ten months

Trigger warning: sexual violence.

Ten months ago I was raped and since then I have been writing this blog to reflect on what happened, both to me and those around me. I have updated my ‘progress’ once a month, partly just so I can check back in and reflect on how my feelings have changed.

Last month I wrote about how busy I am and that rush seems to have done nothing but increased. Keeping busy isn’t always a helpful strategy, and not always the best way to protect your mental health, but it has definitely helped me. It feels like so long ago that I was raped, and a memory that increasingly I draw strength rather than pain from.

I am grateful every day for the ways in which I was supported and the fact I have been able to forget. That does not mean that I no longer care, but the pain has been turned into passion I can do something useful with.

Increasingly I will turn this blog into being about something broader than my personal experiences. I will write about the same themes but from a broader perspective: feminism, LGBTQ+, intersectionality etc. I also came out recently so get ready for some articles on that subject.

What my rapist did was wrong, but it does not define him: he is still human. Perhaps more importantly, it definitely does not define me.

nine months

Trigger warning: this post reflects on the experience of sexual violence and it’s aftermath.

 

I go through phases of anger & passion and then forgetting about what happened to me nine moths ago. This is a perfectly natural cycle but can be somewhat frustrating. Yesterday was One Billion Rising and we, my feminist society, discussed sexual violence as part of the event we hosted. Then I was angry thinking about what happened to me and felt passionate that I would do everything I can to achieve justice. Today I am tired and remember that I have a million and one things to do.

Some days I think writing this blog is enough. Some days I think I should be doing so much more. Some days I worry that this blog is misdirected and may be doing no good at all.

It still helps me process the aftermath of sexual violence though and that, in my opinion, can only be a positive thing. Sadly I will probably never change the world, or at least not by myself. Small actions can keep on growing though and I can at least try to minimise the harm that I do.

Life is a constant compromise: I could write a longer and more meaningful post reflecting on sexual violence OR I could finish updating the pictures from my body positive fashion show Label. With everything else I do that choice is very real. For now, I’m going to focus on Label and hope to have more time to spend on this blog soon. I cannot do everything but I will keep trying and the cycles of passion and apathy can be a good thing. They allow me time to be crazy productive and then a space, albeit limited, to rest.

I really want to backtrack to the beginning of my experience soon. I realise I’ve still not written something completely clear on how to go about reporting rape to the police. Hopefully I will publish that within the next couple of weeks and, as always, anyone is very welcome to share their work or words with me.

pansexual

I have written before about identifying as ‘straight’, much as I hate the word and labels in general. However, I’m not feeling so certain about that any more and am increasingly drawn to the idea behind the word ‘pansexual.’

The Oxford English Dictionary defines being pansexual as ‘not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.’ This makes a lot of sense to me. Whilst I am still imbued with subconscious biases and affected by the patriarchal culture which we all live in in different forms, I am slowly moving away from gender and sexual identity assumptions.

The less grounded I feel in being a cis- female and the fewer assumptions I make about another persons gender, the less it makes sense to me to identify with the label ‘straight.’ The concept only works for people with clear cut gender identities, which is great but I am not one of them and I am starting to stop assuming other people are. 

It has been a summer full of experimentation and ‘first times.’ It has possibly been the best summer of my life. One of the weird and wonderful things that happened was that I fell for someone assigned the gender identity of ‘female’ at birth. I think the label ‘gender fluid’ describes them best, although I am not sure they would ever slap a label onto themselves so this is just to give you context. I have never been attracted to someone with a ‘female’ body before.

In many (most) ways they are very masculine but I never thought about gender when with them or found it weird that I was with a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’; they saw themselves as simply a human being and that is how I saw them. Hence, perhaps pansexual may be appropriate and I like the idea behind what it stands for.

However, it is still a label at the end of the day and I think most, if not all, labels are inaccurate. Broadly speaking I still find myself attracted to people who are cis male and I think this person from the summer may simply be an exception. I may not be attracted to women but simply to them because they are interesting and intelligent and such an insane individual.

I’m not sure if labels are helpful to contribute to our ability to communicate and express diversity or damaging in the way they shoehorn people into different expressions of themselves and form groups around an identity. Either way I am much more comfortable with the ideology behind the word ‘pansexual’, than the restrictions around the word ‘straight.’

intersectionality

When people talk or write about rape it’s important to remember that they are speaking as an individual. This is an important point to be be made because people often fail to look beyond their own perspective. Don’t assume someone is sad when they might be angry, don’t assume someone is full of hate when they may pity their rapist. Some people may not respond at all, they may accept is as normal, take years to process it, have more serious problems… don’t invalidate that. If you think it is wrong that people consider it normal then question what it is about your position and life that makes you think so. Don’t assume you’re right and that the survivor is in need of pity; look at the context and meet survivors where they are, listen to their story.

My experience has very little in common with a woman who has been raped as a ‘war crime’ or a man who has been raped by his wife. My identity shaped my experience and response, as did the identity of my rapist. The latter is not something I feel I can write effectively about so I will focus on the former: how the intersection of my identities affected being a survivor of rape.

