By Rebecca Casalino
Trigger and Content Warning: trauma, sexual assault, police violence, and mentions of medical procedures and suicide.
Settler Canadian culture can be summarized in one word: silence. Many difficult topics like mental health, trauma, and gender identity are considered taboo and continue to be policed by social norms and ‘politeness,’ stigmatizing these very real experiences. These cultural aspects are supported and enforced by colonial police forces and medical institutions. These topics become the monsters living under our beds; always there, always hidden just beneath, seen by children and invisible to adults. Jess MacCormack’s book SHAME SHAME, Go Away grabs these monsters by their ankles and pulls them out from under the covers into the light of day. That being said, please take the time to steady yourself before reading this review (and Jess’s book) and make space for your own emotional needs.
SHAME SHAME, Go Away is written and illustrated by MacCormack, a Vancouver-based artist, activist and educator invested in queer politics, mental health, embodiment, and decriminalization. Dedicated to their late friend Mia Rose Cameron, a teenager who died by suicide, SHAME SHAME, Go Away shares MacCormack’s experiences to bring light to the impacts of childhood trauma on people’s mental health and the damaging effects of medical and [in]justice systems.
SHAME SHAME, Go Away begins with the story of a series of police encounters. At age six little Jess presents a hand-written book to the police, MacCormack writes that they were “Eager to please [the cops] with my extensive knowledge.” The small book outlines details of their sexual assault and lists the names of other girls who were abused. A small green puzzle piece, which had been a gift from their abuser, was taped in the book as proof. This is written out in the first two-page spread of SHAME SHAME, Go Away in a stylized hand-written font, rotating in colour across paragraphs. Within this first spread, two floating faces look back at the reader with wide eyes framed by arched brows, their mouth is in a soft grimace as the black watercolour bleeds out to meet a rim of red. Two pools of black pigment make nostrils and thick black lines frame wide blue eyes like clumpy mascara. Fingertips bleed into grey skin and stylized black lines form deep nail beds as two hands reach in to touch the pages. Even with details of the assaults written out as proof, it was not enough to convince the Canadian [in]justice system this man was not some imaginary monster under their bed. MacCormack writes: “He got two months in jail. And when he got out, he stalked us. After a few years, everyone seemed to have forgotten I was abused at all.” He was never charged for crimes against Jess, as they were considered “too young” to know what had really happened and they might be “making things up.” It is no wonder why most people choose to not report their assaults at all.
SHAME SHAME, Go Away feels like the second iteration of MacCormack’s book that they made as a child, in the sense that they are reaching out to explain what has happened to them and to the people they care for. In presenting their personal narratives, readers are freed from the constraints of medicalized terminology and language so often associated with research around mental health, childhood trauma, and sexual assault. MacCormack tells their own story, in their own way, making space to explain, understand, and process dissociative identity disorder (DID) from the perspective of their lived experiences instead of the sweeping terms that doctors, and medical writing present such personal realities. MacCormack lists parts that make up themself in SHAME SHAME, Go Away: an outgoing teenage girl, a protective boy, an anxious six-year-old as well as other parts and fragments to explain their experience of DID to readers. MacCormack makes room for all their parts amongst drawings of human and cat faces painted in greys. On the more monochrome pages spot colour stands out, bleeding red pigment marks mouths and genitals. Blue eyes look back at the reader, the watercolours extending like outstretched fingers. “feel” is written lightly in watercolor, so is “help me.” The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has historically been harmful to queer people, women, Black people, Indigenous folks, and communities of colour, yet it remains as the de facto resource for doctors, patients, and loved ones to learn about illnesses. SHAME SHAME, Go Away becomes a tool for preventing further shame by sharing experiential knowledge through creative, affective, and personalized means, instead of universalized (isolating and stigmatizing) medical terminology.
Women, trans and non-binary bodies are not welcome within medicine. We come with too many complications, too many differences to cis men for whom these institutions are built for. Our concerns of pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion are rumours in hallways or secrets wrapped in shame. These realities have a far greater impact on Black and Indigenous folks, as well as communities of colour, within the medical systems on Turtle Island (North America) because of institutional racism. Jess details their experience of being pregnant at twenty, going through the abortion without anesthesia, and the fallouts of the first procedure. MacCormack writes “I’d realized it was a botched procedure when I started hemorrhaging at work. The manager said there was no one to cover me. I couldn’t leave.” I gag on the story with Jess as we try to understand this trauma.
SHAME SHAME, Go Away deals with many forms of trauma. Reading MacCormack’s experience resurrects stories I had buried long ago. Stories of loved ones’ sexual assault and violence I had kept in fear and paranoia. My own stories are made real again with old screenshots and lists of witnesses hidden in my computer. (I remember disclosing to a friend the next day, I was blushing in my naivety, but her face was angry and serious. It wasn’t until years later while listening to #MeToo stories I realized what had happened to me was attempted sexual assault.) These experiences are tattooed on my skin and it surprises me how invisible they are to everyone else. MacCormack knows this powerful invisibility, as they write: “I like how they dust powder on the walls and it makes the prints of his fingers appear. They should brush our bodies.” My bound copy of SHAME SHAME, Go Away is a physical reminder of these hard truths and realities people seem so eager to erase. A skull wraps around the spine of the book, one eye peers at the reader on the cover, a little horned figure dances on its head at the spine and its toothy grin stretches onto the back cover. Sitting on my bookshelf the skull looks back at me tracing invisible lines with its pages, making real what others hope to bury.
This article corresponds with the event that took place on April 25, 2021 in collaboration with the London Ontario Media Arts Association (LOMAA) “Jess MacCormack in Discussion with Rebecca Casalino.” You can grab a copy of SHAME SHAME, Go Away on Jess MacCormack’s website.
 Jess MacCormack, SHAME SHAME, Go Away, Hemlock Printers, (Vancouver: 2020).
 MacCormack, SHAME SHAME, Go Away.
 Roman Mars and Caroline Criado Perez, “Invisible Women,” 99% Invisible, Episode 365, July 23rd 2019, Last Accessed May 17th 2021, https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/invisible-women/.
 MacCormack, SHAME SHAME, Go Away.
 Even writing this here seems silly but then I walk myself through the whole night and it all becomes very serious.
 MacCormack, SHAME SHAME, Go Away.