August 25, 2005. The day I failed myself, my family, my peers, my then relationship, my feminism, my body, my community, my self-respect, my reputation. I had no business being at that party. I had no business trusting my friends or my surroundings. I had no business being nervous about meeting up with the woman I met at a party at the LGBT co-op a few nights prior, who accepted me for being bi-sexual and still wanted to see me again, or at least I hoped. I had no business remaining in a relationship with a guy who I knew I wanted to end it with, but felt like something was wrong with me because I felt smothered by his presence. I had no business trying to have fun before fall semester of my Sophomore year of college was set to begin in a few days. I had no business buying myself a new outfit so that I could feel good and feminine and sexy. I had no business wanting to feel sexy. I had no business…
This is what society, my friends, some of my family, and select strangers who felt the need to “drop knowledge” led me to believe.
As a black womxn in these great United States, I am not allowed bodily autonomy. I’m supposed to be ready and willing to breed whenever someone, especially a white man, deems necessary. We were brought here for their pleasure and to nurture and further their families. And being queer tends to add to the perception that I am always ready and willing to make anyone’s wildest fantasies come true. I even had someone who called himself a friend reach out to me after us not seeing each other for years to ask me if I would join him and his partner “in a night of sexual pleasure.” Having to explain why that text was miles away from being a true friend made me dizzy. Not once did he consider that I didn’t even know he was dating anyone, so I also had never met this person or vibed with them on any level for this request to even be slightly warranted. But in his mind, my queerness meant I would be down for whatever. All he had to do was make his request. So when I look back at how I was treated when I was raped in college, it’s not surprising. But not being surprised does not equal not feeling overlooked, trampled, shattered, like feces on the bottom of a shoe.
I was raped, by a white man I had met once and had 0 interest in, on a dirty bathroom floor at a party thrown by my then friends. I blacked out and came to, hunched on the floor with this guy inside of me and dirt stabbing at my palms. The first words I managed to mutter through fear and shock, “Are you wearing a condom?” He replied through a smug smirk “No.” In that moment, everything I knew about myself, everything I was, everything I planned to be, turned to dust and was carried away by the wind that had been knocked out of me. I knew I hadn’t consented to this, but there was something extra piercing about knowing that he didn’t even have the courtesy, respect, sense, whatever to use a condom. Just a tiny show of respect for my body that he had chosen to violate. But I guess in the eyes of a white guy from an affluent area of California, I wasn’t worth even that little.
When I finally managed to lift my limp body up by the doorknob and escape that disgusting bathroom, I crawled up the stairs back to the party, locked myself in the bathroom and started calling family members to say goodbye. It wasn’t really a prep for suicide. Everything in me was already dead. Felt deceased. I was just calling to let them know before whatever shell of my body was left decided to follow suit.
The “road to recovery” has come with a lot of reminders that what I experienced isn’t worth the amount of emotion I feel behind it. When I tried to numb my mind with television, I was met with a graphic rape scene where the woman was beaten to near death, flipped the channel, a popular talk show that told me I wasn’t allowed to grieve unless I pressed charges and went through the process of getting this guy locked up so he couldn’t do the same thing to other womxn, flipped the channel, a comedian joking about rape culture and how victims need to get over it because at least we got laid, flipped the channel, a popular adult cartoon joking about men being raped in prison. This is what popular culture tells us about rape. This is rape culture. It’s embedded in rape victims and makes us feel like maybe something is wrong with us. It’s been 12 years and I still ask myself from time to time if maybe I’m being too dramatic about the whole experience. Deep down, I know I am not, but the question still haunts me. I mean, I’m still alive, right? I managed to graduate on time. I made a new group of friends after the old ones turned their backs on me because they couldn’t comprehend that I was truly raped and the person they knew prior to that event was never coming back. Of course, renewal, rebirth means I would move forward to being a person with elements of the old me, but that original version died on that bathroom floor. I didn’t fall into a life of drug and/or alcohol addiction and end up in rehab or committed. I am a survivor. But surviving doesn’t negate that what happened to me never should have happened. It doesn’t negate the fact that a piece of me was stolen. And no matter what society tells me, there’s no quantifying or qualifying trauma. One form is not somehow worse than another. Trauma is trauma. There’s nothing glamorous or exciting about it. If given the choice, no one would say “I’ll take trauma and a lifetime of recovery for $400, Alec.”
