Intro: The cultural reality for women is the misconception that we must keep our feelings in check, at all costs; we have to keep going and just continue getting shit done. Many of us have suffered traumatic events, been prey to the most incongruous of circumstances, thinking we are to blame, not understanding why… feeling shameful about what has happened and suffering in silence.
A few weeks back I popped a post through social media, curious as to how others came up with a name for their bike. This prompted a heartfelt response from Claudia, so feeling she may have a story to tell us, I asked her if she’d be willing to share her tale…
Please note, the following story has been quoted with explicit detail; the following content may be confronting and disturb those dealing with their own traumas.
Originally from Canada, now based in Sydney, Claudia, 37 years young, has been riding her beloved motorcycle Medusa since April this year. Eighteen months earlier she had started ballet, she said, “To claim my body as my own.” However, unable to continue due to medical issues, she sought something else, where she could feel her body move and work… she unexpectedly fell in love with motorcycling.
Already, she’s clocked nearly 9,000 km on the dial, equating to only a small part of her personal journey. Her Triumph Trident 660, blessed Medusa, is instrumental in our heroine’s quest.
Taking back rightful ownership of her body and paving an exhilarating, twisty road through the social constructs that still affect women today at home, school and in the workplace, Claudia says, “We may not be burning bras or fighting to vote, but we still live in a world where some men think it’s ok to slap a female co-worker’s bum or grab a woman while at the bar.”
Control over their physical self is something children especially, are often defenceless against and for Claudia, riding Medusa is a way of reclaiming that stolen power and self, after living with such shame and guilt for intolerable things done to her.
Easy pickings at the age of five, as her mother’s boyfriend felt her up underwater in a pond, with her mother, waterside, oblivious to it… also unconcerned as she’d encouraged the young Claudia to shower with her boyfriend afterwards, where he proceeded to put his penis into her mouth.
“He put his penis in my mouth, which made me gag and throw up, so he beat me, then did it again.” Claudia experienced these horrific flashbacks when throwing up whilst pregnant… and Claudia explained, “Every time I throw up, I bawl my eyes out. I’m open about my journey and struggles with rape, domestic violence and trauma because there might be someone still trapped in their guilt cycle who upon hearing mine, may help start their journey towards healing.”
The night before she began Junior High, at the age of 13, Claudia was molested by a male family member, who’d crept into the bedroom where she was staying, while her mother was overseas. “He molested me while I was asleep. It was his touch on my backside that woke me, but I couldn’t do or say anything; I just froze. I was laying on my stomach and he tried to roll me over, but I held my body firmly down, waiting for it to be over.”
He soon left when he was unsuccessful in moving the petrified Claudia into his desired position and Claudia spent the rest of the night crying, confused as to what had just happened and her skin crawling from the remnants of his touch.
“The next day I pretended nothing had happened, as I started my first day of Junior High. I stayed with a girlfriend from then, until my mother returned.”
After telling a female family member what happened and that she wanted to go to the police, she was told… “It is a family matter; it’d happened to her so it was something that needed to be kept in the family and not made a big deal of.”
That’s how it was back then.
Claudia seemed doomed to a life of sexual abuse and domestic violence, the pleasure of that first time love, not to be… instead, her virginity torn from her, raped at 14, by her boyfriend, who she’d met about six months prior at a summer bible camp… no, no and NO had meant nothing to him!
More horror, at 16, attending a graduation party, having fun with her friends, a few drinks and laughs, Claudia going off to the toilet was sexually assaulted in the bathroom… then taken to a field where she was gang raped by him and his three other mates. ‘The next thing I remember I was sitting at a petrol station with just my tube top and mini-skirt on, no underwear, bawling my eyes out, as I called a girlfriend to pick me up.”
Sickeningly, she suffered furthermore through various adult relationships of violent domestic abuse… she’d been surrounded by it, grown up around it… her childhood lost within an emotionally abandoned family. “Because my family had been so toxic and so mentally abusive, I searched for love and acceptance in other places, because inside of me there was a hole, something was missing!”
