August 29, 2012

My Phoenix

I published my rape story publicly for the first time about a week ago.  My mind and my emotions have been in a state of constant agitation ever since.  I can honestly say this is the first time in my life that I've really been profoundly transformed by a single event.

For all the graduations, marriages, divorces and children that I've had in my 32 years, never before has a distinct occasion made me feel like an entirely different person like 'Thank you, Todd Akin' has.

I feel like a writer now.  I feel like I know myself.  I feel like I own myself.  I feel like what I have to say is worth hearing, and that people in the world can benefit from not just hearing my experiences, but from hearing ME say them, and hearing MY interpretation of the world.

Writing it was excruciating.  My other half was in the office with me as I wrote. I was alternately sobbing, paralyzed, furious, screaming and numb, and he was mostly just stunned.  He was trying to do his own day job, while trying to decide if he should be calling my therapist or an exorcist.  (Side note:  I'm sorry for putting you through that, love... thank you for standing by me, and letting me work through it!)  After the agony of expunging my experience with the express purpose of publishing it, I actually clicked that "Post" button.  Then came the waiting.  What would the response be?

My closest friend in the world immediately responded in kind, sharing her own "imperfect victim" rape story.  Then after an hour, my brother's girlfriend responded with an amazingly tepid comment.
 "Indeed, a very controversial subject." 
 It was a timely reminder that I'm not always going to get resounding sympathy.  It was a reminder that some people still will excuse Dog's transgressions because I took risks, continuing to blame me for what happened.  Some people are still committed to the societal narrative that puts the onus of preventing rape on the victims, and believe that any woman who doesn't put up a fight to the death gives up the right to call it rape.  I haven't spoken to her since my posting, so I haven't been able to determine any more context for her response.  I care for her a lot, so I give her the benefit of the doubt that she's not in that category.  However, the ambiguity of her response reminds me that there are people who may not be so ambiguous in telling me that it was my fault after all, and I need to have emotional armor prepared for them.

The next response I got was exactly the kind of comment I was hoping for, exactly what I needed to hear.  A man I haven't spoken to since high school (though I might have briefly exchanged pleasantries either at our reunion or just enough that we're Facebook friends...) responded thusly:
 "I hope this helps others and changes minds as well. so much more to express but words escape me."  
I feel like if I made some impact on someone who doesn't listen to my screeds on a regular basis... then making my pain & my imperfect victimhood vulnerable to public scrutiny was worth it.

As the week has progressed, I added my story here on my blog, and linked to it in the comments on Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson's Freethought Blog.  I also posted it on the Facebook wall for Brute Reason, and she invited me to include it as a guest post on her actual blog.  While there has not been much extended dialogue or conversation started, I've watched my page views climb.  As of noon-ish on Sunday, August 26, my blog stands at 120 views.  From a single link on a single blog, my story has been viewed 120 times.  That feels analogous to saying "120 people saw me stark naked today." It's strangely not a frightening or vulnerable feeling.  Exposed, maybe, but it's like there's nothing for me to fear.

But what was most moving about this whole experience was the anonymous reader who sent me her own story, and asked to share it on my blog as well.  (It's a bit long, so I'm still in the process of getting it into something blog-able, but it will be shared at some point in some form, as per her request).

That my story could inspire another woman to stand up and tell her story - that's stirring to say the least. 

Through this past week, I have been shown that not only do people actually care about the story I have to tell, they appreciate the way I tell it.  I've gotten validation from completely unbiased (e.g. not my friends and family just being nice to me) sources that I do know how to construct a narrative, and I can write compelling and interesting essays that both inform and persuade.  Many years ago, I wrote in a journal that I was very jealous of artists who felt compelled to create their art, whether it be of visual or verbal variety, and then felt compelled to SHARE it as well.  I lamented that as much as I loved to put my words in journals, the idea of putting my little word babies out into the cold, harsh word to be subject to the criticisms of the public was too terrifying.  Writing my experience of delegitimization has finally shown me that I can, in fact, share my words with the world.  I am a writer, I have things to say that are worth being said, and I can say them in a way that no one else can.

So again, Thank you Todd Akin.  You stirred up old pain that I thought I had long ago worked through.  But from those bitter dark ashes arises my phoenix.

August 21, 2012

Thank you, Todd Akin

I can't keep quiet any more.  Thank you, Todd Akin.

And less sarcastically, for inspiring me to finally write my first public piece, thank you Eve Ensler, quoted from her response to Representative Akin here:
You used the expression "legitimate" rape as if to imply there were such a thing as "illegitimate" rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape.