The other thought that has haunted me - Was this my fault? Maybe I brought it on myself. While grappling with the answer, so many people were there to sway me towards that solid “Yes.” When I woke up dazed the next morning and immediately threw myself into the shower and started scrubbing my skin raw, it was to remove the whole of the experience from my body. They don’t mention that when they tell you that you should never shower if you are sexually assaulted. Oops. I wanted it all to go away. Maybe if I showered, I would step out clean from the inside out. My body, my mind, my soul, my psyche would all be back in tact. It didn’t work. When we went to the school’s clinic, the “friend” who knew the guy that assaulted me (I believe she was friends with his girlfriend at the time) had a list of her own questions and comments to minimize the experience. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?” and “He was really apologetic when I spoke to him, so I don’t think he did it” mixed with “You know how you are.” She threw all of this at me while we were alone in the exam room waiting for the NP to come back from frantically calling over to the main hospital to figure out proper sexual assault protocol. That first question was thrown at me repeatedly from various sources. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?” When I found out, the hard way, what it means to be a mandated reporter and 2 male police officers showed up at my apartment to interrogate me for hours, that question was accompanied by “Are you sure you didn’t have sex and now you just regret it?” The justification was that I was a girl in college and you know how girls in college are, followed by a knowing look. The same officer who tried to get me to say it was just a mistake, later tried to create a connection with me because he had a daughter and couldn’t image what he would do if this happened to her. He then offered to take me to the hospital. Not because it was important that I get a SAFE exam as soon as possible. No, he told me if I really was telling the truth, they could take me to the hospital, but it would mean having to ride in the back of their cruiser like a criminal and that they would have to insist that the hospital keep me overnight (at least) for suicide watch. That same officer then called the hospital and had me talk to a woman and convince her that suicide watch was not necessary. I ended up giving them my underwear that I was wearing that night. They didn’t bag it or anything, which I now know is also not proper protocol. But hey, I was a college girl crying rape. No one wants that on the record. No one wants to deal with it. No one wants to validate it. So when I grapple with whether or not I think I brought the rape on myself or the question of whether or not it was just a misunderstanding, I weigh all of this in my head.
If I could find a way to blame myself, it would mean I had complete control over it and the experience was consensual. If it were just a night that I regretted or a misunderstanding, I would have woken up, showered, made a big breakfast, talked about it with a friend, found some detail to laugh about, swore off alcohol forever, and then been right back to drinking and dancing the night away at some party by the following weekend. I wouldn’t have chosen to lose my friends. I wouldn’t have chosen to fall into a deep depression. I wouldn’t have chosen to have some friends and family members treat me like I was a disappointment, an embarrassment and a burden. I wouldn’t have chosen to have a family member listen to me spill my heart out in a hotel room and then lunge at me the next morning and threaten to choke the shit out of me for what I let happen. I wouldn’t have chosen to break down my first day of Spanish class that semester and storm out of the room because they asked us to share who we were and what we wanted to be. I wouldn’t have chosen to have flashbacks for the next 12 years and counting. I wouldn’t have chosen to break down in tears every time I attempted to have sex for the next 6 years. I wouldn’t have chosen to have a nervous dissociative breakdown every time I’m in a party/club atmosphere and am left alone by the people I went out with, whether they leave me by myself and go home or I think they’ve left because I search everywhere and cannot figure out where they’ve gone. I wouldn’t have chosen to fall into a depression every August, whether the anniversary date is in the forefront of my mind or doesn’t seem to cross it at all. 12 years and counting of recovery or a few days of feeling bad about myself, trust I would take the latter.
No matter how many times society, friends, family, and I myself have tried to convince me that it’s not that bad, that things could be worse, that it didn’t really happen, that I’m being dramatic, I am still left to deal with a massive scar that is slowly healing. Me. Last I heard he was engaged, so he is probably married by now planning to have his first kid. His life goes on with ease. I am the one left to deal with the destruction caused by that night. Part of my recovery, a big milestone in my recovery, has been volunteering as a Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Advocate. Being able to sit with victims as they begin their recovery process. Advocating for them and giving them back their choices that they were robbed of in the act of rape and/or intimate partner violence. Preparing them for the road ahead and reassuring them that they too will survive and thrive and aren’t “crazy” when they deal with the effects of this trauma. Welcoming them into this unfortunate, but oh so beautiful community of survivors and activists. People can tell us we’re overreacting. Society can try to minimize our experiences. If you want to convince us that rape and our trauma surrounding it is not that bad, put that energy into educating people about rape culture and pushing to end it. Because the only way rape becomes “not that bad” is when it ceases to be a part of the fabric of our communities.