"When they arrested me, I thought it was because I was protesting with other teachers, and students. But later, I realized that they targeted me and other women because I am a lesbian."
We are paying tribute to Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes, who has passed away, by sharing her talk at FiLiA 2019 on her experiences of pain through torture and imprisonment in Dictatorial Chile.
"Very little of feminist scholarship on the body addresses torture of women, and still less, torture of lesbians. The deafening silence in fiction written about this topic has finally been broken with Susan Hawthorne’s novel Dark Matters but that pioneering work needs to be replicated a thousand times by other writers.
I will be retelling my experiences of bodily pain in torture and imprisonment during the 80s in dictatorial Chile and reflect on how these experiences not only transformed my silence under torture into an act of resistance and stubbornness but also reaffirmed my belief in speaking out and let the world know that Lesbians experience discrimination and torture worldwide every day, yet in feminist conferences and meetings, this is swept under the carpet of women’s issues, and once more Lesbians are invisible."
Counsuelo: Can you hear me at the back? Yes. Good.
Before I start, let me tell you that this morning at about one o'clock in the morning, I heard, and then I read, that the President of Chile, right wing President of Chile, has declared a state of emergency. So they've got the militaries out into the streets of Santiago. So what I'm going to do today is even more relevant than before.
What comes next is an extract of a paper that my partner Lynda Birke and I wrote years ago, I think in about 2001. I can't remember. We almost didn't finish this collaboration, because I cannot write in a scientific way, and I am forever flouting the rules. Like today, when I am supposed to present a paper, yet I am exposing myself in a public performance of my pain.
But also because it was difficult for Lynda to hear about my arrest, torture, and rape during protests against Chilean military dictatorships in the ‘80s. When they arrested me, I thought it was because I was protesting with other teachers, and students. But later I realized that they targeted me and other women because I am a lesbian.
When they put me onto the bus in the first stage of the arrest, they already knew I was a lesbian, and they threatened me with raping me in front of whom they said was my partner at the time. So I can only assume that someone had betrayed me and other companeros and companeras. 11 years after I was released, when we had gone back to a democracy, a policeman came to the British Institute where I worked, and said I should go to the Commissaria, which is the police headquarters, with him.
It was in this place where they had raped and tortured me for three days before I was sent to a women's jail, run by Catholic nuns. After convincing me that there was nothing to fear, I went along with him. When we got to the place, he took me to an office where I suppose there was a general, or a colonel, I don’t know. He was an officer.
This person offered me a seat and a cup of coffee, which I refused. He asked me whether I had liked the tour of the Commissaria, because they had deliberately taken me through corridors, and even the cells where they had some prisoners, before we got to his office. His apparent benevolent tone and fucking smile told me he wanted to make sure he knew I had been there before, and that I should be very afraid.
To cut the story short, because I'm writing the long version of this in a memoir, he wanted me to have sex with his female lover. My heart and mind were racing, and I managed to stay calm, and even asked him why he wanted me to do this. We came to an agreement that we would meet again in two weeks, and that he would only watch. What he didn't know was that I was flying to the UK in five days, to live here, so I left him there.
Here I am in front of you, feeling naked, shaking, and in pain. I am going to tell you the story of my pain today and through this, the story of many other people's pain. That pain that cut's throats and vocal cords and leaves only groans and silent cries. 30 years have gone, but I can still smell my own fear and that of my companeras.
It was always like this, sticky tension pouring from our sweated bodies. The bodies of all of us defying teargas, water cannons, and carabineros. Run, shout, think, sweat. Remember, remember. I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my entire body. My throat is dry and hoarse of so much shouting against this barbaric, mad regime.
“Why are people running now,” I shout, but nobody listens to anybody. I cannot stop. I have to keep running and find a safe place away from the bullets and the force of the water separating the crowds. Emma is gone. I cannot see her anywhere in this chaos. This noise is driving me mad. I am so scared. Yes, I am terrified.
My heart thumps in my chest and my temples. My eyes are itchy. I cannot breathe properly. I have to keep running. Run, run. Don't think.
What's this terrible pain on my back? I cannot walk anymore. I feel very tired.
