Hi, my name is Leif E. Greenz, and this is a speech I gave for a panel on trauma and writing at AWP 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Towards the end of the video, I discuss how novelist Peter Nichols (author of “The Rocks”) sexually harassed me over school email while I was an MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles. The school did little to help me and I dropped out of Antioch University Los Angeles as a result.
Here is the full written version:
“If you Google my legal name, Emily Eveland, one of the first results is an article entitled, “Did feminist writer Emily Eveland lie about beating up her rapist?” The article was written by a men’s rights activist for a pro-rape website called “Return of Kings” a few weeks after I wrote an article for xoJane about how I did, in fact, beat the shit out of my rapist. The Return of Kings article was written solely to disempower my narrative. Subhead by subhead, the author chiseled away at my story with claims like “the article is too good” and “she said they wore ski masks.” That much I could handle. What I couldn’t stomach were the comments below the article, where men posted pictures of me from my blog and debated over whether or not they would rape me.
Here are some of those comments:
“Something about that face screams chlymidia. RAOR – rape at own risk.”
“Holy shit, she couldn’t pay me enough to rape her! Who in their right mind would want to stick their junk in that pierced disease infested graffiti inked pile or shit??! I mean if this were true I would feel sorry for the guy not finding a better looking piece of ass to rape.”
Now, I’m a strong lady. I’ve survived car accidents, robberies, house fires, addictions, and numerous assaults, sometimes with a straight face. But watching men pick me apart like that lit a fire I still haven’t extinguished. My first reaction was to collapse. I sobbed in my partner’s arms as I watched the comment section grow to 305 violently misogynistic remarks. My boyfriend tried to pull me away, but I wouldn’t let him. Humanity was exposing itself and I needed to watch to completion. In the end, I felt sick and then sickness became rage. Before my show the next afternoon, I had my friend write the worst comments in Sharpie on my back, my ass, and my legs. In the middle of my acoustic set, I stripped off my dress and stood with my back to the crowd, revealing the phrases: “WOULD NOT RAPE,” “LYING BITCH,” “PSYCHOPATH” and “ASKING FOR IT.” And then I turned around. On my front, the words “SURVIVOR” “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” and “I BELIEVE YOU” were written in bigger, bolder letters.
When men feed me poison, I whirl it around in my cauldron and feed it back to them. That’s how I survive in the real world and it’s how I survive the writing life, too. I haven’t found a way to write or live without being triggered. Instead, I’ve figured out how to transform how I respond to my emotions. If a comment section hurts my feelings, I can type up all the terrible things people said, cut their phrases into smaller bits, and collage them into different phrases entirely. If the act of writing triggers me, I can smash rotten fruit in the alley, dance to Kate Bush, or jump in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 frozen lakes. Or I can lean into the discomfort and let it guide me, writing pages of words I won’t remember, but which will someday strike me as my best, only because I didn’t resist. My hurt is where the missing pieces of my heart live.
I’m currently working on a memoir about the year I sold my body on Craigslist. While there are empowering sex work narratives out there, mine wasn’t one of them. My work was grimy, lonely, and dangerous. I made a lot of harmful choices. And then, when the year was up, I moved on to more chaos without taking time to process.
People with complex trauma are often caught in this cycle, whether or not they realize it. When chaos and constant movement surround us, there’s no time to reflect on our traumas. Unfortunately, when we’re that tuned out, it means we’re more susceptible to further harm. It’s like losing touch with our pain receptors and holding a hot pot with bare hands. It is only by writing and processing and taking ownership of our traumas that we’re able to reconnect to our bodies, stop the cycle, and start healing.
This work is hard. Some days, it’s miserable. I sit at my desk and immediately want to sleep or cry or numbly surf the Internet. And even when the work is satisfying, it hurts. There’s rarely a night that I don’t feel depleted, too drained to even communicate with my boyfriend. He asks me questions and I grunt in response. Doesn’t he know I’m an 18-year-old prostitute on the days I work on my memoir? Sometimes I stay in my old mind frame for hours, even days, at a time after writing. I reach out to people I shouldn’t connect with. I get angry about things that happened a decade ago. And I can only write about that life for a few hours at a time before I need to pass out. Mary Karr said once of her writing practice, “I just conk out on the floor of my study like a cross-country trucker” and at the end of those few hours, I feel a lot like that.
But I don’t resist the process anymore, even when it makes me crazy. I don’t resist the crazy, either. And when it’s time to stop and rest, I let myself do that, too, even though I’m terrible at it. Recent trauma research is mostly focused on the body, so I’m learning to interpret what mine is saying. My insides know when enough is enough, but they also know how to push me harder than I think I’m capable of.
Until last night, I was going to end with a list of tools for writing about trauma in a way that doesn’t cause further damage, but one of the panels I attended yesterday reminded me that I’m here to tell my whole truth in the realest, most Leify way, and a list just isn’t me. If you want those practical tools, we can exchange contact info after this.
What I really want to talk about is rage – unapologetic survivor rage. I know I’m not supposed to say it because I’m a woman and should therefore be docile, but rage is my propane and I like to douse rapists in it. Rage is what fueled the whips of my sock-n-lock into my rapist’s stomach. Rage is how I survived men’s rights activists arguing over my rapability. Rage is how I escaped a traumatic childhood, which started right here, in this very city. Rage is why I’m still standing.
I was raped the sixth and hopefully last time of my adulthood last June. In September of 2017, a week before my partner moved into my apartment, a month before the Harvey Weinstein reports came out, and three months after my coworker raped me, I got in the ring for one final fight. Over the course of two days, I went on a doxxing spree, outing every single motherfucker who ever raped, aggressively harassed, or assaulted me. There were about 13 posts total, each dedicated to one abuser. One was a coworker, a handful were boyfriends, a few were people I thought were friends, and one was Peter Nichols, author of The Rocks and a former Antioch University professor. Peter sexually harassed me over school email. I wasn’t his first victim. He had previously harassed a faculty member, but Antioch didn’t take action. They kept him because he was one of the better selling authors on faculty. It took me threatening to go public – which I did regardless – for them to do anything. And once he was gone, it was like I was gone, too. Months went by without anyone from Antioch contacting me. I felt purposefully forgotten, like an unwanted memory of their failure to protect students.
Fuck that. Stand by your values and care for your students or close your fucking school.
Back to our original question: how do I write about trauma without getting triggered? I don’t. But I do know how to release those emotions without cutting or punching myself in the face. I know how to create rather than destroy myself with my emotions. And when I’m feeling destructive without remorse, I use that energy on people who deserve it – rapists, mostly. In the past year, I’ve gotten three abusers fired from their jobs. I’ve made sure none of them get to live in cushy secrecy because that’s exactly how the abuse cycle keeps going. I scream at cat callers, pepper spray aggressors, and put men in headlocks for harassing women. I am not afraid. I will not be passive or silent, even when my fire scares therapists and friends. I have a right to be angry. Men flaunt their rage in sports, law enforcement, and the military. They’re told to carry weapons and assert their strength. Why? And why can’t I? Because survivors who reclaim their strength are stronger than those men. Because we threaten to dismantle their system. And because they know if we banded together and realized our power all at once, we would win.”