Monthly Archives: November 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the Brown Line …

So I was on my way back home last night, after visiting my friend Kate Donovan (a fellow blogger, read her things!), and I was riding the El, minding my own business in the fairly crowded train car, when these two men sat down in the seats next to me.

They were talking boisterously, which was fine, but then they started cracking jokes about “the fattest woman in the world” whom one of them had heard about recently, and it started to make me feel uncomfortable.

I had already been having a pretty rough, anxiety-ridden day, and I knew that all this talk about weight was likely to trigger my eating disorder, so as soon as they began to muse about the kind of hideous porn that this woman would allegedly make, I got up abruptly (probably visibly perturbed) and moved to the other end of the car.

They laughed uproariously after me as I got up to leave.

That’s fine. They can laugh. Just like I can walk away.

 

When I finally got off at my stop to make my transfer, I stepped up to the platform just as my train was leaving, so I cursed the public transit gods as I realized I would have to wait for another 15 minutes.

I huddled over to the area under the heat lamps — where two other men were standing — to keep myself warm as I waited.

As I stood there and retrieved my cell phone from my pocket, I saw with my peripherals another man come around from behind the partition, and the following incident ensued (keep in mind that I’m partly paraphrasing; I wish I had thought to record it, but it all just happened so quickly)**:

 

Him: [walking up and muttering something about red hair]

Me: [focusing intently on my cell phone, pushing buttons and trying to ignore him in hopes he’d go away — which never works]

Him: Beautiful, beautiful redhead …

Me: [not making eye contact, continuing to ignore him]

Him: Your red hair is sssssssssssssssssssssso gorgeous!

Me: [looking up briefly, and deadpan] Thanks. [proceeding to fiddle with my phone]

Him: Y’know, I’ve got this friend who owns a bunch of bars and restaurants and theaters and such, so if you ever want to hang out, I can take you out sometime —

Me: No thank you.

Him: Or if you ever want to call me or anything, my number is —

Me: No thanks, I’m not interested.

Him: Here’s my number, it’s 7 … 7 … 3 …

Me: Really, I’m not —

Him: 6 … 4 … 2 … 9 …

Me: Are you just, like, making up numbers now?

Him: 3 … 8 …

Me: [to the other two guys keeping warm] Do you guys pick up girls like this? Do you approve of this behavior? [one of the guys shakes his head, and the other one says adamantly: “No.”]

Him: I’m not trying to pick you up! I got a girlfriend at home!

Me: You’re not trying to pick me up? Then why are you giving me your number?

Him: I’m just trying to give you a compliment! Not my fault you can’t take a compliment!

Me: Hah! Oh, I can’t take a compliment?

Him: I was just saying I find you attractive, that’s all!

Me: That doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck you. I don’t have the time to have sex with every man who finds me attractive.

Him: [looking surprisingly offended by that remark] I’m not exactly hurting for sex. I’m going home to my girlfriend right now.

Me: Doesn’t matter. You just want to conquer me. I’m just a conquest to you. [at that, the guy who had been standing next to him nodded his head silently in agreement, and I turned to him] Thank you! Thank you for agreeing with me!

Him: Ohhhhhh, I see. Girl, you been taking too many —

Me: [anticipating exactly what he was going to say, because I’ve heard it all before] — “feminism courses at college”? Yeah. Yeah, I have.

Him: That shit’s not real, you gotta get all that out of your mind. You just think that allllll men want is sex, but I’m just trying to be friendly! I just want to make friends!

Me: Hah! I’ve heard that one before. [“Bashful,” anyone?]

Him: You just gotta relax and be more friendly! You think you know what men want? You don’t know what men want! Men want comfort.

Me: Tell that to the men who raped me.

Him: Listen — women have all the same rights as men! You can vote! Men and women are equal!

Me: Hah! Okay, I really don’t have the time to educate you about reality right now …

Him: [getting up in my face] You know who really is oppressed — black people! You have it better than me!

Me: Yes, but women in those minority groups are worse off than their male counterparts. Sexism is intersectional.

