18 January 2018

The Aftermath

I've been hesitant to write much in the last little while. The #metoo movement, while powerful and gratifying and very, very important, has also basically turned the world into one giant trigger.

I am not a thick-skinned person, and frankly, I don't really want to be. I have never figured out how to purposely block the bad stuff from getting in without blocking some good stuff in the process, and I would rather be a person who feels everything easily and over-abundantly than a person who struggles to feel anything at all. That's a personal choice, not an indictment of anyone else's way of experiencing the world. There have certainly been times in my life (usually when crying in front of someone who doesn't deserve and has not earned my vulnerability) where I've wished for a shell. But I don't have one, and the conversations currently swirling around sex and consent are unrelenting; it's less of a knockout blow than it is death by a thousand papercuts.

Full disclosure: I haven't been touched in a long time, not sexually. By choice, insofar as avoiding trauma is a choice. Sometimes I miss it. Other times, even masturbation leaves me in a sobbing heap.

My current profile labels me a stone femme. I think about those words a lot. It fits me, as I understand the term, and yet I don't quite understand how I can be stone and so easily hurt.

I think a lot too about Susie Orbach's "Fat is a Feminist Issue", and whether my body – my weight, my buzzed hair, my always-full-coverage clothing – are my defiant slashes to the patriarchy or another piece of armour I don't remember building.

I think about the people I've loved, and how we've hurt each other, and why some wounds heal so cleanly and others never do.

I think about how the older I get, the more I learn and grow, the harder it is to forgive myself for being harmed.

Twice, in the last two years, men violated my consent. In both cases they were men I knew well; in one case, a man I loved. They both skated expertly and neatly down the line between assault and "that sounds terrible, but…". I say this mainly as a lawyer; even as I lay there, panicked, hoping it would be over soon, I had run through all of the arguments that what they were doing was unlikely to be realistically prosecutable. In both cases I said no, but did I say it repeatedly and forcibly enough? I didn't fight. I didn't scream. I froze. We had pre-existing sexual relationships. Both were married to other women. None of these things should matter once the word "stop" left my lips, but they would be a non-starter in court, if I ever wanted to pursue that option.

In any case, I didn't. I wasn't upset because I was the victim of a definable crime, I was upset because people I cared for had treated me as though I didn't matter. I cried quietly during, and loudly later on, alone in my bed. But the physical experiences aren't the source of my trauma.

It's in my nature to give too many chances. Whether that's out of kindness or stupidity is really up for interpretation. Both of these men proclaimed themselves loudly and frequently to be feminists, and to care deeply about consent. The second, in fact, knew about the encounter with the first, and made a great display of having to restrain his full and manly fury toward my violator.

And yet and yet and yet.

Enough time has passed that I could describe what happened those two nights without too much pain, if I wanted. The way I curled into myself. The "stop", and then the "no", then the "please no". The chill in my body and the feeling of being somewhere else. Thinking about those things makes me quietly sad.

Thinking about the aftermath makes me angry.

I was a Good Communicator. I followed up. I explained how I had felt that night, how scared I had been, how it had surprised and then terrified me to find myself so unsafe in the company of people I trusted.

One told me that he "should have known" that I, with my (disabled, abuse-survivor) past, "couldn't take a joke." (When I replay this conversation, every time, in my head, I wittily respond, "are you calling your dick a joke?" Alas, in real life, I just cried more.) The other told me that this was not something we could discuss, because it "hurt him too badly to think that he had hurt me." When I told him I needed space to process, he followed up with aggressive and repeated proclamations of love. When I finally told him I still cared for him but did not feel safe being physically intimate with him anymore, he abruptly blocked me from contacting him, after a two year relationship.

I have been violently raped, in the universally accepted definition of that term, and I have dealt with that experience over a long period of time and with a lot of help. What made that easier was having a villain. I was hurt by a Bad Man. When the self-proclaimed Good Men hurt me, it didn't heal. They left something poisonous behind.

I don't have some brilliant insight into the current zeitgeist. I don't have a pithy moral. I have some pain, and I have some sadness, and I have some people who love and support me through that. I have had to let go of some of the ways in which sex used to feel central to my identity, at least for now, and for awhile I mourned that. I have to put a bit more energy these days into trust and into seeing the best in people, but it feels ultimately worth the effort. Not for anyone else's sake, but for my own.

With great love, always,


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