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Books to support us in healing from sexual violence

Writing that’s helped me to grow and heal from childhood sexual abuse
a list of books that support us in healing from sexual violence
Content Warning

This story does not contain any descriptions of sexual violence, just mention of survivors and their writings.

Finally! After talking about it for awhile, I’ve actually put together a list of the books I’ve been telling you all about for some time in one single place! I don’t know about you, but I am planning on actually reading more books this upcoming year, because while I am a master of binge-watching TV, I have stacks and stacks of unread books in my apartment that are taunting me. This is also where I shamelessly mention that I read The New Yorker so I don’t have time for many books…and this is where I admit that I also don’t read my New Yorkers.

Chloe and Halle sitting on a couch saying,

I have had some books that have truly helped me in my healing that have come to my life in different times and continue to offer me a sense of community and resiliency. Many of these books have taught me about how the different identities we hold impact the ways we experience and heal from sexual trauma. These books have helped me to understand how different systems of oppression impact the ways we survive and heal. While this isn’t a complete list, it is a good place to start! I will continue to add to it as I continue to read.

I want to offer a general content warning with these books. Most of them include people describing surviving sexual violence. Stories that I find triggering due to the specifics of my trauma may be very different for you, so I want to broadly encourage everyone to be mindful as they are reading. Some things that are helpful for me is to be very mindful of my body and breath while I’m reading: Is my breath speeding up? Are my breaths more shallow? Does my stomach hurt or are my shoulders aching? These are all signs in my body that I may be nearing a trigger and so that it is best for me to take a beat and then decide whether to continue reading them. I encourage you to identify your signs and be mindful of them as well.

Matilda sitting in a big chair with a book in her hands giggling.

Many of these books are published by AK Press, a small worker-run anarchist collective publishing house based in Oakland. It’s not a coincidence, they publish radical work and also heavily invest in black and brown LGBTQI writers. I’ll note which books are published by them, because while it’s super easy to buy these books most places online, you may want to buy directly from AK Press to support them (also they often have sales!), especially if you’re buying more than one book by them. I bought all these books on Amazon because I wasn’t thinking, so there’s no judgment if you buy from them too, just wanted to offer this insight I had after the fact!

These books are in no particular order:

Love WITH Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse

Anthology edited by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

The book cover of Love with Accountability by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

If you’ve been following me on social media you know how excited I have been for the release of this anthology this year. The anthology is made up of 40 original essays primarily diasporic Black people about envisioning a world without childhood sexual abuse and seeking accountability beyond the criminal justice system. Aishah has been a leader in the movement to end childhood sexual abuse for decades, and this anthology offers both vulnerable personal insights as well as bold structural conversations about reshaping the world we live in. This anthology is such a gift and I’ve learned so much from reading it. I have been particularly changed by the opening essay written by Aishah’s mother, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, about her journey to hold herself accountable for her treatment of Aishah when her daughter disclosed to her about her grandfather sexually abusing her.  Published by AK Press.

Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement

Edited by Jennifer Patterson

Cover of the book

This is an anthology that I’ve just begun, so I don’t have insights to share yet except to say that I am so glad to be reading it. My friend Amita Swadhin, who has an essay in this 2016 anthology, told me about it, and already I can see that it is absolutely essential reading. Too often, our conversations around sexual violence center cis hetero women and girl survivors who were harmed by cis men, myself include. Yet queer people have been at the center of building the movement to end sexual violence since its beginning. This anthology has essays written by diverse array of queer, trans and gender non-conforming survivors sharing their stories, offering lessons of resilency and imaginging an anti-violence movement centers LGBTQI+ survivors. I have so much to learn and am grateful for this resource.

Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence

Edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers

Cover of the book

This 2014 anthology from an incredibly diverse array of survivor voices has everything! Poetry, art, essays, and letters. I like this anthology a lot because the content is so diverse that it offers something for everyone, with the understanding that survivors will connect with different voices and different messages. This anthology taught me, at age 31, that apparently I like poetry, because the poems are where I keep gravitating to. The poems are really great and I (shamefully) never thought I’d say that about poems. The writings are short and profoundly impactful. Picking up this anthology and flipping through it is a quick way to never feel alone in your healing. Published by AK Press.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

By adrienne maree brown

Cover of the book

adrienne maree brown’s anthology Pleasure Activism came out in 2019 and the impact of it will reverberate within me for many years to come. The anthology includes essays from black and brown LGBTQI leaders telling their stories of fighting for social justice and their relationship to their own pleasure. The anthology centers black and brown LGBTI people as adrienne explains, “Pleasure activism asserts that we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this. In this moment, we must prioritize the pleasure of those most impacted by oppression.” adrienne gives us homework and activities within the anthology that we can do to help us reflect within our own lives, and this book has helped me to completely reorient the way I think about productivity and my own pleasure as I work support survivors in healing from childhood sexual abuse. Published by AK Press.

The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

By Sonya Renee Taylor

Cover of the book

In this short and powerful book, Sonya explains her framework of radical self-love and how it can heal all of the harm and oppression that exists, but don’t think for a minute that her theory is just about love conquering all, but rather it is about how through harnessing collective self-love we can completely dismantle systems of oppression and body terrorism. It is totally badass, and has helped me in my journey of trying to heal my own relationship with my body and the trauma that lives within it. Throughout the book, Sonya offers us reflection prompts and is guiding the reader through a radical new way of thinking. This book offers tangible meaningful actionable insights and steps to take, which also is so special.

You Have the Right to Remain Fat

By Virgie Tovar

Book cover of Virgie Tovar's

It was through reading Virgie’s blog and listening to her be interviewed on the Call Your Girlfriend podcast that I first began learning about fat liberation and fat activism. She taught me about the decades of work led by black and brown women and femmes to decolonize the way we understand and police bodies and that, unlike the body positivity movement which in many ways is rooted in capitalism, fat liberation is about dismantling interlocking systems of oppression that maintain the pervasive fat-phobia in our society. In her book she explains all of this and more, but way better than I did. She’s a wonderful storyteller and full of warmth and humor. Her book is a short read that has also helped me so much in my journey to heal my relationship to my own body.