Him: No, no, no, no, no —

Me: Yes! And I’m not denying that racism exists, the way you’re denying that sexism exists!

Him: I’m not denying sexism exists!

Me: Yes! You are!

Him: Listen, sweetheart —

Me: I’m not your sweetheart.

Him: Are you a lesbian?

Me: Hah! … Would you go away if I said that I was?

Him: I’m just wondering.

Me: Of course. Because if I don’t want to suck your dick, then obviously it’s because I’m not into men.

Him: I didn’t say anything about sucking dick! Now you gotta go and start stereotyping black men, like alllll black men like getting their dicks sucked —

Me: All men like getting their dicks sucked, I didn’t say anything about black men …

Him: What’s wrong with being friendly? What’s wrong with me telling women they’re attractive? What’s wrong with that? Tell me! Tell me — what’s wrong with that? What —

Me: I will answer you if you stop asking me the same question over and over again. Street harassment is a microaggression, and microaggressions are cumulative. It’s just like when you walk down the street at night, and a white person is walking in front of you, and they turn around and see you, and then cross to the other side of the street — that’s a microaggression, and it happens to you every day, and it just reminds you of your place in the world — just like men remind me of my place in the world every day when they harass me on the street.

Him: But I didn’t degrade you! I didn’t say anything degrading! [cue an elderly man walking into the heated area] Look! I’m just being friendly — just like I’m being friendly to this guy! Hey, man! How you doing?

Me: But you didn’t give him your phone number or tell him how pretty he is! See? You’re not treating us equally! We are not equal. Ask any woman what they think about this, and they will agree with me. And don’t you wonder why that is? It’s because we feel degraded! And you should listen to the people you try to tell how they should feel —

Elderly man: [to me] You’re really overreacting!

Me: That’s easy for you to say — because you’re a man, and this doesn’t happen to you!

Elderly man: You just need to put things in perspective! [around this time, the first guy left to catch his train]

Me: I am putting things in perspective! This is the perspective —

Elderly man: [getting up in my face] Let me tell you something about perspective. My voice is impaired, and you know how that happened? I was caught in a chokehold that left my voice like this.

Me: I believe you, and I feel you. I was choked violently by the man who raped me —

Elderly man: Yeah, yeah, yeah … [waving me off and getting on his train]

 

At this point, I walked out from the heated area to get some of that cold air — delirious at this point, due to the sheer absurdity of it all, and the adrenaline. And when I walked back around to warm up, there was a whole new group of people standing under the heat lamps from the train that had pulled in — two of whom were police officers. So I stood next to one of them, and as soon as I had planted both my feet on the concrete, the cop nearest to me wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his body. I immediately wrestled my way out of his grip, and he said, “Hey! No! Come on in here and get warm — you don’t have to stand out there in the cold!”

What the hell?? I didn’t know what to say. I was baffled. Even after all that, I was lost for words. How could this man have had the audacity to grab hold of my body like that without any consideration for my willingness to be grabbed — and in front of all these people?

Oh, right. Male entitlement.

I almost forgot.

 

Now, I sincerely don’t recommend that every woman react the way that I did in the face of this kind of adversity. The only reason I talked back was because I made a quick, unconscious assessment of my safety and knew that, given the relative crowdedness of the platform, and my proximity to the two bystanders I mentioned, I felt like the risk of any violent escalation was low. That’s not always the case. And even in this case, I’m sure I only got worked up because … I don’t know, maybe every 334th encounter like this warrants an outburst, because taking it silently on the chin every time can be depleting.

 

All I know is I need feminism.

 

If you can read this anecdote and still not acknowledge the necessity of feminism, then you have lost the plot entirely. I can’t tell you how often I’m told by men to relax while they attempt to ensnare me, that I don’t know better than they do with regards to a woman’s place in the world, that I should take sexual harassment as a compliment rather than as a privileged affront to my gender, that I’m making a big fuss over nothing if I recoil at the greedy hands of a stranger.

 

Well, fuck that.

