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.

 

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Communication and the Soft No

We have a communication problem. Or, more precisely, we have a problem with reaction to certain communication: the ‘soft no.’

A lot of people profess to be confused about it–to the point that Dr. Nerdlove has written about it multiple times. Gavin de Becker writes about it in The Gift of Fear. What is it? It’s a way to say ‘no’ without being direct or harsh about it.

Wait, but what’s wrong with a direct no? Shouldn’t a direct no clear up any confusion?

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with a direct no. Some people are lucky enough to be educated to give a direct no. But most women are not socialized in such a manner. Most of us are socialized to give indirect no’s:

There are plenty of reasons why someone (females in particular) would present a ‘Smiley-No’ when they seriously mean ‘No’. In fact, it’s totally natural to smile and laugh when afraid as a form of appeasement. There’s even a catchy name for this behavior; its called ‘tend and befriend‘. Additionally, females are socialized from a young age to suppress their voices, to be soft- spoken, and not-be-forceful in general.

And sometimes even a hard, direct no leads to unpleasantness at the least. But sometimes–sometimes, it can lead to far, far worse, as as some of the examples from the Dr. Nerdlove columns. Sometimes we give a ‘soft no’ because we’re afraid of becoming a part of stats like these:

violence-against-women

Sometimes we give a ‘soft no’ because we’re already a part of stats like these:

graph-4-fear-race-gender-sexuality

We have fear, and we’ve been socialized to appease rather than offend. Many of us would like to use direct scripts for saying no, but it’s not that we’re being ill-mannered when we don’t–it’s that we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

And we are not making this up. In Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer, the author shows how women’s refusals are understood and ignored depending on the men in question, and shows some of the men’s rather disturbing responses to women’s refusals. And from this piece:

Women know this is happening! We know we don’t feel safe! And sometimes we may be comfortable to start changing the norm here, but this is still NOT the demographic that you should be calling out. You should be calling out the men and boys who perpetuate this. The ‘journalists’ who need to report that a girl had a boyfriend when she was stabbed to death for a hard no. The culture that teaches boys you should try as hard as you can to win a girl’s heart, unless she has a boyfriend (or sometimes still then). The world that does not respect women’s claims about their own feelings and opinions. Not the women who operate within that system and have to use patriarchy to their advantage to feel socially and physically safe.

The thing is, having to use ‘lines’ and ‘soft nos’ is a very patriarchal thing. Having to appease, to tend and befriend? It’s kyriarchal and partriarchal and it needs to stop. But we cannot put this blame on those who are at risk of violence for not engaging in this behavior–because often, this is a matter of survival.

Instead, we need to query the culture that allows for pushing past the soft no. What is it that allows for ignoring when someone says no in any way they have available (when it’s not been pre-negotiated)? I think this is part of the rigid construction of masculinity in our culture–that it is part of the construction of the ‘macho man,’ that he gets to have sex whenever he wants it, from whomever he wants it (always someone feminized to him), and that if someone refuses him, it is a denigration of his masculinity.

Except–that’s a very harmful concept, isn’t it? Of course it is. What if someone ignores his no, and takes from him what they want despite his no? What if he said a very forceful no, and they did that anyway? What if all he could manage was a soft no? Does it matter? No.

The point is: everyone’s ‘no’ should be respected, however that ‘no’ comes out. It is chilling that ‘soft no’ gets used as an excuse to blow past boundaries, and even further–to assault, rape, and murder. It happens to people of all races, all genders–but least often to those with the most power in our society, and as such, we need to start our query there, with the most powerful, who are the ones blowing past the ‘soft nos’ the most often. This is how we take down kyriarchy.

Is Premarital Sex a Sin?

A friend asked me recently whether I thought premarital sex is sinful.

I answered simply, “No.”

But more deeply, my answer is: what makes some sex premarital? What defines something as premarital? And why are we so worried about that here in America?

