Last week was really hard.
The news was triggering and disgusting. I could barely look.
When our president mocked a sexual assault victim to cheering crowds, my heart split in half. A piece of it shot up into my throat and stuck there, and the rest fell into my stomach.
We all have our stories, don’t we? We all felt it. We probably all reviewed our own experiences. I know I did. I dwelled for awhile.
Here’s one of mine.
I was 20. He was an older guy that I had just started hanging out with. We had kissed and lightly messed around and when he pushed for more I told him that making out was cool but I absolutely would not sleep with him.
Him: “You sure?”
Me: “Yes. I don’t want to do that. It takes me a long time to warm up to that.”
Him: “Okay, fine. That’s super weird, but whatever.”
One night he told me we were going to a dinner party with a few other couples. Cool! When we arrived, it was a kegger and had no snacks. Thinking I had been on my way to a sit-down meal, I hadn’t eaten and I was starving. I complained to him and he brought a tray with little cups of Jell-O and apologized that this was the only snack. I ate a few and went back later for more.
Of course I had partied and drank in high school. But we were never as fancy as Jell-o shots. So I didn’t know that’s what they were. I ate quite a few. I got super wasted.
The next parts are in flashes.
Flash - I threw up orange Jell-o all over the wall next to the toilet. I hadn’t locked the door, so he came in and found me. I remember being relieved he wasn’t disgusted or judgmental.
Flash - I threw up in his toilet. He was helping me. He brought me a piece of toast. I remember thinking how great it was that he got me out of there quickly and how cool he was about everything.
Flash - I crawled into the bed and felt thankful to be doing so.
Flash - I woke up with him on top of me, having sex with me. My memory is hazy but I honestly think I may have gone back to sleep or pretended to be asleep. I definitely shut my eyes and played dead. Like a gazelle snagged by a lion.
In the morning I found that his cat had peed on my shirt.
Afterward he wanted a relationship. I tried to entertain this because in my mind, at the time, maybe that’s what you have to do when you screw up and have sex with someone you didn’t want to. He came over to my house and spent the night. I made dinner. I tried so hard to convince myself I had wanted it. I was “nice” and accommodating.
Then I laid in my bed like a corpse, unspeaking and stiff, while he did things to me. Finally he got up yelling that I was “bad at sex.”
That was 16 years ago and I don’t remember his last name. I was at his apartment maybe four times and I don’t remember exactly where he lived. Could I pick him out of a crowd? I think so. Maybe.
I didn’t fight or flight. I froze. Twice.
It took me years to label it rape.
He had gone to great lengths to pursue me and get my attention. He’d taken me to poetry readings and even read his own work. He had paid for dinner and fixed something on my car once. He seemed like a nice guy. Nice guys don’t do that, right? I’m the one who messed up, right??
It took even more years to realize it wasn’t my fault and I hadn’t “asked for it” by getting too drunk. Or by trying to play nice and be “chill.” Cooking dinner for him and allowing him into my home didn’t mean that I HAD asked for it.
Consent isn’t a unicorn.
If a woman is actually asking for it – then she will ask for it. And it wouldn’t be rape.
A hot body or a short skirt or a flirty personality isn’t asking for it. Hanging with the guys isn’t asking for it. Being a little drunk or a lot drunk or super high on whatever isn’t asking for it. Falling asleep isn’t asking for it. Walking around naked isn’t even asking for it.
A beautiful peacock fans his plumage. A hunter shoots him. “That peacock was asking for it. Shoulda put a sack on that tail. That’s what he gets for being a peacock! All peacocks that flaunt their feathers that way are just begging to be shot.”
Nope. That’s just a peacock trying to live its peacock life.
If someone’s house gets broken into, do we rationalize it by saying…
“Well, they didn’t take too much stuff, so it’s okay!”
“He was really drunk so I guess that’s what happens when you’re super drunk! He was asking for it!”
“He put out some really nice patio furniture so he was basically begging to get broken into.”
“Well, they had been hanging out for awhile and he let her watch a movie on the couch, so of course she broke in later and stole his TV and PlayStation. If he didn’t want her to do that, then he shouldn’t have let her watch a movie on the couch!”
No. Stealing is wrong and you get in trouble for it.
Rape and sexual assault is wrong. If there is no consent, it is rape/sexual assault. It really isn’t complicated.
A quick google search yields:
con·sent (kənˈsent) noun
Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
(So, if no permission was given, there was no consent.)
I believe it is a new era.
In the midst of last week’s events, a guy friend called me to get my thoughts on rape and consent. It was an interesting conversation. We unpacked a lot. I was thankful for the opportunity and I could see a change in perspective in my friend: One that I had also undergone in my own time and way. It was encouraging. We all evolve. Women AND men. We can all grow our understanding and our compassion.
This is a painful time because so much of the abuse we inflict on each other is coming to light.
But it is also an incredible time, as a very slow dawn rises on the awareness that our bodies are our own and not at all for the satiation of predators. No matter who we are, or what we wear, or what we drink. We can make a million bad choices and we still don’t deserve to be assaulted.
Rewiring your brain is hard but absolutely necessary.
Listen, I am as progressive as they come, and I still struggle with rewiring my brain. There are some backwards thinking remnants banging around in my synapses that I have to actively challenge, question and modify. It’s okay to struggle. That is part of the evolution process. The point is to keep questioning your beliefs and gut reactions to get to the most evolved place you can.
Maybe you’ve had or even still have some skewed ideas, some archaic cultural normality ingrained deeply and it needs to be challenged. Right now is the time to talk about it. Today is the time to have one or many conversations with your kids about what’s okay and what is not. Today is the right time to grab a coffee with your partner and have a real talk about boundaries. Today is the perfect day to call a girlfriend and share your story. Today is the right day to get clear on consent.
Today is the day we stop saying, “Boys will be boys.”
It’s gross. It is incorrect. It’s offensive to men and boys who know how to be considerate humans.
As we share our stories the culture will change. If we are inundated with the truth, eventually we will not be able to look away. It will force a new culture and perspective.
That’s not my only rape story. It’s just one. One that involves a “nice guy.” And maybe he was nice. Maybe, if he read this post he would feel differently. Maybe he already does.
Today, what is important to me is - how you feel.
I know you have your own stories. I know they hurt.
You didn’t ask for it. It’s not your fault.
You are not bad. You are not alone.
I love you.
P.S. Having been a victim once or several times in your life, doesn’t make you a victim now. You are strong. Stronger for what you have survived. This isn’t about rolling around in victimization, this is about shining a light on the truth so we ALL can see where we need to do better. And then we gotta do better. Write to me if you need to share. I’m here.