 

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

 

 

**The “slymepit” has seen fit to doubt the accuracy of my transcription w/r/t the actual content involved in the conversation that I described. For the record, the only parts of this encounter that I am unsure about are the statements’ chronology and I left out some dialogue that was just a repetition of what had already been said. But every statement that I transcribed was, in fact, made, and I remember very well the wording that was used. I know, I know, there’s no hard evidence, but I just wanted to clarify which details I feel like I may have fudged (again, chronology and some repetition), and also to let the slymepit know that I SEE THEM. o.O

I am thankful to be alive again.

 

As this year starts winding down, I’m starting to realize more and more how much — and how far — 2012 has brought me. I know that the historical roots of Thanksgiving render this holiday a heavily veiled celebration of genocide, but if you would, please allow me to persist in this cultural delusion just for the time it takes for you to read this post.

It’s about to get uncomfortably sentimental in here, so how’s that for a trigger warning. 😉

Now, I’ve never been one to uphold widely recognized traditions or to even genuinely participate in any of the quintessential aspects of our nationally celebrated holidays (except, of course, for the part where everybody drinks). That means I can’t remember ever sitting down to make a list of the things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving.

But something about this year has really soaked my heart in it.

So if you want to know what I’m thankful for … Here it is.

 

I’m thankful for my big sister, who decided on a whim to travel out to live with me after I graduated. She is an eternal optimist — which used to clash with me in all my rampant cynicism, but I realize now that she’s what keeps me balanced. Her uplifting company always comes as a much needed reprieve from the cocoon of hopelessness I often find myself wrapped up in. I really look up to her, and I’m lucky that she’s chosen to spend the next chapter of her life with me.

I’m thankful for my friends. The ones who get me out of the house. The ones who understand when I just can’t manage to. The ones who make me laugh and tell me stories, and when they ask me how I am, they look me in the eyes and really mean it. And I’m thankful for my friends, the “anarchofems,” who have so quickly become the epicenter of my support system. They are ever present, and they have kept me from spiraling into so many isolating episodes, I just wish I had found them sooner. Each one of us aches in our own way, and we all know how much support is worth, and so we exist in a perfect symbiosis of love and compassion. It’s beautiful. And it’s strong.

I’m thankful for Kate Donovan, who warrants an issue of thanks all of her own, who cooks for me when I haven’t eaten, who soothes me when I just can’t deal, who listens to me even when she literally has 382479299 other things she needs to do. And then she turns around and gives the same treatment to everybody else she loves. Amazing. When a person shows you that amount of care, it can fundamentally restructure the way you relate to other human beings, and that is what Kate has done for me. And I’ve only known her a year. To borrow an ironically religious nuance, she is one of my most cherished blessings.

I’m thankful for recovery, which has brought so many pieces of my life back to me — like one of the most precious pieces, my best friend of 17 years, who I had the rare chance to see this past weekend. She held me up when I was at my very weakest — at the very height of the abuse — and it’s in her honor that I strive to be strong.

I’m thankful for my parents, who have been so supportive of me throughout this journey I’ve embarked upon, when I know they probably have had the hardest time of anyone in dealing with the repercussions of this exposure. When they could have just shut down, they opened up instead. And I know from listening to others’ stories that I am tremendously lucky in that regard.

I’m thankful for the men in my life who have shown me what real respect is. And no matter how much they continue to insist that they don’t deserve any special recognition for that, I can’t help but feel this unrelenting gratitude that never fails to move me to tears. (Thank you.)

I’m thankful for this platform, which has provided me with a voice that I had been burying for so long. I know that it can be abrasive, but it helps. It helps. It helps.

I’m thankful for my counselor, who I know will hear me out if all else fails (and who keeps me hopeful that it won’t). I never knew the true meaning of safe space until I started therapy, and without the people who forge out those spaces in all the corners of this beat-up world, so many people like myself would remain irreparably broken.

I’m thankful for the kind words I’ve received — from every friend, family member, and even stranger — over the past few months. It seems to take about a thousand acts of kindness to treat the wounds from just one act of violence. And I’ve experienced not one, but dozens. Luckily, everyone around me has begun to make up the difference, and so this burden keeps getting lighter day by day.

