You know those books that leave you without words? I don’t, which is why this review has been so hard to write. I’m one of those people that has so many opinions that I’ve got opinions about my own opinions. Seriously!
I finished reading Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence almost two weeks ago and the stories have been resonating within me ever since. I started this book thinking about my own experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence.
I wondered if I would have the courage to write a letter to one of my body parts. What body part would I choose? What would I want or need to say to it? Would I have the courage to write the letter anywhere but in my mind where no one could accidentally stumble across it? If I did manage to write that letter who would I trust to show it to? Regardless of your history I’d encourage you to think about those questions for yourself. It’s really quite a daunting prospect, isn’t it?
I thought about experiences shared with other sexual assault and domestic violence survivors over the years and how we’ve connected over shared thoughts and feelings, regardless of the legal terminology of what was perpetrated against us. The survivors I’ve had the opportunity to share with so far have been cis women and men, and they’re some of the bravest people I know.
I wondered if I could ever claim to understand what a trans or non-binary sexual assault or domestic violence survivor has experienced. While I’m fairly confident there’d be aspects of their story that I could relate to based on my own experiences, as a cis woman I can’t and won’t claim to understand what it’s like to be trans or non-binary. To be trans or non-binary in today’s society and then compound that with (in so many survivors) countless experiences of abuse by multiple perpetrators? I can’t even begin to imagine.
We need books like this one to open our eyes to the pain of those who’ve experienced the unthinkable and the incredible ability people have to overcome what was intended to destroy. While you can never really walk in someone else’s shoes, by reading this book you have the honour of being granted permission to truly see aspects of people that are usually hidden by façades.
You’ll likely feel practically everything in your emotional range while reading and due to the content I’d advise against reading it all at once. Different writing styles and content provide varied reading experiences throughout the book. Some letters were poetic. Others were visceral. There’s so much heartbreaking trauma content, yet there’s also so much strength and hope.
While considering the courage of the people who have contributed to this book, a quote from Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me came to mind. Brené explains eloquently what I cannot:
”Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad.”
To the survivors who have contributed to this book, there are so many things I want to say to you, amongst which are … I hear you. I believe you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in awe of your courage. You are extraordinary!
If I could choose just one really powerful quote from this book:
“What they didn’t know is that I’m trying to heal from what happened to me; I’m not trying to heal from who I am.”Lexie Bean
How do you rate a book like this? I don’t think you can rate someone’s experience so instead I’m rating the courage, the heart, of the people who have not only looked within themselves to come up with words that reflect their experience but have also had the bravery to shine a light on them. To me that deserves nothing less than ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Content Warnings: There are too many potential triggers in this book to name but they include sexual assault, domestic violence, mental health, bullying, suicide, eating disorders and self harm. Please be safe while reading. 💜
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book. I feel honoured to have read it.
Once Upon a Blurb
Written by and for trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Written on the Body offers support, guidance and hope for those who struggle to find safety at home, in the body, and other unwelcoming places.
This collection of letters written to body parts weaves together narratives of gender, identity, and abuse. It is the coming together of those who have been fragmented and often met with disbelief. The book holds the concerns and truths that many trans people share while offering space for dialogue and reclamation.
Written with intelligence and intimacy, this book is for those who have found power in re-shaping their bodies, families and lives.