TW/CN: Rape, Sexual Assault, Cis White Men Getting Away With It

There have been three or four high-profile cases in the news lately of young, cishet, white men getting away with raping women. Some of the victims have been vocal, speaking against the judge and system and man and family. Some have been ‘compassionate’ (I’ll get to that), talking about how a ‘mistake’ shouldn’t define a person’s life. Some haven’t really been able to defend themselves or speak for themselves. Some have been quiet.

I was quiet. For a long, long time, I was quiet. I still am, in most ways. Most of the people who knew me then don’t know. Most of the people who knew us then–me and him–still don’t know. And I don’t use his name when I do talk about it. I use veiled references. I hint. I don’t give exact dates, I don’t give details. I know that people on my friends list are also on his friends list, and they don’t know, and I don’t want to go through he-said/she-said drama and bullshit. He’s a my-age cishet white male. I never turned him in. There’s no evidence. And at the time, I don’t even know if there would’ve been bruising or tearing. I know a hymen is no indicator of anything (they’re so varied naturally), but mine had torn at a young age to a bouncy horse incident. Whether it grew back..? I don’t know. Anyway.

We were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. In love, or so we said. I thought so. I found out later that he mostly wanted sex with virgins. He grew tired of me when I was no longer virginal enough for his tastes. Of course…that was his fault. And of course, virginity is a ridiculous societal construct meant to hold women down…but that was the point, right?

Anyway.

I didn’t speak, for years. I didn’t even call it rape, for years. I lied to myself. I lied to everyone, because who would believe me? I knew my parents wouldn’t. They always assumed I was having sex, doing drugs, drinking underage, smoking, partying. What a laugh. I got straight A’s, never did find out where to buy drugs or alcohol. I still awkwardly call it alcohol. I still have only had champagne at weddings and wine at the Table, and a little mead at my own wedding. Two swallows, enough to know the fire of it and that I wanted no more. I never even snuck out. I was too terrified to try.

And, because of my Purity Promise, I thought I had to marry him. I thought that the first person to stick their penis in me–with or without my consent–claimed me.

Even if I felt my soul die the instant it happened.

Even if I liked women, too.

I lied. To myself, to my parents, to my grandparents, to my friends, to him. And when he kept using my body, over and over, and telling me I was too stiff, too unemotional, too uninterested, I tried to force my body to respond.

Because that’s how it had to be, right?

Years later, when I finally began to hesitantly call it rape, I realized he probably didn’t. And, at the time, I thought, “Okay, there are two sides to this story. To me, this was rape. To him, it was sex.”

But that’s not how this works.

It has taken me almost half my life since then to realize that.

Rape is rape is rape is rape.

And I say that even though I know consensual non-consent is a Thing. Because that is different. See how ‘consensual’ is included there? Trust is a Thing there. Conversation, knowledge, consent. It can still go too far, it is a dangerous Thing, but consent is built in.

Anyway.

We had talked. He knew I wanted to wait for marriage. He decided–apparently–that he didn’t. And just like that, suddenly, I had no choice. I was trapped, and there was no escape.

I put it off, thinking about it, dealing with it emotionally, for years. I couldn’t make a scene, you see. Every tiny emotion I showed was so -dramatic- in my family.

And so I live with the knowledge that every time I show emotion about this, or about any rape, I might be seen as ‘dramatic.’ I hear it in that Emily Gilmore voice, “Everything’s so *dramatic* with you, Lorelai.” I am keenly aware of how my family takes this any time I talk about it.

I have told my mom and my dad now. It was…it was traumatic and relieving, telling them. Terrifying. I had panic attacks and nightmares, but they both accepted me and my story. I don’t know that they would have all those years ago, but they did now. Half a lifetime later. I’m glad.

But I’m also still aware of how my mom is still with my step-dad, and how my step-dad said, multiple times, that women were to wear skirts so men could have “easier access” to them.

I wore pants. Not even shorts. Jeans, always.

I finally bought a pair of shorts I like this year. For the first time in…I think since I was a little girl, I wore a dress without pantyhose and shorts underneath, too.

I am very aware that whenever a rapist gets away with it–and they are always cishet white men, almost invariably young–that all of this is going on in the back of my mind. My stomach is tightening. This all comes to the forefront, washing over me.