I’m thankful for the birds, because when the depression was at its worst, they were my only friends, and whenever I would watch them, it was the closest I could get to feeling joy.

I’m thankful for feminism, which everybody needs.

I’m thankful for Amanda Palmer, whose agonized words and melodies have been my salvation over the years. Is it weird to pick a singer/songwriter as one’s spiritual guide? Or is it more normal than we tend to admit? In any case, I owe that woman my life, in so many words. All those nights she’s kept me up late, webcasting private concerts from her apartment, tweeting till my ears bled, blogging prose that made me cry with recognition, and making music that could — and has — narrated my life … Those have been the best nights of all.

I’m thankful for anaphora, because without it, this sappy hooey would be unbearable to read.

I’m thankful for my mind, and for everything within it that — despite its obvious afflictions — has enabled me to somehow make sense out of this whole mess, to forgive myself for years of internalizing abuse, to find pleasure in my sexuality, and to harness my pain in order to do good. They keep telling me I’m strong, but I’m only just starting to believe them. It’s funny how the brain can fail to perceive what should come as no surprise. But we only get one, and this one’s mine.

I’m thankful for my newfound hope, a variety of which I had never before felt inside of me, not even back when I was “well.” I listen to myself preach change and peace and progress, and I balk for a second to think that I would have scoffed at all of it, had I met me half a decade ago. This hopefulness is so overpowering, it’s almost a nuisance. But you know what? I kind of like it.

I’m thankful for the fact that things change. That change. That if nothing else, people change. And when I look back on being enveloped by darkness, and thinking only death would free me from it, I am stunned by how such a dramatic shift could have ever brought me back into the light. But it did. And here I am. So can we ever be sure that anything’s really hopeless? And isn’t that such a liberating thought?

And I’m thankful to be alive, because I haven’t been — neither thankful, nor alive. For too long, I’ve been unconscious. Looking through vacant eyes, being but a hollow body, heaving but an empty heart. And all I had for life during the past 3 years was resentment. I never stopped to wonder why I was here, because the answer would have been irrelevant. The real question, to me, was why did I have to be here. Why couldn’t I just not be. But now, I’m feeling this new thing that is really rather remarkable. It’s the feeling of wanting to be alive. And I think I finally understand what all the fuss has been about. I’m feeling things again. I’m living.

 

I’m thankful again to be alive. I’m thankful to be alive again.

 

But most of all, I’m thankful for not being done yet. Because if I were done, there really would be nothing left to live for. I can slip back into darkness at any moment, and I know that. I know that in that darkness, there is no hope, and no amount of pretty words can change that. I know that I can go from complete serenity to panic attack in the time it takes to entertain a solitary thought. But I can see now how it also works in the reverse. I almost look forward to my next big failure, my next episode, my next debilitating cry. Because it will mean that I have more things to learn, more work to do, more of myself — and more of others — to explore and to take care of.

 

Sheeeeesh, who even is this person talking??

 

Ah, fuck it, it’s me. 😀

 

A Guide for Intimate Partners of Sexual Assault Survivors

Trigger Warning for discussion of sexual assault (not explicit).

Photo by Ashleigh Haddad (click to enlarge)

 

Let’s be real. Sexual assault is pervasive. It happens often. And it happens to people we care about, whether we know about it or not.

Grappling with that fact can be outrageous enough, but here’s the real clincher: Given the horrifying realities of sexual assault, if you happen to be a sexually active individual (or if you plan to ever be one), there’s a high probability that you will have sex with a survivor at one point or another. (And that probability gets even higher if you identify as queer and/or male.)

So what can you do with that acknowledgment? You might be thinking: it’s in the past, it doesn’t have anything to do with me, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Nope! False. You certainly can’t change the fact that it happened. But there is, on the contrary, so much you can do about it.

