Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How My Sexual Assault Made Me "Sex Positive"... in all the wrong ways.

{CW: Sexual Assault}
Last year, Jessica Valenti, a well-known feminist author and activist, spoke at SMU in Dallas.
And even though we disagree on a few keys things (like whether or not NWF belonged in the Women’s March) she wrote a book called ‘Sex Object’ that I absolutely adored, so I went.
Not only does she talk about the sexual harassment she experienced as a young teen simply for being born female, but she describes in her book how often women will objectify themselves because, after all, if it’s going to happen anyway, we might as well at least control some facet of our own exploitation, right?
As I read her words I realized she was telling my story.
I can remember thinking if men were going to use my body for their pleasure no matter what, I might as well pretend I was calling some of the shots.
So I did.
By 18, I’d convinced myself that hook-up culture was empowering, and that I was only being “used” if I chose to view it that way. Maybe true equality meant *I* could become the user.
I’m not sure exactly what I thought I was using, as my sexual interactions were seldom good (something on par with what an overwhelming number of women seem to be saying these days about one night stands and *their* satisfaction levels). More often than not, it was merely performance art on my part as I acted out all the tricks I’d read and rehearsed in Cosmo magazine over the years. I was a liberated, sex positive woman. This is what we did, or were supposed to, right? So who cared if the pleasure was mostly one-sided?
Look, as long as I didn’t call the guy before he didn’t call me, we were equals in my book. I was just so empowered... or something.
But the more I unpacked my own experiences and what led me to this type of mentality, the more I realized it wasn’t the full story. There was a moment - a crucial moment - when everything changed for me.
I wasn’t always like this.
There was a time when I *did* view sex as a deep intimate connection between two people who loved and respected one another. It was precious. It had value. It was a gift, not a tool used to grab power or be weaponized for control.
When I was younger, I had only had two serious boyfriends, both of whom I loved deeply.
I broke the first one’s heart, and the second one broke mine... when at 16 I told him I was pregnant and he decided not to stick around.
My life was suddenly a mess, and I became easy prey.
I’d just started working a summer job, one I felt lucky to even get because I knew I would start showing soon and was afraid no one would hire me.
The only problem was, two weeks into this new job the manager pulled me aside and told me he’d made a huge mistake. He simply didn’t have the hours available in his budget to bring me on. And since the three older boys, whom I knew from high school, had all worked there the previously, they had seniority and I was gonna be let go.
Then, just as I was about to burst into tears, he told me how when he mentioned this to the guys, all three of them offered to give up ten of their own hours each week so he could keep me on.
I was beyond grateful. I owed them all big time.
Before leaving work that day one of the boys pulled me aside and as I thanked him for what they’d all done he told me they heard around school that I was pregnant. He promised he wouldn’t tell our boss, because he said they knew I needed the money for more important stuff than they did.
My secret was out, but I trusted them to keep it safe.
Of the three guys there was one that was just a little off. He was chaos and energy, all the time. He was the one I got along with the least.
But a week or two later, he followed me home from work one day, even though I told him not to. I let him inside and he asked me where my room was. I told him he really shouldn’t be there since my parents weren’t home, but he ignored me and walked up the stairs.
My mother, with her best intentions, had always told me not to “create an environment where someone could take advantage of me.”
But here I was. I had just created it, and he was going to.
He kissed me. I let him kiss me. I owed him. He took off my shirt. I let him take off my shirt. I owed him.
He took off my pants and I tried to slow him down. At this point I felt I’d already given him enough... but he disagreed.
Tears streamed down the sides of my face as he had sex with me. I didn’t fight him though. I said “no” clearly and loudly, but I didn’t yell. No one was there to hear me anyway.
I just froze and let him finish.
These are all the tiny little details I ran over and over again in my head the following days.
These are the things that didn’t make it a rape. He just “took advantage of the situation” I told myself. A “situation” I allowed to be created the moment I let him into my house when no one was there.
In my mind, I was to blame.
Two days later, I saw him at work. I didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t want to be anywhere near him, and for the most part he left me alone until almost the end of my shift.
That’s when a man came in and I guess he was being a little too friendly because this boy came up and took over, shuffling me off to clock out.
Was he trying to make amends for what he’d done? Was this supposed to be chivalrous? Did he suddenly realize just how easy it was for him to take advantage of me and now in some sick and twisted way he was trying protecting me from another man doing the same?
