by Billie Mari Grant
There are about a trillion quotes about being remembered, leaving a legacy, or making a change. Okay, that may be hyperbolic but I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say a good grip of folks want to make an impact. I chose to believe that this is most often coming from a good place. Maybe that is because for me, it is. I’m almost 25 and can name at least 25 people who have had some impact on my life. Joy Urbach, my primary school gifted teacher. Howard Bridges, my older brother. Elle Woods, the protagonist from Legally Blonde. That’s just off the top of my head cutting out the go to folks like my stellar mother, Sandra or my amazing past partner, Jacob. Someone who maybe I don’t always want to mention is Harrison. The first person ever to rape me. For some reason I am compelled to leave out his last name. I think it is more for me than for him. My continuing attempt to distance myself from him. But, I cannot ignore what he did to me or the trajectory his actions set my life on. The first time Harrison touched me I was maybe 15. It was my first or second year of high school. It was New Years and I had come over to comfort him after he posted about needing support on MySpace. I know I’m showing my age. I try to be the kind of friend that responds to any proverbial bat signal. This one had my name in it! He told me later that he had hoped for the girl with my same name…but she’d been busy? So I come to his house. He’s been drinking and offers me something. For the greater portion of high school I was a pretty “good” kid. I tried hard in school, participated in extracurriculars, and didn’t engage in behavior deemed “unladylike”. I didn’t smoke, drink or have sex. I turned down his offers several times until I accepted a bowl of cereal. It was getting late and I was definitely tired. He suggested I spend the night as the buses probably weren’t running (not true) and it would be too far for a young lady to walk…too dangerous (the irony is killing me too). I tried to sleep on the couch in his room but he said it made it seem like I didn’t trust him. This sent him into a tailspin. No one likes him. Girls didn’t think he was good enough. That’s why his girlfriend had broken up with him. He was a loser and his family had left him to watch his baby brother while everyone else had fun. I tried to comfort him. Told him I did trust him and went over to lay in bed next to him. We cuddled and it felt harmless. Until he started moving his hand down my side and across my abdomen. When he got to my panty line I pushed his hand away. He started kissing my ear and telling me to trust him. That he thought I was beautiful. That he wanted me. I rolled onto my back and he kissed me. Then…so fast his hand was in my underwear and his fingers were tearing through my folds. I was holding on to his wrist… Trying to pull out his arm. Trying to pull my body away but he was on top of me, grinding and shoving his finger inside. It burned. And I thought he’d made me bleed. He told me I was just wet and that it meant I wanted him. At the time I had no other information and believed him. Dawn was breaking outside the egress window and he’d had his fun. He said he was tired and feel asleep instantly. I lay there. Wondering what I had done. Why I had let this happen. Asking myself if I’d liked it and getting the response of pain from my vagina. After what seemed like hours his mom knocked on the door and came in. She said hello to him and to me. Like it was no big deal that I was in his bed. The one she was sitting on talking about bowling. After she left he told me to leave because he needed to get ready to go hangout with his family. It was a tradition and I wasn’t invited. I left and felt so shamed. So uncomfortable with my body. My skin. My insides. Everything. It was probably cold out but I don’t remember. I remember the sun and how it felt too bright.
high school I would be raped again. Once by a Latino man in a red dodge charger who said he was from New York and was asking for directions and again by Harrison. I would make a mistake and believe his apology. I would think he was trust worthy and be proven wrong. I would look past his statements of ownership over my body. I would ignore the sexual (and racially insensitive) illusions he would make to his younger brother while we watch a commercial about chocotacos. I would agree to have sex with him after having too much to drink. I would tell him to use a condom and try to stop when he took it off. I would tell him it hurt and push against his chest. I would struggle to breath after he covers my face with a pillow. I would cry thinking my body betrayed me as my vagina lubricated itself against his intrusion. And it would end. He would tell me I needed to sneak out so his parents didn’t know and I would climb over a fence. He would apologize telling me I am the best sex he’s ever had and that he thought I wanted it rough. I would not forgive him. I would try. But after he continued to suggest anal sex as a makeup activity I would give up for good. Four years later in Omaha, Nebraska I would first name these encounters as rape.
This was radical.