As their intimate partner, you are in a unique position to help them beyond simply being a good friend. The level on which you interact with them is the same level on which they were violated. What you say and do on this level can make a huge difference, and that’s a responsibility that you can either accept or respectfully decline. But I know from speaking with others on this subject that most of people’s reluctance to act on this responsibility comes from their being at a loss for what to do.

This is why I’ve compiled a list of tips for you that I hope will prove to be useful. If you strive to be a supportive intimate partner to a survivor of sexual assault, I would advise you to:

 

  • Believe them. If your partner discloses to you that they have been a victim of sexual assault, it is of the utmost importance that you believe them. Don’t be skeptical of their claim. Recognize that the social landscape we live in has made it so that survivors feel silenced and blamed for their attack. And if they’re anything like me, they might very well be entering into every sexual encounter assuming from the get-go that their partner will doubt the reality of their experiences — whether that doubt is ever expressed aloud or not. That being said, I know that saying the words “I believe you” might feel a bit awkward — or even unnecessary, if you think it should be obvious. But it’s not. If you can, try saying it directly. They need to know for sure. The goal should be to make your partner feel safe when they’re alone with you, and making a wholly unambiguous statement such as “I believe you” will serve as a huge step in that direction. (It’s even better than “Gosh, I’m really sorry,” even though that one probably seems more instinctive.) **HaifischGeweint made a good observation in the comments about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s far better to thank your partner for telling you about the assault than it is to apologize for hearing about it. A survivor is entrusting you with this information, and it’s the act of disclosure that you ought to feel grateful for. I know that saying “I’m sorry” feels natural to us, but it’s conventionally an expression of pity, and survivors should not be made to feel pitiful. They should, instead, be made to feel honorable — both for surviving and for having the courage to speak out.
  • Ask the right questions. I know that when you hear someone say something like “I was raped,” you might be curious about the details. Rape can manifest in so many forms, after all, and since the victim is someone you know, you’re probably wondering a lot of things. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who’s the fucking shithead that would do such a thing? But it’s important to recognize that not every survivor is going to be comfortable disclosing the details of the assault, and even if they are, there are more productive questions you can ask. For instance, more likely than not, sexual assault survivors experience triggers. Triggers can happen in any situation, really, and it all depends on the kind of trauma that took place. However, if you’re going to be engaging in sexual activity with a survivor of sexual assault, there’s a good chance that you will run into a triggering situation with them — during a very inopportune moment (ahem) — and it’s going to be scary and difficult to deal with. They might cry. They might have a panic attack. They might dissociate. And they might be just as lost about how to cope with it as you are. These situations can sometimes be avoided (not always, but a lot of the time) if you know specifically what your partner’s triggers are. So you might try asking them, “Do you have any triggers I should know about, so that I can better accommodate you?” And be patient with them as they formulate a response, because depending on where they are on their own journey toward understanding and recovering from what happened, they might not have a firm handle on it themselves. Another thing about this, though, is that triggers are often embarrassing. Not only when they occur, but also just the fact that something so seemingly innocuous could be triggering is really humiliating. This is one reason why your partner might not offer you the information unsolicitedly, and why it’s important to ask for it yourself. This will show them that a) you’re informed enough on the subject of sexual assault to engage in a serious conversation about it, and b) that you really care to know how you can help. It’s also why you should suspend any and all judgment when you hear the answer to that question. Your partner’s trigger/s might be as simple as a word, or a gesture, or a sex act that you might think is harmless. But to your partner, it is a big deal. So take it seriously! And try to accommodate them as much as you can. You won’t always be able to, and that’s okay, they’ll understand. But your effort and your consideration will be tremendously appreciated.
