Sorry, kids; it’s been a rough weekend, and blogging just wasn’t an option. M and I never made it to Progressive Prom – I bound so tightly that I couldn’t breathe, and fell down twice, and was in such a sad state of femme crisis once I had to go back to being girl-bodied again that staying in just seemed a better option. Which worked out all right, since the party apparently sucked and there was a fair chance of drama that came with attendance. And then some other bad things happened, and I couldn’t sleep at all last night, and god, it’s been a time. But I’m back to blogging now, and promise to make up for my absence, stat.
Before I say another thing, though, let me put this out there: this post addresses rape, and could be triggering. If you have to skip this one, I totally understand, and my heart goes out to you. Truly.
M and I watched Thelma and Louise tonight, which got me emotional in ways I hadn’t counted on. Luckily, we started just around the scene where Brad Pitt shows up, looking all baby-faced and beautiful, so I missed the rape attempt at the beginning, but just seeing the rest of the movie made that scene fresh in my mind all over again. Susan Sarandon, looking ridiculously tough in her mommy jeans, holding a gun on the man who’s trying to get at Geena Davis, and that line: "Just for the future, when a woman's crying like that, she's not having any fun." Was that the first exposure I had to rape? Was it the vague passage in my mother’s dusty copy of A Woman’s Body, which I sneaked downstairs to read at every opportunity? All I know is it happened early, before I could really process it; I can remember having rape nightmares before I can remember seeing anything that suggested sex could be enjoyable or healthy. Seven therapists have suggested that I was molested as a child, that I’ve got repressed memories acting on me, and while I’m pretty positive I’d remember something like that, it’s not something I could ever know.
What I do remember is the way I began so early on to check behind the shower curtain before using the bathroom, to hold my breath while I changed clothes, to be wary anytime I was exposed, however private the setting. I remember having dreams of men my father’s age holding me down, and how relieved I felt when, one night, Wonder Woman showed up in my dreams and defended me from these bad guys. It only got worse when my earliest experiences with boys tended to test my gag reflex as much as they did my nerves. By the time I was eleven, I had several distinct, recurring rape nightmares to be frightened by. And as I grew up and saw so many of my friends being violated by guys who never deserved them, the dreams took on a more realistic tone. Perhaps the saddest thing was finding out that my grandmother was conceived during her mother’s rape, that the circumstances of her birth are so twisted and hush-hush that I may never really learn what happened. Without rape – this specific act of rape, at least – I wouldn’t exist, not as myself. It’s strange how the notion of rape, just the waking threat of it, shaped so much of me before I was actually raped. In a way, I was always waiting for it to happen. There was no reason to believe that I might be one of the lucky ones, not when all the statistics were so damning. Maybe this is why I blamed myself.
But the thing no movie, family history, or anatomy text ever taught me was that rape is not so black and white; that nothing is. Defining sex itself is complicated, particularly when you’re a lesbian. If I got some sort of kickback every time someone asked me what, exactly, two women do together, I could single-handedly fund RAINN’s hotline, no joke. No one’s sure whether penetration is requisite, if oral sex is the lesbian equivalent to the missionary position, whether any given act falls under the sub-category of “foreplay.” It’s difficult, too, to tell when sex officially starts, and how it ends. Two girls together can come dozens of times in one session, so keeping an accurate tally is a slippery business. And if all these things are left undefined, it’s not all that surprising that consent is rarely explicit for most people, most of the time. So do I count those thirty-odd times that I began by saying no and eventually ceased arguing? Or only the two when I raised my voice, when he had to hold me down? If I don’t say no, is that an automatic yes? And if I do say no, but eventually stop protesting because I’m being ignored (or because his ego is bruised, or because I was sleeping naked and that’s sort of like an invitation, right?) – does that pass for consent, somehow?
When I came home early and friends asked what happened, I told them, “He couldn’t take no for an answer.” I didn’t use the word “rape” for weeks, not until my mother asked why I hadn’t been sleeping, why I’d been so high-strung since coming home. I thought the force of the word would cause something to crystallize; I thought it might make a case for all of my messiness. But people just ask questions, and after a while, the things they wonder over begin to depress me. Did he make me bleed? Did I really say no the whole time, did I put up a real struggle? Did he come? Did I? Like I can recall any aspect of it without feeling flooded, without coming up short of breath and shifty-eyed, without making a break for the nearest bathroom or empty classroom where I can take a Klonapin and practice what my therapist taught me. Like it’s a story I’d ever tell anyone if lives didn’t literally depend upon these stories being spoken by someone.
I didn’t report him. At the time, I was just anxious to get home, to throw myself into something with somebody who understood the word “no,” to be something more than the scared little girl I felt like after he’d finished with me. By the time I brought myself to be really angry with him, we had stopped speaking entirely. Now, I check his MySpace every so often, half-hoping to see that he’s been run over by a double-decker bus or that he’s had his heart broken. Last week, he changed his status; he’s in a relationship now, and it kills me that I can’t find out who the girl is, that I can’t warn her. I’m scared that he’ll do it again, and it will be my fault for letting him get away with it. I’m angry as hell that I’m left here, still picking up pieces, when he’s so entirely undamaged by all that happened. I’m afraid that he’ll come find me on a whim sometime; he’s impulsive that way, and I can’t be too paranoid, these days. I hate that I gave so much of myself to someone who was not to be trusted.
Something happened in that twelve minutes, something in me shattered and stayed broken, and now I look at my life in terms of Before Him and After Him. I’ve come to define myself by one of my worst moments, and he doesn’t have to deal with the fallout at all, and it’s fucking unfair. But really, the worst thing is that it didn’t start with him, that I had this terror in me all along, and I may never know where it came from. Is it something all women carry with them, something we hold silently and steadily, instinctively, like car keys spiking from between my knuckles when I walk alone at night? Where do we learn this fear, and how do we come to carry it uncontested? These aren’t rhetorical questions; all I have to go by is my own experience, and I honestly want answers, or testimony, or even just to hear my frustration echoed by anyone else. I’m just sick of all this silence, and sick from it, too. I'm ready to talk, and I'm ready to listen. I'm ready to get past this part, because it's gone on far too long already, because I've got to keep finding my way forward. How do you guys do it?