On January 24, 2013, I was sexually assaulted. By a close friend. While his girlfriend was sleeping downstairs.
He knew that I’m a lesbian. So he didn’t “use his penis.”
This didn’t make what he did any less horrific, however. HELLO, lesbians have sex (and enjoyable sex, at that!) without penises. And without men, for that matter. By doing things to me that I’ve enjoyed doing with women, he completely delegitimized my sexuality. And negated my bravery in being honest about who I am. Thanks for not giving me a pregnancy scare, I guess? What kind of consolation prize is that?
I was visiting him in a city more than 500 miles from home. He’d moved there for grad school after college, where we met five years ago. We were classmates and coworkers who, prior to my visit, had maintained our friendship via Skype and snail mail.
Up until that moment, I’d not understood why women don’t report or even talk about their rape experiences. It’s such a blatantly horrendous thing, and to me, seemed so cut and dry.
But before I even said a word about it to anyone (we’re talking months before the media’s bullshit victim-blamey coverage of Steubenville), I knew that I’d been changed by what had happened. I suddenly understood, while still lying there on his bed, the fear of speaking up– the fear of not being believed by our mutual friends: people who are no doubt reading this right now. (Hi, guys!)
It totally and completely fucked with my sense of trust.
Which is exactly what has kept me from writing this blog post for so long, even though silence completely goes against my instincts as both a feminist and writer.
So then I started to feel guilty for not being brave enough to speak up. Which only made me feel worse about myself. As someone who is highly critical of the patriarchy and all its bullshit, how did I not notice that I’d befriended someone who would use his power and privilege to hurt me so badly?
Look who I’m blaming for this.
When it happened, I’d been attending rehearsals for Wayne State’s production of The Vagina Monologues, of all plays. We performed exactly two weeks after I was assaulted. The whole point of what we were doing was to legitimize women’s experiences, but I was so stunned and weirded out by what had happened to me that most of my cast mates did not even know about it.
It quickly became a giant awful mental spiral of stupidity and I’m writing now because it needs to stop. It’s only been two months and I’m going fucking crazy living like this– in fear of people I consider to be my friends.
While the rest of ‘Merica is at church on Sunday mornings, I can be found parked in front of the television, laptop in hand, live tweeting the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC. (#nerdland!) Every week, MHP shares an open letter to someone– usually a politician who has fucked up somehow (the Republican governor of my home state of Michigan has been a recipient of such a note).
But last week’s letter was different. It was written to the sixteen-year-old Steubenville survivor– an “apology for being an adult who has failed to make the world safe for her.”
In it, MHP referenced her own sexual assault experience, adding that she kept quiet about it for ten years.
Ten years. I can’t even really deal with the fact that I’ve been carrying this shit around with me for two months.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that I’ve not been entirely alone in this. From the very beginning, I’ve had the support of the few people I told: my closest friends, my mom, my sister. But I quickly resolved to keep my mouth shut, because seeing how much my news upset the people I care about was almost even worse than what had happened in the first place. My two best friends (who I contacted the morning after the assault) are rape survivors themselves, and I know that they were triggered by my experience. That did not cause them to turn away from me when I needed them, and I credit them eternally for that. Both offered me money for an early flight back to Michigan (the assault happened shortly after my arrival on Thursday evening; I was scheduled to fly home three days later, on Sunday).
In the end though, I stayed through ’til the end. I don’t need to justify my decision, but since I know (from experience) that people will ask, there are a couple of reasons for this:
1) I was still processing what happened. Rape culture is so strong and so real that I had to run the experience over and over again in my mind (um, painful), trying to figure out what the hell I could have done differently to stop it. Because I believed (as I still believe) that friends wouldn’t do this sort of shit to each other.
2) I was alone in an unfamiliar city. In order to get myself to the airport, I’d have to sneak out in the middle of the night, and navigate public transit. I was fucking exhausted, for one. And, as a small-boned woman, I’m already wary of walking around by myself after dark (shout out to patriarchy and rape culture for that). And what I’d just been through had certainly reinforced it. Plus, if my plan went awry, I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. This is, ultimately, why I didn’t make too much of a fuss for the rest of my visit. I was pretty cold toward my assailant– not speaking unless prompted, not paying for anything. But I kept it civil for my own safety. How would his girlfriend react if I told her what had happened? Would she believe me and help me? Or not? Given my fear of admitting this to myself, or telling any of our mutual friends about it, I leaned toward the latter, and stuck it out, relying on text messages from close friends for comfort.
When I finally found a moment alone, I called one of my best friends (who I mentioned above). We’d been texting back and forth all day. She had done everything in her power to help me, including giving me her phone number at work because her cell phone was about to die. She, like everyone else I knew, was hundreds of miles away– in Chicago.
It helped so much to hear her voice. She let me cry, and reassured me that it hadn’t been my fault. “You’re really sweet,” she said. “Almost to the point of being passive. That’s why we make such a good pair. You keep me from being too much of an asshole, and I make you stand up for yourself sometimes. The thing is, if he was such a good friend–and come on, you’ve known each other for years–then he knew that about you, and took advantage of you. End of story.”
He did, for the record, eventually apologize. But only when he realized that his ass was on the line. I got a series of texts from him after he noticed that I had deleted him on facebook. I received an email from him a few weeks later, when he read a blog post of mine in which I mentioned that I’d recently been through something traumatic. He knew that I’d been referring to what happened when I visited him. Which means he knew long before I left that he should have maybe tried to talk to me about it, or just not done it in the first place.
He wasn’t concerned about me. He was (and probably still is) just worried that I’d tell on him. Which, of all stupid things, only made me even more terrified of speaking up.
But I’m ready to talk now, even if it’s only to ease my own guilt over not speaking up loudly and immediately. (See what I mean? This whole thing has completely, completely fucked with every part of me– my body, my personality, my intentions.) I barely recognize myself some days, which makes it really hard to advocate for myself.
One of the hardest parts about this, and why I’m writing about it now, specifically, is that I’m officially past the “acceptable time frame” for being totally unable to handle my shit. It’s been two months. I’m expected to get out of bed in the morning, go to class, and be cheerful / playful around the one-year-old I babysit on Tuesdays. And some days, that’s what I want to do– not because I’m okay, but because I’m tired and want to just forget.
But I can’t forget. And won’t forget. Because that would be letting him win.
Also, being raped makes you more aware than ever of rape culture. I need to speak up about this because the longer I keep my mouth shut, the longer people will keep saying stupid shit about rape. Even people who mean well have said some really offensive things to me. One friend, for example, had the nerve to ask me why I’d been traveling alone.
I got on an airplane all by myself because I’m a grown-ass woman who can do what I want.
And so, this is what I want: To live in a world where I can feel safe.
What I’m doing here–just writing about it on my personal blog with a very limited readership–is quite simple.
But so, I think, is my request for safety.