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Ghosts of things past: a male rape survivor speaks

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.

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  1. Vinodhan, thank you for sharing with us in this forum about this personal and sensitive story !! You are absolutely right that rape is rape; it does not matter what the victim’s gender is. Its very brave of you to share this personal story with us and I hope it gives courage to other rape survivors to open up and demand the end of all sexual violence. I hope the perpetrators of such violence have their living life a walking hell. Thanks again for sharing !!

    1. Dear Velu, thank you so much. I am sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. Thank you for your support. This really bad and hasty Ordinance that has been promulgated in India now needs to be looked into very carefully. Beyond all this, our tendency to be violent is rooted elsewhere and is really beyond the reach of law and the justice system as they exist today – is what I feel.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Too often, silence is the answer to all the questions you have asked yourself and I also glad your answers are different.

  3. Vinodhan your account of the horror and your will to survive is an inspiration for us all. It is heartening to note that you are now in the loving hands of your partner. We can only pray that Karma deals with your former tormentors in such a way that they are incapable of hurting any other young man ever again.

  4. I believe male rape is quite common in prisons and hostels.

    The law with regard to rape is also now gender neutral.

  5. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Vinodhan. You don’t deserve the blame or the shaming – whether it’s from yourself in one of those moments of doubt, or from people who refuse to understand that NO reason is reason enough for a person to rape you. I know how this feels: I, too, tend to have eerily similar reactions to triggers: it’s one of the reasons I can’t stomach porn esp when they show penises, or get extremely afraid and paranoid in the dark. I find that BECAUSE no one really talks about it or is encouraged to, not many people even know what it means to live as a survivor of sexual abuse. ‘Triggers’ are things I sometimes need to explain, as are phrases like PTSD, blocking and victim-blaming. You don’t NEED to be a feminist or psychology student to understand the experience, but the fact is that if people really knew exactly how badly they were aggravating a survivor’s suffering by blaming and shaming them.

    Yknow, I’d highly recommend you to listen Melissa-Harris Perry’s “Dear Mr. Mourdock”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7iek_4oPPw. While the focus is mostly on women who are survivors (understandable, since she was referring strictly to pregnancies as a result of rape), she says something that applies for all of us: “When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift. When we survive, when we go on to love, to work, to speak out, to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to cry, to live, when we do that, we defeat our attackers. For a moment, they strip us of our choices. As we heal, we take our choices back. We are the gift to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation when we survive.” I think that says it all:)

    1. Dear Lisa, thank you so much. I am sorry for the delay on my part in responding to your loving comment. Melissa Harris-Perry’s words are true and beautiful. Thanks for sharing the link. I will share it with all my friends.

      Vinodhan

  6. Yes, men assume that they have the power to control, to dominate and correct, when set patriarchal norms are challenged! They thoughtlessly link biological gender with performative gender, for any digression from that would lead to the dissolution of the hetero-patriarchal system. The effeminate man is a major threat to hetero-patriarchy; for, he visibly challenges received norms of masculinity and endangers men as it were. So, he is often taught a lesson. Vinodhan’s rape might be an extreme case of brutality…but, everyday effeminate men are verbally raped when they are humiliated and abused in public…they are an aberration…they should be wiped out or converted to real men…if they do not agree to submit, they are raped and taught a lesson: SEE WHAT PRICE YOU MIGHT HAVE TO PAY FOR BEHAVING LIKE A WOMAN! And, who are these men? No, not from some other planet…but, our fathers, our brothers, our friends, our colleagues, the milkman, the cabbie, the newspaper vendor,,,,anybody and everybody the effeminate man cohabits with or deals with everyday!

    And, Vinodhan, there’s nothing wrong in seeking sex…that’s a fundamental physical need…so, why should anyone moralize on your meeting a stranger for sex? But, then, readers like us would not find fault with that…but, yes we do have moral police, most of them self-appointed!

    Anyway, I appreciate your bravery in talking about it…I guess you are feeling a lot less burdened with this tragic memory after having shared it with so many of us!

