts of me, as it reveals others.
Reparations rarely heal.
Trauma is a risky currency to trade on.

…i’ll want it back.
Too late.
The pin pulled detonates reactions that center HIM, and divide us.
In his violence and my confession I have no control.
The story spun will wrap itself around me,
Trauma hates captivity.

…it will be diagnosed.
No Post in a Traumatic life.
When it layers itself,
weighted by the Stress of constant Disorder.
Trauma collapses entire selves into a single moment.

…it will be dressed up for donors.
My personal made their political; my violence blended into theirs.
My body of proof evidence of their foes’ evil,
because enemy warfare is barbaric and imperial warfare humanitarian.
Trauma has no loyalty.

…it will ignite a battle of the sexes.
Until the women in power vote for their agenda,
Not my pain.
My minefield of emotions becomes her occupied territory.
Trauma is a turncoat.

…it will be trapped.
Bureaucracy waves a wand, grants my trauma three wishes:
end sexual violence, create a task force, a promise from the men who rape women.
Trauma cannot make demands of its own.
Trauma is oppressed.

…it will be used to distract,
Erecting blinders,
Blocking the view of violent structures
Chased down, it twists and turns,
you won’t notice roots of inequality burrowing
Trauma is a tool.

… it will be overexposed and underestimated.
Some women are scared they will not be believed.
I fear I’ll be believed and it won’t matter.
The trouble with trauma is it doesn’t end rape.

* * *

If it were my trauma I would,
Keep control of where it was placed,
Understand how to organize around it,
Color-coordinate the wheels of justice (slower for some than others),
Manage expectations of an unjust system.

…position it,
As the logical outcome,
of a society that anchors its political self
in domination and supremacy.
Inside the over-policed neighborhoods,
that valorize and validate violence.

…set it,
Against the women’s movements,
willing to champion the plight of our gender,
But willfully blind,
to the politics of the deeply dispossessed.

…prevent it,
From inviting, inciting more violence,
The expected lashing out
Of a masculinity in collusion
With a fascist state.

…feel it,
as a force of radiating destruction
in the cold, calculated, protection of a gun,
feel it, eventually, fall behind me,
pushing my political work forward.

..and not share it,
Because my trauma, alone,
will not stop this from happening to you, too.

Nimmi Gowrinathan

Nimmi Gowrinathan is a scholar, writer, and activist. She is the founder of the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative at the City College of New York and the Publisher of Adi Magazine. Her forthcoming book, Radicalizing Her, explores the complicated politics of the female fighter (Beacon Press, 2020).

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