I asked my writing coach where to start this story. We are working on show, don’t tell. Umm...should I give details about young people and rape? Do people wanna read that? Do people want to relive their own traumas?
I’m trying to write a story about a story I don’t really understand yet.
I was 15. I was at a party. I said no for 4 hours, but I was too afraid of him to say it like I meant it. I said no, and he said “Relax. It’s just this, it’s just that. Don’t be so goody goody.” He said I had no reason not to, but I was too afraid to leave. I blamed myself for lying to my parents about what I was doing, for going to a party when I was 15. They warned us about this in health classes, you know? Besides, If I left, where would I go? My friends were all drunk or asleep, and I wasn’t old enough to drive.
Eventually, he got what he wanted from me.
OK. That’s not a lot of details, Chelsea.
Well. I think about half of the population can very easily fill in the blanks because this story is pretty commonplace for women.
He told all my friends because he was dating someone in my friends circle. He knew I would be blamed for it, not him, because I had had a few beers, and that’s how power dynamics work with teenage girls. In high school, when people are sexual, girls are always whores, and boys are always studs.
When my friends asked me if I slept with him, I did exactly what I promised myself I would do while it was happening: Deny. Deny. Deny.
No one believed me when I said it never happened. I was one of the last girls to still be a virgin, so they were happy to have me join the whore club. It made them feel better about choices they didn’t really feel great about making. I never really questioned why all the girls in my high school tended to feel horrible about themselves after sleeping with someone.
Most of the girls I grew up with had been sexually assaulted at some point, too. So reflecting guilt and shame back and forth was normal. There was always hope you weren’t a trashy, used up whore, if another girl was being talked about the next day.
I went further and further into denial. I was mad at myself for letting it happen. I closed off all ability to talk with my friends about dating. I was pretty deep into my eating disorders and body dysmorphia at the time, so I just put my sexuality into the category of ‘things I don’t associate with.’
My first boyfriend and I had been dating for a while when he “found out.” He was bragging to his friends about taking my virginity when one of the other guys told him he heard I had slept with someone two years before. My first sexual encounter had always felt like a scandal that was my fault. Like I did something I wasn’t supposed to do, and like I needed to hide it. So I denied it for 2 years, and called myself a virgin. My boyfriend was 3 years older, so he had missed the aforementioned gossip. I told him I was a virgin when we met and didn’t sleep with him for about 10 months. When he found out, he came home to me, crying and fuming, his face bright red, calling me a worthless fucking whore. He told me he could tell I was a whore when he slept with me. He said I was all loose and should be ashamed. I was. He threw glass cups at me, broke his expensive PlayStation, screamed, cried, broke up with me. He decided he wanted to get back together a few days later, but told me how much I owed him for lying. He told me he didn’t know if he could stand the sight of me because all his friends think he’s a chump now. He said I was lucky he loved me.
I always denied. I couldn’t admit it, but he knew I was guilty, I had slept with someone before him, I wasn’t a virgin. I let it happen because I was a whore.
Looking back now, I really, truly thought I deserved everything he was saying to me, and he was right, the shame had really been settling in. I felt guilty to see him cry, and to know I had caused him pain.
I hated intimacy with him. I hated him. I hated intimacy with anything, especially myself. But I knew how broken I was. I knew I didn’t deserve better and I knew I owed it to him to pretend like I liked it.
I remember, in 8th grade, we watched this video in Sex Ed that related female virgins to a new piece of gum, and girls that had had sex to a chewed piece. The video argued that no one would want to marry a chewed-up piece of gum.
There was no mention of male virginity.
For the next 12 years or so, I was busy having eating disorders and wishing I didn’t exist. I wasn’t having a lot of sex. I dated more people I didn’t like. I had worse interactions with men in my 20’s, and I continued to blame myself for not being lovable. Honestly, some of this stuff, I just can’t talk about yet. There is just too much fear for me to share some of my other stories; the newer ones, about men who manipulated me, threatened me, depleted me, emotionally abused, or coerced me.
I would tell you about it if I could. But I’m not ready yet.
I haven’t yet decided how much of this is my fault. You see, that’s the thing.
I have a really fucked up relationship with intimacy now, at 30 years old. Not just sex, but even trust, relationships, and connections.. And pleasure. Pleasure, the reason most people have sex, is just not something I have ever felt safe enough to be able to tune in to when I am with a partner.
Writing about my eating disorders is so much easier than this, because I kinda...fixed that. I haven’t come anywhere close to fixing this, I’m just now starting to understand where it comes from.