I want to tell my story, but how can I? How can I, when I lied for so long? How can I, when I know that my family is watching? How can I, when I know that so many people are mutual friends even now? How can I, when I am battered with the idea that women are supposed to be compassionate, even to their perpetrators? How can I, when talking about it in the company of mutual friends–like on my Facebook feed–feels like I am somehow hurting him?

 

These are some of the things that keep me up at night, that make me think I am a terrible person. Reason #3383 Why I Am A Terrible Person, on repeat as a litany through my mind: I lied. I lied in a big way, and I lied to myself, and I can’t trust myself, and so how could anyone else trust me? I lied to cope, to deal with my circumstances, but it hardly seems to matter when honesty is such a big part of my foundation.

And that’s part of why I want to tell, too: confessionally. I want to cleanse myself of the lie, to let it go. But who deserves such a burden? And how many times must I unburden myself? How long before I will be able to get out of bed with ease, and for more than a day or two at a time?

 

Will this ever get easier, seeing these stories? Will we ever learn to treat victims/survivors of rape better? Will we ever stop telling victims/survivors that they must be ‘compassionate’ to their perpetrators? Will we ever start treating cishet white male perpetrators of rape the same way we treat cishet black male perpetrators of rape? Will the day ever come that we teach consent to everyone, candidly, from birth on up?

 

I don’t know, but now, I am exhausted.

 

When I Hear “Not All Men” (TW: Rape, Rape culture, catcalling)

When I hear “not all men,” I want to tell you how my step-father sexualized myself, my sister, and our female friends at young ages. To my knowledge, he never touched any of us inappropriately, but he made lewd enough remarks to make our friends refrain from coming back to our house. They were uncomfortable. Throughout my life, my friends–from puberty onward–have consistently said, “Your step-dad is creepy.”

I want to tell you how he would forbid me from going on a double-date with my friends to a pizza shop, because in his mind we might have sex in the booths because it was Valentine’s Day. We were 15, and it was a school night. And it was a pizza shop.

I want to tell you how he would constantly leer at my female friends, either complimenting them in a sexual manner or negging them. I want to tell you how he did the same to my mom.

I want to tell you how many times he insisted I was having sex, being ‘bad,’ how many times he slut-shamed me for…nothing. For having a boyfriend, for not having a boyfriend, for going on dates, for doing homework, for hanging out in my room alone.

I want to tell you how he did this to my sister, too, but that isn’t my story to tell.

I want to tell you, getting away from my step-dad, how the first guy I thought I loved raped me. And I want to tell you how I thought that because he did that, I had to marry him, because men had taught me that my purity was that important–that the first person to put their penis in me was the one to claim me, no matter how it happened, no matter my will in the matter. I want to tell you how I’m so scared to tell you that this guy raped me, because I’m afraid he’ll find out even now, so many years later, that I’m telling people and he’ll tell you ‘his version’ of events, and you’ll believe him over me.

I want to tell you that I had talked with this guy I thought I loved about sex. I’d told him I wanted to wait. I’d told him I didn’t want to have sex until marriage. I’d taken my vow seriously, even though my parents both thought I hadn’t. And this guy still raped me.

I want to tell you how this guy continued to use my body for months after that, complaining that I was “too stiff” and “not virginal enough” for his tastes, even when I tried to leave him. He would just say, “Right, I’ll pick you up at 7 tomorrow.” And then he would show up, and I would go with him, because I didn’t think I had anyone to back me up.

I want to tell you how when I finally got away from this guy, because college started, he came to visit me once. And he pushed himself on me. And when I pushed him away, he said, “Isn’t this what you want?” and tried again, and I felt dead inside.

I want to tell you how he invited me out to a bar in my hometown once, to ‘make amends.’ And I thought, “Okay, this is a public place.” But he insisted on driving. And when I wanted to go home, he insisted on making a stop at a friend’s house. He had me come in with him. And they tried to spike a drink they gave me. They tried to get me to drink it. They tried to get me alone in a room with a strange man. I got out, and to this day I don’t know if I was some kind of delivery? some kind of payment? just a random potential victim? And I don’t know if they later lured someone else in.

I want to tell you how this guy isn’t the only one. I want to tell you about the guy who saw me in my car, trying to pick up someone at the train station, and thought it was appropriate to catcall me, loud enough to be heard from the entrance of the station all the way to the back of the parking lot, over and over. I was too frightened to stop my car, so I just kept circling as I waited. I didn’t know what would happen if I stopped.

