What does the term survivor mean to you?
It's hard to say. I truly think that each person has the right to define that for themselves (especially when discussing themselves). I personally didn't start identifying as a survivor until I was assaulted when living abroad at nineteen, even though arguably I was already a survivor of trauma I wasn't ready to face at that point. Are you a survivor if you do not recognize it in yourself or is it projected onto you based on the facts of your life? I suppose to be a survivor is to look what happened to you in the face and decide that despite it all you still deserve to live a beautiful life that is safe and full of joy.
What do you want other survivors to know?
I want other survivors to know that they don't need to feel ashamed for the things that happened to them or what they did under circumstances where they had no power. We are all just trying to survive and have it be recognized that we exist and deserve to exist safely. I spent so much of my life ashamed of the facts around that happened to me that it nearly killed me. I want other survivors to know that despite how isolating it feels, we do have each other. We are in a community of survivorhood.
How can someone be a good ally?
I've thought about this a lot because I've certainly had a mixed bag of experiences, both with platonic and romantic interactions. A lot of people do not know how to react to trauma, whether this is because they haven't experienced anything extremely heavy or because they're unable to face their own traumas yet. I would say the most fundamental aspect to being an ally is just to be present, to listen, and also to be able to assert boundaries when you're unable to carry others. The last bit is important because obviously unless you're a trained professional you can't necessarily "help" the survivors in your life, but you can be present and know your own limits.
The most fundamental part is just being there though, not making them feel crazy when they have flashbacks or are triggered by reminders of their trauma. This especially is true if you're sexually involved with a survivor, certain things that might be completely normal and okay in other dynamics might have a survivor flying off the handle. Don't act like they're overreacting, just because in this situation they're safe, that doesn't mean it didn't put them in a head space where they are incredibly unsafe. Take care of them, love them.
Was it difficult for you to open up to friends and/or family? If you haven't, would you?
I would say with my initial approaches to survivorhood, recognizing myself as an assault survivor, I was really open about it. Both online to family and friends, as well as within my creative output. When I was beaten by a client, I also was very public about it. It wasn't difficult to be open about these experiences because I didn't really feel any shame in regards to them, I was mostly just angry and in pain.
With other traumas, I would even argue my root trauma (CSA), it took years for me to even be honest with myself about it let alone with the people who are important in my life about it. I'm very lucky that when I did come forth about it, I had a good community around me that supported me through my next steps of healing. The only reason I did come forward though was because the shame was so heavy that I knew if I didn't vomit it all out of me, I'd just die with it.
What has been some of the most difficult parts of the healing process for you?
I think cutting off my Father is the most difficult and necessary thing I've ever had to do. Every day of this process has been a healing pain.
How do you relate to shame and fear?
Fear doesn't really touch me anymore. Shame is my best friend.
How do you feel empowered? How do you, or have you, empowered yourself?
I feel like becoming a sex worker empowered me, not in the way it's usually put across though. Like it wasn't about making money and taking back my power within the patriarchy, but more having a direct space that forced me to learn boundaries. As a complex trauma survivor I never really had an opportunity on how to assert boundaries to protect myself earlier in my life. In working situations, I have to be able to say "No, I don't like that." or "Yes, that's fine."
I also feel really empowered by the love of my friends, they allow me to be both vulnerable and strong at the same time.
What is self-care, and healing, for you?
Healing is huge. Healing is all I care about. I truly believe healing is all about creating a space you can be safe to even start to heal in (first of all) and then eventually allowing yourself to just feel all the pain, while also taking care of your body and your spirit. I'm not a religious or spiritual person honestly but there is something to be said in finding a way to feel connected and loved by and with your fellow people.
Self-care is just allowing myself to sleep in till noon and smoke weed when I need to, while also following my dreams and being proud of myself and take care of myself in the ways my inner child needs. She needs to be fed, she needs to sleep, she needs to talk to others. Self-care, in a lot of other ways, is taking care of yourself as an act of care for those in your life. If the people in your life are constantly worried that you're not taking care of yourself, it only stresses them out. I see self-care as an extension of community care, this love I give myself so I can continue to love and care for my friends better in the long term.
What has been a positive experience for you when sharing your experiences with others?
I would say my meme page @atmfiend is a great example of this. When I started it, I never really expected much to come of it but now whenever I post memes about trauma, queerness, sex work (etc) there will be people who relate to experiences that I usually considered incredibly isolating. Experiences that I had told myself my whole life made me an alien or strange or unlovable, other people have them too. I've had people show my memes to their therapists, which I love.
Define happiness for you.
Drinking a glass of wine in Naples with my best friend, the sea is to the right of us and we are both laughing at how ridiculous life is.
What makes you feel joy?
I feel joy when I am hanging out with my friends, brushing my teeth, smoking out a window, using nipple clamps on a sub, drinking coffee, hanging out with Liu Wei, a blunt.
Describe a good day for you.
My days change day to day because I don't have a traditional nine-to-five source of income. I'd say a good day would be one where I make some money, write, and hang out with my friends.
What makes you feel secure and safe?
I suppose what makes me feel secure and safe is knowing I have a strong community around me that love me.
Does your art/writing help you cope?
100%. I started writing poetry when I was eleven, started publishing when I was around nineteen, created my meme page around the time I was beaten, and then started publishing non-fiction essays recently. All of these things came about during times where I needed to cope and process extreme trauma. I don't know who I would be without my trauma and my coping mechanisms.
What inspires you?
The international movement for the decriminalization of sex work globally inspires me.
How do you want others to see you? How do you see yourself?
Trauma has kind of warped my ability to both see myself and how others see me. I suppose I'd want people to think I'm a sweet and self-made person, that's about it.
Tell me something you'd like others to know about you. Could be anything.
I'm a Sagittarius. :~)
Erin Taylor is an American writer and artist based in NYC. Her writing has been published at Hobart, LAMBDA Lit, Bitch Media, among others. She runs the meme page @atmfiend on Instagram and tweets @erinisaway. More about her and her writing can be found at erintaylorisalive.com. Twitter: @erinisaway / Instagram (meme page): @atmfiend