Jen Cross shares with us her path to writing with sexual trauma survivors and founding Writing Ourselves Whole. She also offers an announcement of some exciting publication news. In her own words:
Writing saved my life. Isn’t that true for so many of us?
If I hadn’t had that outlet back when I was 20 and 21 and trying to figure out what had really happened to me, trying to come to a new sense of myself in relationship to words like ‘woman,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘incest,’ ‘gay,’ and more, I wouldn’t have had any outlet at all, and I think I would have slipped fully into the word ‘crazy.’ The safest place for me during the early years of my healing was on the page.
I began facilitating AWA-method writing workshops for sexual trauma survivors in 2002, as a practicum for my master’s degree in Transformative Language Arts (Goddard College), and in 2003, I founded Writing Ourselves Whole, through which I get to co-create with the writers spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. I experienced the power of transformative writing practice in community to restory and reconnect those parts of ourselves we are trained to hide. Through writing together and offering one another deep generosity and kind witness, we find language for what was never meant to be spoken, and create beauty from the “unspeakable” stuff of our lives. In the survivor-centric groups, this writing community holds, witnesses and celebrates the stories that we were told were unspeakable.
Writing Ourselves Whole initially offered sexuality-writing groups for queer women survivors of sexual trauma (whew – that’s a mouthful). Then our offerings expanded to include sexual trauma survivors groups that were not centered around sexuality, general topic groups, and a manuscript-driven working groups. Since 2003, I’ve had the incredible fortune to work with hundreds of writers, through private workshops and in collaboration with colleges, social change organizations and other institutions throughout the U.S., including at Stanford University, Wesleyan University, the University of California at Davis, Dartmouth College, the University of California at San Francisco, Brown University, Goddard College, the University of Oregon at Eugene, Evergreen State University, Southern Oregon University; the Power of Words/ Transformative Language Arts Network annual conference; the Femme Conference; Survivorship and the Survivorship annual conference; San Francisco Women Against Rape; Bay Area Women Against Rape; Community United Against Violence; and at many other community organizations, bookstores, and schools. I’ve has also produced and co-created numerous showcases for Writing Ourselves Whole writers to perform their work publicly, and have published two collections of Writing Ourselves Whole writers’ work.
Writing Ourselves Whole’s vision is of a world transformed through writing, and each of us who’ve experienced loss and/or trauma encouraged to open our hearts to ourselves and each other, so that we might live in a community of deep expressiveness and self-love, where each individual reaches his and her most complete self. I believe we deserve a community aware of its full brea(d)th and potential, one that risks speaking truth to power because it has been heard and received by its peers: an empowered community, able to effect change.
In 2015, I went back to school, and am currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Most of the Writing Ourselves Whole groups have been on hiatus while I focus on completing a memoir, though I’m looking forward to starting them up again once I graduate next year.
My biggest news, though, is that my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma is forthcoming this summer from Mango Media. Part memoir and part writing, this is a collection of short essays about the transformative power of writing practice for survivors of sexual trauma, alone and in community.
I can’t wait to be able to share this book, so long in the making (it grew out of my master’s thesis, more than a decade old now) with my AWA family.
To learn more and get in touch, visit writingourselveswhole.org