I want to tell you about the man who randomly began serenading me in a McDonald’s. I didn’t know him. I was with a partner. I was just trying to order food. Suddenly, he’s in my space, singing to me, this random stranger with dramatic gestures. I tried to be polite and hoped my partner would step around me. I didn’t want to cause violence.

I want to tell you about the partner who violated my consent because he wasn’t thinking about me, he was thinking about what he wanted. I’d expressed a need for space, for time to myself. He thought that was an appropriate time to stroke off in front of me. When I asked if I got a choice, he paused, and when I acquiesced to a certain form of play, he took it further. When I tried to pull back, he didn’t let me.

I want to tell you about the classmate who thought it was appropriate to comment on women’s clothing choices–because he thought some of us wore ‘too tight’ of clothing. I happened to be wearing skinny jeans that day. I wondered if he was talking about me.

I want to tell you about the gay male classmate who elected to tell an entire classroom of students that he was the only queer student in the room–as I stood right there in the room with him.

I want to tell you how my dad constantly interrupts me, belittles me…and how it took me telling him that I was suicidal to get him to stop.

I want to tell you how one of my male partners defaults to fat-shaming me when he feels defensive about something.

I want to tell you how one of my male partners slut-shamed me for enjoying sex.

I want to tell you how in one day, I had three men slut-shame me–two for enjoying sex and one for not being sexual enough.

I want to tell you how I have received death threats from men for writing Letters to the Editor about President’s Day.

I want to tell you how a man tried to shut me up by presuming I was married to a man: he said he would ‘tell on me to my husband’ and that I needed to ‘go make my husband a sandwich.’ This, because he didn’t like some comments I made online.

I want to tell you how a man asked for my credentials, and when I provided them, he then sneered that I hadn’t done enough work to get them.

I want to tell you all the times that more of these things have occurred, but I can’t remember all of them. They’ve stacked up over time into a huge, exhausting wall of “actually, yes, all men.” Because this is the responsibility of all men. My existence shouldn’t cause all of that.

Processing

My therapist pointed out that when I see her, I’m really good at being in my head and not in my feelings.

I think I’m like that nearly always, which is part of my depression. I’ve learned to disconnect head and feelings, which hurts–but it hurts less than being in my feelings. When I’m in my feelings, I hurt. When I’m not, it’s…numb-hurt, muted hurt.

I think part of it getting worse is that I don’t have a way to dive into a thing anymore. I used to do that with school. School was a Thing In Which I Could Progress, a thing in which I could immerse myself and be surrounded by all these other voices–current and past, living and dead. I could excel in school because I could put all my focus there and none on myself. It felt good. And I was still doing something ‘appropriate’ and ‘worthy.’

Then I fucked it up.

My final semester of seminary, I TAed for a class. I was also supposed to be signed up to take the course for credit, but I didn’t realize that. I’d been given conflicting information: told that if I was signed up for credit, I couldn’t TA, told that if I got paid I couldn’t get credit, told I could get credit in place of getting paid, told I had to get paid even if I was getting credit. All of these things came from different people, and I tried to fact-check myself, and got what I thought was an answer, so I followed it…but it turned out not to be right.

At the end of the semester–after I’d already been given my school’s highest scholastic award, and after I’d already accepted payment for the TA position (and been in almost every class for that position, as well as my regularly scheduled classes, and written my thesis)–I found out that I either shouldn’t have received credit or shouldn’t have been paid. But if I didn’t receive credit, I couldn’t graduate, and my award would have to be taken away–and the school thought I’d well earned it.

I almost wish they’d taken it away and given it to someone else, because knowing what I know now…I want to give all the money back, but of course it was already spent on groceries/bills.

Anyway, there’s part of me that feels like I don’t deserve to go on to get my PhD/ThD, because I fucked that up.

And because school has always been a ‘safe space’for me in terms of being able to hide…with that option seemingly lost to me, I feel at loose ends. I’m not sure there’s anything out there for me. So…I don’t know what to do.

I wish I could fix it.

I did apologize, so much.

I was told it wasn’t my fault. I feel like it is.

I don’t know what to do.

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

Are All White People Racist?

This is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while. I’ve had my answer to the question for what feels like a long time. Now, I’m in the midst of an online protest–#FBBlackOut–so it seems a good time to talk about it.

First, what is #FBBlackOut, and why am I participating? 

