Complacent is not the word for how I feel toward the rape culture in which I live; but I feel like when I express my opinion about events in my life, my attitude may be viewed as such. I was reprimanded by a favorite last night and was asked to stop talking. I wasn’t finished talking. I wanted to delve into why it was an uncomfortable conversation. It certainly wasn’t a revelation that these things occurred in my life. I didn’t think there was anything my friend was hiding. And then the words were said, “Just because it regularly happens, doesn’t make it right.” I used the word normal. I’m big on mot using the word normal and try to use the word regular. And when offense was taken to the word normal; I realized I meant regular, because it should not be normalized.
I am wrong. I wish I could express the jumble of apology with as much depth as I feel to this friend. It wasn’t very nice of me to persist when I was asked to stop.
And so I have been unraveling the feelings and memories I have. I shared at least four times in the few minutes we spoke of physical or sexual violation using the word ‘first’ in each story. And then this morning, I realize my words weren’t true. There was a time before that I recall and a time before that. It’s just a piece of who I am. Some of it is what gives me the strength to walk around. And some of it is what gives me the fear to - yes, walk around.
This is where it’s going to get detailed and personal and probably a little political. Unlike sitting at the bar and asking me to be quiet while I persist, you can shut off now and stop drawing in my words.
Upon reflection, I don’t know if any of these are ‘first times’ but I’m going to try to make this a linear cohesive expression of what I’m thinking. In eighth grade, I sat on the bleachers in gym class with shorts that were probably too short and too tight. From under the bleachers, someone in my class touched the skin on my thigh and when I was startled, I shifted in my seat, enough to allow a finger to be inserted into my vagina. Eighth grade. I just noticed I wrote the word allow. And I’m going to leave it there in that sentence. But I didn’t request it, nor did I allow it. My cheeks flushed and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. I knew who was under the bleachers and by the end of the day, I knew which of the two penetrated me without consent. I had to look at them in school that day and every day after for years. I spoke with him on the phone outside of school. I never confronted him about his finger. I never told anyone I was in school with about it. Three people, to my knowledge, knew it happened. Me, and the two under the bleachers. It was never addressed.
In eleventh grade, someone who sat behind me touched my hair. I sat in history class knowing the person behind me would sit for the forty five minute class and touch my hair. He sat behind me in other classes, but the only class I noticed he touched my hair was history class. I was afraid of him. I’m not sure why. He made me feel ooky when he looked at me and when he asked me for my phone number, I was strong enough to decline. I was the weird girl in the back. It would seem like I would welcome any attention I could get, right? I didn’t want to feel ooky. It occurs to me now that I did not consent to this hair touching. I also did not consent to him cornering me near my locker, or following me home. Other than the hair touching, there was no physical contact, but I was intimidated. I was frightened.
At the same time, I had a friend who made a false rape claim. The situation was bizarre and this was the tipping point to alleviate myself from her friendship. She had been lying to people with whom we worked about dating someone because she disliked being single. (Eleventh grade) There was no boy. Of course those with whom we worked wanted to meet (the non-existent) boy. She had to break up with him. But why? She claimed he raped her. And her story convinced all of us. She called me crying and short of breath. And when I realized she was talking about the boy she made up, I was worried that she lost her grip on reality. Understanding she lied to cover a lie and took it to a crazy dark place was not something I could handle. I abandoned our friendship and did not try to make sense out of it. We had friends who had been molested by family members and were witness to boyfriends and girlfriends treating each other poorly already. Middle school and high school. Who was she lying to? Who was she lying for?
I was in high school and a stupid thing we did was pick up the pay phone when it rang at the mall and give people our phone number. Girlfriend who lied about her boyfriend wanted me to have my own. She gave a caller my number. He called and I was curious where it would lead so I talked to him. Until he sat across the street from my house and watched me. That was terrifying. My father was a police officer and I felt like if I told him about this person, I would get in trouble for being stupid. And trouble in our house didn’t mean being grounded. It meant physical and emotional pain. It was easier to deal with this alone. After all I was almost an adult. He became more aggressive, calling with sexual requests and masturbating while I was on the phone. If I hung up, he called back. It was a time of house phones. It was easier to take the call than explain to my mother that I didn’t want to talk to someone. When he knocked on the door when I was home alone and walked into my house and pulled me onto his tense lap in a chair I had to look at every day, I let him. I didn’t want a fight in my house. He left minutes later. I can’t remember what stopped that situation. I think I moved out of my parents house soon after.
The first time I was actually raped, I was at a party. Or I was under a party. Someone at the party told me he would take me home because I was in no condition to be around people. And to this day, I preface the tale with, it was my fault, and then I hate myself for post-consenting to the violence. I was led down to a mattress in a stone basement and penetrated in both vagina and mouth by what I remember to be four people. I was held down, but wasn’t fighting. I just wanted to be sleeping in a safe place. I remember thinking, I’ll just get through this and then I’ll get to go home. But I blacked out. Shut down. My mind didn’t want to be there and powered off. I woke up bloodied and bruised and alone. Walking through the house to leave, one of the faces told me I should come around more often and I did everything I could to hold myself together until I was in the shower at school so that no one could see the tears stream down my face. I was in college. I just turned eighteen. I saw the boy who said he would take me home later at a bar/club we frequented to dance. I watched him dance with a statue and have a good time. My body was frozen and my eyes could not leave him alone. The friend I was with questioned me and when I pointed out that I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings I had thought I forgotten, he got into a physical fight with the rapist while I stayed frozen on a bar stool. I don’t know how I got home that night. I saw the rapist a few times after and each time I kind of black out while I was around him.
Then I lived with a brutality I’m not prepared to share right now. I’ve worked with people who have assaulted or intimidated me physically and sexually. I’m also coming to terms with the fact I probably have post traumatic stress disorder.
