Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I was raped. Now, listen.

I was raped. Now, listen.

I was raped by a friend, not a stranger. I was sober, not drunk. I willingly went into the room, I was not tricked. I was flirtatious, I did not want sex. I was silent, I did not scream. I was still, I did not fight. I stayed afterwards, I did not run. I kept it to myself, I did not go to the police.  

I did not give my consent, I was ignored.                     
I did not say yes, I was never asked.
I said no, I was not listened to.

Those are the unadulterated facts of the situation.

In the months afterward, when presenting those facts to some people, I have been accused of being a liar, of having ‘really wanted it’, of having made a mistake, of letting my guard down, of being naïve, at fault, weak, narcissistic, cruel, manipulative, spoiled, a false feminist, a hypocrite, of having failed myself.

I have been told I should have yelled, I should have fought back, I should never have gone into the room, I should have called the police, I should have been smarter, I should have been better, I should have tried harder, I shouldn’t have let it happen.

I have been told I shouldn’t have let myself be raped.
I have been told that the aforementioned facts make rape impossible.
I have been told that I was not raped.

I have been told so very many things.

But now I have something to say.

I was raped. Now, listen.

The day after I was raped, I went to a close friend, told her the facts and asked her if I had been raped. She said yes. I went to my mother, pretended what had happened to me had happened to a friend, presented her the facts, asked her if it was rape. She said yes. I anonymously posted in an online crisis forum, presented the facts, asked it was rape. Yes.

Three perspectives and one unanimous decision: rape.  

But there was still one person who didn’t believe it: myself. I didn’t want to believe it.

I didn’t want what happened and I sure as hell didn’t want to be a rape victim. I didn’t want that to be a part of who I was. I didn’t feel like a rape victim, or least how I imagined a rape victim was supposed to feel. I felt ok, mostly, sometimes. At least that what I told myself. So I tried to carve out that part of me. I tried to bury it so deep inside me that I would never find it again. But it was always there. I felt like I was standing on a beach, unable to move, watching a giant wave coming towards me, knowing that it would crash over me, suffocating me, trying to drown me, but leaving me just alive enough to stand there in dread for the next wave to come.

The truth is I always knew it was rape. I just believed that it was not the right kind of rape, as if there were such things as a right kind of rape. It was confusing, subtle, awkward, uncomfortable. It wasn’t what I thought rape would be. I thought I was the wrong kind of rape victim. I never thought it would happen to me. I certainly didn’t think it would happen like this. And I was ashamed. I believed that I had failed myself, my family, my friends, my feminism. And because of that I believed I deserved to suffer for it. And the ultimate punishment I chose to inflict on myself was silence: if I couldn’t make my voice heard then, why did I deserve to have it heard now?

And then one day, under less than ideal circumstances, it came vomiting out of me. That night was the first time I said it: I was raped. That was also the first time I had to defend that statement. And I’ve been defending it ever since.

I thought the hardest part about being raped was the rape. It’s not. It’s the aftermath, it’s the after rape.

It’s the manner of personal questions you’ll be asked, it’s the accusations that’ll be made, it’s the disbelief you’ll face, it’s the feeling of having no agency, it’s the loss.  I lost my voice the night I was raped, and every accusation, every doubt, tempts me into silence once again. It has been hard to speak, to remember what I sound like, what my voice is.
In the process of recovering it I have, very painfully, lost some love and people along the way. Some people I loved very, very much. I expect after I write this I may lose a few more. And though it eviscerates me, I have to make my peace with it. Because I choose myself.

I was raped. Now, listen.

I always knew my rape would hurt other people. It has and will raise a great many painful issues for people in my life. My parents wonder if they failed me, if they should have taught me better, if only they'd given me one final safety lesson, then maybe it wouldn't have happened. But wonderful parents and a loving home are not inoculations against the diseases of this world. And to my parents, it never was your fault. There is only one person to blame and that is the person who raped me. There is no blame to be found anywhere else.

My friends wonder if it will happen to them---God I hope not. And it if is has, please know I love you. And it is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. You didn’t deserve your rape but it is yours. Many people will claim your rape. People who love you will claim your rape. It will become about them. And you will turn to them and take it back. Because it belongs to you.

The ones who really love you, the ones who are worth your love, will be there, they will put aside what they're going through to be there. And they are genuinely going through something, because it is immensely painful as a parent, friend, partner, peer to know someone you love was raped -. It creates feelings of failure, anger, retribution, depression, despair, pain. It is so very painful. But here's what anyone who cares for a rape victim needs to know---whatever pain you're going through, no matter how valid---it is not more painful than rape. I promise you that.

All of it, the event, the aftermath, the discomfort, the confusion, the pain, the healing, it all belongs to you. I was raped because someone did not listen. But what truly shocked me was how little I was listened to afterwards. How often I was told rather than heard. How often I was told what to do rather than asked what I wanted to do.  How often I was told how to feel rather than asked how I felt.