Firstly, I am a feminist. You may have gathered this if you’ve read any of my other blog posts but the centrality of this is not something that can be under played. My feminism makes me stronger and the label has connected me with a network of people who have stood by me. It took me a few days to process but I understand consent, I knew my rights, I knew who to call and what to do. I have written about this elsewhere so will not go into extensive detail but something perhaps equally important is something that I talk much less about.

Secondly, I grew up within a Christian family and, when I was younger I was a very strict Christian, not because it was enforced upon me but because I chose it. I chose to be confirmed and chose to go to Christian summer camps. I have been delaying writing a blog post about the intersection of Christianity and feminism because it is complex but it is something that I feel strongly about so I will do so soon. Here I will simply say that growing up I did not believe in sex before marriage and began to develop the idea that sex was something sinful. I firmly believe that my family never intended this but from reading the Bible I gathered this impression. I don’t even know where this is in the Bible or how I found it but I remember reading that if you masturbated you should cut off the hand that caused you to sin. I do not think there is anything inherently harmful about religion! I think Christianity can be used for great good and I admire my parents faith. However, a combination of curiosity, an over active imagination and my choice to believe in God did some damage. I have issues with penetrative sex and, although I am no psychoanalyst, I suspect this is linked to the strength of my fear when I was younger.

Thirdly, I am white, British and middle class. I am lumping these three together because a) if I didn’t this blog would go on forever and b) the identities are often perceived to give me credibility. Clearly this is wrong but sadly it is true that my race, nationality and economic/ social position have helped me. I still think there are issues with the way the law handles consent and cases of rape but we have a fairly effective police force with relatively low levels of corruption (I think!) in the UK. I am a citizen and full time resident of this country and present as a ‘typically’ English cis- female. From reading through stories of immigrants or people from ethnic minorities, they are often not taken so seriously. I will make no attempt to speak for these survivors but I hope that by referencing these privileges then at least I will no longer be actively part of the problem.

If you would like to read more on the importance of checking privileges then please read my previous post: https://afterassault.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/checking-privileges/

How does the intersection of your different identities shape your experience?

LGBTQ+

Last night one of the first things that happened on walking into a club was that two guys made out in the middle of the dance floor and no one responded. Amazing! Of all the nationalities, cultures and individuals mixing in the club no one seemed surprised or disapproving; they were just another couple making out. Now I’m a bit of a rubbish ally* to the LGBTQ+ movement by pointing this out because it shouldn’t be exciting, it should just be normal.

However, given the discrimination we are up against it sometimes seems worth celebrating the fact that this is now possible. I wouldn’t normally write about this because it should just be obvious but sadly the situation did not stay positive.

The two guys quickly headed over to our group, one (from my perspective!) was displaying traditionally heteronormative behaviour, borderline ‘lad culture’; while the other clearly seemed to be gay and seriously into the first guy. I am aware that it is wrong to typecast people by behaviour, clothes or make these assumptions but in day to day life it’s sometimes inevitable that you use these social cues to read situations.

The guy who was presenting as gay began flirting heavily with me. He may well have been queer, bisexual, pansexual… for all I know but he was not displaying any indication of being attracted to women other than this over the top, staged flirting with me. The guy he had just kissed grabbed another girl within our group and began making out with her in the centre. I felt like he was attempting to assert his ‘straightness’, that he had only kissed a guy for fun on a night out and would show us all how ‘manly’ he was, or rather show himself.

From my perspective the guy attempting theatrical flirting with me seemed upset and the flirting with me went up a notch; as did the attempt to make out with me. My understanding was that he now wanted to back track and make the kiss with a guy seem like a joke too. After turning away three times and being pulled back, I disappeared to the bathrooms and my friend kindly followed me.

There is a lot wrong with this situation. Firstly, everyone was drunk and no one was checking consent. Secondly, making out with a guy seemed to quickly become something to be embarrassed by. Thirdly, the solution was to try and make a scene of kissing intoxicated women. Fourthly, a ‘straight’ guy felt uncomfortable kissing a ‘gay’ guy, so the ‘gay’ guy was upset and made a ‘straight’ woman uncomfortable by attempting to kiss her. STOP PASSING ON THE DISCOMFORT.

Make out with whoever you want but make sure you’re sober enough to be making decisions you’re comfortable with and for the love of god CHECK CONSENT.

*(Tangent: I am an ally to the movement because I identify as ‘straight.’ I have huge issues with the word ‘straight’ because I think it buys into the gender binary; it excludes other genders from your sexuality. I also think it can be perceived as accepting gendered characteristics. I as a cis- female seem to accept female characteristics and am interpreted as saying I fall for male characteristics, such as strength. If you reduce it to sex rather than gender then I am saying I am attracted to penises above vaginas, which I am not. I have huge issues with penetration so penises are not something I particularly appreciate. All I know is that I identify as cis- female and so far in my life have fallen for guys who identify as cis- male, so I guess I’m straight? Maybe?)