I’m writing to let you know that I’m on your side. I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. Nothing that happened to you was your fault. I believe you.
It must have taken a lot of strength and courage to stand up for yourself. I’m grateful that you decided your safety was that important, that you are absolutely worth fighting for. In that light, I’m heartbroken, angry and scared by how our system has mistreated you.
When I read about what happened to you, I’m filled with terror. I feel paralyzed. I recognize that it’s the same terror I felt when I witnessed violence as a child, which kept me frozen, stifled and silent. I’ve struggled in my adult life to not carry that terror with me all the time.
I’m a second child of Indian, Hindu immigrants who lived in a mostly-white suburb. My sister was raped by my uncle for 3 years, from before I was born until I was 1 year old. When I was 19 my sister confided in me what happened to her. She told me “you were there.” I don’t know any details beyond that and I don’t remember anything. I’m not sure the details matter, because I’ve seen how sexual violence has devastated her life.
I saw my mom and my sister fight a lot when I was young. They called each other terrible things while filled with rage: bitch, whore, slut, you hate me, I never should have moved here, you’re killing me. They screamed, yelled, threw things, slapped each other and hit themselves. It was frightening to witness the two most important women in my life show so much hatred towards each other. I used to cry myself to sleep while they screamed right outside of my bedroom. I was always alone. Frozen and silent with my fear and my pain.
I try hard to recall where my dad was during all this. I have memories from when I was very young of him standing between my mom and my sister trying to get them to stop, but not taking a stand on either side. At some point, he disappears from those memories, and all I can recall is him sleeping on the couch in the hot summers. I think he got overwhelmed not knowing how to stop the violence, and never had a space to show his own struggles.
As I grew, I pushed my feelings further and further down. I started mediating between my mom and sister. They fought less and less. I started making friends and feeling welcomed at school. But I never dared to show anyone all the pain, fear and anger I carry with me. I compensated and learned to act joyful and positive, like everything was okay. But whenever I became witness to violence, all those old feelings would resurface, and I would again be paralyzed and voiceless.
I don’t want to be frozen silent when I witness violence. That’s not how I want to live.
In spite of my own struggles, I’m writing to let you know that I stand with you. I might not be able to show it fully, and it might be hard for you to tell sometimes. But I stand with you with all the strength I continue to muster, as I work on letting go of my fear and my pain. I stand with you, Marissa, hand-in-hand with other men in my life who haven’t found their voices yet, either.
In loving solidarity,
Feminist Bhai (Bhai means brother in the language of my ancestors), Chicago, Illinois