Anna Binkowitz age 23.
Spaces can hold trauma and they can hurt with you. But these Twin Cities have also seen me through. They are where I learned to be a survivor. Leaving will not fix anything. The Twin Cities are mine. The man who raped me can’t have them.
I grew up outside of Granville, OH, a town of 5,000 on the edge of Appalachia. We had deer in the yard, farms close by. I walked barefoot. Still, do even in Minneapolis. It’s what I’m used to doing.
We were a liberal family in a conservative region. The first national political event I remember is the 2000 elections, when they decided to stop recounting the votes in Florida. I was six. I went up to my room crying “I don’t want a bad president.”
Ohio is a little bit of everything— Midwest, East, North, South. Growing up there and coming to school in Minnesota convinced me that the United States is a regional polyglot. It is not just weather. People in Boston survive winter differently than Minnesotans do.
I came to Minnesota to go to college at Macalester.When I first came I was startled in the grocery store when people turned around to say hello. Driving is so polite here it’s almost rude. I’m picking up the accent — my o’s are getting longer. I caught myself saying Oofdah.
My Macalester advisor was Marlon James. He is the sassiest. He taught me about putting narrative arcs in poetry. With him I felt like a writer with my editor, rather than a student with my teacher. He is not only an award winning author. He is a great educator. He is why I want, someday, to come back to Macalester and teach creative writing.
I loved Macalester, but I almost left it. I was raped by a fellow student. I went through the school process. They put restrictions on him and said if he violated the sanctions his status as a student would be “severely jeopardized.” But he violated the restrictions and I had to keep pushing to get the school to enforce them. For a year he stalked me. The case was referred to the Macalester College Harassment Committee (MCHC). Despite my having a witness, nothing was done.
I wrote an open letter to my rapist in the college paper, saying that I was always going to know that I could be proud of my time in college, while he would always have to think of me and what he did to me.
I got more and more determined not to let him have my college. It is so tempting to leave places where things have happened to you. Spaces can hold trauma and they can hurt with you. (There are places I wont go back to — I went to the Gay 90s once and some guy tried to assault me and I won’t go back there.) But these Twin Cities have also seen me through. They are where I learned to be a survivor. Leaving will not fix anything. The Twin Cities are mine. The man who raped me can’t have them.
I will not let him — let me — not love this place.
I wrote a poem, Asking For It, (watch) that went, well, if not viral, then bacterial. It has had over 800,000 views. I think it can be hard to talk about sexual violence using humor. I was able to do it. People are interested in quick socially conscious pieces they can use to answer that dumb or ignorant comment. With the popularity, came the negative comments. After a couple days I stopped reading them. I thought about something Barney Frank once said to a woman who was arguing with him and not listening. “Mam talking to you is like talking to a brick wall”
Take Back the Night is hard for men and non gender conforming people who have also been the victims of sexual assault. I saw something on the internet about that I thought was perfect. The sentence “Men are victims of Sexual Assault” must be said. When you add the “too” — is when it becomes a distraction from the experiences of women.
After my poem went viral I got an invitation to speak at Muhlenberg College and got to pick my price. I did 30 minutes of poems and a workshop on consent. I argued that asking for consent is sexy. All the participants were women – no cis dudes there – I was not surprised, but I was sad. I think it is good to show how to have healthy relationships after something like rape happens.
I did a Yes Yes Yes workshop at Intermedia Arts for Planned Parent Council, with the poets Keno Evol, and Guante. We had poetry, some story telling, some music. Someone said “We can’t have a discussion about consent without Anna Binkowitz.” That made me feel really good. I am proud to be known that way.
When it comes to youth education on these issues, I think Abstinence-Only education has to go. We need to talk about consent. We should have people who have been abused in college speak to youth, say “this is what it happened to me” as plainly as possible.
I graduated in 2014 and went across the river to Minneapolis. I live in an apartment near the river that is central and safe, but noisy. My next door neighbors act like you would think recent college graduates would act. Partying on Saturday night when I’m ready to go to bed.
It was easy to find friends in college. Since I graduated it has been harder. I worked so many short part time jobs. As a sub in the schools I do not have work friends. I hang out with poets and some friends from college. As the web editor for Button Poetry I have become friends with writers in the community. It is interesting working for your friends. It changes the work relationship AND the friendship. We are all artists so we get that deadlines can be tough.
Button Poetry produces high quality spoken word videos, often filmed live at Poetry slam contests. They also run a monthly live poetry slam in St Paul and publish chapbooks of poetry.
They have let me take the reigns of the blog. I had the idea a year ago to use a blog to get more web content for our site and expand the publishing we do. I am in complete control. I decide who I want to interview. Each week we have a button play list of the best videos. On Thursday we publish an essay, a book review, or an interview by, for, and/or about poets, or we do a writing prompt. It rotates every week. Then we do a round up—- six interesting poems.
Keno Evol wrote an essay We need You to Show Up to the Riot Well Rested. He asked me what I thought. It was daunting and flattering to edit his work.
As far as my own work, I write poetry and compete in poetry slams. The idea behind the slam was to get away from poets reading to poets. Everyone can write, read and win. The audience decides — using whatever criteria they want — who wins.
How do you become a successful slam poet? There are coaches. One of the things I’ve learned is to use “down tones,” — important advice for women who often sound less authoritative because they end sentences with an upward questioning note.
At these poetry slams there is a problem with sexual assaults. People who commit assaults are kicked out, but there is nothing else done. Those who commit the assaults can go off and join other art groups and do it again.
I see a difference between someone who is a rapist and someone who once raped. I was raped twice, once by a man who was sorry and didn’t want to ever do it again and wanted to know what he could do to change. The other guy who raped me and stalked me for a year — he, I consider a rapist.
What I love about poetry is gives you a license to write about things that are otherwise too close to write about.
I write just as much for myself as for anyone else. The more I can talk about my sexual assault experiences the more they do not take over my life. It is not about erasing something — it is about integrating it into your life. It is also – nothing for us without us. I want to be a safe place for people, but I can’t do that about sexual assault if I don’t talk about my experience as a survivor.
Part of my Hebrew name means cactus flower. I struggle over the Palestine issue. I agree with an economic boycott of Israel but not an academic boycott. We should not boycott ideas. I get the most flack from other Jews who are Zionist and think I don’t support Israel enough. There are others who think we should demolish Israel. I don’t agree with them either. It exists, it is not just going to— poof, disappear.
Israel is recognized as a state so it has more responsibility to follow international law. They are a government and they should act like one. No country should be founded out of fear, and that is how Israel was founded. I also think Britain needs to stand up to the plate, since they are the ones who made contradictory promises to the Jews and the Palestinians and then sat back to watch the mess…. Although after Brexit — maybe not.
It’s been hard of me to find the right Synagogue in the Twin Cities. I went to Mount Zion for a while but they had an organ — they sounded so Churchy. Shir Tikfa was too conservative. I grew up with Debbie Freidman tunes. I need them. The singing is everything.
I don’t plan on staying in Minneapolis. I’m looking to move on for grad school. Maybe Pittsburg, Madison, Ann Arbor, Houston or NYC. I will miss the Mississippi River when I go. It is my best friend. I read Mark Twain, and the history books…. and then there it was! I love that I live in the state with the Headwaters. Before I move I want to go up there and step across the Mississippi River. I was excited when I moved from St Paul to Minneapolis and two blocks from the River. Water is very important to me. When I die I want to have my ashes scattered in water because then part of me will end up everywhere.