  7. Any gay man would get goosebumps, if this incident is told to them..Especially in this neo-liberal era, when virtual networking is supposed to give you that space of security which physically might not be possible. Gasping to breathe freely in this maddening claustrophobic world, can only be quenched through tears of blood…if i say i feel sad, it might sound so sympathetic…if i say i also underwent such traumas..it might sound that i’m an attention-seeker…but violence on body is inhuman and cannot at any cost be erased off so easily from the mind of the victim…some open up after 12 years…some after 32…but many remains silent cause they feel that pathos of such assault cannot be described through words…Tears that flow down the cheeks claim out loudly about victimisations…every drop of blood that runs makes one feel that this life is a CURSE…

  8. Dear Vinodhan,

    I am deeply sorry you went through such a turmoil and whats worse is that the society and country’s justice system did not do anything to ease your pain.
    I hope you will be able to put this behind you and not be afraid.

  9. The thought of meeting someone and being subjected to this itself gave me goosebumps. What was supposed to be a night of lust and passion (and there’s no harm in having such a night), turned into a nightmare of assault.

    I salute your partner for accepting you in spite of this, and respect him for being patient with you.

    I know it’s not easy to overcome…but sometimes it’s just right when they say – Time heals everything.

    I wish you a pleasant and long life with your partner. Hope you stay happy.

    Cheers,

  10. Thank you for sharing. I just want to add my support to the other comments. Please demand that the world love you and support you for the beautiful person you are. Make no mistake that the people who try to ruin other people are the ones who will end up ruined. You have the opportunity to be so much happier than the people who hurt you. Lots of love and peace to you!

  11. sad but true.
    many more go untold.
    i hope time and love heals you.
    i wish someone can now (with the soon new laws) torment them!
    i dont think that they would be brave to put their video online, as they would be incriminating themselves.if they are stupid/brainless, you take them to court. find a lawyer who will fight your case as a fight for justice (are there any no win-no pay lawyers in india?). it will be painful, but justice will be sweet.

  12. Bravo! Seriously…for sharing this!

    What surprises me, Vinodhan, is your ability to understand your condition on so many spheres! Makes me believe that you have risen, contemplated and definitely grown to accept yourself completely, an act which doesn’t come very easily to other survivors.

    You story may not be new, it may not become popular, but it is definitely honest!

    What the government does with this information that you have given them is secondary, but I congratulate you for having surpassed the barrier of the ‘Self’ and reached out so many other Vinodans who are waiting with a bated breath to embrace themselves in the face of such cruelty.

    I salute the Man in you!

  13. Vinodhan, I cried when I read about horrific experience. At the same time, I was cheered on by your tremendous courage. You have my respect. Rape is gender neutral but too few male victims talk about their trauma and pain. Hugs to you! <3

  14. I am sorry that this happened to you. I support you and I hope that you can feel safe in your own skin someday.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story. I feel less alone after reading it. I hope you do too after writing it.

  16. I was saddened to read your posting . But there is another form of abuse taking place every day in our homes , schools and colleges. Relatives, teachers and lectures take advantage of their position and have abused many a young people and have invariably pushed them to this kind of orientation . Though I am not a victim of such abuse , I have met several young people who have narrated stories of a senior taking advantage of the vulnerability of the junior. The junior is often confused and when thrown into such situations unknowing wants it. Discourage abuse in any form.

  17. Hi, My name is Lizzy and I am in the 9th grade at the American School of Bombay. In my English class we are doing Social Justice projects and I am doing my project on male rape victims. I was wondering if I can submit a few questions on this topic and if you could email me back answers? Can you please let me know ASAP! Thank you so much.
    -Lizzy

      1. Hi, thank you so much for getting back to me. I have tried contacting rape organizations as well as gay rights organizations but none have come back positively to me. Here are my questions, sorry if they are insensitive or triggering in any way:
        Whats your name?
        Are you part of any organization that fights against male rape?
        If so, what is that organization, what does your organization do and what is your role in the organization?
        What part does male rape play in your life?
        Do you believe male rape is important? Why or why not?
        How do you recommend we stop male rape?
        Why might men that have been raped be reluctant to come out about it?
        Thank you so much, I really appreciate it!
        From,
        Lizzy (9th grader at the American School of Bombay)

