Grace Tame On Overcoming Trauma & Reconnecting With Her Body

Content warning: This article discusses child sexual abuse and disordered eating and may be distressing to some readers. 
Grace Tame isn't new to people judging her. In 2022, the former Australian of the Year infamously stood next to then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, where she gave him the side-eye — a look that since went viral. The ensuing conversation not just showed how autistic women are treated by the media, but also drew attention to how Tame herself has been co-opted as a figure, her actions moulded and ridiculed to fit whatever narrative she needed to serve — whether positive or negative.
"It was 10 seconds, and it's become this focal point when the majority of the work that I do is unseen," Tame tells Refinery29 Australia in an exclusive interview. "It's the case for the advocates, the titans of activism whose shoulders I stand on, who've been doing this for decades upon decades with little or no recognition."
Tame, who speaks to me on a video call as she sits in her kitchen wearing a hoodie with the words 'Pay Sex Workers, Charge Cops' on it, generously speaks to me for over fifty minutes. She shares how what she says or does is often taken out of context, simply by virtue of her name and positioning.
At age 15, she was groomed and raped by her 58-year-old maths teacher; however, under Tasmania's sexual assault victim gag laws, Tame couldn't legally speak about what she had endured. These laws were incredibly flawed in that the media and the perpetrator could speak.

"Their messaging was straight out of the child sex offender playbook. It was that I was a 'willing participant'."

grace tame on the reporting of her case in 2011
"What really damaged me in terms of media coverage... was the original reporting on my case in 2011," Tame says. "I live in a small town — a one-paper town — and the influence of a one-paper media outlet in a town like this is huge. Their messaging was straight out of the child sex offender playbook. It was that I was a 'willing participant'." 
In reaction to outdated gag laws and irresponsible and damaging media coverage that perpetuated horrific child sexual abuse stereotypes, Tame campaigned and pushed for legal reform and the rights of survivors of sexual abuse, eventually leading her to be thrown further into the public eye after being crowned Australian of the Year in 2021. Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in Australia that doesn't know her name.
But while Tame fought her way to become the first woman in Tasmania to be granted an official exemption, thereby allowing her to speak out and self-identify as a rape survivor, in the three years since her crowning, Tame says that she has been subjected to constant criticism. For her, some of it is unsurprising, coming from far-right publications and outlets who will chastise her for doing simple everyday activities, like riding a bus. But some of the other criticism sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.
"I've woken up and had my face on the front cover of an article that says something like 'Grace Tame is the fourth wave of feminism', and I'm like, feminism is not my focal point," she says. "It is by default. I think we should all believe in treating people fairly and treating people equitably. I think that's a no-brainer, and if you don't believe in that, well then you're a dickhead."
"I've just found it really odd being co-opted by different movements," she says. "It's a clown show. They call me names, but I don't really register for them anymore. I'm too busy doing work."
It's refreshing to hear how Tame speaks. She oscillates between dropping some of the most profound and gripping observations in one moment, before dropping incredibly funny one-liners, like referring to Sky News as a "clown show".
Tame's experiences in the media are emblematic of a much larger issue that women face when it comes to autonomy over their bodies and the power structures that reinforce patriarchal ideals.
The activist, who is due to speak at Sydney's All About Women festival in a talk labelled 'Our Bodies', tells me that she's concerned with where the rights of women's bodily autonomy sits in the world, especially in a post-Roe V Wade world. "We do import a dangerous and large volume of politics from the United States," she explains. "I'm very thankful that if we're just talking about Roe V Wade, that we haven't followed suit with where America has gone, which is backwards."
"All of us as human beings have a right to do what we want to do to our own bodies, for better or worse," she continues. "So it is a scary thought that America has set this example."
But for Tame, Roe V Wade is only one part of the puzzle, and is indicative of a wider issue that society is facing when it comes to women's rights — and that's the policing of bodies. "It depends on the specific power lens that we're looking through, whether it is financial wealth, social capital, overall health, knowledge...there will be people who are disadvantaged by virtue of systems that are in place."
Tame gives me a jarring example: in the United States of America, the number one leading cause of bankruptcy is the healthcare system. She tells me that during her six years living in the US, she didn't have healthcare because she couldn't afford it. But while it's something that many Australians don't need to grapple with, Australia still deals with its fair share of gender-based healthcare discrimination. "If you look at how much time, money, and energy has been invested in issues that specifically affect women, like endometriosis...there's this huge, huge problem."
Tame shares that she is also dealing with this, and about to undergo a laparoscopy for endometriosis herself. "It's an incredibly debilitating disease, but what effort has gone into preventing it or curing it?", she says. Tame says this is just one example of an overall systemic problem that society has with women's bodies. "That disease, and menstrual health more broadly, have a direct impact on a woman's ability to participate in life," she says. "The double standards throughout our culture are rife."
It's just one example, but for Tame, it's a symptom of the much larger issue in society when it comes to women's rights. "If we think about power being really rooted in those ideas of health, of strength, of influence, of financial wealth and access to resources, you only need to look at the systems that reward men over women and apply different standards," Tame says. "Where a man is praised for doing something, a woman is shamed for doing the same thing... it's frowned upon for a woman to have lots of sexual partners, but it's often encouraged or praised for men to have lots of sexual partners."
It's not long until we start talking about technology, particularly social media's role in reinforcing and upholding these power structures. Tame posits that social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat reward extremes, which in turn helps maintain ideas of control. "They reward division, they reward outrage, they reward sensations. That's part of their machinations," she says. "Part of the algorithmic system is to reward extremities because it gives that emotional hit — that dopamine hit."
"It skews the balance of things, but amplifies those problems that we're talking about in terms of policing bodies and control," she continues, adding that much of the work she does daily investigates the ways in which technology has made child sexual abuse more rampant and accessible.
"I can't help but think about the work that I do and what I see and what I discuss almost daily, which is the abuse of children — and the ways in which technology has allowed that to be far more accessible and normalised," Tame says. "It's disgraceful and disturbing."
Tame tells me about how when encryption messaging tools were first widely available to the public, the people who initially misused these tools were child sex offenders. "Technology creates a dangerous filter between us and reality, which really is one of the crucial elements that underpins child sexual abuse," Tame says. "Child sexual abuse is a crime against nature, and if you add in other ingredients that distance the offender from the natural, very real victim, it emboldens them because they don't have to engage in the consequences."
Tame understandably becomes extremely passionate while talking, likely because of her own personal experiences as well as the things she sees every day in her work. She calls out social media companies for doing little to prevent the abuse online, as well as openly marketing towards kids that put them in vulnerable positions. "They have known that the internet is one of the best tools of social engineering and it is one of the best ways to target and groom children," she says, steadily getting angrier and angrier as each word passes. "Tech programs and software programs will specifically advertise towards children. And it's on those same platforms that children are groomed and abused. It's a bit more than a shrug. It's more of a loud scream."

