“Heal on your own time, in your own way” — An Interview with Tianna G. Hansen

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Images Courtesy of InstaSaver and Twitter

Tianna G. Hansen has been writing her whole life, specializing in poetry and creative nonfiction. She founded Rhythm & Bones Press in June of 2018, under which she centers her work around the idea of turning trauma into art.

Her interests range from reading, writing, studying, and researching to editing and managing her literary magazine and small press. Hansen is also interested in history, especially Ancient Egypt and Greek mythology. Outside of the world of literature, she enjoys arts & crafts, especially handmade collages formed by cutting and pasting images and individual words.

Hansen believes that founding her own literary magazine and small press was her biggest achievement. With the publication of the press’s first anthology, You Are Not Your Rape (YANYR), the company truly established itself in the world. This was an important and difficult publication to bring into the world as survivors often struggle to speak out and find a voice in their communities. Today, Hansen continues to publish similar pieces that both make a difference and make a splash in the world we live in.

Hansen aspires to run her press full time as the editor-in-chief while being a successful published author. In own words, she expressed, “it has always been my biggest passion to edit and to write. I particularly enjoy bringing other writers’ work into the world and giving them a platform.”

Apart from Rhythm & Bones, Hansen has had her own writing published across numerous literary magazines and presses, but has yet to put out a full collection, though she sees this in her near future.

She values the connections she has with people—  her family and friends, writers whom she has met and interacted with, other editors, and the literary community in general— the most. In the midst of her busy life, she strives to find inner peace. According to Hansen, contentment “is something I am still working to find and discover within myself. I value my creativity as motivation, and I value healing. Writing is a form of therapy and survival.”

 

Interview Questions

 

  • You recently published You are not your rape, which is an anthology of survivors of physical abuse, where did the idea for this powerful project originate? ?

 

The idea for the You are not your rape anthology originated when my dear friend, (who later became the co-editor of the anthology), Kristin Garth, posted a Twitter thread calling out to survivors of sexual assault and abuse in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s moving testimony. Kristin and I, as survivors ourselves, were both very shaken up by it, especially the lengths that people went in their attempts to silence Dr. Ford – death threats and public intimidation on top of the ever-present fear of not being believed. She had to recount the traumatic events in front of a courtroom of strangers, in front of a nation watching. And still, Kavanaugh was sworn in after all of this. It was a huge blow to survivors across the country and in the world at large. With the outpouring of support in Kristin’s original thread, it became clear how prevalent this was in our writing community. I wanted to give a permanent home to these voices, so I reached out to Kristin and the anthology slowly rose to creation. The title came to me while I was driving, from a creative nonfiction piece I had written earlier that year; the lines: “you are not your rape, you are not your pain. You are glorious — fragile lace of moonlight drenched upon your naked skin.” This speaks to how the darkness after sexual abuse and assault, ( and the trauma that follows), can often seem hopeless. You can feel so alone. But there is always a light shining, somewhere. There is hope that remains. This is what we wanted to advocate through the anthology, while honoring all survivors no matter where they are in their path to healing.

 

 

  • How did the women feel when sending in their contents for the YANYR anthology, and was there anything in particular they requested from you, regarding anonymity, omissions, etc.?

 

When we started receiving submissions to the anthology, it was astounding and empowering to see the amount of responses and support we were getting from everyone. There were a few contributors who wished to remain anonymous, some for personal reasons and some for business reasons (they were worried if their job discovered this publication, it would have ramifications). Once we sent out the first draft to all the contribs for their approval, we had two previously-anonymous writers come forward who, after seeing the powerful collection of voices we had collected, requested to have their names used. It was a turning point for me, I think, realizing the effect this collection was already having on the survivors who had their work included. Almost all of them spoke out to the power of this anthology and how moving it was to see.

Through the selection process, Kristin and I made sure not to accept any pieces that could be seen as defamation to any real people/events, and we only received one submission (out of over 200) with names in it, but they had already been changed. We request that those who asked to remain anonymous be respected for their privacy, even if readers recognize them for their story. This is very important to us, protecting the identity of survivors and making them feel safe telling their stories.

 

 

  • Since it was published on 9th Dec, what reactions or reviews of YANYR have you encountered?

