Tag Archives: social justice

Take Back The Night: Thoughts On Reclaiming Space For All Survivors

Photo sourced from official Take Back The Night Foundation site

This post may be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.  Please be safe.

Last night, I marched with Take Back The Night, an annual event in the city where women and trans people take to the streets, make a hell of a lot of noise and reclaim the right to walk the streets without fear.  This year was, from the reports of many, one of the biggest turn-outs here in Toronto.  This is no surprise to me, given the recent wave of public sexual assaults concentrated in the Christie Pits vicinity.  Women are angry that while the news media are actually reporting on sexual violence, nothing really seems to be happening on the policing front.  I have to confess that I don’t count on police to help with sexual violence:  I didn’t report my assaults after a Criminology professor I once had implied that women cry rape after leading men on, among other disgusting comments that I knew many survivors had heard from the mouths of law enforcement.  Standing up in solidarity tonight was far more freeing.

I cannot recall how many times I have been sexually assaulted.  I can tell you which incidents left indelible marks on my psyche.  I can tell you which memories haunted my suicide attempts, which images tormented me in flashbacks and destroyed my healthy sexuality for years.

I can tell you about the man whose name I couldn’t even speak aloud after his betrayal of a longstanding friendship and former romance.  I can tell you on dark nights that I look him up on Facebook, that he has two daughters I fear for.  I fear, you see, because as a pre-teen, he watched a male friend violate friend’s younger sister and neither intervened nor spoke up.

I can tell you of the family that took advantage of me, of how they left me ashamed of my body.  I can tell you how seeing their friend requests on, yes, Facebook struck terror in me and made me want to recoil like a child.  I can tell you how they, my peers in age, were sexually interfered with by teenage girls on our block, only to take that out on me.

I can tell you of the time last year where a man sexually assaulted six women in a general admission concert crowd, that five men watched and did nothing as each woman protested and fled until I became number six.  I can recall how I punched him and grabbed him by the throat even as he still tried to touch me, and how my request for help in restraining him for security was ignored by the men behind me.  The women, however, helped, as did my male friend.

I can tell you of the time I was followed down a dark street past midnight and how I approached the doorstep of a lit-up townhouse and faked ringing the bell.  I can still see him lingering on the sidewalk before mercifully giving up and walking away.  I can tell so many stories of my own and so many of the survivors I know.  I can tell you why women and trans people need to take back their right to walk – to live – without fear.

But I could also tell you of the ex-boyfriend who was repeatedly molested by male babysitters from age 10-14, and how that damage lingered.  I can tell you of the male survivor friend I have and how his experiences have dramatically affected him.  I could share with you how isolated he feels, how he doesn’t believe he belongs anywhere as a survivor.

I cannot disagree with his concerns, and it is here that I find myself struggling mentally and emotionally with the mandate that cisgendered men are not invited to the march portion of Take Back The Night (they are welcome to the rally and to stand on the sidewalks and support women).  Women and trans people are unquestionably disproportionately affected by sexual violence.  However, in that understanding of sexual assault as a crime “that happens to women”, male survivors are silenced withing a unique layer of shame.  We are survivors all, but just as my male friend will never understand the experience of walking the streets as a woman, I will never truly understand survivorship as he experiences it, either.

In recent years, those of us involved in the fight for an end to sexual violence have tried to dispel that shame, that emasculation pain that rape culture thrusts down the throats of male survivors.  More men are speaking out and demanding justice for themselves and that is such a good thing.  In opening this space, we have given these men a voice, and with that voice, cisgendered males are asking why they cannot march with Take Back The Night, why men must stand aside or go to a workshop to be better allies.  I noticed several questions along these lines.

I don’t have any answers.

The fact is, the dynamic of this discussion is changing from the year of the event’s inception.  Trans men and women both participate.  On a personal level, I would be comfortable walking with my male survivor friend at my side, in acknowledgement of the pain men have inflicted upon him.  Then again, the fact remains that cisgendered male survivors are still safer than I am at night.