Why has everything gone so quiet? Silence is all I can hear. Silence can take many shapes. Silence can be touched, sliced. It can be uncomfortable, if experienced for too long. It can be used, does it break, to relax and enjoy the company of one's cells, living in one's body.
It very often embodies resistance itself. It can be used as a weapon to break someone's spirit in a session of torture. Torture means severe pain. They had warned me in my training sessions in the MIR, which is a revolutionary left movement. No training session prepared me for this intense pain.
All this alienation, this empty vacuum, my body, my mind, my pain. This is not happening. I am a little speck in the universe. Which universe? The world is not anymore. I am disintegrating, bit by bit, yell by yell, electrode by electrode. The pain, all this pain here, and there, down there in my vagina. The agony.
Where am I? Where is my eye? This is cutting right through myself. I am. I am no longer. I dissolve in this pain. This monster is eating me alive now. I am trapped in the here and now, in this alienness, in this erupting, without control. I am a volcano. Yet anger is no more, only terror and pain. That is all there is.
I am in pain. I am losing myself. I don't want to tell you anything, you bastards!
Silent. Be silent. That will bounce your distress back to them. If I give thought to the pain, if I manage to speak to it from the borders of my weak body, perhaps it will leave me, perhaps my self will be back together. I have lost my self.
Maybe, maybe it was my fault. I shouldn't have bought into this. Maybe if I tell them that I won't do it anymore, maybe.
I speak with a swollen tongue, which threatens to suffocate me to madness. This pain does not have a body. It is just a huge mouth devouring me. This pain does not have ears. It doesn't listen to what I can say. I retch, I vomit. I want to fly away like a kite. No, better than that. Fly like an eagle, proud and free, fly like a condor, like a phoenix.
But I will never rise from the ashes of my body. I scream in silence. I want to cry out loud. Maybe my mother will put me back in her uterus then and silence will be. What am I saying? My mother is not here. And this pain does not have a meaning. I do not have a meaning. Life is only silence. I, with no voice, no tongue, no mouth, no body, anguish, terror.
My throat is boiling sand. My breast, my belly, my vagina, my anus, all wave after wave of electricity. No control. I am losing control of myself. I cannot stop the shit, the piss, the tears, the jerks, the yells. I want the silence of death. It hurts. I don't want to be dispersed, or sliced.
Mama, where are you? Take me back into yourself.
I don't want to think. I am being banished, for daring to think, and for loving women. Papa, is that you? I am a good girl. Can you see? I am in silence, just as you wanted me to be. They must be killing my self, but I cannot die. You need me, my son. I don't even remember your name, mi niño.
Hush now. I will be fine. It is only a little praying. I promise it doesn't hurt.
Is that you, Christina, my love? They said all I needed was a good fuck, from real men. But what they will never understand is that I love you precisely because you're not a man. They laughed, then. They laughed with an evil laugh. And then everything was silence after silence, after silence, after silence.
My name is Counsuelo. My mother is no consolation in this cold. Why am I so cold in this… I'm terrified that my body will betray me.
I am having a break from the Barria. Will they let me go now? Counsuelo, my name is Counsuelo. Everything is silent now. They want to drive me mad. Maybe if I chant silently, fly like an eagle, proud and free.
This is part of my story. I am safe now, away from Chile. But for people like myself, there will never be an ‘after torture’, because once you have been subjected to physical and psychological torture, pain remains. It gets stuck to your skin, to your bones, to your guts, to your heart, to your memory. And I go to a counsellor here in Britain who tells me, “we do not torture here.” Patronising old git.
And then I go to a doctor who asks me to tell him exactly what happened. I want to say that I don't want to describe the Barria, the electrodes, the blows, the kicks, but end up crawling back into my silence and say, “I don't remember well.” But everything is blurred in my mind, because I realise that physicians don't speak my language.
Yet the body remembers again and again. The body remembers and pain becomes part of our dreams, and of our nightmares, because we don't have a valve to release them in any other way. The body wishes to be a body again. The body wants to have a mind and to remember better times. The body wants a soul. My body is dying to have some comfort in the here and now.
I resist disintegration in this presentness by doing the exact opposite of what I did during my torture. I have broken my silence. I have finally given voice to my pain, but in my terms. By the way, did I tell you that my name means consolation? I am Counsuelo. I am Counsuelo. Am I? Thank you.