TW: Descriptions of rape, sexual assault, child sexual assault, sexual harassment.
(This is a story of my comeback from rape, prior and subsequent experiences of sexual assault and harassment, internalized misogyny, depression, anxiety, PTSD and Catholic guilt. Read Part 1 here. )
It wasn’t until the past year or so that I started to see the night of my rape in the larger scheme of things. Patterns started to emerge that were both good and bad for me, for us as a society. The following is just a dispassionate description of those observations, loosely woven into the part of my personal story i’m willing to share with the public.
Sexual assault is far more common than we think.
In the three years I was in college (yes, gradutated a year early), I encountered many stories from women and men who had been sexually assaulted. Either taken advantage of when drunk or high or coerced and pressured into sex by a needy, jealous and demanding partner.
One night, at the end of my senior year as our sorority held one of its fireside chats (usually an attempt to clear the air about our grievances with each other), I confessed to them this story I shared here. More than a third of the sorority shared similar stories that night. I remember all of us sitting there, tears in our eyes as we recalled separate but shared histories of the humiliation of objectification and dehumanization. It had never been quantified for me like that before.
But beyond this, I started to recognize and see all the minor ways in which sexual assault has been normalized. So when we talk about rape culture, this is what we mean. The legitimization of smaller aggressions against the consent of those involved in a sexual scenario.
Tolerance and acceptance of sexual assault, harassment and objectification have been way too common in my life.
As a woman and at that a Catholic, Mexican-American woman, I had been conditioned to accept violation of boundaries on a near constant basis. I mean, when the Church condemns women to a grave sin for exercising control over their own bodies, we send a very powerful message about the sanctity of female autonomy. Or rather, the lack of it. When we control, regulate, gaze at and objectify women we create a world in which rape and sexual assault is normalized and accepted.
I learned just recently how normal it was in my life (and I mean even as a child) to put up with this kind of behavior. I use the word “inappropriate” to describe these today, but I was definitely trained through experience to treat these things as normal and expected. Because going along with it has usually been safer than calling it out–after all, I’ve been close to death a few times for daring to say no. And it’s not just the assaults or attempts or harassments that are important, it’s the cultural attitudes and expectations that made them acceptable and relieved the perpetrators of any consequence or responsibility for honoring my consent or autonomy. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Someone close to my family sexually assaulting me at the age of 6 or 7.
- Grown men in the Army sending me naked pictures of themselves when I was as young as 13. At least two of them knew my real age.
- Also at 13 a boyfriend was stalking me, slashing my neighbor’s tires and making threats outside my window while I slept after I refused to have sex with him.
- Co-workers at my first job taking monetary bets as to who would get to fuck me first.
- A 36 year old co-worker trying to finger me when I was 15.
- A 40 year old delivery man inviting me to his house alone when I was 16.
- The biggest womanizer in school stalking me until I’d have sex with him. I lost my virginity to him at 16.
- Being pressured into having sex with a classmate as a way to be jumped into a gang at 13. I backed out at the last minute.
- Engaging in sexual activity as more of a defense mechanism than as a rational and enthusiastic choice.
- Being drugged by two men who secretly tried to record me “consenting” to sex. I eventually escaped.
- Being outed and slut shamed by a republican blog and losing my job as a result.
- Getting unsolicited dick pics whenever I’m on any dating site.
- Relentless harassment to coerce me into sending nude photos.
- Sexual prowess in male co-workers are joked about with ease; sexual interest I expressed being condemned as a stain against the organization.
- Emotional manipulation including guilt and shaming if I express limits. Usually takes the form of “not a real submissive” or “not really poly”, especially when trying to hold someone responsible for behavior that violates those limits.
- Threats of violence for refusing a drink/kiss/ride home.
- Being given a dildo as a present by my boss when I turned 17; my acceptance of that gift was used to imply consent for all sorts of touching, grabbing and propositions for years to come.
- Subjected regularly to groping when doing absolutely nothing–like ordering a drink at the bar or even standing at a bus stop.
- Having my consent violated in a scene by an “elder” who never obtained my consent for a needle scene he had planned.
- Not reporting any of these because of the fear of retaliation, ruin and rejection.
- Screaming red in a dungeon and having no one intervene in our scene; this was after the DMs held me down for a tickling scene I did not consent to.
- Sacrificing my own needs and voice in order to protect the ego of the person I was with.
I just don’t have the energy to describe each and every detail but I think you get my drift. I have been raised to not just expect this behavior, but to reward it with my attention, time and politeness. And guess what? So have you.
This is about as far as I can get tonight. The rest is just too raw on the surface.
Too much shit has been stirred up lately.
Example: Playing with a new submissive boy, still dipping my toes in the water of what my own dominance might look like, he fell oddly distant and cold afterward. Stirring up those feelings of rejection, feeling exposed and like I was being judged for my size, my taste, my age, my grace, my fashion, my ignorance. That feeling, that all too familiar feeling like I was supposed to change myself to accommodate invisible expectations that he didn’t communicate, but I am supposed to somehow anticipate. I could be wrong–we haven’t discussed it, but even my equivocation of how I feel is evidence of this trend to set aside my own insight in favor of someone else’s.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
How much of my existence has been defined as being the pretty, little doll existing solely for the pleasure and whims of others? And let’s face it, I’m not the prettiest, so it’s an existence that is easily defined as being the doll at the very bottom of the trunk that carries nostalgia, memory and this sensation of soul-full-ness. I’m kept around for memory’s sake, but used, discarded and forgotten until I’m needed again.
I have spent most of my life trying to convince myself, through the excuse of my calling, that this was the purpose of my life. I molded myself around these awful, horrible experiences, trying to become the perfect woman that could easily slide into people’s hearts unobtrusively to bring out goodness and love. It’s not to say I didn’t do that or that the goals were bad, but it was that I became an avatar of myself, a projected 3-D image of myself that was real in every way, except my own desires, needs, hopes and dreams. Those were always irrelevant to the more important business of pleasing the people I was with.
None of this is to say that the rape was my fault, that the sexual assaults and harassments I’ve endured are my fault. Those men made choices. Choices that they knew were wrong. Choices that knew were a violation of my autonomy and free will. These violations, because they bundle together super vulnerable things–like sex/nudity, self-worth, guilt and shame–they are easier to manipulate and exploit. It’s not our fault that these things are vulnerable–they are vulnerable for everyone, but we are wrongfully accused of being too open to sharing those intimate parts of self, when it was the manipulator who violated the terms of that sharing. Most of the time we are left shadow boxing with ourselves in a distorted mirror of shame and guilt, feeling utterly responsible for the fallout of choices that someone else had the audacity to make for us.
We have to remember that this mirror only reflects a particular facet of ourselves. The part locked away in time and trapped behind the glass. But diamonds, those hard as fuck little mini crystals that manifest from the pressure of the earth, have several facets to them. The ultimate in resilience, radiant with reflection and beauty. And what we see in that mirror, in that battle with ourselves, the shame and guilt that were projected onto us, that’s just one facet of who we are. But we contain so much more than that and deserve so much more than that.
So shine on you crazy diamonds.
I sit with all of these thoughts, reflections on what it took for me to become a whole and healthy person. I can’t say I’ve done it well, but the fact that I’m still here, still fighting, still making these realizations, understanding my patterns and fighting to change the perverse patterns of exploitation around…this is how I will continue to shine, the crazy, hard as fuck diamond that I am.