Trigger Warning — this post includes the reproduction of “jokes” about sexual assault, and also a description of an actual experienced sexual assault.
You may have seen recently on Shakesville a post which got much attention, called The Survivor Thread. It was an excellent post which garnered 300+ comments from people sharing their experiences with sexual assault. Liss not only encouraged them to do so — she specifically encouraged those who have been assaulted more than once, saying:
And many of us who are survivors of repeat assaults will not speak of it; many of us will pick the “worst” one and talk about that in threads on assault, as if it’s the only one. We do this for many reasons: We might feel embarrassed by being repeatedly victimized, as if it’s indicative of a character flaw within ourselves; we might have trouble discussing multiple assaults without undermining what tenuous feeling of safety we have; we might have faced reactions of incredulity from people with whom we shared this information and thought we could trust; we might have been called liars or hysterics—accusations born of the silence about sexual assault.
I am the survivor of repeated assaults. Though I have never spoken of them in much detail, I have been public and open about the fact that as a teenager, my boyfriend raped me more than once and otherwise assaulted me more times than I counted or even remember. I think, when filling out a survivor survey and forced to choose, I picked between 21-35 times. Liss is right, though, that we tend to pick the “worst” assault to discuss. For me, this is both in spite of and because of the fact that I often find two of the assaults that were not penetrative to have actually affected me just as much if not more than those which were.
But it also reminded me that while I talk of only him, my ex-boyfriend is not the only one to have ever sexually assaulted me.
So while I didn’t speak on that thread, it was there, brought out of the recesses of my memory, and in the back of my mind. That was when, on Saturday, I came across a thread on a private blogging community I belong to. An original poster talked in his journal about seeing an attractive woman at Subway and thinking that she might have been flirting with him, and a commenter responded with: “You should’ve grabbed her tits.” And then, when he got a positive response to his “humor,” “I just don’t want that bitch to think it’s okay to ever go into a Subway again.”
Of course, being the humorless feminist harpy that I am, I called him on it, and not very nicely. Then, because I was triggered, I wrote an earlier version of the story below in my own private journal, as a means of processing and coping.
In the meantime, the “joke”-maker refused to apologize, made further jokes, and claimed I was making assumptions and ought to drop the matter. When I refused to back down, and spoke openly, loudly, and angrily about my own sexual assault and the damage he had done to me and my entire day, and the blatant disrespect he was showing me with his lack of acknowledgment and apology, he responded with the information that: 1. he was being ironic and making fun of people who did think that way, so it didn’t count and 2. the fact that he didn’t care that he had triggered me had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with gender. Another person (who I think is female, but I do not know for sure) also took it upon themselves to step in and say to me “There’s really no need to act out like this.”
In addition to the fact that I want to now make a feminist tee-shirt out of that phrase (Feminist Bloggers: Acting Out For No Reason), and have used it as a title for this post, it cemented in my mind something that I had already long suspected: there are not many things in this world that scare more people than a sexual assault survivor who is willing to speak loudly and without shame about what was done to her — including, often, to other survivors, themselves. Even worse is when she demands accountability from other people for the attitudes that allowed her assault(s) to be committed and for them to be excused. Seriously, it scares the living shit out of them.
And it scares the living shit out of me, too. Because I’m often the one who is speaking, and that speaking is scary. It is particularly terrifying when you do it outside of a feminist space, a space that is relatively safe, and know it’s unlikely that anyone will speak with you.
But while I think that all of us need to speak out in our own time, when we are ready, if we are going to speak out at all, this is precisely the reason why I feel the need to do so. It is the reason I feel the need to not hide anymore. Because people expect me to. They want me to. And if they want me to talk about it? They want me to be apologetic for doing so, and damn shy and timid about it.
They don’t want me to “act out.” And they don’t want you to, either.
One of my stories is below. It is the one that was triggered by the incident outlined above. It is the only one I am yet ready to tell, and by far I imagine the “best” of them all. And I have decided to share it for all of the reasons stated above.
If you are able to, I encourage to do the same in the comments. Yes, I am totally ripping off Liss’ idea, but I have to believe that she would actually be pleased that it is staying alive.
“Act out for no reason.” Whether trans or cis, woman, man or genderqueer, whether your assault would be seen as “negligible” by most or almost unspeakable, say it here. This is a place where it will not be minimized, it will not be dismissed, it will not be laughed at, it will not be questioned, and you will not be accused of overreacting, like I was on Saturday. I’ll see to it.
His name was Andrew. I remember because he had the same name as the crush who I idolized for many years; otherwise, I hardly knew him. We were in middle school, though I don’t remember what grade. I had boobs. Significantly more so than most of the other girls at that age and I remember that I was still trying to figure out what the hell to do with them and how to support them properly. They always felt very much there.
Anyway, it was gym class. We were playing baseball that day, and I went outside, walking with one of my friends. I was wearing my purple uniform-mandated gym tee-shirt. It was sunny; I remember that well. Andrew was wearing a baseball glove, and walked up to me like he wanted something.
Just as I was starting to say “what?” he reached out with the baseball glove-clad hand and grabbed my boob. The right one, as I remember it. Just like that. Marched on up like he owned me.
Another, separate time, he grabbed my ass, out on the running track, with a bare had that time, of course. I don’t remember what I did either time. I was humiliated, that I remember. I probably smacked him and yelled something. I don’t know.
But it was the first sexual assault I ever endured. And what a sad thing to have a “first” of.
It didn’t even occur to me to report this to the teacher, the administration, my parents, anyone. It didn’t even occur to me. I didn’t think they’d take it seriously, because I didn’t think it was serious. Not in a way that wasn’t self-doubting. After all, a boy randomly grabbing your tit was supposed to be some kind of compliment. Especially for an unpopular, kinda chubby girl like me.
And anyway, it was minor, right? It was just my boob. He was wearing a baseball glove! And he was a kid. He didn’t know any better. It’s not like he raped me. It’s not like I said “no,” of course putting aside that I never had the chance.
Oh, the excuses that could be made.
Yeah, you know, it was comparatively “mild.” In fact, I think that most women endure something like this at some point in their lives. But that’s exactly why it’s such a problem. Because it’s assault. And yes, he was old enough to know better; even 5-year-olds know they’re supposed to keep their hands to themselves.
I was 12 or 13. Again, it was the first sexual assault I had ever endured. I knew that he shouldn’t have done it, but felt that there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.
When those around us giggled as a response, when they shrugged their shoulders, when a boy grabbing your boob was some kind of compliment and I knew that was wrong, but then it happened to me … it was the first indication I ever really had, sexually speaking, that my body, mine, didn’t belong to me. Not really. That boys could do what they wanted to do with it. And that was just boys being boys.
One to two years later I was being routinely sexually assaulted and even raped by my boyfriend. And I don’t really see that as some kind of strange coincidence, or think that what I was taught then is wholly unrelated to my failure to recognize abuse as abuse. I honestly don’t even remember whether the rapes or other sexual assaults came first. It’s all a hodgepodge of incidents, some surely forgotten, of various assaults floating through my mind. There are two reasons why I think that my memory is like swiss cheese in that regard: because it’s a side effect of post-traumatic stress, and because it was just a part of daily life, and you forget daily life.
But of the ones that I do actually consciously remember at some place in my mind, this one that is most normally forgotten. For many reasons, I think. It was also the first.