Reading a story about her peer at law school, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, who at 15 had been on track to become an Olympic gymnast but had been sexually assaulted at knifepoint… was the light bulb moment, the motivation for Claudia to start her healing journey. “The main catalyst, to face my trauma began when I read, I Choose Elena, a personal memoir by Lucia Osborne-Crowley. Since then, Claudia has been in weekly therapy and progressing well.
Diagnosed two years ago for CPTSD, Claudia’s goal is to write her own book and while on a plane she was researching, underlining parts of The Way we Survive: Notes on a Rape Culture, by Catriona Morton, a young man about 18 years old next to Claudia, was curious. “I told him I was researching to write about my own experiences and in turn, he felt safe enough to share his experience with me.” A perfect example of the community, shared stories can bring.
There will always be people who feel uncomfortable or threatened… sexual assault, domestic violence and trauma are uncomfortable subjects that society has conditioned us to believe should be left behind closed doors.
Claudia believes, “As cliché as it may sound, the only way to create change is to be the change we want to see in the world.”
Claudia has always had a love for mythology.
“As a kid, I used to love mythology and there are many different versions of Medusa’s story. The one that stuck with me is the version of her being vilified and blamed for something out of her control.
“Choosing the name Medusa because that’s how I felt for a very long time; I was the cause of the sexual assault, not the sexual assault done to me.”
In Greek mythology, Medusa was raped by Poseidon, in the Goddess Athena’s temple. Athena punished Medusa for violating her holy space, condemning her with a head of snakes and a look that turned men to stone. Perseus severed the serpent-headed Medusa and turned her into a trophy.
“Medusa was blamed for something that happened to her that was out of her control,” says Claudia.
“We are not victims unless we have died, we are survivors. We are warriors.
We made it through and my motorcycle reinforces that feeling of reclaimed power and freedom that I had stolen from me.”
“Getting the motorbike is like giving me the confidence to say hey, even if I write my book just for me, at least I’m doing it. As hard as it is to share, after sharing a bit of my story with one of the motorcycle groups I’m with, other women in the group felt safe to share their stories too.
“I’ve joined various riding groups, tried taking longer routes and I feel I’m a safer rider on the bike for it. There’s a sense of freedom in riding. My friends see the big smile on my face when I talk about it. And even though there’s no wind in my hair because it’s under a silk scarf, there is a feeling of flying. There’s something magical about a motorcycle; it gives me a sense of power.
“Mastering my motorcycle means putting myself out of my comfort zone, but with that comes the gift of confidence and independence.
“I’ve dropped Medusa several times and couldn’t pick her up the first couple of times; people were honking at me and I got anxious and stressed but now I get a burst of adrenalin rushing through me and can stop her from dropping; if she does, I can pick her up.
“Therapy helped me identify that I am more than what was done to me and taken from me. Riding helped me actualise that feeling.
“We all go through difficult times in our lives but look at what we have survived! Look at how strong we are! Look at what we are doing! We, survivors, are warriors!
“I want more women to experience the power of being in control of something as mighty as a motorcycle. I want women to feel powerful and in control, because that is something perpetrators take away from us. Riding is one way to reclaim it.
“Riding makes me feel human again. It’s freedom from my thoughts, my focus is on the road in front of me; I must be completely in the moment. Riding is magical. Just talking about riding gives me that bright airy feeling and has me smiling from ear to ear.”
Thank you, Claudia, for your bravery in talking to us; we are honoured to tell your story. Your inspiration and empowerment beams out from your strength…
The signed photo credit goes to Ken Angelo.
Written by Katarina Dálaigh & Sara Harte
Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Resources:
Phone: 1800 737 732
Rape Crisis: Phone – 0800 88 33 00
Women’s Refuge: Phone – 0800 733 843
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