September, 21 2015
Finding Myself Among the Pages of Magdalene

Reading the stories of others led this writer to find the courage to speak about and write the untold stories she had left unsaid. This piece won 1st place in Magdalene's Writing Competition held to celebrate its 2nd anniversary.

by Margaret Agusta
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To celebrate Magdalene’s 2nd Anniversary, we held a writing competition with the theme “Why I am Magdalene”, inviting our readers to write an essay on why they find themselves in Magdalene, and how its content and messages resonated with them. This piece by repeat contributor Margaret Agusta won the competition, with a moving story on finding the courage to speak about and write the untold stories she had long left unsaid.


Among the things that I have read are many stories I myself had left unsaid. Stranger’s voices have spoken my thoughts through their fingertips with words typed into a screen and conveyed through the online pages of Magdalene

I have literally found myself, or at least pieces of my life experience, within the articles written by the various brave and assertive souls who have been contributing through this online magazine to the discussion of the unmentionable, the taboo, and other elements of things deemed outrageous within the larger realm of human existence.  

Magdalene, which was born vociferously into the cyber world some two years ago, caught my attention immediately with the topics addressed. Not many sharp-edged stones left unturned by this courageous publication.

The first time I read Magdalene, I found myself relating to the content in ways I rarely did with other publications. After all, here this web magazine was, writing about women and their place in society – the broad spectrum of gender and the debate this evokes in a bi-gender societal structure, dating, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, birthing, child rearing and abortion, as well as violence against women, and a hodgepodge of other controversial issues, including religion – openly and honestly. 



My first reaction was “It is about time!”

After all, very few paper publications or even cyberspace ones have covered such a wide gamut of human issues; especially not within the Indonesian context. Most extraordinarily, Magdalene provided a forum that has allowed – and perhaps even encourages – people to speak in the first person and to tell their own (often very personal and painful) experiences with the human rights issues of discrimination, violence and abuse.

I have been astonished and heartened by the courage it took women and men to write about a wide range of abuse – bullying, domestic violence, and rape, as well as the polarizing matters of  sexuality, gender discrimination,  bias against religious and other minorities, and even the prickly topics of skin color and  body shape (shaming).

Very few people speak openly of these things except among close friends or in specific forums. So writing about such “private” and “personal” matters in an online magazine with the international reach of the Internet, seemed to me one of the most courageous and meaningful things a person could do in terms of helping others toward realizations about themselves and human existence and life experience in general.  
 

It is the voices of the brave in Magdalene over the past two years, which have encouraged me to begin lending my voice into their cries of outrage that victims are blamed and people are shamed just because of who they are – their skin color, their religion, their gender persuasion, their weight, their body shape.


Magdalene helped me realize that untold stories bring no insight, enlightenment or comfort to the person needing to speak them or the people needing the hear them.
It was in this context that Magdalene brought me to a startlingly uncomfortable “Aha!” moment; a confrontation with myself about who I am, what my experiences could mean to others, and why I have remained silent about so many things.

Indeed, “I found myself in Magdalene”, and not only in the sense that my experiences sometimes matched the experiences of the writers speaking through this publication.

In Magdalene, I found myself as I really am – without all the trappings of my professional reputation and the edited/abbreviated “personal” versions of me I allow most people to see. And with this awareness, I found the courage to speak and to write about topics that touched the marrow of my being. So I wrote in Magdalene about being the mother of a homosexual and about the heartrending experience of a divorce-related kidnapping involving three of my grandsons (who are now safely back in the custody of their mother).     

Yet, there are other things I have not yet had the will to discuss, though I know that what I have to say might in some way help others with similar experiences to find a way through labyrinths of confusion and self loathing.

I have lived my life singularly silent about some of the topics others have been writing so openly about in this publication. Only in the past very few years have I “come out” in small groups like Lentera or specific forums like One Billion Rising about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child and the massive impact it has had on my life journey. Never before have I addressed this headlong as a matter of inherent social concern that affects all women in one way or another.

Nor, have I spoken or written openly yet of my struggle with bipolar disorder (manic-depression), although I am beginning to realize that what I have learned along the way could be of value to those who are just beginning with or in the midst of their struggles with this disease.

Just writing any of this here, especially about the sexual abuse, is gut-wrenching because of the stigma such acknowledgements bring in the society in which we live. Yet, these are the facts of my life, and rape is a fact of life for far too many other women and girls, whose voices have yet to be heard.  

It is the voices of the brave in Magdalene over the past two years, which have encouraged me to begin lending my voice into their cries of outrage that victims are blamed and people are shamed just because of who they are – their skin color, their religion, their gender persuasion, their weight, their body shape, etcetera, etc., etc. 

So, to Magdalene, and the brave souls that fill its cyber presence, I say thank you for the awareness that still more voices must be heard, and for providing me the opportunity to lend my voice, my thoughts, and my writing to this end. 

And to those who read Magdalene and have something to share, as I hope to continue to do, I encourage you to lend your voices too.

Silence changes nothing.  It is time to break the silence. And Magdalene provides an amazing forum to do just that.

Margaret Agusta is a writer, editor and translator, who was born in the United States and has lived in Indonesia, where she took citizenship in 2009, since 1977. Besides writing numerous articles on art and women’s issues, she has translated poetry, short stories, novels and non-fiction books on a variety of subjects from Indonesian to English. She currently trains new writers/reporters for The Jakarta Post.