#SurvivorLoveLetter Combats A Culture Of Violence With The Radical Act Of Self-Love
Back for its third year, the letter-writing campaign offers survivors of sexual assault solidarity and a radical path forward.
Content warning: sexual violence
“Did you know? Did you know they hated us this much?”
I remember fixating on the little thumbs-up emoji in the bottom right corner of the Facebook Messenger chat box as my friend typed through her visceral devastation. The emoji, faint blue, cartoonish, unwaveringly upbeat, felt like it was mocking me with a previously unnoted maliciousness. Will I ever flash a thumbs-up again? I remember wondering at the time.
It was the evening of November 9th and “liking” anything again — in the Facebook universe or elsewhere — felt like a physical impossibility.
“I certainly knew they hated us,” I typed back slowly, my gaze inexplicably fixed on the blue thumb — a visual stand-in for all the people and articles and video segments and tweets that had similarly mocked me with their staunch commitment to ignoring my pain, to belittling the worst of my lived experiences — “but I didn’t think it was this much.”
The exact “they” my friend was referring to was both amorphous and painfully explicit. “They” were the ones who’d championed open misogyny, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry, who’d rallied around a man so distorted by toxic masculinity that he’d bragged about sexual violence and later contended that such behavior was in fact normal.
“They,” with their election day decisions and the attendant hatred they’ve harbored and unleashed, have made existing in this world nearly unbearable — especially for those of us already violated, assaulted, mistreated, and discredited within a society that’s long worked to normalize the abuse we face.
How does one keep fighting when so many of “them” — some of whom we know personally, others who remain nameless participants in our toxic ecosystem—hate us so much?
Back for its third annual launch, #SurvivorLoveLetter offers up not just hope, but, remarkably, a path forward—and one toward healing.
“When we live in a culture of violence, one of the most radical things we can do is love ourselves,” the project’s founder, filmmaker and media justice activist Tani Ikeda, tells me over email.
“That love is what will make it impossible to stop fighting for each other — to make it impossible to give up on ourselves.”
Ikeda started #SurvivorLoveLetter in 2015, asserting it “was an act of defiance, a declaration of self love, and a call to allies to honor the survivors in their lives. I imagined what it would mean for my younger self to wake up on Valentine’s Day and read message after message of public support for surviving. That’s when I knew I wanted to create #SurvivorLoveLetter.”
“By telling our stories we seek to build knowledge and reflect on the ways we heal ourselves and our communities.”theestablishment.co
The hashtag and the project’s Tumblr page quickly became a viral phenomenon, with thousands of letters, notes, and words of support, solidarity, and encouragement — for and by survivors of sexual assault — pouring in from around the world.
Tweets, letters, and Tumblr entries — at times bolstered by the involvement of films like Audrie & Daisy in the project — continue to surface three years later.
And Ikeda is reupping the call for messages of radical self-love this notably bleak Valentine’s Day.
When we live in a culture of violence, one of the most radical things we can do is love ourselves.
Participating is simple; per the Tumblr’s instructions, “Write a declaration of self love or honor a survivor in your life at #SurvivorLoveLetter.” Then, starting at 9 a.m. PST/12 p.m. EST today, help flood the internet with messages of support by adding your words to the mix, being sure to use the #SurvivorLoveLetter hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.
As for her own participation, Ikeda organized a queer women of color letter writing circle for this past Saturday; some of the group’s work is sprinkled throughout this piece.
In 2015, Ikeda said that it was her desire “to paint an honest and complex picture of healing; one that we can still celebrate and share with others. I hope sharing our real stories makes other people feel that there is no one right way to heal.”
‘I hope sharing our real stories makes other people feel that there is no one right way to heal.’
This year, she reiterates the importance of personal connections and anecdotes: “Vocally opposing those who would deny our humanity by affirming our stories is strategic.”
So while we are, indeed, absolutely awash in hatred—our awareness of its magnitude growing by the day—#SurvivorLoveLetter reminds us of the value of battling it. This Valentine’s Day, yes, arrives amidst a moment of extreme bigotry—but it’s not one we need face alone.
As one of this year’s letters reads: “I am you, you are me, and we are amazing.”
Image credits: Tani Ikeda, #SurvivorLoveLetter