I think that this has been the hardest part for those around me to accept;, the differences between their feelings and mine. It’s been hard for me too. The people who love me got angry and I’m not. They’re entitled to their anger, and I’m entitled to my lack thereof, but they are not entitled to place the burden of their anger on me. And that’s what it is: a burden. Their anger is about them, it’s for them, it’s not for me. It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t heal me. It harms, it violates, it takes away from what I am going through and makes it about them.

My rape never made me angry----I felt sad, tired, confused, exhausted, uncomfortable, strange, distant, scared but never angry. I’m sure some people do but it just wasn’t what I experienced. And in that dichotomy, between my experience of rape and the way others experience the reveal or the retelling of my rape, is where I have most struggled with this.

Someone I love very much, chastised me for not seeking retribution. They could not understand it. They saw it as a failing on my part. They found my lack of anger utterly alien. They claimed that the things I say and believe about women and feminism would ring just a little hollow if I did not seek justice whether through the law or vigilantism. They told me there was a right way to handle my rape and that I was handling it all wrong.

That haunted me. Every fear I had about the rape itself, all the self-doubt, was repeated and paralleled in this interrogation of my after rape. Had I failed my principles, had I failed my beliefs? Was I a hypocrite and a liar? Did I make a mistake? Did I fail? Was what I was feeling wrong? Was I the wrong kind of rape? Was I the wrong kind of rape victim?

I was raped. Now, listen.

Whenever I travel, it has always been my habit to keep a blog chronicling my experiences. It’s always been a practice I have approached with eagerness and excitement. However, a few years ago, while conducting research in Bangladesh, my weekly task of writing because a source of dread. For the first time in all my wandering, I was really struggling to assimilate. I was experiencing unhappiness, discomfort, confusion, and a general lack of self. But I was embarrassed and ashamed and I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t feel I was allowed to be those things, to have those feelings, to share those feelings. And my writing suffered, my research suffered, and I suffered for it. It was only when I risked the vulnerability of honoring myself and not the vision of myself others had, or that I believed others had, that I was able to authentically represent my research, my writing, and myself.

This was an important lesson for me - because it is in writing I have always found my bravery, my vulnerability, my power, my voice.

In the aftermath of my rape, I have been desperately seeking my voice, searching for a way to take my power back. And so I return to the platform that has always served as my compass and guide. My whole life, whenever I felt lost, it’s the written word, my words,  that allow me to heal, to regain my autonomy, that show me the way back to myself. I have never felt a greater loss of self than my life after rape. And it’s why I must write with more purpose and vulnerability than I ever have before. It’s why I am putting my personal life out there for the world to do with what it will. It terrifies me. I can’t take this back. Once it’s out there, all it will take is a simple Google search, and any stranger will find this. I’ll never be able to hide my rape again. And that’s exactly why I have to write this. Because I shouldn’t have to hide, I shouldn’t have to be silent. And no one else should either.

A very amazing woman I knew in college recently published a blog about her own experience with sexual assault while serving in the Peace Corps. I encourage you to read it here: I was moved not only by the strength of her writing but the sense of relief that flooded me when I read her blog. Relief because it wasn’t just me. Because the things I had felt and experienced, even the very facets of my specific rape, were reflected in her experiences, in her rape. The emotions and actions, both during and afterward, that I believed bastardized my rape, that I thought delegitimized my rape, were in fact the very elements that made it so terrifyingly common.

Every day I seem to discover another woman I know who has been raped. Regardless of age, race, gender, it’s happened to them, to us. Rape and sexual assault have become the universal experience of being a woman.  If our current global rates of rape were a virus, we would have a pandemic. And we do. And yet there is so much silence. And it is killing us. Because in that silent shame we fill our minds with thoughts of self loathing and harm. We convince ourselves that we are at fault, that we are bad, that we are base, and that we deserve it, that we asked for it. You did not deserve your rape. You did not ask for it. You have worth. You are good, you are good.

We don’t tell our friends, our partners, our families, much less the judgmental and anonymous world. We keep it to ourselves and it’s only by chance, by witnessing or a performing brave act of vulnerability, that we ever learn just how un-alone we are, that a little light appears in the shadows, that an echo full of empathy and despair dares to ask ‘You too?’ It’s a coven full of the best women I know. It’s a sisterhood based on compassion and caring, built on an understanding that the rest of the world does not share. Yet it also a community oppressed by silence. What I wanted most after my rape was to have someone to turn to, some precedent, someone I knew. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t want to put that loaded gun into anyone else’s hands. I didn’t want to have to educate people about my rape before I’d had a chance to understand it myself. But that’s what happens when silence becomes the paradigm---it doesn’t protect or shield, it simply offers someone else a chance to fill the void, it allows other to people to speak and decide and judge and decree. If we don’t tell our stories, some one else will.