I, like many of the women I know (and many of the women YOU know, whether you know it or not), am a survivor of rape.  I am a survivor of several rapes.  It is not an easy thing to say, to any one at any time, let alone to try and say it to the entirety of your facebook community, where this post originated.  But here's my story. (For those of you who avoid such things, trigger warning & naughty language ahead)

I was 25.  I was out with a friend. We'll call her B.  She was something of a Bad Idea Bear... the little devil on my shoulder that would convince me to do things that my little angel knew I'd regret in the morning.  Clearly, my choices were my own, but she definitely helped me make them.

I was in the midst of a rough divorce, and she was determined to help me regain my self-esteem and confidence with men.  We were at a bar, both flirting with the bartender, hereafter known as Dog.

Dog is graciously providing us with deeply discounted drinks, and I'm enjoying the attention. B is cheering me on. Dog's shift is over, and he convinces a now rather unsober me-and-B duo to join him at this great piano bar. Off we go, staggering away in his car. (Are you keeping count of how many mistakes I've made yet, and how this is all terribly my fault, and I brought it all on myself?  Exactly... keep counting, there's more coming...)  At the piano bar, I don't remember much, except that it was such a classy joint, they only served beer and wine, and I don't drink beer.  Dog insisted on choosing a great red wine for me, despite my assertion that red wines give me migraines, but not wanting to be rude, I acquiesced.  When the piano bar closed down, Dog convinced B & I to head to his place to keep the party going.  I vaguely remember staggering into a cab, and feeling utter shame at what the patrons and the staff must think of me, and I think I caught a look of sympathy from either a doorman or another bartender who caught me once as I tripped.

We get to Dog's place, and I'm in the head lolling stage of my drunk.  B & Dog are still conversing amiably (in retrospect, I believe they were probably both functional alcoholics).  At one point, I remember thinking how smoooth I was, because I was able to hide the fact that I was vomiting by just swallowing.  Anyone else who's had that thought knows - you actually haven't been smooth.  B helped me to the bathroom to clean me up.  (I was still cleaning pink stains out of the stitching on my leather coat weeks wine, remember?).

After that embarrassment cleared, Dog guided us into his bedroom.  All 3 of us laying on the bed just drunkenly talking and being... drunk.  At some point kissing started, in which B was involved.  When Dog started getting more aggressive, she stands up and says "Nope, I don't want any part of that." and walks out of the room.

(the bitch fucking left me there - after he had shown that he was sexually aggressive and didn't give a fuck about consent.  she fucking left me alone with him)

I remember telling him I didn't mind making out and stuff, but I didn't want sex. I said no. I was drunk, I wasn't in complete control of myself. I put myself in really compromising situations with untrustworthy people. I fucking said no. Did I stab him?  Did I push him off?  Did I scream and yell and cry? Or did I just lay there, and wait for him to be done with me, since clearly he didn't care about my opinion anyway?  Roll over, go to sleep, and do the walk of shame in the morning.  One more notch in the slut shame hall of fame.

A few days later, I was talking to B about our random drunken escapades and drunken regrets.  I told her "Yeah, so that night with Dog?  Not that I'm going to press charges or anything, but it really could be construed as rape.  I did tell him I didn't want to have sex... he just pushed right on anyway."

Did I mention that B is a rape survivor herself?  But hers was "legitimate."  Home invasion, serial rapist.  Nation wide coverage.  Big trial, conviction, the whole bit.

I stepped in a land mine.  "HOW DARE YOU COMPARE WHAT I WENT THROUGH TO A DRUNKEN ONE NIGHT STAND REGRET?!?!"  She immediately regaled me with full details of what happened to her.  Admittedly, it was horrific.  But suddenly, because she had suffered horrendously, I wasn't allowed bodily autonomy.

It wasn't until about a year ago that I could admit to myself that I had been raped at all without qualifying it with "could be construed as" (I muttered the magical word NO!, but it was still my fault).  I am an imperfect victim, I am quite sure many will say I brought it on myself (when I told my own mother, her response was "Hopefully with time, you can forgive yourself.").  But at the end of the day, whether I put myself in a risky position or not, a man felt entitled to use my body in a way I did not consent to. When I confided in a friend, I was promptly told that my experience of violation was ILLEGITIMATE. 

You want to know how to make a person who already feels worthless feel any smaller?  Just let her know that the abuse of her person isn't worth being concerned about.

I've talked to my friends a lot lately.  You know that statistic about 1 in 4 women have been raped or molested?  It's bullshit.  It's more like 3.5/4.  Chances are, your wife, your mother, your sister, your friends, your daughters - at least some of them have been sexually assaulted.  They just don't tell you because it's shameful.  They don't tell you, because they don't want you to tell them that it was their fucking fault.  They don't tell you because women aren't allowed to know what violation of their own bodies feels like.  But we know.  And if we trust you enough, some day we'll tell you.  And when enough of us speak up about how much we've been hurt, hopefully you'll stop passing laws that hurt us.