When asked, Dustin Brookshire describes himself as an activist, poet, and Dolly Parton fanatic enjoying his life in Atlanta, Georgia. But there’s another piece to his life, one that’s a little harder to come to terms with. When Dustin was 23, he was raped by a former boyfriend.
Now 29, Brookshire’s debut chapbook To The One Who Raped Me has just been released by Sibling Rivalry Press, with one dollar of each purchase donated to the Dekalb Rape Crisis Center. Dustin sat down to talk about the book, healing, and poetry worth reading.
SS: You’ve just released a chapbook, To The One Who Raped Me. Can you talk about using writing to heal after trauma?
DB: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Zora Neale Hurston said it best in her in 1942 autography Dust Tracks on a Road. Writing about the rape, in a way, forced me to talk about the rape. I was able to talk about it in the context of the poem instead of the context of what had happened to me. Poetry helped transition me into a comfort zone where I could talk about the rape with other people.
SS: This is really challenging material, as male rape is such a taboo in our culture. Can you share a little bit about your experience, and whether, through writing on these themes, you hear from other men with their own stories of being assaulted?
DB: Victims of rape need to understand that they control the boundaries of conversation in regards to the topic of their rape. With that being said, I will say this: I invited an ex boyfriend into my apartment to have a conversation about our recent breakup. He ignored the word no. I’ve been haunted by the memory ever since.
I have heard from numerous victims of sexual assault, and all but two who’ve reached out to me were male. This is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I hate to hear that anyone has been raped, but I think it is a good thing to speak out about it. I don’t mean that every rape victim has to go on a stage and tell an audience that they were raped. However, I think healing comes from communication, which can be with one other person. That one person can be your best friend or therapist — it just needs to be someone you trust. Some of these men who have reached out to me have confided they have never told anyone that they had been raped, and that makes me very emotional. It gives me hope that they are on a healing path. It also hurts to hear these stories, but I’ll always listen. Someone has to listen because people need to feel like they can talk. Silence won’t change the world.
SS: The book weaves pop culture representations of sexual violence into the broader theme. Tell us a little about how film and television impacted your exploration of your experience as a rape survivor.
DB: The Hills Have Eyes came out in March 2006. I was raped in March 2006. I tried my damnest to live my life like nothing happened after the rape, and since I’ve loved the horror genre since I was a kid I went to see The Hills Have Eyes. I didn’t know there was a rape scene in the movie, but even if I had known I would have seen the movie anyway because I wouldn’t have admitted to myself that it to have an impact on me. In the minutes before the movie’s rape scene, I kept thinking to myself, Please don’t rape her. Hit her. Beat her. Anything but rape. Then the scene takes place. I thought I was going to vomit. My stomach cramped. I was sweating. It would be much later that I would realize that rape scenes in movies are triggers for me. They take me back to my own experience — even if it isn’t replaying in my head my body remembers and reacts. I learned to stay away from movies that would cause this stress.
There is also a flip side to this. For me, watching a show like Law & Order: SVU provides a certain level of comfort. There’s comfort in seeing the bad guy being caught for his crimes.
SS: How did your partnership with Dekalb Rape Crisis Center come about?
DB: I wanted to do something good through poetry, and since the chapbook was being published, I thought it would be great to offer some financial goodness. I checked with my publisher, Bryan Borland of Sibling Rivalry Press, to see if he would object to donating $1 from each chapbook sold through his website to a charity of my choice, and I made it clear it would be a rape crisis center. I was ready with an argument in case Bryan said no, but he jumped at the chance. He was genuinely thrilled to help do some good. Then I called up executive director Phyllis Miller of the Dekalb Rape Crisis Center. I gave her the details about my forthcoming chapbook, and I asked her to read it and let me know if she would have any problems being associated with me and my chapbook. Phyllis was delighted, and even spoke at the launch celebration. The Dekalb Rape Crisis Center is lucky to have her.
SS: Who are you reading right now?
DB: I’m reading Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise: New & Selected Poems. Today, I went back to a poem I found online a few months ago titled “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” by Mohja Kahf. I read the poem this morning twice before I could go on with my day. I guess my body was craving the honesty and beauty contained in this poem.
SS: What living poet should a Southern Spines reader check out and why?
DB: Southern Spines readers should check out Beth Gylys. A poetry lover must have her Bodies That Hum. She is fierce. She is talented. She is an all around lovely person to know, and it is an honor for me to call her my mentor and friend. Beth is also known on the literary streets as the villanelle queen. True story! I once heard a very distinguished poet call her that.
Thanks Dustin, and congratulations on the launch! To learn more about Dustin and stay up to date on his writing and events, visit dustinbrookshire.com.
Below is “Law & Order: SVU,” from Dustin’s chapbook To The One Who Raped Me.
LAW & ORDER: SVU
I do not watch for open endings.
I watch to see the rapist slammed
against the interrogation room wall,
to stand before the judge
and receive a hefty sentence.
I envision what isn’t:
The rapist victimized in prison.
His breakdown. A suicide attempt.
A life without redemption.