I am torn because I need the space of this march to rage against the fear and oppression I cope with as a woman.  I want that space.  But the friend in me sees how desperately the male survivors I know need a space – and women as allies – as they heal themselves and also combat the gender role bullshit they face in our rape culture.  Maybe it’s because I have been hugely involved in the Tori Amos fandom that I am acutely aware of these silent men; her music draws them in just as much as female survivors.  The why doesn’t matter.  What matters is I hear their voices, too.

What is the answer?  Again, I do not know.  I just see the dialogue between the lines and know that we need to reach out into the ether and address it.  Perhaps instead of only a workshop on allyship for men during the march, a safe space could be offered for male survivors to unify and affirm each other’s experiences.  Maybe we need another annual event where all survivors of all gender identities and walks of life unite together and raise our collective voices.  What I do know is isolation.  I know how it feels to believe you do not belong, that you are somehow branded or tainted as ‘other’.  I know shame.  I don’t wish this on my brothers.

One woman noted feeling unsafe after an anti-psychiatry speaker gave their talk at this year’s rally – that the mentally ill were stripped of a safe space.  Men who ask and are told no, you cannot participate even as a survivor of sexual violence perhaps feel they, too, are stripped of a safe space.  Having had my safe space ripped away so many times, I just want there to be safety for all survivors.  Perhaps this post will open a door to that space for men like my friend, my assailants, my ex.  It need not be the space female-identified survivors claim; perhaps it should not be.  But they, too, have voices.  Maybe it’s time we listen for those whispers.

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Netflix Find: Girl 27

Girl 27

Genre:  Documentary
Rating:  3.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Those interested in media and pop culture, social constructions of violence, sexism, and gender, true crime story buffs
Special Warnings: centred on sexual assault including dramatizations from old films, graphic descriptions

Girl 27 was a film that came up randomly in the Documentary category on the Xbox app, and I decided to check it out late one night.  The story seemed intriguing:  a massive conspiracy allowed a rape to go unpunished, the survivor shamed and never given justice.  Given the time frame, even the accusation itself was bold to pursue.

I would have given this film a higher rating if the maker/narrator of the story wasn’t so full of himself, particularly in the first third of the film.  When he gets on topic, the documentary is well researched and juxtaposed cleverly with cinematic representations of sexual assault and the inherent sexism in the scripting.  The most moving part, and the reason I recommend the film, is the interviews with Girl 27, Patricia Douglas.

Douglas, an extra/dancer working for MGM, is called along with dozens of other women to a private ranch.  It’s disguised as a casting call, but the women have really been brought in to entertain the distribution sales team.  Drunk beyond drunk and showered with comments leading them to believe that they can have anything they want at this retreat, one man decides to take everything from Douglas: her dignity, her innocence, and later, her reputation.

The story is poignant, and sadly, we haven’t come very far in our treatment of sexual violence.  For that reason alone, Girl 27 is an important watch, but not for the faint of heart.

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Saying Goodbye To A Role Model: Attending Jack Layton’s Funeral

CN Tower lit for Jack Layton, via The Star

Clapping.  Persistent and steady, it surrounded me on all sides as my teary eyes surveyed the tiers of Roy Thomson Hall.  People swayed in rhythm, some singing along loudly.  As I smiled at my brother and rested my head on his shoulder briefly, my heart lifted.

It was exactly what Jack Layton would have wanted:  politicians, friends, family and the everyday citizens, getting together.

The news of Jack Layton’s passing came to me in a sleepy haze, as my fiance called me to ask why I hadn’t told him yet about Jack.  My heart fell as I asked, “What news?” knowing damn well what it was, and yet refusing to speak of it.  I’m not foolish; I watched my beloved Poppy die of cancer a few years ago, and read between the lines of Layton’s final press conference.  I knew it was coming, but adamantly believed Jack’s vow to return to work in September, believed in his ability to beat the odds stacked against him.