  18. Ad nauseum – Rape is not about sexual feelings getting out of hand. It is about exercise of power over a helpless individual. It is most amazing human trait and also higher mammals which use to enforce a pecking order. This is the original sin. Not sex. This is why both Adam & Eve were ashamed to appear before God. One had committed the act and would not accept it ‘She tempted me’; substitute with ‘He’ or the neuter ‘HSe’ (I hate usage of ‘it’). She could not understand that it was not mere ‘her curiosity’ but an amount of ‘his manipulation’; the snake was a convenient alibi/accomplice. All rapes have this angle. Unfortunately, God was not a good judge or may be it is the nature of things.The victim suffers most. ‘By pain they deliver’, figuratively speaking, the ‘post event – psychological & physical trauma’. I hope you get over it. Many have faced this ; only the degree varies as does the after effects on the mind.

  19. Dear vinodhan, I am really sorry for what happened.
    I can feel the pain in ur words. It is very disheartening to come across such a crime against men. I do believe in feminism too.
    But I just need u to remember one thing.. dont get stuck up with it all your life. Yes ; such an incident is hard to forget; perhaps you wont forget it ever.. but try to live with it. Dont let it creat hurdles in ur life. N I know that you wont… cauz u r a strong man. . It needs courage n strength to speak up… n u have it in u. Just dont forget those people who care about you. U r never alone.. god is with u… even u have your supportive parents.
    Just stayy happy…. you ought to be happy..

  20. I came to this link through YOUTH KI AWAZ!
    You have written it very well, which says you are a person of sound conviction!
    You have my condolences for suffering through like this, and also appreciation to show the bravery of coming out with your story.
    And most of all (i know it might not count to much because i am only writing it down) but, you have my support in spirit if not in actual presence.
    It is people like you who have face adversary, who survive the extreme situations, who are heroes in there own rights, who change the statuesque and make the world a better place by bringing a change (however large or small it may be.)
    I hope these humble words of encouragement and acknowledgement will help you better in coping up with your fears and also helping people who have suffered.

  21. I am really moved by your story. You are really brave to share it and I love the fact that you have not victimized the whole incident. I completely agree with you. Rape is a gender crime. Being a feminist myself, I really believe that our country needs to change their mindset regarding gender and sexuality. We need to come out of our shells and accept as well as respect one’s individuality. After all we are humans first and all of us should have the freedom to live lives their way. Nobody has the right to make anyone feel ashamed of their sexuality. I feel if we are sensitive towards these issues naturally people would be more sensitive towards sexual related crimes and people would blame the criminal rather the victim. Hopefully waiting for that day when people can proudly come out of their closet, when people would stop blaming survivors,and the survivors are the ones moving freely around without taunts and judgmental remarks, when the criminals would be actually punished and not moving around freely on a bail. Hopefully.

  22. Vinodhan
    I can’t empathise but I can surely tell you that this article made a difference in my way of thinking. I always thought women were victims but alas rape isn’t gender-biased.

    I believe that rape should be stopped completely! I will do my effort towards the society to stop this brutal crime.

  23. Thanx for sharing it with us. But it is proved that any case of rape men is the culprit. This is the reason for shame for all of us.

  24. I am struggling to find the right words to respond to your article. Though I have never been in your shoes (though once I came close to it), I can empathize with you and the trauma you had to go through.

    it was important that you told your story for others also to realize that it was not an isolated case if they had the same experience. For the one time, I came close to a rape, I felt ashamed of myself and felt guilty for it for a loooong time. I was 13 and was in my school and none of my teachers trust me when I narrated my tale. So I can only imagine what you have went through. This is why I think it was very important that you told it to the world. One the victims don’t feel guilty and second for the world to realise that such incidents takes place in our society.

    I hope that you are able to make peace with your past and can live happily with your life.

  25. You are a courageous man. Please do always remember that you are nothing less than a intrepid solider.

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