By Amanda Nguyen published
In 2012, Emmy-winning director Tani Ikeda founded Survivor Love Letter, a movement for survivors of sexual assault and their allies to publicly celebrate their lives. In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Marie Claire collaborated with the organization to publish survivor love letters from Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, and Amanda Nguyen, founder of Rise, along with special illustrations of the women created by artist Brittany Harris. Read Nguyen's love letter to her younger self below, then read Burke's love letter to survivors here. Whether you're a survivor or an ally, Survivor Love Letter invites you to write a message and share it using the hashtag #SurvivorLoveLetter. Learn more here.
When I started this journey, I was outraged. The world burned. I saw red and I was going to change the system, no matter the cost, come hell or high water. If my first law, the federal Survivor Bill of Rights, could speak it would scream a blood-curdling scream of pain, of betrayal, and of sacrifice. With time, with each passing law...31...32...33...I like to think the bills would sing now—a chorus of justice.
There's no easy way to put this—it takes time. That time might not be in our lifetime. We are, after all, ahead of our time, pushing the moral arc of the universe everyday, putting in safeguards—à la civil rights—so that the rest of the world can catch up. In the meantime, in a world that's not already there, all we can choose is to forge peace for ourselves. This is a task excruciatingly harder done than said.
One thing that has helped me is the overview effect. When astronauts go to space for the first time, they experience this effect—an awe inducing, terrifying perspective reset that at once makes them feel so small amongst the stars yet so special because the probability of them existing is so astronomically impossible—yet they are there. Most come back to earth profoundly moved to give back to the world.
Come with me on a journey for a moment—think back to the suffragists, to Harriet Tubman, to Fred Korematsu: All are lauded heroes now, all were branded and stigmatized during their time. This, at least, gives me solace and peace that history is on our side.
I asked you a question today that is hard to answer, but vital—who are you? How do you want to define yourself? What are the boundaries that are unimpeachable for you?
These questions are a crucible in themselves. Most people go their entire lives without finding an answer to these questions. You have the added benefit (sarcasm) of needing to answer these now, especially as you decide how public you want to be with your story. You must answer these for yourself. My heart is with you because I know too well the struggle, the existential crisis and the bitter truths in the path ahead. Let me tell you now, you are not alone. I am still walking it and I am here for you.
We are multitudes. I am a CEO. I am a survivor. I am a space nerd. I am a fashion lover. Accepting that I will always be known for my rape, accepting that some people are stupid and that I cannot control what people label me, and not basing my self-identity in what others think of me because I know who I am—all of that has helped. Of course, we are all human. Not being impacted by what others think of us is a level of enlightenment that I am continually working towards.
For so many of us, our mere existence poses a threat to the status quo. We are in a world that doesn't want us to exist. Therefore, exist. You owe nothing to the world; yes, you owe nothing to the survivor movement either. The bottom line is that your joy and health is the most important thing. Joy is the most radical form of rebellion. We are all stardust. You are already a star. You have already done enough. You are enough by merely existing.
In moments of stress, wherever you are, close your eyes. If you listen really hard the wind carries a song for you.
Do you hear it? It is the trickling, steady beat of the thousands of footsteps for centuries to come—a path, a new reality already made possible because you existed. The choir is already singing.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, RAINN—the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization—is available 24/7 for confidential support. Call 800-656-4673 or use the org's online chat tool to talk with a trained staff member.
The 12 Best Makeup Bags for All Your Beauty Goodies
Marie Kondo would be proud.
By Alexis Gaskin
Will There Be a 'Cheer' Season 3 on Netflix?
We're ready to get back on the mat.
By Marie Claire Editors
Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Maui
Dreamy island sunsets are calling your name.
By Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Dear Survivor: Tarana Burke Wants You to Hold On to Hope
"We need to heal—and in order to heal, we must have the capacity to hope that that work to end sexual violence IS possible."
By Tarana Burke
Friendship, Infertility & Moving Forward
There’s no rulebook for navigating your pregnancy while your best friend struggles to conceive. I learned that the hard way.
By Victoria Lamson
Transitioning in the Age of Zoom
Revealing changes in your gender presentation can be complicated when you haven’t seen family or coworkers in person in months.
By Lauren Rowello
When Your Breast Cancer Journey Takes an Unexpected Turn
After an annual mammogram in June revealed suspicious calcifications, breast cancer survivor Kai McGee underwent a partial mastectomy. Now, she's grappling with the outcome of that surgery.
By Kai McGee
The Coldness of Enduring Breast Cancer in a Covid-19 World
In June, breast cancer survivor Kai McGee went to the hospital for her annual mammogram and ultrasound. Now she has to decide the next steps in her treatment journey, an already-stressful process made worse by the isolation of Covid-19.
By Kai McGee
A Devastating Choice: Deciding Between a Lumpectomy or Mastectomy
When Kai McGee was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer six years ago, she was forced to choose between saving her breasts and risking a possible cancer occurrence in her healthy breast in the future. Now, she's grappling with the after-effects of that choice during a pandemic and a summer of racial reckoning.
By Kai McGee
The Pandemic Has Made Me Reconsider Becoming a Single Mom
I thought I was ready for the struggles of parenting alone, but COVID-19 put everything in perspective.
By Lynda-Marie Taurasi
My Healing Journey After Sexual Assault
To recover from an assault at the hands of a friend, I spent months experimenting with different therapies.
By Remy Ramirez