My friend was worried about a biblical basis for the answer–and the thing is, the Bible has a diverse amount of things to say about sex. It has about as much to say about marriage:

Biblical marriage models
Some of the many models of marriage depicted in the Bible, courtesy of http://images.elephantjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/marriage.jpg

A lot has been made about the Bible’s negative views of sex and marriage and relationships–but it has also modeled some positive views. The entire book of Song of Songs, for example, can be read straight as the love poem it is–about two lovers meeting, trysting, having sex with one another, all without being married. Interestingly, this was the most-translated book by monks in the Middle Ages–mostly to say that it was a metaphor of God’s love, of course–but it does leave one to wonder what else the monks may have been thinking. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

A lot of people who put forth that two people must wait until marriage to have sex will try to claim that such views come from an Adam-and-Eve model of sexuality (which is very cissexist and heteronormative of them, to say the least). And while starting with creation sounds like a great foundation for laying claim to something–because what better way to stake a claim to power?–it doesn’t really hold up on examination.

If we read the creation stories in Genesis–and yes, there’s more than one! even in the first two chapters!–we can very quickly realize that not only is marriage never mentioned, but in at least the first creation story canonically (which is probably the later-written story,  chronologically) the first beings can be read as intersex/transgender/non-binary/non-gendered.

So, not only do Adam and Eve not get married before they have sex and have children, but also–at least one creation story doesn’t seem to require human beings to be heteronormatively paired (and thus biologically capable of reproducing together) in order to have children, thereby destroying another common argument: that sex is for procreation, and that’s why two people should wait until marriage (because all children ‘obviously’ need two [heterosexual] parents–neveryoumind cases of abuse, incest, and the like, or people who consciously choose to be single parents, or people who choose to partner but cannot procreate or do not want to procreate…..).

Ahem. Anyway.

So, no, the argument that sex-waits comes from Adam and Eve doesn’t hold up, because hey: Adam and Eve didn’t get married. And–even if they had–their marriage likely wouldn’t have looked like what we consider marriage to look like today.

So where does it come from? I argue that it comes from the pseudo-Pauline epistles. What are those? These are the letters after the seven likely letters of Paul. Most people I know raised in the Christian Church think of Paul as an anti-LGBTQI, anti-woman, anti-sex, prudish, non-inclusive, exclusive ass. I used to agree.

But.

It turns out that Paul has only 7 likely epistles, with 6 more attributed to him by admirers and one undoubtedly not by him at all. The 7 likely letters by Paul show Paul to be a pretty inclusive person–he wanted everyone to be on equal standing with one another, with no one above or below. All were to be a part of the body of Christ, with no ‘body part’ functioning in a superior manner to any other body part–because all were needed. And Paul utilized women in his ministry in very important roles, which may have angered those who came after him. 1 Timothy in particular, as well as the other Pastoral epistles, turns these verses of inclusion on their heads. Where Paul preaches for women to be cared for, the Pastoral epistles preach that the church should not provide for women unless they reach a certain age and are widows–thereby ruining many women’s chances to enter the ministry in an effective way. And where Paul taught that all were a part of the body, with no body part superior, the pseudo-Pauline epistles taught that man was the head of the woman, ruling over her, in the ‘body of Christ.’ Superiority was put in place.

The church had been providing for women’s livelihoods under Paul’s instructions, allowing some women to remain unmarried and therefore able to be ministers. But in marriages, they had duties to perform, customs to follow, and usually could not stray from those duties in order to be ministers like the men of their communities could. Thus, with women suborned through a twisting of Paul’s teachings, men could retain power.

I think this is where our ‘modern’ ideas about heteronormative, cisgender sex-waits marriage ideals comes from. And I think this is the sin. I think it twists because it unnaturally binds, shaming people who do not deserve to be shamed.

Such a model doesn’t allow for same-sex unions, doesn’t allow for polyamorous families, doesn’t allow for the fact that rape happens. Such a model often leads to purity culture, wherein most often young women are shamed for their sexuality (though sometimes young men are, too, particularly if they sway from the strict hyper-masculine, heterosexual line set for them).  Such a model leads to a need for SlutWalks, because it cannot understand that rape and sex are not the same thing and it creates rape culture by assuming that women’s bodies are for men’s consumption. Such a model does not allow that some sex workers do choose sex work and enjoy it, even while human trafficking remains a problem. Such a model doesn’t allow for women to enjoy sex even while we expect men to do so. And it certainly doesn’t allow for us to be  kinky, even when that correlates with better mental health–because everything has to be about procreation and cisgender, heterosexual marriage. (Even when, as the title of Stephanie Coontz’s book says, that’s The Way We Never Were.)