I had a teacher in high school who opened the first class of the school year with a syllabus and a frank announcement: She had multiple sclerosis. I never saw a fellow student react to it, we took the information in, and went back to reading about how the tests were curved. But as I sit here writing this piece, making my frank announcement on ‘the first day of school,’ I realize how much that must of scared her shitless - because that how’s I feel right now: What if everyone reads this? What if no one does? What if there is backlash and more vitriol? What will my high school teacher think of me? My friends? My parents? Former co-workers? My current classmates? What will the world see, what will they think of me? What will people say? I worry about the professional repercussions of this. I worry about the personal repercussions of this. But more than that I worry about what will happen if I don't speak, what will happen to my story, what will happen to the stories of millions of other women? I couldn’t tell my story until I heard some one else speak out. And it saved my life. So now I’m speaking out for myself, for her, for you. Because if we never speak, we’ll never be heard.

I have always believed that our stories are what defined us. So despite being petrified about what torrent this will unleash, despite worrying about what the world will spit this back in my face for the rest of my life, despite fearing no one person will read this, I have to write it. Because it is my story and no matter what happens, no one gets to tell my story but me.

I was raped. Now, listen.

There are many nuances to rape but, not to over simplify, at the end of the day rape is about power. It is about the disrespect of another person’s autonomy. It is about someone not only not asking but not listening. I was raped because someone did not ask and they did not listen. After my rape, I experienced further trauma because people did not ask and they did not listen. I have been told over and over and over again what I should have done, what I should do, what I am. I have had my character, my beliefs, my sanity, even the very event of my rape questioned and debated.  I have had my own rape weaponized against me as means of shaming, torturing, and punishing me. I have been told to smile, to shut up, to die.


I said it then and I will say it again now: No. My answer is no.

I will not be ashamed. I will not be coerced. I will not handle this the way anyone but myself sees fit. Because this is my rape. This is my narrative and I am reclaiming it. That is my act of revenge. My act of retribution is to banish the weight of shame and secrecy and to be able to say: I was raped. My act of defiance is to speak it again and again and again until it is just another sentence is the epic of my life. Because my life will be an epic.

I was raped. Now, listen.

After everything, after the rape and its terrible aftermath, I still genuinely believe people are good. Someone told me that was a naive thing to say. That my belief in the good in people is what put me in 'the kind of situation where you can get raped.'

My father's favorite story about me, the story he always uses to describe who I am as a person is this: When I was young, about seven or eight, I played on a soccer team. I was, as anyone who knows me realizes, a thoroughly crappy soccer player.  There was a girl on the team who was an excellent player, and who, as these stories often go, also didn’t like me, and took every opportunity to mock and belittle me. During one particular game, this girl accidentally received a very hard ball kick to the face and crumpled to the ground in pain. What happened next is why my father tells this story, because even though this girl was my tormentor, my instant reaction was to dart out from the sidelines and run to her side, checking to make sure she was alright. I didn’t do it because I thought it would get her to stop bullying me, or to show off, I did it because she was just a little kid in pain, like me, because it was the right thing to do, because it was the human thing to do.

I'm still that girl. And I won't have that taken from me. I'm the girl who runs on the field. I'm the woman who gets raped and believes that there is still immense good in this world. If some think that's naive, so be it, if some see that as a betrayal of self, so be it. But I think the worst thing that could happen would be to lose that part of myself. For that would be a true and irreparable loss. Something was taken from me against my will. But I will be damned if I am willing lose a part of myself because of that.

In a few days, it will be a new year. My mother has a New Year’s day tradition that she calls her New Year’s run. It’s a simple concept, she goes on her first run of the new year and thinks only of happy thoughts, mitzvahs, blessings. It is the one run a year devoted exclusively to gratitude, to joy. No matter what, on that day she honors joy. And though I will be thousands of miles away and five hours ahead of her, I will honor the tradition of her run with one of my own.

And when I go for that run and bring in the New Year---for the first time since my rape I will not be dogged by this burden anymore. I will not be eaten alive by hiding it, defending it, explaining it. I will be living with it, not at war with it, not paralyzed by it. I will not be standing on that proverbial beach, before that wave, sputtering and struggling, waiting to drown. I’m going for a swim. I’ve no shame, no secrets, no silence left in me any more.

I was raped and I did not deserve it.  I was raped and it was not my mistake. I was raped and that does not make me a bad feminist, daughter, friend, partner or person. I was raped and that does not make me naïve, weak, or less than.  I was raped and I have no obligation to heal, to want, to do, to say anything I don’t want to.  I was raped and it is a part of who I am, it is a part of my story, it is a part of me. But it’s not all of me and it never will be.

I am still the girl who runs on the field who believes in people, in good, in hope.
I am.

I am still kind and ferocious.
I am still myself.
I am.
I am.
I am.

Now, listen.