As the days and weeks wore on, I gave up. I honestly never thought about reporting it because in my mind it wasn’t a rape. It just couldn’t be. My victim sash was already too full. The single teen mom badge was taking up so much space, there was no room for a rape survivor patch as well.
Over the following months my belly grew, and the awkwardness around my coworker began to fade. My mind started trying to figure out how to set all of this right; how to change the narrative, even if only retroactively.
I began to think that maybe just maybe I’d be able to kill two bird with one stone if I could somehow learn to love him, or at the very least like him. Then it wouldn’t have been rape, and I’d still only have had sex with people I cared for deeply. My record and reputation would be renewed.
So I tried. I did.
We “dated” even though he had a girlfriend the entire time. He took my to a school dance and talked to the child growing inside my womb.
We became friends.
I was never able to love him the way I’d loved my previous boyfriends, but we did form a bizarre connection.
And just like that, I wasn’t assaulted anymore. He just “took advantage of the situation” that one time, but amends had been made and we could all move on now.
Years later he was completely out of my life, and I truly felt as though I’d beat the system. I somehow managed to reverse my own victimhood.
My son was born, I graduated, and before I knew it I fell into hook-up culture hard, even though at this point, I, more than anyone, should’ve known better.
This life would never serve me well. I was too broken.
I don’t know how I didn’t end up with any diseases or subsequent pregnancies as my life became totally wheels off. But I do know that the pain I felt from that one moment broke something inside of me, and it never went away as hard as I tried to convince myself it had - it simply reverberated throughly the years in smaller destructive waves.
As a 35-year-old woman, I look back now and my heart breaks for the younger me. I was doing exactly what Valenti talked about in her book. I was hurting myself before anyone else could hurt me again - telling myself I wasn’t a victim while victimizing myself over and over, relentlessly.
It ruined sex for me for many many years because that act became nothing more than a tool. It was how I could control men, heal them, hurt them. And I used it accordingly. It was power over another person which felt better than the powerlessness I’d become so accustomed to, but it had nothing to do with their human dignity or mine.
After years of reflection, and being loved the right way I like to think those wounds have begun to heal. There’s still a scar there for sure, but they’re on the mend.
I know what good healthy sex looks like, which is why I scoff at most of the things labeled “sex positive” these days.
They are anything but.
They are exploitive and destructive. We deride men for their “toxic masculinity” and their unwillingness to connect to others and show emotion while simultaneously praising toxic femininity - this idea that women should be able to bounce from person to person, feeling nothing. Feelings, when it comes to sex, are a weakness to be avoided at all costs. There needy and desperate. We strive to be as callous and closed off as the worst men, and we call that progress.
This wasn’t meant to be a #whyididntreport story, or at least it didn’t start off as one.
My purpose for writing about what happened to me was to hopefully help other women understand just how knotted up experiences like this can be, and still are, in the heads and hearts of so many of us.
Sexual assault is hardly ever cut and dry.
It impacts us for years and years from deep within our psyche.
I’ve only recently begun to come to terms with what happened that day 19 years ago and gain any true insight. For me it took sitting on a couch, a decade after my assault, telling a friend over a glass of wine about how this boy “took advantage of the situation” and her looking me square in the face and telling me I was raped.
I was raped?
Wow... maybe I was raped.
I said it out loud and it’s like the sutures came flying off of this unhealed wound.
If we can’t admit it to ourselves, then how can we tell another person, let alone report it to anyone beyond that?
And how many of us simply try to undo it, because that’s what women do? We are problem solvers. We are fixers. We are creative and strong as hell. But sometimes our perseverance backfires and only serves to cover up that festering wound indefinitely. But until it’s opened up, and given oxygen, and cleaned out, it will continue to make us sick and eat away at our minds, bodies, and souls.
In order for us to heal we have to purge this hurt from deep within our beings. In order for us to love others and see their pain we have to be able to love ourselves. In order for us inoculate our daughters and sons against this same sickness, we have to become whole and uninfected ourselves, so that we can help them avoid these hurts... otherwise this cycle will only continue for generations and these lies will be mislabeled as “liberation”.... keeping us all sick.

(Originally posted on the New Wave Feminists FB page)