As much as we try and distance ourselves from trauma, it often rears its ugly head in moments we least expect (or we do expect, but we hope so much that enough time has passed to where it won’t matter so much). It has been over six years since my assault, and i’m reminded that healing is not linear, is not on a trajectory that makes any sort of chronological sense.
i just finished watching Chanel Miller’s exclusive interview on 60 Minutes. i have wiped my tears and gained enough composure to type words in some sort of coherent manner. For those of you who don’t know who she is, you’ll learn her name soon enough. She gained notoriety as Emily Doe in the court case against rapist and former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner. Her memoir, Know My Name is due for release tomorrow.
When i first read Chanel’s victim impact statement in 2016, i was beside myself. We didn’t know her identity yet. To me, she was still Emily Doe, an anonymously brave womxn who i felt a special sort of sadistic kinship with.
i know how innately problematic & harmful of me it was, but i assumed her to be a young white womxn who had stumbled upon a Stanford fraternity party. While i pictured her like any of my friends who had recently graduated from school, my assumption of her whiteness is indicative of how we imagine rape and rape victims. Even me, knowing so many womxn of color survivors of assault (and also being one of them), the legibility of white womxn as victims engulfed my imagination surrounding Emily Doe. (Can we also perhaps suggest that the powers at be chose the name Emily Doe for it’s racial ambiguity that would allow people to envision her as white?) Regardless, her victim impact statement encapsulated so much of how i felt betrayed by society, by my need to protect myself in the aftermath.
Though so many of the details of our assaults differ, watching her interview, i recognized how intimately aware i am of the kind of bodily harm she had to endure at the hands of a white man/men both in her assault and in the court room. It is impossible for me to understand her assault and the aftermath without also seeing, quite vividly, how the bodies of Asian womxn in the United States are exotified and disposed at will.
In particular, the portion of Chanel’s interview that takes place in her home felt to me as if it could finally be understood that Asian womxn can too be victims of sexual violence inflicted by men deemed “All-American”. Despite films depicting Asian womxn as exotified sexual objects for American men, our bodies are not built for their pleasure. Chanel’s red calendar emblazoned with gold Chinese calligraphy and blue porcelain figurines of Chinese children are markers of a shared cultural identity that makes me feel seen, both as a Chinese American, but a Chinese American victim of sexual assault.
i do not claim to know Chanel or her feelings on the matter of being a racialized and gendered body, but there are so many things about her and her story that resonate with me as a descendent of Chinese immigrants and a native Californian. Her home in San Francisco echoes the home that i grew up in. In one of the many articles i have read about her, she articulates not knowing how to tell her parents about her assault, (something i have yet to do), her mother crying with her when she found out (which is what i imagine my mother would do), how her name “Chanel” is pronounced “Xiao Niao” or “Little Bird” in Mandarin Chinese by her grandfather (my maternal grandmother couldn’t fully pronounce “Christina” either). More importantly though, I envision Chanel’s life, and I am struck by how severely she reminds me of my little cousins who grew up in the same and neighboring towns as Chanel, whose youth and vibrancy as strong Asian American womxn i pray (and i don’t ever pray) will never be extinguished by such acts of violence and brutality against their bodies.
Watching Chanel speak so clearly and thoughtfully, i cried. i could see how the rape and trial changed her. i imagined what it would be like if i had pressed charges, if i had to stand in front of a jury of supposed peers, but in reality, actual strangers. i thought long and hard about how her rapist’s future was considered, but her trauma was not. i do not think i would have been so strong, so willing to put myself through what she had. Perhaps she does not know the racial significance of claiming her identity as Chanel Miller and not continuing to let Emily Doe take all the credit. i have yet to unpack all of my feelings and thoughts surrounding her assault, mine, and the role that telling our own stories has to play in the landscape of sexual violence. But, i hope that her coming forward will allow us all to expand our understanding of who can be a victim and what we lose if we let victims live in the shadows as amorphous, race-free bodies.