Let’s Not Talk About Your Rape
Recently I read this bizarre article about a woman who built an online persona in order to dupe her friend to engage in a sexual relationship. According to The Guardian,she persuaded her buddy to wear a blindfold whenever they met, and wore a large strap-on prosthetic penis in order to dupe the woman into having penetrative sex. She persuaded the victim to wear the blindfold during sex and also when the pair were just hanging out. Apparently it wasn’t until the 10th sexual encounter that her friend got suspicious and removed the blindfold only to discover that damn, it really be your own niggas. The friend was rightfully furious, pressed charges and the catfish got jail time.
The story is weird in so many ways,but one thing kept bothering me, how could she make it to nine encounters? What happened the 10th time??? I realised it must have been an awful mental and emotional experience, going from i’m okay with this to this is not how things are supposed to be. Somehow i started to think of the assaults I have experienced in my life. How the amount of time it took me to recognize them for what they were was also bizarre. I found myself drawing parallels between my life and this weird and awful story; experiencing things that fall outside the bounds of what is rational and acceptable and flowing with it, and the violent jerk back to reality when you stop riding that wave.
Before I was able to admit it to myself that I had been raped, there were moments of lucidity. Moments where the gravity of what had happened would hit me and i would try to gain some control over the ongoing chaos in my head. I remember one time i decided to share my story with a close friend of mine. We were in the same circle of friends, and he and the rapist had been friends since childhood. We’d helped each other out in many personal situations, so I thought that our friendship superseded the bro code.
[Spoiler,it didn’t. If you are dealing with someone who subscribes to that line of thought, it doesn’t and never will. Save your breath.]
Another reason I had garnered enough confidence to speak up was because the same dude had raped two other girls in our circle. But like I said I had not admitted it fully to myself, therefore there was no way i would admit it to others. So I told my friend those girls stories, but not mine. To my relief, he knew of one account, but that quickly turned to dread as he sneered and began to spew vitriol.
He actually did not deny it, but said she entered his car willingly and ‘knew what was up’.To be honest I half expected this answer, and used the little feminist theory I had in my arsenal to fight for my sisters [despite setting them up for a battle they didn’t sign up for by outing them because I was too cowardly to out myself]. My [very flawed] thought process at the time was to keep my experience back as a wildcard, to whip it out after battling the expected victim shaming. I figured that I would prove that this was a pattern, and not a misunderstanding or someone feeling bad about their body count or whatever the fuck he had said.
Our friend was supposed to drop me home but said he was too drunk, but promised to drop me home in the morning. This could have been one of those ‘well she knew what was up’ situations BUT NO. There were people asleep in the same room [albeit black out drunk], yet he had no problem getting on top of me, holding his hand to my mouth to stop me from screaming and whispering ‘just let this happen.’
I remember in that moment I snorted at the stupidity of that line. I had seen it on TV, probably on that one Very Special Episode about rape. It was usually said by a seedy character brought in just for that episode, since it would probably be bad for ratings if a beloved character turned out to be a rapist. To hear the same lecherous statement coming from someone I considered a friend was so terrifying, I just had to laugh. We will find humor in the littlest things just to deal.
I never did tell my friend what happened to me. I knew my experience was going to be subject to the same ridicule and gaslighting. I wasn’t some special snowflake with a ‘better, more believable’ experience. There is no such thing.
We are still friends, and he is still friends with the rapist.
Later I told my close circle of girlfriends about this encounter but did not frame it clearly. Instead I told a disjointed story of facts, begging for them to read in between the lines.
‘I didn’t even want to, he’s the one who wanted. It was not consensual. He just kept pumping and wasn’t listening. I told him to stop and he did not, but continued anyway… that’s like the very definition of rape. Are y’all listening? It hurt and I bled and I was so happy when it was all over. …Guys? The nigga didn’t even drop me home like he said. ‘Wow what an asshole.’
I bumped into the rapist at a club many months after it happened. He told me he got married and has a baby girl. He also grabbed my ass and told me he thinks of that night often. I froze and didn’t say anything. When I got home I threw up for hours. Once again, I had just let it happen.
After I started admitting that these incidences were more than ‘just a shitty night at the rave’ I knew not to let myself ever suffer in silence. I would learn what to do; how to build a support system, the medical, the legal, the aftermath. I brushed up on my feminist theory so that I would know what to say and how to dodge those verbal bullets. But life has a way of fucking up even the best laid plans.
In the Black Mirror episode, White Christmas, when Jon Hamm’s character was punished for his crimes, people would see a blurry outline of static with an unintelligible voice where he’s supposed to be. They don’t know much about him; they know he’s there but they would steer clear. That was how I felt every time I let the secret out. I was stuck in between two states, of feeling completely invisible and feeling completely exposed. Everybody knew and didn’t know at the same time. Schrodinger’s Rape.
One of my favourite memes is the one of Uhuru Kenyatta saying ‘sasa mnataka nifanye nini?’ But I like it for morbid reasons; if I think of doing this thing the millenials call reaching out, i imagine the person on the other end asking me that in the same tone. Its less a meme and more a tool for self-sufficiency. […is what I said to console myself.] But this was not the time for such defeatist thinking. So I shared my story.