About 3 years ago, when I learned about consent, I came to the realization that I was raped when I was 15. It wasn’t just me being a whore, who was easy, and couldn’t resist, having sex with someone when I didn’t want to. I was physically forced into it. And I honestly had no idea I was raped until then.
Recently, I made a vague post on Facebook:
I felt really odd after posting that. Everyone kept commenting like, “You are so brave, I am so sorry” and all I could feel was shame and guilt that I’d burdened them with my sorrow. I didn’t feel like a needed them to feel bad for me. I imagined conservative people posting memes about women who are intentionally victimizing themselves. My brother always tells me I like to play the victim. I wondered if I was doing that. I didn’t feel heroic, or brave. I felt like a person who a shitty thing happened to, but it was a long time ago, and is very common.
That day after I made that Facebook post, coincidentally, I was registered for a workshop about somatic connection to sexuality and intimacy. When I first arrived, there were lots of people, and chairs. I sat down in the middle, and waited for a friend I had invited along. A man came and sat down next to me. He asked me small talk questions about how I was involved there. The chairs were close together and I was nervous. I felt hot. I didn’t want him to be close to me. I moved a chair over, and he apologized for being in my space. I felt bad for making him feel rejected by honoring my space.
I ended up sitting on the ground, in a back jack in the front, next to my friend. The small talk guy, at my 5:00, kept smiling at me. I wondered if, men, in an environment of women who are “looking for sexual enlightenment” are turned on. Do they think all women here are horny and easy? I refused to make eye contact with him.
We were asked to close our eyes, do some breath work and notice what we noticed. This was a big moment for me. I was concerned about the 5:00 guy, so it took me a moment to let that go, , and breathe into my own body. I realized, I was scared of him. I took a few more breaths, and thought “I’m scared of men.” I imagine they are all trying to take advantage of me.
We did a few connection exercises where we were very randomly paired. I was always disappointed to be paired with a man. Of course, I was paired with 5:00 guy at some point, and I blamed him for creating that. Was that true? Had he made that happen? Or was I making that up?
The whole time I was partners with him, I pretended he was someone else.
Honestly, this feels too similar to every relationship I’ve been in with a man.
Later, we were asked to imagine our ideal sexual situation. I shuttered. I pulled away. I had so deeply given up hope of that being possible, that forcing myself to imagine it, felt... unsafe.
After a few partnered connection experiences, we sat back down and were, once again, prompted to concentrate on, and imagine an ideal romantic/sexual situation. I tried to really allow myself to believe it was possible, and shame came right up, screaming at me about how broken I was. But I had been meditating a lot, and really connecting with my compulsion to self shame, so I was able to recognize it. Once I let the shame be ok, and I allowed myself to be broken and exhausted, I just cried. I cried because I saw, maybe for the first time, the possibility of feeling truly safe in my body.
After the first draft of this blog, when I talk about the workshop, my writing coach makes a comment like “Isn’t it ironic that this man, during THIS time, at a sex positive environment like that, decided that was a good time to be creepy!”
“No, no. You misunderstood. He didn’t do anything. I was afraid of him, that’s the point, my brain is fucked up!”
“No! She explained, he made you uncomfortable, it’s not your fault!” She demanded.
Is that true? I don’t know if I believe her. Was I manifesting his creepy? Or was he creepy and I’m attuned to that. I truly haven’t yet decided. Either way, I am clearly in a pattern of blaming myself.
I don't know, man. I really don’t.
So here I am, as broken as I’ve ever been, staring at this screen acknowledging that I am broken. And you may be too.
It’s recently become so obvious that it’s not the physical trauma itself, but the internalized shame, fear, and lack of self worth that is a result of my rape that makes my sexual assault matter so much to me.
Especially when it happens at a young age. Because of my first sexual experience, I have never had any intimate relationships that weren’t grounded in fear.
I know, intellectually, my rape, and other sexual assaults I’ve experienced weren’t my fault, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for them. But my body doesn’t know that. The cells in my body don’t yet believe that. The nausea I get when I think about certain people in my life reading this doesn’t believe that. I still want to protect some people who harmed me, because I don’t wanna shake things up. But since Dr. Ford did, I see that I kinda have to too. But I don’t want to.
So, as we asked before, do people want to hear stories about rape? No, of course they don’t. But I kinda have to tell mine.
I’m still in a lot of denial. I would so much rather just pretend this didn’t happen. Writing the word “rape” hurts. I don’t want to.
I heard Dr. Ford say she didn’t want to give her testimony, and I knew what she meant. And I believed her.
I’m trying to come up with a point to this post. I guess the point is that a lot of my rape still feels like it’s my fault. And intellectually, I know it’s not, but it still FEELS like it's my fault.