We all have scars lingering with us throughout life.Tim Mousseau believes these permanent marks are what make us beautiful.
I stand in front of an audience of close to 300 college students who watch me, waiting for me to say something. Although my introduction is still being read, they know who I am. We are close in age, but I stand out. A few years older, a lavaliere mic strapped to my chest, rolled-up sleeves betraying my visible tattoos all the way from biceps to hands. I stand out in many a crowd, especially here. They know I am the speaker. Here to talk about something. To talk about sexual assault.
They do not see my scars yet.
The student finishes reading the introduction. The audience claps. I step forward. The mic live. So it begins.
In the first few moments, I have fun with the audience. You have limited time to engage an audience without losing their attention. These precious seconds are when you capture their minds. I ask them to share. I give them the chance to participate in our collective story. I ask them for their stories and throw back small quips off the cusp as we move through the first few minutes. They laugh quite a bit, loosened by a stranger.
Then I begin.
I start to tell my story. I segue by connecting their stories to mine. I make basic points on storytelling. I tell a story similar to the ones they shared. But then, I do the unthinkable for many. I say a thing, transforming the room. I produce metamorphosis with one line.
I bare my scars.
“You see, what you do not know about me, what you could not tell about my story, is that I am a male survivor of sexual assault. And that, is the story we are going to talk about today.”
Somewhere, a pen should drop. It never has. But if it did, you could hear it to a decibel.
I am a motivational speaker. I feel kitsch in saying this term because the connotations it raises in the mind of most people. I prefer to use the title storyteller. Storytelling is what I do.
The stories I tell are mine. This time, like countless others before, I am telling the story about a dark and traumatic moment in my life. I’ve told it, my A-side on repeat, for audiences across the country.
When I say I am a motivational speaker, I firmly can claim this title. It is my living and one of two full-time jobs I possess. The largest audience I have spoken to on this particular topic was 2,500. The smallest audience 20. Whenever I get to the point where the audience finds out about my assault, the reaction is the same. A hushed tone. Phones go down. People break eye contact. Someone in the audience, another survivor, stares at me defiantly. Not at me necessarily, but at the phantom of their assailant. Their defiance is because this audience member wants to leave, to cry but their eyes tell me “Fuck you pain, I am enduring this no matter how hard.”
I know these looks of defiance against the trauma they experienced manifesting in their desire to endure, to prove they can spend the next hour reliving their assault. I am used to tears. I know the silence. Those signs are my audience feedback.
The feedback shifts the moment I begin telling my story. When I bare my proverbial scar for the masses.
Time and time again, I let my words pour out of my psyche like blood from an old wound. A jagged knife cut I never hide. A dark mark on my past. In detail, I recount my sexual assault. And then, we talk about how to prevent that type of thing. But the wound is open, for all of us.
My most gruesome scar visible.
She asked me if I cried during my presentation. I do not, not during, but every time after. Not because I have broadcast my scar again, I am used to doing this. I am used to exposing myself. My speaking is not therapy for me nor is it atonement. It is my role, my cause, my hope to provide someone else some form of comfort after they have experienced all too similar a thing.
I cry after, not because I opened up old wounds, but because in the world of trauma, so often you see the vague feeling of “You showed me yours now let me show you mine.”
I do not cry because of what I say, I have told this story. I cry because of what they tell me. Survivors, some who have revealed their scars to others and survivors who have never told a soul. They bear their scars to me in person and email. With smiles knowing they are not alone and weeping to me in backrooms behind stages, crying the memories out.
I cry because when you bare your scars, you cannot help but notice the scars of others. And there are far too many. But we also treat all these scars far too wrong.
We live in a world where everyone has scars. They come in all varieties. In my role, I have firmly learned no one has a monopoly on trauma. What would break one person barely phases another. Vice versa. There is no one right way any one person reacts to negative experiences. Except everyone reacts.
Everyone has scars they carry with them, they bare. Some we share. Many we do not. There is a power in these scars. The power in these scars, however, comes from the decision of whether we share them or hide them. When I first started talking about my experience, someone close to me told me she was worried. They were concerned, were worried how others would perceive me or treat me. A few people told me not to speak up about my assault least it defined me.
I carried on with the wanton lack of care for self I embraced across most of my life. I thought, “I bare my scars, let them judge me. Damn all their condemnation.”
I learned a long time ago my scars are my own and no matter what others might judge me for, I claim my scars. By talking about my scars, it allows me the chance to own them. By owning my trauma, I took my power back. And I use this power to connect with others, to share intimacy with these strangers. A nod, a handshake, a thank you, a half whispered “are you okay” as they pull me in for a hug. By showing my scars, I have formed a community of peers around the country, young individuals who just needed someone to speak up. To share their scars and in turn, to let them know it is okay. That a part of being human is being messy.
It is okay to be scarred. It is okay to let trauma leave a mark on you as long as you can healthily move past the pain. But it is okay to have a flawed past. In life, we all develop scars, and anyone who tells you that you should be ashamed of yours is wrong.
When we mask the marks left behind by trauma- emotional, spiritual or physical- we give our pain power over us.
I bare my scars because to me they are as a beautiful as any of my tattoos. They are my story to tell.
I wish more people talked about the scars they have. I with it were considered normal for us to all share our emotional scars without fear of condemnation. Because whether our traumas were self-inflicted or caused by someone else, we can still learn from them.
Together, we can realize our communities are filled with scarred individuals. All of us are messy, all of us are complicated, all of us have dark, ugly parts.
These scars, these parts, they don’t make us broken. They make us human. And in turn, they make us beautiful.
So what are your scars? Because you shouldn’t fear them, you should embrace them. No matter what, we are people. Scars and all. I have come to love my marks, to learn from them, to own them. I am more than my scars, but I use the sum of them for good.
Won’t you join me in doing the same?