It felt liberating and entirely terrifying. It felt uncomfortable to be so vulnerable. Until…I felt their support. The women sitting around the table would shake their heads and hold my hand. They would echo what I have now learned. That it was not my fault. That I didn’t want it. That I don’t have to forgive him. And that it was rape. It was wrong. It IS wrong. These women made up some of the SlutWalk planning committee of 2014. That is the first year of having Kristin as the lead organizer and it would be my first SlutWalk as an identifying survivor. This last year I took over leadership of SlutWalk. I made this choice quickly, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. But knowing that this was something I was feeling called to do. This remains one of the best choices I’ve made since moving to Nebraska. I had a few things I was really excited to do with SlutWalk this year. I wanted to included clinics from North and South Omaha. I wanted to include as many folks as wanted to be included from bands to agencies. I wanted to create a space that included and supported survivors of color, undocumented survivors and male identified survivors. This last bit about inclusion was really important as it is something SlutWalks all over the world have been working to do. Furthermore, last year we had several uncomfortable and frankly pissed folks who didn’t think we did the best we could have done. We appreciated the critical examination and this year organized and hosted two forums for folks to come tell us what they liked and didn’t like about SlutWalk last year or SlutWalk over all. From those as well as a meeting we had shortly following SlutWalk 2015 we were able to further identify areas of improvement. These certainly weren’t things we hadn’t acknowledged but these conversations gave the community the opportunity to also offer up possible solutions. I also met with a few people personally to discuss their issues with SlutWalk. We held our poster making party at an alcohol free, all ages venue with access to bus routes and also offered rides from the event. We welcomed Boner Killerz to the stage for their first performance and had intentional conversations about language when necessary. The event itself went fairly well sans a lack of power, however we were lucky and thankful to have amazing acoustic vocal peformances as well as spoken word performances. We close out each SlutWalk with an open mic. For many, this is the most impactful portion of the afternoon. It is a time where we, as survivors and allies hold space for one another. I realized I hadn’t provided any tissues so I ran to my car for a giant pack of napkins. The heart, passion, and truth that exists during the open mic is…contagious. It made me feel like I was not alone. It reminded me I move with thousands. When I think back to that day, to some of those moments…my skin tingles. I remember their knowing and supportive eyes. I remember their respect for boundaries and the many requests for hugs acknowledging that not everyone is comfortable with touch. I remember the pronoun buttons that were gone in a snap and am thankful for UNO providing markers and nametags so folks can continue to feel affirmed if only between noon and 2 p.m. on a random Saturday.
remember being a teenager waiting for the bus. Twice. And thinking, I am a bad person who makes bad choices. A bad girl who sets bad examples.
That parallel is where I see my impact. The difference between who I am now and who I was then is the reason I organize SlutWalk. It’s the reason I organize, period. The children I saw at SlutWalk are the reason I organize. The people of color I saw holding signs proclaiming that they are not to be exotified is why I organize. The survivors finally having a place, a moment to breath and be affirmed in their truth is why I organize.
I began working with SlutWalk three years ago because I want to be a sex therapist. I think it is important people are having conversations about their bodies. I truly believe a level of familiarity would go a long way increasing our comfort with sex and sexual conversation. I believe that survivors have a unique relationship with their body and first need to reclaim it as their own before they can begin to heal.
I organize SlutWalk becuase it is not about “them” it is about “us.” It is about moving as a community and holding each other up. It is about acknowledging where everyone is in their journey and being honest about whether or not you are in a place to best aid them. It is about moving back and creating necessary space for groups that continue to be marginalized regardless of the topic. I organize SlutWalk because every year being a part of an us helps me grow. It helps me heal. I hope my impact is that by intentionally organizing SlutWalk I can help someone else to grow and heal as well.
Billie Mari Grant has lived in Omaha for just over 3 years. In those years she has become a recognizable activist in many communities. She is a core organizer for CHEER (Comprehensive Health Education and Equal Responsibility) and the creator of Period.Productions, an alternative printed resource currently focused on creating a comprehensive sexual health zine (The Talk) to be nationally distributed. She is as board member of Friends of Planned Parenthood, and Queer People of Color (QPoC) Nebraska. She works as a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League and is currently leading an after school program at a local middle school. Billie has volunteered regularly as a facilitator ans panelist for GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and Inclusive Communities. She is an intern 28th Nebraska Appleseed where she assists with development work but primarily looks at access to women’s health care for immigrants. Last September, she was named Omaha Table Talk’s Facilitator of the Year. This June, she was awarded the Community Impact Award by Heartland Pride. She some how still finds times to binge watch Netflix and Freeform and even walks her dachshund chihuahua, Winston…sometimes.