Tag Archives: sexual trauma

Jen Cross: An Interview with the Author of Writing Ourselves Whole


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.

Bad Sex, Good Sex

Marlene says:

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but have been waiting for something to make it seem like the right moment had arrived. It hasn’t, so here goes, because any moment is the right moment…

My friend Jen Cross leads writing workshops entitled Writing Ourselves Whole. These workshops are intended to be transformative: by writing and sharing their work, participants examine their thoughts, responses, assumptions, and expectations. They unwind the whole of their everyday ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Jen leads workshops with a variety of focuses. Some are intended for survivors of sexual trauma. Some center around erotic writing.

Something I have heard Jen say is that the workshops may be therapeutic, but they are not therapy.

I am most familiar with Jen’s work as an erotic writer. Steamy doesn’t begin to describe her beautifully filthy prose.

When I mentioned to Jen that I was thinking of writing about what she does, she told me that one of the interesting conversations she’s been having lately is about the apparent disparity between her erotic writing workshops and her workshops for survivors of sexual trauma. I can see some ways people might see a contradiction here, but my understanding of the two has always been that they are of the same cloth. The first workshops for survivors, including one that my girlfriend was in, focused specifically on erotic writing. The experience allowed her to come to a new relationship with her sexuality in ways she has told me explicitly, and in ways that I can intuit by knowing her well.

At some point, Jen separated the erotic writing workshops from the workshops for survivors. I’m sure there is plenty of room for erotic writing in the survivors’ workshops, if someone is so inclined, but they are not specifically structured with that intent.

Reading through Jen’s blog, I found a quote speaks directly to why I do not believe there is a contradiction between the two types of work.

We have our bodies. We have our hands and feet thighs legs arms eyes noses breasts mouths bellies chests butts foreheads fingers lips toes and yes genitals yes cunts and cocks yes they always are of us. Through [this] writing, I open to the world around me. I walk around heavily awake, I smile more amply, I touch the cats on the ledge with my eyes. I am seen and I see. I am witnessed. I am heard. I am differently present. This is the opposite of dissociation. This is the practice of embodiment.

Jen Cross has made it her work to help those around her heal themselves. She sees it as a way to make the world she lives in a better place. She knows that people who feel solidly at home within themselves are kinder to others. I think on our very best days, Body Impolitic does some of this same work, albeit differently. I believe this is the importance of Women En Large and Familiar Men.