 

The most moving reactions we had were at our book launch which on December 9th in a local Philadelphia-based bookstore. One of the contributors, Christina Rosso, recently opened her bookstore A Novel Idea with her husband, and they agreed to host us for this monumental event. It was liberating to stand before the attendees and share these stories. I felt empowered being there and so proud to be part of it, and beyond proud of those who came forward to read. One contributor, Samantha Lamph/Len, took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to be involved in the reading which was testament enough to how influential this anthology is. It was a very personal event, there was a feeling of solidarity from all who were there. By the end, we were all nearly in tears. Christina spoke with me afterward and said how important it is to spread these stories, as we grow up in a society that shies away from teaching us how to speak about it. We don’t know how to deal with these traumatic events, how to discuss them, who to reach out to. That’s one of the problems we hope to defeat with this – breaking the silence and empowering survivors to know, it is okay to come forward. There are so many people who hold you in their hearts. This is a safe place. We are here to believe you, to hear you, to uplift and support you.

Also at the book launch event were two of my friends, Nick Emeigh and Rohan Sharma, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who came out to support me. This was incredibly meaningful to me, as mental illness and trauma goes hand-in-hand with SA. They posted about the event on their social media and said, “What we witnessed today WAS trauma-turned-art, with readings by several writers who regained control of their own stories (some involving depression, anxiety, and PTSD) by telling them beautifully in the form of poetry, essays, and short stories. It was a well-attended, powerful event held at a beautiful venue, and proof that storytelling does save lives.” This testimony really stood out to me; it showed me what we dealt with in YANYR is widespread and it proved to me how powerful this collection really was, how meaningful it was, and how crucial to keep the stories going, to keep telling them. NAMI holds a program titled Ending the Silence, where they attend schools and other venues to share their stories and speak openly about mental illness and mental health. They are moving and influential; to have them come out and support me was significant and priceless.

So many people have reached out to us to show their support and appreciation of this project, how meaningful and effective it is. That alone proves to us that we have made something that will make a difference, even if it doesn’t reach as far as we wish it to. It matters to us that it has affected the survivors included, who were always our first priority. Even during our fundraising process prior to publication, we had a couple people donate multiple copies for those who could not afford a copy but would benefit from reading it. It has been a very moving experience for everyone involved and it is encouraging to see how many people stand behind us.

 

 

  • Could you share some specific memories and experiences you had while writing or editing this anthology? Did you, at any point, feel overwhelmed, unnerved, or stressed by the amount of strong feelings and emotions expressed by survivors or the responsibility you had to securely represent them?

 

Almost every day when I was curating the submissions and reading these heart wrenching tales, I had to take a step back and breathe. I was often overwhelmed and unnerved by it all, but driven by the passion to continue forward. I knew it wouldn’t be easy from the moment I began, but I was motivated and inspired to continue. It helped that I wasn’t doing it alone. I couldn’t have done it by myself. During the process, Kristin and I were gentle with each other. We could tell when one of us (usually both of us) needed a break from reading, and we would take some time off. But we still powered through the over-200 submissions we received and responded in record time. I wanted to get this book into the world before too long; it felt like the world needed it in the wake of the Dr. Ford testimony and that’s what I set my goals on.

One of the most wonderful feelings was reading a piece and identifying with it in a wholesome, soulful way. There were so many of these, and each one made it into the anthology. The most difficult part of the process was rejecting anyone, though we aimed to remain as inclusive as possible. We had a specific vision of what we wanted to include here, and we wanted the pieces to be honest and unflinching in the face of truth. We wanted a mix of essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and we even ended up including a flash fiction piece in there. Each piece of work was selected for the truths it told in the face of such a difficult subject. Each piece touched our hearts. I will never forget a single part in this anthology. I will never forget the people who are included and their stories. They made me cry. They made me want to scream. They made me angry. Most of all, they empowered me to continue on. Anytime I faltered in the face of the project, I held them and their stories in mind and prevailed.

 

 

  • Love is Love, a strong anthology that you are supporting, for the teens of LGBTQIA community, will be published next year. What do you think has been approach from the teens and others people of the community has been to the submissions?