That was his greatest gift to me:  the ability to persist in believing in a better Canada, no matter what punches I was expected to roll with in the bleak political climate marring city, province and country.


I never met Jack.  It’s a regret I will carry in the back of my mind now.  I never missed a debate, and voted for him every time.  I canvassed for my local MP, Matthew Kellway, and rejoiced in his victory.  I expected that I would meet him eventually, given the proximity of his home and riding.  All the same, I took the news as if losing an uncle, or teacher.  I made my way to the impromptu vigil at City Hall that same day, watching as the chalk climbed along the wall, adding my own small message.  I left condolences in the book, signed the memorial board.  I shed tears as his beautiful letter was read aloud, my own city councillor weeping too.  I hugged strangers, shared stories of being moved by Jack, echoed the urgent need of us to “Keep Jack’s message alive.”

This was the power Jack Layton possessed:  to unite us, not divide and subjugate us.  He was the shining example of what being Canadian means to me.

Jack championed many causes that are important to me.  He gave us The White Ribbon Campaign, working to unite men against violence touching women’s lives.  He joyfully embraced the LGBTQ community, participating in Pride events and advocating for their rights.  He took on the silence surrounding homelessness, demanded better support for those coping with AIDS, and sought better social system support for our elderly.  He wanted students to be able to afford their educations, wanted better standards of living for the lower classes struggling to survive, and more action to preserve the environment.  As a bisexual woman who lived in poverty as a child and now struggles to repay her student loan debt in any semblance of timely fashion, I felt understood by Jack.  I felt included and heard. As an aspiring social worker, I hold these values as well.

Attending the funeral – not just watching on TV, but being inside Roy Thomson Hall – felt necessary.  In a sense, it seemed to be that meeting I had always longed to have.  I wanted to say goodbye to Jack, surrounded by those of similar mind and heart.  My little brother – the one I taught politics to around the kitchen table a decade ago – came with me Friday night as we descended upon Roy Thomson Hall, steeling ourselves against sleep deprivation.

As he put it, “We’ll do it for Mr. Layton!”

We arrived at 10:30pm, to a line about 50 people deep.  As the night progressed, it grew, and a new little community was fostered.  Brother and I made fast friends with three others in line, playing games and chattering throughout a sleepless night, while many others curled up in blankets, sleeping bags, tents and chairs to rest.  Clubbing men and women repeatedly stopped to ask what we were waiting for.  One man insulted us all, shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you?  Do you not have homes?  Why are so many in Canada living homeless like this?”  When I informed him we were waiting for a beloved politician’s funeral, he sobered up and apologized, saying, “This is my first week here.  I do not know of this man.”  I felt sad that he would never know Jack.

Media snapped photos.  A friendly security officer chatted on his rounds, offering Oasis juice to anyone thirsty in line.  Street sweeper vehicles came by so many times, polishing the look for the streaming video coverage to come.  There were jaunts to Tim Horton’s at King and John, pizza ordered to the line, many digging into backpacks of rations.  My brother and I clinked cans of Orange Crush.  The sun began to rise, and the reporters arrived.  Interviews began; I did three.  I hear the CP24 one looked alright.

The wristband, which I fell asleep with.

Wristbands came just before eight.  We wondered why purple, not orange.  Members of our new group came and went from the line, running home to change or out for breakfast.  Throngs of people began milling about the square, many asking how long we’d waited and staring wide-eyed at our answer. The Steelworkers’ Union gifted us with orange roses, that we clutched tightly.

It was mostly beautiful and peaceful.  There was a line jumper who shoved and threatened people to propel herself in front of us in the ticket queue, despite arriving just before 7 in the morning, then beaming at reporters complimenting her attire.  There were people snapping photos and tweeting inside the hall as if it were a rock concert.  These things seemed so baffling in the face of Layton’s spirit and message, but I decided in the end that Jack would want these people there, in hopes they would grow and love.

Much came across as unusual to those watching at home, from the comments I read wearily last night, but to those of us inside, everything felt pitch-perfect.  This was not a funeral; it was a celebration.  The programs and tickets said so.

