The Lecher, The Survivor, and The Hangman: three cards from the reinterpreted tarot card deck of the Asian American Literary Review’s Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health. Card texts, with excerpts bolded by me:
Art by Monica Ong, text by Mimi Khúc & Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis
The Lecher is the thirteenth card in the major arcana. Picture him a destroyer, but remember: he is our uncle, our cousin, our holy man, our child. Sometimes mistaken for a lone monster, he is a fixture of every family portrait, every community charter. Yes, the expressions on faces demand exegesis. Do not read them. The atmosphere is what matters – we use expressions to inflect the immaterial, but the real medium is space itself. Look at the forest. Predation is always near us, and not simply in the tremulous body of the predator, but in the forest that teaches him to hunt, a forest we tend together, with sacrifice and debt. A forest we keep quiet together, to safeguard our communal vulnerability. Take a breath. Outrage blinds us to our complicity, outrage styles itself a solution we must know is no solution. The Lecher reminds us that outrage is wind, not air. It reminds us to look not around the corner but in that heaviness that binds our limbs, our spirits, that poisonous silk threaded in our every connection. Trace the fine lines. Find where they loop and knot around you, in you, where they cut into soft flesh, strangle, sever. Untie, unweave, as fast as you can. Allow yourself to grieve what has been lost. Care for the Survivor.
Art by Monica Ong, text by Tanwi Nandini Islam
The Survivor is the fourteenth card in the major arcana. She is often depicted as a shadow walking away from a pyre of ashes, the remnants of a bonfire on the beach. She emerges from the sands exposed by a waning tide. She feels the hands that once hurt her, told her that she was unworthy, tried to drown her in pain that was not hers. She is adorned in scars that are always healing, never vanishing. The stigma of being an outsider, of being wayward or taking life into your own hands, has taken its toll on you. You’ve been through so much already. The situation at hand may seem impossible, but you have the ability to transform it to conspire in your favor. Now is the time to reap the fruits of your emotional labor. It is time to walk away from the shackling hands of the past. Your pain isn’t your identity, but a vestige of you as a victim. You carry the memories and histories of your people – they survived too. The Survivor card calls upon us to remember what made us who we are – however hard, or ugly – and carry that into our futures. There is a beautiful power in our vulnerability. Let your heart do the heavy lifting, and let it lead you.
Art by Camille Chew (@lordofmasks), text by James Kyung-jin Lee
The Hangman is the twenty-first card in the major arcana. The Hangman is the body rent asunder by the violence of empire, racism, patriarchy, and ableism. As people pass him hanging there, they thank God that they are not him, until they are. Then, they begin to think differently about this hanged body, because theirs is being hoisted and harnessed to their own suffering borne of empire, racism, patriarchy, age, everyday violence, bodily failure. Then they realize that she who seemed so alone as she hangs there was in fact not so, but instead hung there as a witness to the violence but not fully consumed by it. Because even here, in the cataclysm of her hanging, another witnesses her in her suffering and thus liberates her suffering for an altogether different – dare we say – utopian impulse. And so now, they, who are also being hanged, can join in a community of sufferers, a brotherhood and sisterhood who bear the marks of pain, and invite others into such solidarity, so that when they, when we, meet our ends, we will know that we are surely not alone. Receiving this card may feel like the worst fate imaginable, but take heart! The very cosmos weeps with you.
When I was subjected to nonconsensual groping on a dorm trip during college by a friend at the time, and when I was sexually assaulted six months later by my long-term intimate partner at the time, both times were by queer Asian/Pacific Islander people whom I had trusted but who acted as if they were entitled to use my body for their own desires. What I needed from my university (as an institution and as communities of students), and what it failed at, were sexual violence prevention resources specifically addressing LGBTQ students; support resources and accountability processes responsive to the needs of LGBTQ survivors and survivors from minority ethnic backgrounds; and an ability to deal with sexual violence as something which all of our communities are implicated in, something which can’t be solved by denying its presence or focusing on individual perpetrators.
Sexual violence may seem to pass by many of us, especially when we’re led to believe that it’s only a problem of individual perpetrators targeting other people – but as long as sexual violence is enabled or swept under the rug in our communities, it will visit us or people we care about. The power we can exert over it comes from supporting all survivors in meeting their individual needs and from proactively unmaking the conditions that foster it. This includes practicing and improving how we do communication, intimacy, positive sexuality, and consent. This includes building our collective ability to push perpetrators who are our friends or relatives to take accountability for their actions in whatever way their survivors need. And this requires unlearning what our culture teaches us about the value of masculinity and femininity, about shaming ourselves and each other for our bodies and desires and emotions, about entitlement and boundaries and respect.