Caution: may trigger unpleasant or painful memories in some readers
Among other things, I am a rape survivor.
I take my fingers off the keyboard for a little while and read that statement a few times. I add a prayer that being able to say it out loud will help me move on; that the ghosts that have been brought back to life with full force after the recent discussions about rape will begin to calm down and vanish into oblivion.
For several years now, I have debated in my head how to talk about it without falling into the many traps that have been laid out en route: how do I talk about it without generating a victim narrative? How do I talk about it without making rape pornography out of it? How do I talk about it as a man without making it sound like I am elbowing for space with women?
I was gang-raped twelve years ago. The men even video-taped it. I was eighteen years old. I hooked up with someone online and went to meet him at an agreed spot. From there on, things unfolded at a bizarre speed. I do not want to go into the details. But I want to say some things:
Every time a friend mentions gay porn, I shudder in that panic that the video of my rape might be circulating online.
I don’t feel safe among unknown men. My stomach tightens. I try to make sure I don’t appear feminine in any way. Over the years, I have censored my body for survival. I fear on a daily basis for the safety of my genderqueer friends.
When the memories of my rape history are triggered, I am scared of sleeping alone. Even in my own home. I try and go to a friend’s place. Or lie awake on my bed. And so that I do not worry my parents with my gaunt and hunted look, I try to be cheery, and it takes humungous effort to be so.
I fear that if I speak about this, people will forget the rape and will only blame me for hooking up with a stranger, for wanting sex, for wanting sex with another man. I fear that I will have to deal with the blame on top of dealing with the bodily memories of violence.
Whenever my lover uses a little extra physical force during sex, I shut down and shrink into my shell. He might mean it in passion, but my body reads it differently. I cannot participate.
Even when it happens to a man, rape IS gendered violence. It happened to me, because I was feminine, because the men thought I deserved it for not acting like a man. Sometimes rape is inflicted on men just to shame them; to, supposedly, insult their masculinity. In whatever way it happens, it loops back to the question of gender. This is ONE of the reasons my politics is grounded in feminism. This is one of the reasons I am a feminist. I was one even before I was raped by men. I didn’t need this violent lesson to turn feminist. But if I was to live with it, I decided to make this experience of violence, which I now felt in my bones, an embodied site of my feminism. I don’t need it to be feminist. But since I have it, since I am unable to erase it, I have tried to make use of it to understand gendered violence, to understand body and performance, to understand myself and this world just a little bit more. But I didn’t ask for the violence. And there is nothing redemptive in my attempts to utilize the experience for something else. It is simply my courage and will to move on.
Orinam editors’ note: If reading this account brings you or someone you know/love memories of similar experiences, please check out some of the resources we are compiling for survivors.