In simplest terms, this black-created, black-led protest seeks to hit Zuckerberg in the pocketbook by encouraging protesters to deactivate our accounts from 10/16/15 at 10:16am EST through 10/19/15 at 10:19am EST. Deactivation means Zuckerberg receives no ad revenue from said accounts.

It started because people of color feel unsafe on Facebook. From groups like the not-so-cleverly-named ‘Nate Higgers’ proliferating (and rarely being taken down because they supposedly “don’t go against Community Standards”)

FB group 'Nate Higgers' failing to be removed by FB

(though for the first time I have ever seen, Facebook reversed decision on this one group–possibly at the pressure of several hundred users reporting the group at the same time?);

'Nate Higgers' group removed!

to such ridiculousness as showing the graphic and violent deaths of people of color over and over on auto-play on Facebook, but having the death of one white person immediately removed from the stream (because white death is more distressing?);

white death is more distressing than black death, according to Facebook

to people of color being banned/removed from Facebook for up to 30 days for saying “fuck white people” (a sentiment I, as a white person, can well understand, coming from people oppressed by my race);

PoC banned for saying 'fuck white people' on FB

and more. There’s rampant blackface, racial slurs, use of nooses and antisemitism and all sorts of derogatory, racist language and imagery on Facebook. Usually, reporting it results in an image like the first–a result of ‘Sorry, we can’t/won’t help you, because we don’t consider this to be hate.’ And though so many users–like myself–have ‘reviewed’ the process by telling Facebook that yes, this is indeed hate, it has seemed to have little impact.

Thus, #FBBlackOut:

#FBBlackOut Zuckerberg

I am participating in solidarity, because I am tired of seeing my siblings of color treated so terribly and made to feel unsafe on social media.


But this isn’t only about social media. White people don’t do these kinds of things only on Facebook, or Twitter, or Fetlife, or whatever other social network. And while sometimes it is that egregious–like, say, driving a vehicle marked with Confederate flags through a black party–it’s usually not.

And I think all of us white people are complicit–even those of us who are actively working against racism. I know that makes it sound hopeless, but I don’t think it is.

The thing is, racism is systemic. It’s part and parcel of our current system of power. All our power structures rely on racism (and sexism/misogyny, and cisnormativity, and heteronormativity, and etc.–but this is about racism, and so I’m focused here for now) to function. If we took out racism, very quickly things would crumble and change. That’s pretty scary for those who are currently in charge. And it’s pretty beneficial to anyone with white skin, regardless of whether we’re working to change the system.

For example, I do anti-racism work. But if I go into a bank with a friend of color with the same or better qualifications, I stand a better chance of getting a home loan than that friend. It doesn’t matter that I do anti-racist work. My father, who is white and who leaves pretty angry racist comments on my Facebook wall with alarming regularity (despite believing himself non-racist), would stand the same (or possibly slightly better, due to being male) chance as me of obtaining that loan, and still better than my friend of color.

Also, when I walk down a street, no one clutches their purse in fear. How do they know I’m not the best pick-pocket around? They don’t; but conveniently, I’m not black. I also don’t get followed around stores by over-worried salespeople/management–they don’t think I’m there to steal, they assume I’m there to shop. Usually, if I need help, I can’t find anyone to help me. They’re either ignoring me or too busy harassing following the black customers.

People who look like me are pretty easy to find in entertainment, too–skin-color-wise, at least (I’m not going to get into the size thing now). Mostly, white people aren’t stereotyped into roles. Also, white people tend to be treated as ‘generic’ for pretty much any nationality in these roles, while people of color are rarely cast in anything but stereotyped roles. Entertainment may seem fluffy–but it both shapes how we view the world and is shaped by how we view the world.

In terms of protest, the very fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sam DuBose, Tamir Rice, Amber Monroe, Jasmine Collins, the Charleston 9….. takes a breath The fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests have been in the wake of all of the deaths that inspire the #sayhisname and #sayhername and #saytheirnames chants and actions is itself a form of racism. It says that we expect black people to be angry, and that that anger is unjustified even when it is so justified there are no words to explain how justified that anger is. And then…when white people actually do riot over pumpkins and games–well, we call those things ‘just another day,’ or ‘kids being kids,’ or ‘fun and games.’