The friend I was out with last night reminds me that my life is terrible all the time. It makes me smile. Not that I’ve gone through it. But that I’m still alive. There’s a sense of pride figuring out the survival mechanisms to breathe. And when I can’t figure it out, my brain just powers down so my body can work out the necessities without being paralyzed by something as stupid as fear.
I know this is a long way to get to the political climate of the day, which precipitated the discussion last night.
Last night, I watched Caberet for the first time ever. I say I don’t like musicals. I think I may really like musicals. But that introspection is neither here nor there right now. (actually, I’m going to explore this on the writing in a row house page in a bit.) Caberet, for those who don’t know, has a gradual progression into intimidation with a backdrop of sexy naughty girls and boys. Traditional gender roles were questioned, words were key for innuendo, and in this production, there was a blatant parallel between events leading to the Nazi rise to power and the Trumpian world I currently reside.
A movie mogul is accused of rape and sexual misconduct. Our President treats women with disgusting depravity. One has been ousted from his position, while the other remains…..
I’m not surprised by the casting couch revelations. It all seems regular to me. I was in a pool when I was in second grade and the older boys in the neighborhood pulled my swimsuit away from my body. One of them commented about the pubic hair he could see through the yellow spandex. As an adult I hear family members and friends talk about their girls enticing boys. It’s all a game of sex. Everything seems to be sexualized. And in my world, that comes without consent.
So, I’m spending a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking on the matter. And trying to sort it through with one of my favorites didn’t turn out to be productive.
I had lunch or brunch or some kind of food with an old friend who told me that one of the best things they remember about when we first met was that I said they had a nice neck. I was behind someone and felt it was appropriate to say, ‘your neck is beautiful’. I remember the neck. And I think now to when my hair was being touched. It was around the same time in my life. Was I the intimidating jerk sitting behind someone in class giving unwanted advances?
There’s countless stories like that I’ve recalled over the past few weeks. Sometimes it’s a word that I know makes people uncomfortable, yet persist in using for shock or to hurt, when that’s my intention. Sometimes it’s an action that gets out of hand. Still I’m the jerk face acting.
I’ve had times when I’m sitting with someone and I think I’m reading signals, or I’m sending signals… there’s a sexuality present in many moments shared between people. Except when it’s not. Except when there is no thought of sexual attraction. This consent though, this non-consent, this mutual intimacy only occurs when both parties are cool with the attraction. But how does one tell? Certainly a movie mogul who meets young actresses can’t believe there is an attraction to all of them. He knows that he is a predator. The president knows he is a predator. Right?
I’m as offended at the shirtless men who are ogled by women as I am by topless women ogled by men. And then I go to a show like Cabaret where the boys are wearing corsets and garters while kissing one another and I’m aroused. I’m aroused and I’m curious what their mouths feel like on each other and I think sexual thoughts about the scenes I’m witnessing as the Nazi’s are moving in to restrict who is allowed to perform in the theatre and go to the theatre and marry in Berlin while an American who doesn’t think these heavy things are his fight, turns to run home because these terrible events will not affect him at home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Sex sells. Sex is pleasure. Sex seems to be a part of everything.
But I’m considering, as I have in the past, that it’s not the pleasure side of sex. It’s the control part. And in my experience, when sex is the best is when there is a release of control. There is a freedom in not being held down and not holding anything back. There’s an impassioned crescendo allowing the purest of breath to pass through and relieve all the senses. Sight turns to darkness and sound blurs within ears. Whatever the science is behind an orgasm, it has nothing to do with being restrained.
I feel like we’re taught - not just girls! Everyone!- I feel like we’re taught to be desirable to others. To what purpose? And I feel like we’re taught to endure some abuses because the assumed benefit outweigh the atrocities to our spirits. I feel like I’m at fault for learning these lessons as well as teaching them. I struggle hard to get to the next sunset, I can’t take on the enormity of coming to terms with all the facets of sexism. I don’t know what my place in this morass of depravity. If I ever made anyone uncomfortable, not only with my actions, but with my words, or a look… if I am responsible for anyone questioning their worth beyond their dick or their pussy, then I am guilty. I can’t fathom that I’ve lived so long without being in such a position to cause pain.
And then I think about intention. Intention is big with me. The intention of the movie mogul (I assume) is to get the physical release of an orgasm, the emotional charge of being in control, and the sensational gain of another movie on the screen. The President in his misogyny is, in my opinion, more despicable. Since his days in the limelight, he has used his money and name to become a character in his own depravity. No reports of rape have surfaced yet for him, but he has said things to imply his daughter was sexually desirable to him. He has said on record that women allow his sexual assault because of his societal position. Society is completely dismantling one man’s career and then providing excuses for another who is in a position to allow an egregious devolution of consenting society. Is it because no one has confirmed he penetrated them? It is because all of the other things I have experienced except penile penetration were not rapey enough? Am I being sensitive when I talk about it and admit these things happened or am I apathetic when I ignore that which I don’t think I have the strength to change? I’m consenting to silence because I’m repulsed when I admit these things occur.
Consent. (My fingers kept typing the word condescend. Maybe it is a condescension. It absolutely is condescension!)
I was forcing myself on my friend last night. I was forcing him to listen to me as I spoke on the matter when he did not want to listen to me justify predatory behavior. My intention was to explain. Not excuse. In realizing, I don’t think an apology will help. I disregarded his consent. Truly the best person I know and I was a jerk to him.
I’m sick about the state of the world. And feel helpless. I’m scared. I’m scared that the the things that have been regular abuses facing people will no longer be shameful acts that people hide. I’m scared of some big things, because of how small some things make me feel.