This post is kind of a tough one. And it ventures in to the world of (my world of) sex, so family you can stop reading right here if that is aaawwwwkwwwaaarrdddddddd Mooommmmm. Or do read– it’s your life! My tone writing is intentionally light– not at all to downplay the gravity of it but because I have come to terms with this incident and I don’t want this to be too heavy of a read but rather an enlightening and empowering one.
Before we ever come into the world– back when we are all still just thoughts and dreams and maybe-one-days– all the little souls are lined up in the universe waiting their turn for a body: a boy or a girl or an animal or a tree. Some of the souls have been through this a thousand times and some of them are new to it all. But I don’t think anyone is there coaching them, telling them, “Hey if you pick a tree you won’t get to move but you’ll be tall and strong and provide shade and life.” Or, “Lions are fun because you’re fast and powerful and you’re king of the jungle.” I don’t think anyone is there to tell all the souls that if you pick a girl body over a boy body, you are probably going to have a tougher go; people will tell you how you should look and what you should eat and how you should dress. They will tell you that you are the weaker sex and instead of hunting and building, you will be expected to marry, bear children, and be nice. Nobody tells the free souls that if you become a girl you will walk around the earth with a constant tiny voice telling you at all times that you are not all the way safe and you need to keep a lookout for intruders. Nobody tells you that every day your worth may be whittled down to how fuck-able you look walking to the grocery store. No one is there to tell all the souls in line that if you become a girl in the world, your body may never completely be your own unless you are strong enough to claim it.
I hate the R word and I don’t intend for that to be the focus or climax of this post so I am just going to say it now and then let the rest of the story pan out and not worry about having to try to fit it in at the right moment:
I was raped when I was 18.
Everybody good? Ok, now the story.
I had stayed a virgin until relatively late into my high school years– in a small southern town at a boarding school, many of my peers had already had sex by the time we were seniors. I never really dated anyone in high school and I had planned to “hold off” on sex until I had a boyfriend. Don’t get me wrong– I did other stuff with boys in my teens, but I hadn’t yet let anybody tap the vajine. That was my holdout, and it was rather a point of pride for me at the time. I wasn’t like a goodie two shoes, but I was being picky; I wanted to be in a good relationship before I had sex for the first time.
Well so that plan didn’t work out how I wanted it to.
The following are the facts. For a very long time, I built up a little story in my head to justify and feel better about what happened, and I’ll get to that later. Here is just what happened, in the order that it happened:
-March 2005 I go to Nashville to watch a basketball game.
-Leaving the game a man approaches me, compliments me, and asks for my phone number. I gave it to him.
-For a couple weeks we text back and forth, learn a bit about each other.
-I agreed to meet him in Atlanta for a date a month or two later.
-Most of the night we drove around the city drinking vodka straight out of the bottle.
-I was blackout drunk by the time he brought me back to my hotel. Instead of just dropping me off, he came into my room with me.
-I don’t remember much except saying, “I’ve never done this before” and him saying something like “no way” or “I don’t believe you.”
-I woke up with a bunch of bruises and cuts everywhere, even on my face.
-He left and I went back to Tennessee.
Not fun to read, not fun to write. Just life, it’s okay.
I did not tell anyone what happened immediately, or for over two years. There were various reasons for this, and I don’t see much sense in positing why rape victims often do not report these incidents– I think we each have complex personal reasons. But at some point in my therapy with Dr. J in Washington, DC, the topic of my first sexual experience came up. I don’t remember what particular line of therapeutic dialogue or cognitive behavior exercise brought us to that subject but I had never talked about it to anyone in a totally truthful way. When I told my friends I had had sex for the first time, I always acted like it was something I had planned out and wanted to happen. Even when I told Dr. J the story, I remember saying it kind of cautiously and feeling unsure of how truthful to be. There were the facts of what happened and then there was the story I had built up in my brain– some type of protective mechanism. I told myself I had loved the guy, it couldn’t have been rape. We knew each other’s names! Only strangers count as rape…? It was time for me to have sex anyway, right? I shouldn’t have let him get me drunk…. It was my own fault so I should just own it.
Ugh. The shit we put in womens’ brains.
And that’s kind of the thing. TO THIS DAY, right NOW, when I read that list of events, I say TO MYSELF, “Ally, you shouldn’t have given him your number. Ally. You shouldn’t have gone to Atlanta to meet this guy. Ally you shouldn’t have gotten drunk…”
WRONG, Ally. The guy shouldn’t have fucked you without making sure you were cool with it, or even coherent enough to be cool with it. Period. That’s still something I have to get used to acknowledging. AND THAT’S CRAZY.
Today I can reason that those thought processes are part of the guilt and shame that come along with rape, and for a long time I had fallen into victim-blaming myself. I did it for over two years, and my sexual and interpersonal relationships within that period of silence were completely wrecked. I was promiscuous and I hated myself, and I wasn’t exactly sure why. Naming it that day with Dr. J was both a blessing and a curse. To acknowledge a truth– to own it– meant both a release and also the acceptance of a lifelong… condition? Status? Identifier? Tag? I don’t know what to call it, but I know that it is a one of many defining adjectives that shape my self-image to this day: I am a victim of rape on the one hand, I am a survivor of rape on the other. They both equally play into my current ongoing relationships and mentality about men and sex and my body.