I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. I’ve never had to fear the police marching through my streets in-step, knocking batons on the ground, spraying teargas and other chemicals long into the night without warning–without giving me and my loved ones (and any of the children and elderly in the area) time to clear out. But I have watched that happen in more than one neighborhood of color in St. Louis–most especially when the police shot and killed Mansur Ball-Bey.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/st-louis-shooting_55d5f900e4b055a6dab32fcc
St. Louis police at Page & Walton following their killing of Mansur Ball-Bey

I could keep giving more examples of how racism exists. I could keep pointing that out, but that doesn’t really answer the question.

What does?

Simply, in every example I (or anyone) could give, white people have power, and people of color do not, in the current system.

And even when we white people do anti-racism work, we’re still beneficiaries of a system that prizes white people over people of color.

And even when we opt to walk away from racism–well, that’s a privilege, isn’t it, to be able to put down that burden? People of color don’t get that option. Racism is always there, always present in their lives, and they can’t walk away from it. Us choosing to walk away? That’s us being complicit in the system of racism by exercising our privilege not to think about it or deal with it.

The good news is: we can keep fighting the system. Every one of us who joins the fight means one more set of hands/arms/brains/heart in the struggle to right this massive wrong. And that means we’re that much closer to overturning this systemic ill.

It’s long. It’s hard. It’s continuous. And it is importantSo many people’s lives hang on us recognizing our complicity in racism and choosing to take up the work anyway of anti-racism.

I truly believe:

None of us are free until all of us are free.

Mental Health Therapy and Luxury

Therapy for mental health is and is not a luxury.

On the one hand, such therapy can be expensive and is often not readily available. Some therapists aren’t covered by insurances plans. Some offer sliding scale fees, and some do not (based on their needs for keeping their practices going/themselves fed/etc.). Too many people consider therapy to be something for ‘privileged’ people, something that is frou-frou or extra. Many terrible stereotypes about therapy, therapists, and those of us who avail ourselves of mental health services exist and are perpetuated. These things all work to make therapy a luxury for many people, in the sense that it is not easily affordable/accessible for these people.

Personally, this cost keeps me up at night. I guilt myself for using resources to take care of myself when I’m not financially contributing to our living situation. And yet, taking the steps to take care of my mental health has been life-saving.

On the other hand, therapy is not the same thing as a luxury good such as an expensive car, watch, set of cook ware, mansion, TV, or any other thing. While these things are also not affordable/accessible for many people, they do not provide a healing service.

I’ve heard, far too often for my liking, pairings of “I can’t afford therapy” and “I’m buying an (or more than one) expensive item,” from people who are experiencing mental health issues. People get to choose how they spend their money and manage their mental health–but those two statements don’t logically fit together.

As well, as someone for whom mental health services are a need, such statements sound to me like the speaker does not believe the issues I’m (or any one else dealing with mental illness) working with/through are real. It sounds dangerously close to saying, “Why go to therapy when you could just do XYZ other thing?” or “Oh, you should just get over it.” That may not be the intent, but it is the impact.

I cannot buy my way to mental health. I am not positive that anyone can. Even in my fundamental Christian upbringing, I got that message:

Of course, the Titanic did sink–which makes this song a bit odd once I really stop to think about it–but that repetition of not being able to buy my way to happiness? of not being able to get myself to mental wellness via money? I was gifted that even in my super-Christian, super-fundamental background, courtesy of Amy Grant.

Even though I prick myself about the costs associated with therapy, I am grateful to know that I can’t buy my way to wellness. I wish I had better words to express this, in the moment, to the people in my life who have implied that therapy and luxury goods are of a kind.

The Town of Angry Bees

For me, there’s a town full of angry bees.

Sometimes the bees are dormant, as if covered in snow. The buzz is there, but buried under feet of cold crystals. It can be ignored, talked over…for a while. But there will be a price to pay if I wait too long, because snow does eventually melt.

Other times, the bees are very active. Sometimes they’ve been swatted at by others, made angrier, ready to sting with no provocation. Sometimes they’re just…there…being angry bees…and it’s wise not to go near.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if I’ve been away or out of contact for a long time.

I’ve discovered that there are bigger bees and smaller bees; bees whose stings I notice immediately and those whose stings take a long time to show.

I thought some of this swelling was protective, and to a certain extent, it was–but it turns out it never needed to be there if the stinging hadn’t taken place.

I almost never want to go to this town of angry bees, but I keep getting pulled back. Responsibilities. Guilt. That one bright spot amid all the bees.

The bright spot plans to get out.

After that…I think that town will always be filled with angry bees for me.