**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault**
I spent my first two years of college in Downtown Chicago while I studied at a music conservatory. I heard all the warnings, took all the precautions. I never walked alone. I was wary of everyone I met and skeptical of every situation. I carried pepper spray and a rape whistle. When I transferred to a state school I got rid of them. Because I didn’t think I’d need them. I’d survived the big city, what could happen to me there?
At my transfer orientation they talked to us about sexual assault. They told us that one of every three women in attendance would be sexually assaulted before we graduated, (in actuality, it was a much, much higher number than that) and while I listened, I knew it could never happen to me.
Except that it did.
I was at a party with friends I knew and trusted. I’m not going to tell you what I was wearing or if I’d been drinking or what I’d been drinking because that doesn’t matter. I’m not going to tell you if I’d been flirting with him or whether or not I physically fought him off me or whether or not I screamed “no.” I’m not going to justify my actions to you. I’m not going to let you shame me or blame me.
All that matters is that I did NOT say, “yes.”
Like it was my fault.
Like I’d done something wrong.
Like I should have been smarter.
Like I’d failed. At everything. At being a person. For not being smarter. For ‘letting it happen.’ For not making it stop.
And when I confided in a select few people whom I knew and trusted I was told…
“That’s just how he is.”
Its your fault.
“He’s just like that.”
Its your fault.
“Why did you let yourself be alone with him?”
It’s your fault.
“Everyone knows not to be alone with him.”
How could you be so stupid? It’s your fault.
I didn’t know. No one had warned me. And I didn’t warn anyone else. I didn’t report it. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t be the girl who got him in trouble when I should have known better. I felt like it was my fault, not his. So I internalized the guilt and struggled on. But now I was one of his conquests and everyone knew it. My next move was to date a guy who called me a slut. Who actively and regularly shamed me for my sexual history. Who told me I was now worthless, damaged goods. I believed him.
Thankfully it didn’t last because I swear to Adrienne Rich I probably would have married him if he’d asked. Thankfully he didn’t. He dumped me and it left me much more devastated than I ever let on. If he didn’t want me—no one would.
I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Losing myself more every day. In the years that followed I tried to deal with it on my own until I couldn’t. The few times it ever came up I was told…
“That’s not really rape.”
“It couldn’t have been that traumatic since you’re talking about it.”
(Never mind the 5 years of therapy I’d had to process this one event and be able to calmly talk about it by this point.)
The few times I shared it after I came out I was told…
“So you became a lesbian because you had a bad experience with a man.”
So now not only was my experience invalid but so was a large part of my identity. Outsiders knew me better than I knew myself. I wasn’t who I thought I was. They knew me better then I did. And when I got angry at this comment I was told to “stop being so angry and defensive.” Bitch is crazy. Their eyes said. I wondered if I was. Maybe I was being irrational. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was a bitch. Maybe I was.
I was tempted, even while writing this, to exaggerate the story. To add things. To make it seem worse than it was. Because simply being violated against my will wasn’t “bad” enough to be called rape. Certainly there are stories more horrible than my own. Steubenville. Nova Scotia. Saratoga. They contain much more horrific details and consequences than my own experience. I acknowledge that. I ache for these girls. I wept when I read Rehtaeh Parson’s father’s post this morning. The entire Steubenville case made me physically ill from beginning to end, and when I thought about speaking out, about sharing my own story, it seemed so small in comparison.
And maybe it is small in comparison. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
And I sit here and think about the Oscars. And I think about the Steubenville trial. And I think about every time I was told to calm down. Every time I was told to stop being that angry chick. Every time I jokingly referred to myself as “Angry Dyke” to soften the perception of my anger. They couldn’t make fun of me if I made fun of myself first. “Don’t make me bring out Angry Dyke.” “Ha ha, Lezbrarian—you’re so funny.” I think about this…
And I want to throw things at the wall. I want to scream at the top of my lungs.
(But that’s not very ladylike, is it?)
This is why I’m angry about the Oscars. This is why I’m angry about Steubenville and Nova Scotia and Saratoga and every single person out there who has ever been assaulted (See that inclusive language—that was intentional. All genders get assaulted people. All genders.) When rape isn’t acknowledged as rape, when we don’t report rape because we aren’t sure it really is rape, when we are told after being raped that we weren’t actually raped– it creates a world where Steubenville can happen. When comedians make jokes about domestic abuse and seeing breasts during a gang rape scene of a movie and people’s reaction is “but it was only a couple of off-color jokes, why are you getting so upset?” –that creates a world where Nova Scotia can happen. When people think it’s funny to demean women on facebook and make Chris Brown/Rhianna jokes on twitter– that creates a world where Saratoga can happen.
To quote Jean-Luc Picard,
“How many people does it take before it becomes wrong? A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How many people DOES IT TAKE, admiral?”
He’s talking about death, but rape is also death. Part of me died that day. So when people ask why I’m so angry at a few jokes on the television and on facebook I ask – how many jokes does it take before it becomes wrong?
And like the moral deliberation that Picard faces the answer is: ONE. One death is wrong. One rape is wrong. One insult is wrong. One sexist comment is wrong. One joke is wrong.
It’s because we lack a Zero Tolerance Policy that Steubenville happened. That Nova Scotia happened. That Saratoga happened. That my rape happened and thousands others happened.
It’s because we lack a Zero Tolerance Policy that people felt comfortable telling me that my rape wasn’t really rape. That it was my fault. That it couldn’t have really been that traumatic. That it caused me to ‘become’ a lesbian. That my identity is a lie. That I don’t actually know anything about who I am or my place in the world.
These words reduce me to a meaningless object that has no importance on the planet.
Which is exactly why someone thought it was okay to rape me in the first place.