Re­dis­cov­er­ing Our Bod­ies Who Are Queer Spa­ces For?

An In­ter­view with Pri­mas’ Al­dana Bari and Ro­cio Al­varez

The McGill Daily - - Contents - This in­ter­view has been trans­lated from Span­ish and edited for clar­ity. Gabriela Rey The Mcgill Daily

“I didn’t choose for this to hap­pen, but I will carry my body with pride. It rep­re­sents my bat­tle scars and if I don’t carry it well, no one will.” — Rocío Ál­varez “At first, it didn’t re­ally sink in that rooms full of peo­ple would wit­ness my story. Af­ter see­ing the au­di­ence’s re­ac­tion at the first screen­ing, I re­al­ized that the film was creat­ing a space for oth­ers to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and to help them heal, too.” — Al­dana Bari

con­tent warn­ing: sexual abuse, vi­o­lence, in­cest

Al­dana Bari and Rocío Ál­varez are the pro­tag­o­nists of Laura Bari’s lat­est doc­u­men­tary, Pri­mas. In the film, they share their jour­neys of heal­ing af­ter be­ing sex­u­ally abused and they de­scribe how mak­ing art helped them re­dis­cover their bod­ies. Roc­cio was kid­napped at age ten by a man who raped and set her on fire; she sur­vived, but 60 per cent of her body was burned. Al­dana was sex­u­ally abused by a close fam­ily mem­ber from a very young age. Yet, Pri­mas is not a rec­ol­lec­tion of the womens’ trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences; in­stead, in show­ing their power and re­silience, it ac­tively chal­lenges the con­cept of vic­tim­iza­tion. Since the pre­miere of the film, the Bari and Al­varez have be­come women’s rights ad­vo­cates, and have trav­elled the world shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences as a way to cre­ate a safe space for other sur­vivors. They have ac­tively par­tic­i­pated in pub­lic marches in Ar­gentina to le­gal­ize abor­tion and sex work, and they work closely with the Mon­treal sup­port group Mou­ve­ment Con­tre le Viol et l’in­ceste (MCVI).

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing Laura Bari, The Mcgill Daily had the op­por­tu­nity to meet and spend time with the women from the doc­u­men­tary. Our con­ver­sa­tion re­volved around their take on fem­i­nism, heal­ing, and fe­male sex­u­al­ity.

The Mcgill Daily ( MD): What role did fem­i­nism and be­com­ing ac­tivists play in your heal­ing pro­cesses?

Al­dana Bari ( AB): Fem­i­nism is an im­por­tant av­enue for chang­ing the way we view abuse. Fem­i­nism is about re­build­ing sur­vivors, and it al­lows us to de­stroy a lot of con­cepts about our­selves that have been so­cially in­grained. It helps us to start re­con­struct­ing our­selves af­ter a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. It is in­grained in us to be­lieve that fe­male sex­u­al­ity is a taboo: no one talks about about fe­male mas­tur­ba­tion, for ex­am­ple. Women, and espe­cially women of colour, have been pro­grammed, in a sense, to for­get about their body and to not ac­knowl­edge it. How­ever, we should be able to think about our sex­u­al­ity free from shame or fear.

Ro­cio Al­varez ( RA): I dove into fem­i­nist ac­tivism when I be­gan work­ing on Pri­mas. Fem­i­nism negates the idea of vic­tim­iza­tion and al­lows us to get rid of the guilt and shame that comes with abuse and as­sault. Women carry a lot of weight im­posed by pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tems of power on their shoul­ders. This weight is in­ter­gen­er­a­tional. It shuts us up and tells us that be­ing raped was our fault, for the skirt we wore. No! It was the fuck­ing rapist’s fault for com­mit­ting such an aw­ful crime. Un­der­stand­ing that it is never the vic­tim’s fault, no mat­ter where they are, what state they are in, or what they might be wear­ing, is dif­fi­cult for so­ci­ety to un­der­stand. It’s cru­cial to cre­ate spa­ces for women to ex­press them­selves and to un­der­stand that we have al­ways been op­pressed, be­cause op­pres­sion is in­sti­tu­tional. When look­ing to place blame, so­ci­ety’s fin­ger points at the vic­tim. So much shame is put onto sur­vivors that it makes us be­lieve we are there for the tak­ing. It ter­ri­fies me to think that any­thing could hap­pen to my body be­cause it didn’t be­long to me in the first place, as if I was some­how de­signed for some­one else’s en­joy­ment. Chal­leng­ing the no­tions so­ci­ety has cre­ated for women and all sur­vivors, and the ways we think about abuse, are in­te­gral parts of fem­i­nism to me. As a sur­vivor, my sex­u­al­ity, my body, and my ev­ery­day life were af­fected by the trauma. Speak­ing against sexual vi­o­lence is very im­por­tant to me, and it’s im­por­tant to let other sur­vivors know that our sex­u­al­ity mat­ters.