That right there (my relationships with men) in and of itself has been a years-long process of re-learning and re-framing. And it is far from over. As I was silent about this occurrence for so long, I developed a really fucked up, unattached attitude about men and love and sex. For a very, very long time, sex was not even really enjoyable for me– it was just something I did because you’re supposed to have sex with people you date (what?). I would go through phases of feeling better about it, but generally my sexual relations into my early twenties (and sometimes beyond, if I’m honest) were hampered by my own mental and emotional roadblocks; I was never really present or comfortable in intimate situations. I would just kind of zone out. I tend to assume that men will always hurt me somehow and therefore I can’t really be in the vulnerable state that is required of healthy, trusting relationships and sex. There’ve been a few guys I let myself really care about and fall for, but to this day I haven’t had a long-term successful romantic relationship, and at this point the only constant factor in that is me myself. I don’t say that in a negative way, but rather to say that I know I am still not there yet. I’m close!! I have gotten better at dating, but I can’t say that I have ever let myself feel completely safe intimately with a man, and I that’s kind of sad for me to acknowledge as a 27 year old woman. That I still deal with the ripples of something that happened nearly ten years ago is hard to admit. But again, progress is a process and it’s steady.
While drafting this post and trying to find something meaningful to get across, I questioned whether the relationship thing affected other rape victim-survivors and decided to look deeper into it. Part of the problem with my feelings about sex and men is that sometimes I feel like I am not in control– like I am acquiescing or just “going along with it” rather than actively choosing to be intimate. Be clear: that’s completely just an attitude in my little weird brain– nobody is forcing sex on me and no one but me is putting that pressure on myself. Powerlessness for me is a self-imposed feeling. It is simply an attitude that I can choose to not take. I am grown enough to run like a banshee from anybody that would dare actually pressure me for sex. I would run away, right after I stabbed them in the nutsack with a screwdriver and called the cops.
Anyway. The clear objective for me personally has been figuring out how to take back control. Better, how to feel in control. For me, feeling comfortable with sex means feeling like I am in charge and making decisions and maybe even feeling power. Not in an S&M kind of way… but in a way that affirms that I am the CEO– just having a poon gives me the upper hand and I make the decisions. Does that make sense? Reclaiming my poon. What the fuck am I writing right now.
As it turns out, I am not the only person in the world dealing with this– far from it (relief). There are actually some really great books, workshops, websites, and advocacy groups that work with women who experienced rape and abuse to reclaim their sexuality. Without just regurgitating those strategies, here are some dope resources if you’re interested:
If nothing else comes from this post, I want other women to know that they aren’t alone. I am a really normal girl living a normal life and it happened to me. There are a million helpful resources out there for anyone struggling with this. It’s an ongoing process and I’m sure, just like recovery from addiction and eating disorders, this is one of those things that you just keep on addressing over the course of your life as it comes up and it gets better as you get stronger and feel more empowered. The recent social media attention on rape and rape culture (thanks, Buzzfeed!) is what made me feel like this might be a story worth sharing, and I hope other women find courage to talk about their own stories. Naming it publicly, although terrifying, takes away a lot of that secrecy and shame feeling and it also lets people know how common this shit is and that it’s gotta fucking stop. The entire culture and worldview surrounding rape has gotta fucking stop. Everything from street harassment and catcalling to the double standards and “slut shaming” (WTF even IS that?!?!?) to the idea that I as a woman need to constantly be on vigil for potential incoming malicious penile penetration… walking around earth as a woman should not feel so goddamn unsafe. Don’t just teach me not to get raped– teach men not to fucking rape.
Additionally, we have to reframe the vocabulary we use with both victims and perpetrators because the language deeply affects how we as survivors see ourselves and how we as a society treat rape. I’m not some shamed dirty skanky fragile clingy crazy battered broken worthless weak man-hating fearful paranoid tainted complicated damaged sad-mad victim -woman. I am literally none of those words. I’m Ally and some terrible shit happened to me– somebody forcibly stole a part of me and entered my body without permission— but I’m working on it so if you’ll please be patient I am not good at this yet but you can ask as many questions as you like and I’ll do my best to explain why I am this way. I’m okay; it’s just another life story and I have a million more. I don’t want people that I date to assume I have three tons of emotional baggage to wade through– I don’t. I don’t want other women to think they are alone in hiding the terrible shit that men do– you’re not. I don’t want anyone feeling bad for me or looking at me like I am broken and complicated– I’m not. I’m strong as shit and you really have no goddamn idea.
I don’t think anyone is up there coaching the souls through which body to choose. I think the ones who have been through it a thousand times– the ones who know it takes a lot of extra strength and wisdom and patience to walk around as a female– are the ones who inhabit the bodies of women. The souls who have lived a hundred times before and have built up a tough layer of willpower and resilience– those are the souls of women.
It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge.
It takes a lot of courage to forgive.
It takes a lot of courage to trust people.
It takes a lot of courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
It takes a lot of courage to not allow the past to weigh on your present and future.
It takes the most courage to let love in. And that is real. You are worthy. I am worthy. Nothing that happens to you can take that away.