 

Love_is_love anthology is a project I stumbled upon on Twitter and wanted to submit to. I love the idea behind it, and it is a wonderful, necessary creation. You can check out more about it at https://loveislovebook.weebly.com/. They are releasing this month (January), and I’m excited to be part of a collection that supports LGBTQIA teens. It’s so important that they, as well as SA survivors, feel like they are less alone. All proceeds benefit The Trevor Project. The editor and publisher, Emma Eden Ramos, is a wonderfully enthusiastic and beautiful soul. I’m honored to have my poem “love is love is love” included in the forthcoming collection and look forward to its release! Emma has been so supportive and encouraging of all her contributors, and I have a feeling this anthology will create waves of change. I love seeing more anthologies reaching out to those who need to see they aren’t alone, to feel they have a community behind them composed of many diverse voices.

On their ‘About Us’ page, it says: “Love_Is_Love is a forthcoming collection of beautiful stories, poems, personal essays, and artwork for LGBTQIA teens. With Love_Is_Love, we hope to lend support to LGBTQIA teens struggling to deal with pervasive homophobic and transphobic rhetoric that can make the world feel like a terrifying and unsafe place. All of the proceeds collected from this anthology will be donated to The Trevor Project, an organization that has been saving the lives of LGBTQIA teens since 1998. We would also like to dedicate Love_Is_Love to young adults whose lives were cut short because of bigotry, cruelty, and ignorance. Matthew Shepard, Teena Brandon, Lashai Mclean, Paige Clay, Mollie Olgin, Tiffany Gooden, Gabriel Fernandez, and countless others, you ARE ALL LOVED, MISSED, AND CHERISHED.”

 

 

  • I remember before the publishing of YANYR you mentioned in a tweet that you would want everyone to read the book, regardless of them not being able to purchase it or not and that you would even send out the copies for free if you had. What is your relationship with the anthology? How do you think this book will or already has affected society?

 

I am not in this to make money. All proceeds are being donated to organizations such as RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), which offers a 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org & rainn.org/es) to survivors and victims; Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), the only rape crisis center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Futures Without Violence (https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org), working to aid those who have suffered domestic abuse; among others.

My efforts are to spread these voices and stories as far and wide as possible, to anyone willing to listen. This work is more important to me than I can express. I hope it will inspire others who have experienced similar forms of abuse to know they are not alone. We are far from alone in this. (And that has also inspired me to curate another anthology in the same vein as YANYR, a second volume of sorts titled You Are Not Alone – I hope to begin accepting submissions sometime this year). Though fighting through trauma can sometimes feel like a thick forest we cannot find our way out of, it is not hopeless. There is help available and others who have survived it. I hope this anthology will make a statement to society: we will not be silenced. Something must change if we are to move forward.

 

 

  • Many members of the LGBTQIA community live lives of desperation. Most of them do not come out in fear of being alienated for who they are. What would you like to say to the people in such situations?

 

Embrace who you are and try not to hold societal stigma as a reason to not come forward. There are so many stigmas that hold people back today and cause great damage to people. Mental illness is a major one that goes hand in hand often with these other stigmas, including sexual assault and abuse. There is a stigma against that as well. I would encourage LGBTQIA members to recognize others are struggling with the same and (as much as I keep saying this and it may seem cliche), you are not alone. I believe that’s a purpose of Love_is_love anthology, to prove how many people stand behind them in support. Being different should never be something to be ashamed of. It should be something to be celebrated.

 

 

  • The statistic that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 20 men, will be victims of rape or attempted rape at some point during their lifetime is often quoted. How do you feel about this fact ?

 

I feel devastated knowing this. These statistics motivated me to create YANYR. I want society to realize this is an epidemic. We need change. We need people to realize how real it is. To stand up and do something about it rather than standing by idly, pushing it to the back of their minds. I want to express the pain of it. How the aftermath can leave a victim in pieces, and we as victims need support. We cannot get out of this one our own.

 

 

  • One of the survivors in the anthology was you- what you wrote was exceptionally exquisite, strong, and painful.  Talking about rape and sexual abuse is quite hard. What made you decide to throw this diseased tale out of your system? What advice would you give to a victim of sexual abuse who has not yet told anyone their story?