"Those programs, that software, it's really dangerous because actually much like trauma, it does have an effect on your dopamine system and your reward pathways."

grace tame, on social media
When it comes to social media, Tame also limits how she uses the apps in her day-to-day life for the sake of her mental health. While she admits that it's hard as much of her job necessitates an engagement on those platforms, she tries to be mindful of her usage. "Those programs, that software, it's really dangerous because actually much like trauma, it does have an effect on your dopamine system and your reward pathways," Tame explains. "The way it's set up in that rapid-fire instant gratifications, the mechanics of it do have a direct impact on your brain's functioning and your attention."
"But you can replace that artificial dopamine hit with something positive," she continues. "Running is a great example."
Tame has transformed her trauma into activism. But despite using her voice every day to advocate for others, the 29-year-old still grapples with the ongoing effects of prolonged sexual abuse in childhood. “The ways that those experiences have affected me have been vast,” Tame explains. “But in the early stages, especially of processing those experiences… I retreated into myself and pulled back from all the things that I love to do. I was really sifting through any coping mechanism that I could find to dull the pain and escape reality.”
Alongside her trauma, Tame has battled with several prolonged anorexic episodes. She says that her disease was amplified by “external unnatural forces that we all have to navigate in this world”, but for Tame, her experience with an eating disorder was directly correlated to her history of abuse. “My experience of anorexia overlaps with the experience that I had at my high school, where I was sexually abused,” she explains. "It was actually weaponised by the perpetrator to dehumanise, to control, and to keep me in a state of very low self-esteem so that he had an added advantage.”
“It’s really difficult when that sort of thing is integrated into your psyche as a child when you haven’t finished your development. Those cycles are really hard to break and the imprint is just different,” she says. “That’s why I really lament social media. And I left Twitter for that reason. I think it's very unhealthy, how big a part of life it is.”

"After years of physical dissociation and not being able to identify specifically the regions where I felt pain... I remember being able to feel specific pain locations again through yoga."

grace tame, on how yoga has helped her work through her trauma
Reconnecting with her body has become a form of therapy for Tame. For the survivor, one of the things that has brought her the most joy has been rediscovering her love for running and yoga, which she says has allowed her to dive back into the things she loved doing as a kid. But even more, the physicality of exercise has allowed her brain to heal itself through discomfort.
While she initially retreated into using substance abuse as a coping mechanism for her trauma, yoga soon became her replacement in helping her work through what happened to her. “To this day, I’m still compartmentalising,” she explains.
“I started doing yoga at a studio down the street, and I distinctly remember that after years of physical dissociation and not being able to identify specifically the regions where I felt pain — which is interestingly, a very common autistic symptom," she muses. "But it’s also a very common response to sexual trauma, violent sexual trauma. I remember being able to feel specific pain locations again through yoga."
Tame has since gone on to become a qualified yoga teacher.
Tame also says that running was an exercise in rediscovering what she loved as a kid. Tame tells me that as a child, she was a natural long-distance runner, often placing in cross country at school without much training. However, in the aftermath of her abuse, she no longer ran, a symptom of her struggle to create a functioning, healthy routine. At 23, she began to reconnect with the activity she once loved so much. "It helps you regulate, especially when you’ve experienced dysfunction and destabilisation," she explains.
“There’s something really unique about the feeling of long-distance running that aligns with who I am as a person,” she beams. “In many ways, long-distance running replicates the challenge, the beauty, and all the other aspects of life."
For Grace, reconnecting with her body has become a form of therapy to overcome what happened to her body.
Grace Tame is a survivor. But she doesn't want that to be what defines her. "It's quite a bizarre phenomenon to me that a survivor would be seen as anything besides a human being," she says. "We all have a complex identity that is made up of lots of different things... we're all a composite of different experiences, different relationships, different beliefs that we hold."
For Grace Tame, a large part of her advocacy lies in her shouting that she isn't just a survivor. Yes, Tame is a former Australian of the Year. Yes, she's an activist for survivors of sexual assault. But she's also funny and witty. She's also an artist. She's someone who wears cool shirts. She's a runner. A yoga instructor. Someone who dislikes social media. "It's showing people all the other things that I engage in, because that's the proof point that we're all not just defined by many different things, but we're all capable of doing different things."
Grace Tame will appear at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday 10 March as part of the All About Women festival, featuring in Our Bodies, in person and via livestream.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service. 
If you or anyone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). Support is available 24/7.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with disordered eating, please contact the Butterfly Foundation at 1800 33 4673. Support and information are available 7 days a week.
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