  • Don’t minimize their feelings. In making this point, I feel compelled to share some wisdom I received directly from one of the counselors from the support group I attended this past February. I had been expressing my concerns to her about feeling as though I was being unreasonable for setting certain boundaries for myself and for feeling certain feels. In response to that admission, she said to me (and I paraphrase): “Sexual assault is the most invasive traumatic experience that a person can have. So whatever boundaries you’re setting … it is Fair. You have every right to feel the way you’re feeling.” This is as important a concept for survivors to grasp as it is for their intimate partners to do so. Because it’s a tough one. And it’s so painfully true. Sexual assault is real, and it’s visceral, and the feelings that come after are doubly so. Keep in mind that your partner is the one who experienced the trauma, so it is your partner who gets to decide how they feel. You might never understand why they can’t participate in certain activities, or why they have to react so lividly to certain pronouncements. But no matter your personal opinion, it is important to understand that they are not “overreacting.” And no matter how counterintuitive it might be, you’re going to have to take that on trust.
  • Be willing to listen. I mentioned previously that not every survivor is going to feel comfortable opening up, but you might encounter just the opposite as well. Personally, I got to the point where I was positively itching to talk to my partner/s about what had happened, about how it had affected me, and about what I needed from them, but I felt like I couldn’t bring it up, because the topic of rape tends to make most people feel a little squeamish (and understandably so). That being said, it’s important that a survivor be allowed to express themselves if they need to, because it can be one of the most crucial components to healing when the timing is right. Make a point of telling them that if they want to talk about it, you’re willing to listen. (Then again, it’s perfectly acceptable to not want to hear anything about it. I’ll speak more on that in my final bullet point.)
  • Don’t take it personally. There might come a time when your partner breaks down, or shuts down, or gets anxious or angry or depressed, and you won’t be able to understand why. In those times, it’s very important to remind yourself that it’s not about you, because your partner may not be in a state to reassure you of that. You might feel helpless, because not only are these outbursts out of your partner’s control, but they’re also out of your control. And you may be the only one around with the presence of mind to process them, but you still won’t have the tools to do so. Forgive yourself for that. The most you can do for your partner in those times is be available to them. Ask them what they need from you, and if the answer is nothing, accept that. You’ll be able to talk about it later, so just make sure to remind yourself in the moment that you’re doing everything you can, and you’re neither to blame for their trauma nor for the effects of their trauma.
  • Be patient and forgiving. This is really a tip for everybody. Regardless of your partner’s sexual history, you should be patient and forgiving. We are all on different schedules. And when there’s trauma involved, the healing process will prove itself to be a long one, so do try to proceed at a pace that your partner finds comfortable. Check in with them frequently, but let them set the pace themselves. And keep in mind that not every survivor of sexual assault will feel comfortable disclosing their survivor status to their intimate partners, so you may very well not even be aware that you’re in the company of one of us. So maybe you’re sleeping with someone who sometimes appears disconnected and distant, right in the middle of the act. Or maybe they suddenly disengage from the sexual activity and excuse themselves from the room for a while. Or maybe they start to cry, but they don’t say why, they just keep apologizing over and over and really throw you for a loop. Don’t dismiss them offhandedly as “crazy.” Consider the possibility that they may be battling a demon unbeknownst to you, and they’re so busy fighting it that they don’t see you as a potential ally in their struggle. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And what’s worse is they’ll never know either that it can get better.
  • Be true to yourself! All of this aside, you are your own person, and your self-care is just as important as your partner’s. If you come to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, you’re not willing to continue your intimate relationship with your partner due to the heavy circumstances, that is entirely your prerogative, and you should not feel as though you have to assume that responsibility if you don’t want to. I understand that it can be intense, and it can be extremely tricky. And maybe you have enough intensity in your life at the moment, or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable or capable of being the sexual partner they need. That’s really okay. But do try to leave the lines of communication open about that and be gentle with their feelings. Tell them that it’s not their fault, that it’s just a bad time, or that they deserve the kind of attention that you’re simply not able to provide. Because they have a hard enough time living with the effects of sexual assault trauma without feeling as though they’re driving everyone around them away. But do listen to yourself, and take care of yourself — there’s certainly no shame in seeking out counseling for yourself either — and make the choice that best suits you, because sex should never be an obligation.

 

That’s a start, at least. If you’re a survivor yourself, or if you’ve been an intimate partner of a sexual assault survivor, please leave any additional insight you undoubtedly have in the comments below!

Go forth and be careful with one another. ❤