This weekend AVFTI attended the Cincinnati Pride Parade and festival. One of our aims as an organization is to be places where the conversation about rape and sexual assault is not already happening. When we attended last year, many told us there had never been anyone like us there before. This was both saddening and encouraging. It was sad because it meant that so many in the LGBT community felt that no one cared about their experiences with sexual assault. It was encouraging because it showed us that we had succeeded in identifying a need that we could help fulfill.
Most of the time when we hear people talk about coming out of the closet, we’re talking about someone telling their friends, family and the world that they’re gay or transgender. Being closeted means hiding who you are from the people you love. It means keeping secrets. Sometimes it even means lying to the people we love, because we fear the consequences of them knowing who we are. Now, as I said, most of the time when we hear people having this conversation, its in reference to being gay or transgender. But don’t we all have closets?
I watched a fantastic TED talk by a woman named Ash Beckham (check it out here), where she spoke of coming out of the closet. But she defines a closet as simply being a hard conversation. When someone finds out they have a terminal or life threatening illness, they have a closet to come out of. If you screwed up and did something to hurt someone you love, you have a closet to come out of. And relative to what AVFTI deals with, someone who’s experienced a rape or sexual assault has their own closet to come out of. As she says in her talk “The experience of being in, and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.”
AVFTI was started to give people a chance to tell their stories without fear of victim blaming, judgement, shame, or disbelief. Many times, when someone comes out of their closet to tell a loved one, a friend, or someone they trust about their abuse, their rape, their assault, they experience a similar reaction as people who come out of the closet as being gay or trans*. They face shock, fear, disbelief, shame, anger, and sometimes even hatred. Our goal is to see that happen to no one.
I’m a transgender woman, so coming out of the closet is something I’m familiar with. I had a hard conversation with everyone I loved and cared about to tell them my secret. I told them the thing I’d been struggling with all my life. I felt shame, embarrassment, fear, anxiety, and lots of other unpleasant emotions. What I found was completely the opposite of my fears. I was met with compassion, support, empathy, and all the love I could handle and more. So my story is not one about sexual abuse or rape, but I certainly had a closet of my own to come out of.
I say all this to illustrate what A Voice for the Innocent means to me, and what I hope it means to the people we encounter. They call it a closet for a very good reason. Its dark in a closet. Its confining. Its lonely. Its cramped. Its terrifying. Despite how terrible it is to be in one, sometimes it seems even more terrifying to come out. However, on the other side of that door, there is light. Even if the whole world is against you, we are FOR you. There are 5 people on the board of AVFTI who love you and care for you, and a large and growing number of volunteers and supporters do as well. We don’t want you to come out until you are ready. But when you are, we are here for you.