Laurie and Debbie say:
We were very pleased to be invited to interview Jen Cross about her book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma.
Jen is a sexual abuse survivor who has worked intensely with both writing for her own healing, and the healing power of writing in groups. Writing Ourselves Whole is her first book. We were both very impressed by how thorough, clear, and complete it is: so much so that we had to put effort and energy into finding questions to ask that she hadn’t already answered fully in the text.
Body Impolitic: What led you to make this work your life passion?
Jen Cross: I was a writer before I was abused, and wrote very little during the years the abuse was happening. A few months before I broke contact, I started writing again. The great thing about writing was that nobody could tell me I was wrong. Writing became a core healing place for me. I was also becoming a queer feminist, doing consciousness-raising groups with domestic violence survivors. I found myself wondering how writing could be of service in that work.
I noticed the shift that happens when we write together. In the context of the understandable tension between incest survivors and the queer sex-positive community, I was blown away by how much risk folks were willing to take. Even in the first meeting, people would bring forth stories in stunning, powerful, rich language. There was room for our full stories and artistic genius.
In writing groups structured this way, we make choices about what we share. And we are generously, effusively kind to one another.
BI: What differences do you find between erotic writing groups and other writing groups?
The difference is in the expectations of the writers when they walk into the room. In explicitly erotic groups, I talk about “adult lived consensual sexuality now.” In general groups, we are more about feeling out possibility, re-embodying sexuality.
BI: We were both struck by how you use this quotation from Audre Lorde in your book:
I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change.
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
BI: Can you say what draws you to this concept of the erotic?
JC: Some of it is about trying to keep the erotic separate from being purely about sexuality. Lorde offers an expansive view of the erotic, truly about empowered embodiment—living fully into our artwork, or nonsexual conversation with a dear friend. Erotic is too often relegated into one place. For an abuse survivor, it can be about being able to replace the abuser’s “erotics” with a form that is not his, but is the survivor’s own.
BI: So you are differentiating between creativity that arises from the need to be creative to survive trauma vs. creativity that comes from other sources?
JC: I don’t know where our creativity comes from. One thing survivors have to do is reframe our relationship with coping mechanisms. The genius in our psyche helps us get through horrific situations. But then we blame ourselves for how we did it.
There’s not a person I have ever written with who hasn’t written something that blows the top of my head off.
BI: Can you say something about the difference between writing an organized book like this one and freewriting?
JC: I freewote all of the sections. I made a list of topics and then used those topics for freewriting. I wanted a book you could read in chunks, or as a whole, or return to. I used Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as a model.
I found it such a pleasure to do editing. I print out everything and edit on paper. Editing uses a different part of my brain, and I can let the writing show me what it wants to be.
BI: When you talk about healing, are you talking about something like returning to our true inner selves before we were abused, or about creating ourselves in a new context. How do these processes differ?
JC: I struggle with the sense of healing and recovery as return—finding your voice. We are multiplicitous and vast. Finding our way in a positive sense. Trauma is part of us. We can feel fragmented and be accepted as fragmented. Healing is about something messier than simply being whole all the time. We are able to say both “This shouldn’t have happened” and “I like who I am now.”
Writing Ourselves Whole is a finely crafted roadmap to an entire world of healing strategies. Jen Cross is fiercely honest and effusively kind. If anything about the topic of the book or the tone of this interview speaks to you, buy the book. You’ll be glad you did.