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The Preferred Terms are Mine

Sometimes it is easier to call the truth a story or a song. / What some deem repression, I name reflections.

Editor’s Note: The following lyric essay is part of the notebook #WeToo, a collection of work published both in the Journal of Asian American Studies and in part here on The Margins. Together, this body of work provides language and theory for lived-experiences of sexual violence in what is usually dismissed as privileged, unafflicted model-minority life. The #WeToo collection is edited by erin Khuê Ninh and Shireen Roshanravan. Accompanying the series on The Margins is artwork by Catalina Ouyang. 

The following piece references sexual violence and rape culture. Please take care while reading.

Read more from the series here. And continue reading work from the full collection in the February 2021 issue of the Journal of Asian American Studieswhich you can purchase here  



While I grew inside her body, my mother conducted autopsies.

My father spent nights with corpses, removing corneas and globes from the eyes of the deceased.
The preferred term for my father’s task at the eye bank was recovery

I have never dissected the past to its conclusions. I have come close to concluding myself. How many pills does it take? 

A body after its death are remains.

A body after trauma remains.

My body’s response to distress is nausea. 
Survival, after all, is a series of techniques.

These stories may begin and end with what did not come up.

My preferred term for the task of being human is living with depression. 
My preferred term for PTSD is normalcy.

The preferred term for people who have experienced sexual abuse is survivor
Mine is someone this happened to once, then again, repeat.

The preferred term for people who have committed these crimes is perpetrator
My preferred term is the ones I have known.  

I have boxes of keepsakes from childhood. Also gifts from people I once trusted. 
I am a repository of memories I choose not to revisit.  

A bellows is a vessel that compresses or expands to provide additional air to a fire. 

To bellow is to shout. 

Sometimes it is easier to call the truth a story or a song.
What some deem repression, I name reflections

These stories may begin and end with what did not happen.

What did not happen to a twelve-year old the first time. 
What did not happen in the shower sometimes. 
What did not happen in my bed, waking me up.

My preferred term for these violations is a secret
A secret is made of wood like old bridges, falling into disrepair.  

A writer’s concern over telling her stories is a fear of oversharing
An actor’s concern over playing similar roles repeatedly is a fear of typecasting
A survivor’s concerns may include these two.

These fears do not compare to the electric wiring of dread that held me awake for years. 
Children need bedroom doors that lock. Some kids see monsters at night.  

These stories may be forgotten momentarily. The energy required to do so is immeasurable.  

A body that associates food with control has an eating disorder
A body that has suffered abuse and develops an eating disorder is a regularity.

Sometimes I let others witness my body. 
The parts they tell me they enjoy most cling to me like stains.

A woman’s body touched without permission is a victim
A woman’s body touched with consent is a slut.

A body should be a protected environment. A body should be a bell jar.

The novel The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical. When it was assigned to me 
at age sixteen, it was presented with a content warning.

My account of my life is semi-autobiographical. I was never given a content warning.  

A canon is a revered body of literature. 
A cannon is a weapon. 

We hold this truth to be self-evident: every history book has a sequel.

A survivor of one or more incidents of trauma is still alive.  

Something that leads our body to recall our trauma is a trigger.

A bedroom door that does not lock.

A friend touching your leg after being turned down.

Hugging your abuser goodbye on special occasions.

Compliments on parts of your body that once endured molestation.

Triggers do not always lead to one quick shot. A trigger can last a lifetime.  

A body is the sum of its parts. Trauma is a glass window 
shattered then reassembled with duct tape.  

The preferred term for the traumatic impact of childhood sexual abuse is shame
My preferred term is who I became.  

To pass is to proceed. 

An autopsy is an examination of something passed.

This body is more than epilogue. 

This body is cartography.

This climb, wind of rushed descent, velvet earth.

The fallen, the fall, and the flight.

This body is the leaf, the tree, the stone, the sky.

The term for this body is mine

Pictured above, by Catalina Ouyang, from the exhibition blood in D minor:

Untitled, 2018
dehydrated lotus root, binder rings, saran wrap, resin, fluorescent lights, takeout containers, epoxy clay, ginger, water, lilies, olive oil, beeswax, cotton twine 
dimensions variable