The service felt balanced in all ways, which I appreciated immediately.  The man, personal and political, was equally on display, through music and speech – and rightfully so, given it was a celebration of his entire life and his accomplishments.  The three eulogies exemplify this:  Stephen Lewis (English; political); Karl Belanger (French; straddling the line) and Mike & Sarah Layton (personal).  Of four singing performances, two were more mournful or evocative of sorrow, two were meant to lift our hearts, and one was in French.  All blessings were printed in English and French in the program.  Religious readings were Aboriginal (my favourite), Christian, and Muslim in origin.  Rev. Hawkes did a powerful job in his sermon, and while he did “get churchy”, as he quipped to laughter, it never felt like anything more than the loving words of a friend, remembering a man who was larger than life and down to earth all at once.

More than merely a chance to grieve and say farewell, it was a reflection on the journey Layton took, and the path he’d intended us to travel – with him at our side.  The service said, “It’s okay; you know where to go from here.”  And we do.  It could be felt in the singing, swaying, clapping masses in the balcony during Rise Up and Get Together.  It was felt as the thunderous applause greeted each speech.  It was outlined in chalk at City Hall (again) and the sidewalks along Roy Thomson Hall.

The torch has been passed, Rev. Hawkes said.  The masses happily accepted it.

The energy within the walls of the home to many a Christmas event attended by Jack and Olivia was palpable, pulsing in the skin.  There was union, as people wept almost simultaneously at the same moments, clapped at the same times.  For those at home, it was hard to see that every thundering applause was a standing ovation, many beginning in the balcony and joined afterward by those in VIP areas.  We stood as video screens displayed the casket’s departure from City Hall, and remained that way until it joined us on stage. And as his casket departed, I sensed that his spirit lingered, smiling and singing along.  Jack loved to sing; I sang for him, as many did.

I left feeling hopeful, happy in spite of my tears, clinging a can of Orange Crush which was in abundant supply at refreshment stations as we departed. My body was weary, but I didn’t mind it.  I considered it his due, given how tirelessly he worked for all of us for decades.

In the back pages of the program, there is lined space to write, allotted for us to make a promise, something we will do to change the world and make it better.  I’ve given it much thought, and have yet to come up with anything eloquent.  I know I plan to increase my involvement in local politics, to make even more time to benefit others and work with my community.  I plan to work in support of ending violence against women, and fighting the bad turns our political landscape has taken.

Perhaps “Be like Jack” would suffice.

The Service, As Outlined In The Program
(All language notations mine)

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings; G.F. Handel, Pifa from Messiah – Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison); Magnificat – Richard Underhill with David Restivo, Kevin Barrett, Artie Roth, Larnell Lewis, Colleen Allen

Processional – The Choir of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto

O Canada (French) – Joy Klopp

Aboriginal Blessing – Shawn Atleo

Welcome – Reverend Brent Hawkes
Bienvenue – Anne McGrath

First Reading:  Philippians 2 (French) – Nycole Turmel
Second Reading: Isaiah 57-58 (Mix) – Myer Siemiatycki
Qu’ran 2:153 (English) – Tasleem Riaz

Croire (Marcel Lefebvre; Paul Baillargeon) – Performed by Martin Deschamps with Bernard Quessy

Video:  “Together, we’ll change the world”

Eulogy (English) – Stephen Lewis

Eulogy (French)– Karl Belanger

Eulogy (English)
– Mike and Sarah Layton

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) – Performed by Steven Page with Kevin Fox and Kevin Hearne

Homily (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Rise Up (Parachute Club) – Performed by Lorraine Segato with Colleen Allen, David Gray, Steve Webster, Alana Bridgewater, Tom Jestadt

Benediction (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Get Together (Chet Powers) – Performed by Julie Michels with the Choir of the Metropolitian Community Church of Toronto

Hymn To Freedom (Oscar Peterson) – Chris Dawes, organist

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