I told someone who advised me to keep it quiet. “These things are long winding and pretty much nothing comes out of it.” I told another who told me to go to the police. “It’s pretty much your feminist duty.” I told my boss when I started making grievous mistakes and stopped going for meetings. I told my dealer, the caretaker of my building and strangers on the internet, but barely discussed the details of what happened with my family. I told one of my friends who usually posts disrespectful memes about women going back to the kitchen, and he visited me twice a week with groceries and gossip. I told another friend who spends every waking moment online feministing, and she gaslit me, essentially turning a confession into a competition of whose assault was more traumatising.
I shared my experience on Twitter. My need to share came after what I felt was a lopsided conversation about the course of action to take after a rape.My experience with reporting was a complete disaster, facing all sorts of barriers in the process, from the hospital to the police station. I got an outpouring of messages. The account I used was semi anonymous, so it was mostly strangers. Doctors who came to say they were nothing like the doctor who examined me. Lawyers insisting that I retraumatize myself in order to get justice. Narcissists coming to feed off the vulnerability I had displayed.
I told a friend who I was casually fucking. He refused my advances from then on, saying ‘I’d really love to but y’know you’ve been raped…’ I was not upset at the implication that I was tainted in some way, but I got the message loud and clear. That wasn’t what got to me. I was hurt because he ended a perfectly working arrangement due to factors out of my control. I did not want that one incident [that he knew of] to define me and as a result, be used against me. Yes, I had been violated against my wishes, but that didn’t mean that I suddenly hated sex. On the contrary I just wanted to engage in a normal sexual activity.
I have heard that many survivors of rape are often repulsed by even the thought of sexual contact, weeks, months and even years after it happened. I genuinely enjoy having sex, and I deserved to have my sex under my own rules and within my boundaries – I did not want a rapist to ruin that. I wanted to be touched by hands that I wanted to touch me, to be seen by eyes that I let see me, to distance myself from those unpleasant sensations by experiencing normal, familiar ones. Maybe that’s not really what I wanted, because if I did, I wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place.
Nilitaka wafanye nini?
Years later im not really sure what I wanted, and I wonder if things had turned out different had I known what to want and actually asked for it.
Self-care rhetoric teaches us to not be a burden on others, because it’s almost entirely focused on what we can do for ourselves. We’re taught that we have all we need, that the power for transformation and thriving is within us, just waiting to be harnessed. That we alone can beat back the demons plaguing us and come through to the other side refreshed and ready to fight again. To do everything that a self-care article suggests is impossible for most of us; doing even one thing is impossible for some of us. And in a culture that demonizes the burdensome, how plausible is reaching out and asking for help?
I was told to reach out whenever I needed anything. I personally do not like hearing or saying this statement. It is obviously said with good intentions, but I think it comes from the same place of cool detachment that ‘thoughts and prayers’ come from. That statement reminds me of a lighthouse. It is more of a navigational aid, to assure you that if you get swept up by whatever storms life sends your way, with just a little effort on your end you’ll find your way home. It’s a nice visual, till you realise that the current is stronger than you and that you are drowning, and what good is a beacon of light then. You need a raft.
I recently highlighted Alex Elle and her creative endeavours in my March recap, including the hey, girl podcast episode with educator and creator, Safa Iman,where they discussed healing after sexual violence, mental health, self-forgiveness, and soothing the wounds of trauma. Safa speaks on her experience, and says the path to healing after sexual trauma included finding a new appreciation of self, forgiving oneself and people who she thought weren’t showing up for her. Safa says that ‘as much as I am deserving of love and protection and all the good things, I am not entitled to it.’
I was angry for a very long time, and at very many people. I felt betrayed by friends and resented them when I thought they weren’t showing up for me. There are some people who I unnecessarily clipped out of my life. As time passes and the wounds continue to heal, I realise that I had to forgive myself through forgiving others. I had to realise that a lot of my pain and resentment for others was coming from a place of entitlement and self loathing. I wasn’t doing the work and showing up for myself so I expected them to do it for me. I had to come through for myself first, and that was made easier by letting go of all the entitlement.
Am I still angry? I don’t think I ever will stop being angry. It is no longer a self destructive ball of raging hatred, more like a burning lump of coal. There are aspects of me that will never be the same again, and I sometimes mourn the different versions of me that died on those separate occasions. But i celebrate the girl that survived and continues to thrive in spite of them.
I still have some reservations about sharing. I am painfully aware of how much you have to dig into yourself to bring these wrenching stories to light. To cut yourself open and invite others to look into the mangled insides is a daunting task. The society we exist in might actually encourage us to do, in the hopes that we will be broken down and washed away. Women’s pain is either cheered on or dismissed as trivial. But this is important. We have to do this, if not to unite one another in our stories, at the very least we must do this for ourselves.
“And now I am choosing to not longer be silent. I am tracing the story of my body from when I was a carefree young girl who could trust her body and who felt safe in her body to the moment when that safety was destroyed to the aftermath that continues even as I try to undo so much of what was done to me.”
Hunger, Roxane Gay [pg 25]