BY IRADELE PLANTE
STUDENT AT MCGILL FACULTY OF LAW
The following contains three annotated letters that I have sent to real people that (as of the date of publication) have either woefully gone unanswered or have been partially acknowledged. They are letters that touch on sexual assault, the body, and the law. They contain some graphic details about surgery, body hatred, sexual assault, and mental illness. For some, this might be emotionally challenging or triggering.
Some identifying information—like people, groups, and locations—has been redacted.
October 31, 2016
To my family:
When I talk about my body, I clench up. I spend so much time imagining that it doesn’t exist. I especially feel this way about my breasts. I remember in high school trying on bras at a specialty store and crying in the change room stall as the attendant kept returning with bigger sizes. I remember hopping off a sticky school bus in June, sweat dripping down my back as I wore two bras, a long-sleeved shirt, and a gigantic hoodie to avoid “showing off”. In college, I remember taking off my shirt, again and again, for all the men I thought interesting or kind enough to be intimate with. “They’re so big,” they would gawk before reaching in. I’d laugh it off. Later, I’d hate myself for laughing it off.
I don’t remember much about the night I was raped, but I do remember my breasts. I remember the American Apparel shirt I wore. I remember him saying how nice it looked on me as he took it off. I remember the anticipated gawk.
After years of therapy, coming out, and a series of humbling experiences, I went through a phase where I felt like I had “gotten over” my trauma. I could never “get over” my breasts though. Through the media I consume, the playful jokes I hear, and the clothes I buy, I am constantly reminded that my breasts are sexual. They are objects of desire. They are for men. They are for fun. They are the first thing people see. They make me feel like I am never quite taken seriously. The bigger they are, the more they are allowed to be someone else’s.
On a good day, I know this is not true. On a bad day, sometimes it’s easier to pretend that my breasts don’t exist.
It was hard to tell you that I had a breast reduction. Doing so required me to acknowledge that my breasts exist. The conversation necessitated that I admit to you that I don’t want them, and that I never asked for them. That kind of vulnerability is hard in front of you. It’s hard enough being vulnerable with myself.
It has been one week since I had the surgery. I am marveled that my body heals. I see bruises bloom around my nipples. They turn blue and then yellow and then disappear. They disappear! I can’t believe it. There’s something amazing about a body that quietly heals after it’s been ripped apart and sewn anew. It serves as a reminder that I too can heal after I’ve been ripped apart. It also reminds me that my body does in fact exist; it’s made of flesh, it aches, swells, and scars, and it does a lot of amazing things. Maybe I should try giving it more credit sometime.
September 3, 2018
To my school:
I would like to share my reflections on my first week at McGill Law. Like many, I was nervous. Like some, I was reluctant to attend orientation because I don’t drink. Unlike some, my reasons for drinking are very personal; I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2010, not far from the faculty. I knew that alcohol is a big part of law school, but I was shocked to see the degree to which this drinking culture was centralized and prioritized.
At first, I maintained decent communication with one of the mentors, but as I began drifting away, no one took the time to reach out or check-in. I couldn’t bring myself to show up to the more low-key social events (such as pre-drinks) and barely attended the parties. At the end of orientation week, there was a final event and I noticed my team members were celebrating at the same table. It felt disingenuous to join them in their triumphs for something I chose not to participate in, but also it angered me that someone else’s celebration came at the cost of ensuring inclusivity and belonging. Doesn't this defeat the fundamental purpose of why we hold orientation?
Some may say “the first couple of months are hard for everyone” or "you knew what you were getting yourself into". I would challenge those assertions. For many, orientation week can set the stage for the rest of the year—it can introduce you to new friends who you can turn to for support during a time when many are at their most vulnerable. As a white, cisgender, and able-bodied person, I'm privileged to exist in institutions where I often see myself reflected in others. As someone who has previously organized orientations, I know what kind of work goes into ensuring that everyone feels meaningfully involved. I did not feel that here and I did not feel like I was able to be myself. I know there are others who felt similarly.
It is disingenuous of McGill Law to take two days to explore topics of sexual assault in class but fail to acknowledge how trauma or harm-reduction plays out where binge drinking is present. This lack of care is tokenizing at best, and reinforces the idea that McGill Law is not a place where people like me can seek support and expect to be taken seriously. For that, I am disappointed, and it’s my hope that this can change.
October 20, 2018
I know we haven’t spoken in a really long time, and that’s been intentional. In light of the media storm that’s going on with the U.S. Supreme Court, I feel like it is finally time to come forward.
That night in the summer of 2010 was not consensual. I was too drunk to consent, and it was rape.
At first, I spent many years in and out of counselling. My mental health plunged, and I was clinically diagnosed. I disclosed I was raped to my partners. Some took it well, some didn’t. Eventually, I quit drinking and started to speak up in feminist circles. I told my family. I wrote about mental health privately and advocated against rape culture publicly. In time, I pursued a master’s in public health and a law degree. In both admission statements, I disclosed this experience, the impact it’s had, and my desire to better things for the generation ahead.
Living in Toronto during the Jian Ghomeshi trials was taxing for anyone who picked up a newspaper, let alone survivors. Those months were some of the loneliest I’ve ever experienced, yet never did I feel the need to reach out to you.
This time, it feels different. I was in my first semester of law school when the Brett Kavanaugh story broke. Three weeks ago, I watched Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony and thought “that could be me one day.” As much as I admire Blasey-Ford for her courage, I do not envy her. It dawned on me that I would want to have this conversation with you before it becomes my civic duty to come forward.
I looked you up online for the first time in years. I was surprised to see that during all this time I was ignoring you, you went on living. I want to come forward because I want to believe that you are a kind person. I want to put this in my past, and part of that means confronting you. I want to believe that you’ll believe me, acknowledge this truth, and perhaps grow from it. I never wanted to report the assault because I never wanted to get the criminal justice system involved. That still stands true today—I see other ways of restoring justice.
I hope you see this and respond with kindness.