AB: Af­ter my as­sault, it was very hard for me to re­dis­cover my body. But to find your own body af­ter a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence is cru­cial.

RA: As fem­i­nists and pro­tag­o­nists of Pri­mas, we have met a lot of sexual abuse sur­vivors. Many of them carry trauma that stops them from ex­press­ing their sex­u­al­ity freely, and this is some­thing that needs to be talked about more. I was very for­tu­nate not to strug­gle with my sex­u­al­ity af­ter my as­sault, but I am aware that many sur­vivors can’t en­joy their sex­u­al­ity, some­times in­def­i­nitely. Fem­i­nism is about be­com­ing aware and de­con­struct­ing all the so­cial weight that has been im­parted on us. We also have to un­der­stand that not all fem­i­nists are the same, and we all push for dif­fer­ent as­pects of the move­ment and have dif­fer­ent ideas. But fem­i­nism has al­lowed me to fight along­side many won­der­ful peo­ple.

MD: What has the process of re­dis­cov­er­ing your bod­ies through art been like for you?

RA: I be­gan do­ing a lot of aerial ac­ro­bat­ics and it al­lowed me to start ex­press­ing my emo­tions phys­i­cally. I worked very hard to feel com­fort­able in my skin again. I used art and phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion to re­dis­cover my body. I ex­plored body paint­ing, which I thought I would never do, as a way to per­ceive my­self as a can­vas. In a way, it helped me re­make my­self. I was able to say, “I didn’t choose for this to hap­pen, but I will carry my body with pride. It rep­re­sents my bat­tle scars and if I don’t carry it well, no one will.” Through art, I was able to find my­self again.

AB: For me, I felt like af­ter my as­sault, I ne­glected my body for a long time. Theatre helped me re­gain aware­ness of my­self and my phys­i­cal­ity. I started with the most min­i­mal ways of self­ex­pres­sion – just fo­cus­ing on my sense of touch. Af­ter that, I be­gan to lis­ten to what my body wants, and af­ter ig­nor­ing it for so long, it has now be­come my guide.

MD: How do you feel now that you are trav­el­ling the world with Pri­mas, and your sto­ries have been seen all-over?

A: At first, it didn’t re­ally sink in that rooms full of peo­ple would wit­ness my story. Af­ter see­ing the au­di­ence’s re­ac­tion at the first screen­ing, I re­al­ized that the film was creat­ing a space for oth­ers to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and to help them heal, too. I know that I’m not the only one that some­thing like this has hap­pened to, so I share my story. When we do the pan­els af­ter the film screen­ings, we get to con­nect with oth­ers who see them­selves in our ex­pe­ri­ences. This con­nec­tion al­lows us to heal to­gether.

RA: The au­di­ence completes the artis­tic process of the film. My story is very per­sonal, but be­ing able to share it with oth­ers is what re­ally completes the jour­ney for me. It’s in­cred­i­ble to see Pri­mas through the viewer’s’ per­spec­tive. The first time we saw it, we cried the whole way through. I didn’t know what to ex­pect from the au­di­ence, but when the film ended, a man came up to me, cry­ing and hug­ging me. It was ful­fill­ing to see that he was touched by our sto­ries. Wit­ness­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween our film and its au­di­ence, and the ef­fects we mu­tu­ally have on each other, was in­cred­i­ble.

Pri­mas will be screened at CinéCam­pus Univer­sité de Mon­tréal on Novem­ber 13.

The Film Pri­mas works closely with Mou­ve­ment Con­tre le Viol et l’in­ceste ( 514-278-9383) mcvi@ con­trele­viol.org

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