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“You never screamed?”
In response to the question Donald Trump’s lawyer asked E. Jean Carroll about the moment she was allegedly raped in a department store dressing room.
“You never screamed for help?”
No. You do not scream. Ask around. And believe them when they tell you.
Every time I was sexually assaulted, sexually abused, or raped in my teens and early twenties, there was no screaming.
(Hands up if you get this, have been there, and know how painfully stupid and insulting this question is.)
People have cartoonish ideas about “Rape” and how it works.
Rape at gunpoint in dark alleyways happens, yes. (And guess what? Nobody is going to scream then, either.) But mostly? It isn’t like that. At all.
It’s your friend, your date, your boyfriend, your teacher, your co-worker, your boss.
Sometimes: your sibling, your parent, your grandparent.
It is fucking awful, and you do not scream.
When someone forces themself on you, especially when you are enthralled or impressed by their power or status—as E. Jean Carroll was with Trump’s—the reaction is more likely to be shock, disorientation, and dissociation.
I know and have spoken with thousands of people who have been in that moment. I dashed off a post about this lawyer’s question on Instagram and was immediately flooded with comments, nodding heads, and shaking voices. Thousands of us. Millions. Billions? Who knows. I watched my phone blow up with messages, all saying the same thing: “I didn’t scream either.”
Few of us screamed.
I have been there. Those moments felt like a blurry concoction of confusion, shame (“I must have asked for this somehow. How did I let this happen?”), and a weird kind of paralysis.
You do not scream, not in that nightmare moment when the plot crosses from something safe into something horrific. When something normal transforms into something abnormal. That moment when the person you’re on a first date with turns into the predator pinning you against the wall, casually trying to make it seem like this is all perfectly normal.
When I released the video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now,” a song that tried to capture the impossible-to-describe mind-mangling of that nightmare moment, so many survivors told me that the lyric that resonated like a dark hell-bell was Let’s get this over with.
Let’s even pretend to enjoy it. Anything, anything, to get out of the here and now. Please—just let it be over. Let this be over. Please.
“You never screamed?”
Oh, I screamed. But not when the stranger entered my sleeping vagina with his dick, or when the guy I had a crush on tied me to a table in his parents’ basement, or when my boyfriend’s friend reached his hand between my legs, or when I woke up with a hangover and the horrified realization that those boys had stripped me in my sleep, or when the music teacher 30 years my senior closed the piano lid and asked for a blow job. Or when the other music teacher did something worse.
But I screamed. Eventually.
There are so few places where you can scream in peace.
Eventually, later, thank god, I screamed into an amplified microphone while playing the piano as loud as legally possible. I screamed to whoever would listen. I screamed in the safe, acceptable container of a rock band called The Dresden Dolls. Every night on stage was like draining a bloated cyst with a needle.
I screamed for all those screams I could not scream before.
I screamed to dozens of people in bars, then to hundreds of people in nightclubs, then to thousands of people in theaters. It did not get old.
I was not trained by a voice teacher to scream correctly. I just screamed as loud as I could, night after night after night. I screamed so relentlessly and for so long that I had to get surgery on my vocal cords in 2008. I had nodes from all that screaming.
After the surgery, I was forced to stay silent for three weeks. Then I went back to full-time screaming.
It never stopped feeling like a relief, a release. And the more I screamed, the more people told me about their own almost-unspeakably dark stories, and the more I wanted to keep screaming. For everyone. For all of it.
Maybe I’ve been getting this all wrong. When people ask me what I do for a living, I should no longer say I’m a songwriter, a musician, a performer.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“Ice cream? You make ice cream? You own an ice cream shop?”
“No. I scream. For a job. Like, yelling screaming.”
“Wow. And you make a living doing that?”
Screamer for all. Crowd-screamer.
Maybe you’re one too.
Or maybe you are still trying to figure out what to do with the scream, the screams, the tsunami of screams that never came out.
I think the pandemic wiped even the flicker of a scream out of a lot of people. We have just become too hoarse, too tired.
I am currently in rehearsals with my old band, revisiting songs I wrote—dating back to the 1990s—about rape, sexual assault, confusion, and pain. It isn’t fun, revisiting this material, especially in the wake of what I’m still learning about the world, about how the arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it is not bending fucking fast enough for me. There is still so little accountability, so little fairness, so little feeling of this getting addressed or fixed.
So I will keep screaming.
I will not be done screaming until the world wakes up to how broken and unfair this all feels. Until it wakes up to how much mistreatment and rape happen to so many people who then have to carry those memories—those horror-moments—around in their heads for the rest of their lives.
“You never screamed?”
Dear Mister Lawyer, I invite you to gently, slowly bring your ear closer to my mouth.
Wait for it.
Please comment. Please discuss. Please share the work.
Copyedit: Rina Bander.
This piece was inspired by this powerful letter to the editor in the New York Times, published May 4, 2023.
The Dresden Dolls—my screaming container—are about to go on tour. This May and June, we are hitting Denver, Santa Fe, Orlando, and New Orleans. All the shows are sold out, but you can get on a waiting list for tickets HERE, and please join the band’s mailing list for future shows here.
If you’d like to witness this screaming, I suggest checking out the live piano/vocal performance mash-up of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” featuring New Zealand songwriter Reb Fountain. The scream comes at the end; wait for it.
All of my work—the above mash-up, this piece of writing, the Harvey Weinstein song/video, and more—is powered by the 10,000+ patrons who directly support my work so that I do not have to dwell in the corporate/commercial zone. Please consider becoming a patron for as little as $1/month, here: https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer.
I read this piece on video for my $5 Substack subscribers. If you want to have a smaller discussion, head to that post.
RAINN is the U.S.’s national sexual assault hotline. It’s free and confidential and 24/7. For the rest of the world, RAINN has a list here: https://www.rainn.org/international-sexual-assault-resources.
I love you all so much.
Keep screaming, or why not start today?
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