 

Thank you for your kind words on my own pieces! They were difficult to write but important for me to share. Many of the contributors in this collection told their stories for the first time in YANYR, and expressed how freeing but also terrifying it was. I am one of those who was only beginning to come forward about my experiences, though I have written sparsely about it in my creative nonfiction prior to this. I noticed, like in my piece “Fall into the Night” which is where I took the title for YANYR from, I often revert to second person, creating a distance from the narrative because it is too difficult to confront face-on. Writing has always been very therapeutic to me like a catharsis, this release of emotion and pain. That was another goal for me when creating YANYR – to provide that same type of release to those who are ready and able to write about it and tell their stories. I am very aware that not everyone is at the stage of being able to talk about it. I wanted everyone to know, whatever stage they are in, it’s okay. You are not alone in this, you will make it out on the other side. It is not an easy process, it is not easy to talk about or discuss or even come to terms with. It took me nearly two years before I even admitted that I had been raped. I was sexually abused in my relationship for an entire year. I kept denying to myself that it was rape, and forgiving my SO for the abuse. But living in that denial was doing nothing for me. I felt it was time to open up, to talk about it and how difficult it can be to actually come forward and admit this happened. It became clear to me how necessary it is to talk about it and how others benefit from it; as difficult as it can be, I think it is also very empowering to hear others telling their stories, the way Dr. Ford told hers.

For anyone who has not told their story, please don’t feel bad about it. You can speak when you are ready. Maybe you will never feel ready. That’s okay, too. But if you are ready to reach out, if you want to find a community in this, I hope to be an advocate for that. That’s one of the most amazing things that came from creating YANYR. I noticed it grew into a community of contributors. By learning each other’s stories and having our voices compiled together, it is like we have joined hands in our suffering. Like we all have someone to lean on.

 

 

  • You have a literary press called Rhythm and Bones Press, which has a unique and beautiful tagline, “trauma-turned-art”. What was your thinking behind that project?

 

Rhythm & Bones Press’s tagline “trauma-turned-art” is very much in line with my goals and vision for YANYR – the idea that through writing, we can find release and make something beautiful out of something that is unspeakably painful and horrific. I want to provide an outlet for people. Give them a space to rest their traumas and share them without shame. Rhythm & Bones started from a love for the darker side of writing and has evolved to take more focus on mental health and trauma. Like I said already, writing for me has been therapeutic like nothing else. It can also be damaging, though. So at all times, I promote people being self-aware. I promote healing through art. Healing through writing. Writing can bring a lot of self-discovery. It can heal and it can bring people face to face with their demons. So you need to be careful as you do it, as well. I think knowing there is a space for their stories can help someone feel like it is okay to talk about and like their stories truly matter, because they do.

 

 

  • Do you have any general advice or words for other victims of sexual abuse?

 

As generic as it may sound, seeking professional help from a therapist can be the best decision. I have yet to go back to therapy but am currently searching for a new therapist. Whatever helps you – talking it out, practicing mindfulness, or (my personal favorite), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – do that. If you’re interested in EMDR, one book that really helped me is Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, who created EMDR. This book was recommended to me by my last therapist and has been eye-opening. Above all, practice self-care. Be gentle with yourself. Never apologize for your emotions or for feeling a certain way. Your feelings are valid. Nobody is going to have the same experience with trauma. Take your time. Don’t compare your situation with anyone else. Heal on your own time, in your own way.

 

 

  • Finally, as a supporter of flourishing mental health, women empowerment, and equality, is there a final message you have for our readers or for any youth trying to take a stand in their community and make a difference?

 

There is so much shame surrounding our society revolving around speaking out, about being a victim; living with mental illness, struggling on a daily basis and feeling alone. Women’s rights have faced a scary reality in the past few months and I will always advocate for them. I will advocate for everyone who is oppressed and who feels as though they are not able to come forward, like they have lost their voice. I will always support expressing yourself, in whatever way is helpful or necessary. And while not everyone is ready to express their experiences, I think there are many who are. Now is a tumultuous time in our society and I think it is more important than ever to come forward and speak out.

Don’t be intimidated. If you take a stand and set out to make a difference, you will face resistance. Not everyone will agree with you or what you’re trying to do. But you can’t please everyone. Carry on in courage with your goals in mind. What you hope to accomplish. Be strong. Hold in your sight what you envision, your mission. Look at all the people you are helping. Never give up the fight. The best things are never easy to accomplish, but together, we can and we will make a difference.

You can read Tianna G. Hansen’s published works on CreativeTianna.com and find her publishing company at RhythmNBone.com or on Twitter @RhythmBonesLit. Check her out on Twitter under tiannag92 and Facebook under creativet24.  

 

-Agampreet Kalra