I don’t think this is what God intended. I don’t think God ever intends for us to shame one another about how and who we love, and how and with whom we have sex–so long as we’re doing so honestly and openly, with integrity. Even casual sex–that much maligned predator of all our young people!–can be healing. Just as importantly, choosing not to have sex–if we don’t want to (maybe we’re demisexual, for example)–is awesome, too. The point is that all of us get to choose, and it doesn’t have to be dependent on some arbitrary line drawn in the sand by society or by a legal body. So long as we are able to consent, then we are able to make our own choices about our sexualities and our bodies–and I think that’s how God intended it when God made such a diverse array of human beings.

So, no, I don’t think premarital sex is a sin. I think sex that is forced–rape, coercion (without it being consensual non-consent)–is sin. I think that forcing people into unnatural unions just to get their needs met is sin. I think oppressing people for power is sin. And I think we’ve been doing all of these things for centuries, while gaslighting one another and ourselves into believing the opposite–which is why there’s so much cognitive dissonance surrounding sex in our culture.

A look at 50 Shades

Fifty Shades has a lot of elements to it that I want to explore. Most of those are external cultural elements.

On the one hand, there’s the ‘porn’ aspect of it–that it’s just trashy entertainment that ultimately doesn’t harm anyone. For a certain part of the population, this can hold true. Those lucky enough never to have been through rape, sexual assault, and stalking at the hands of a partner or prospective partner probably aren’t terribly triggered by a trilogy that is, at its best, poorly-written porn.

As well, because of its quick rise to popularity and the ease of getting it in digital format early on, it has been and continues to be an introduction to BDSM–which can be good, as long as it serves as only an introduction and not the complete manual on What It Is We Do (not that there is any one complete manual–but this would be a pretty poor one). For those who get turned on by some of the sexier play bits in the books and movies–awesome.

But on another hand, I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the massive culture into which these trilogies come, as well as those things they enable in their wake. Not only are the books and movies heteronormative and cisnormative both in characters and in the roles they take on, but they promote rape and stalking and ignoring safe words as sexy. They equate Dominance with stalking and rape (not rape play, not consensual nonconsent, but actual rape), equate submission/submissiveness with being vapid/devoid of self, and sensationalizethe violent aspects of BDSM without giving any nuance or context to the types of play we consensually desire and do.

I can’t see these books and movies as ‘harmless entertainment,’ because too many of us, across gender lines, have experienced stalking, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. Too many of our communities still protect predators at the expense of victims and survivors. Too many are disbelieved when we try to report our rapists and assailants, and few of us ever see any support or justice for experiences of domestic violence, assault, rape, stalking, and harassment. These books and movies play into a culture that prefers to see BDSM as harmful and the stuff of severely damaged people, rather than something that is a play preference that may lead to better mental health. They play into the cultural stereotypes that men know women’s bodies better than women, that female Dominants are evil, that female submissives are lost vessels just waiting to be broken and remade in the male Dominant’s image (and heaven forbid there be same-sex or same-gender pairings, or pairings involving sexes and genders other than binary genders and sexes), that BDSM is the same as sexual assault/rape/harassment/stalking, that ignoring safewords is just fine, that ‘the rules’ set in advance don’t apply to one half of the slash, that rape isn’t rape if it doesn’t fit a certain mold….

So, sure. On the one hand, there’s trashy entertainment that will probably help some people broaden their sexual horizons. But on the other, far weightier hand, there are huge issues with these books and movies that we cannot safely ignore. We need to be ready to have these conversations with people just as much as the ‘Hi, welcome, come on in!’ types of conversations, or the ‘What’s your kink?’ conversations, the comparisons of marks and paddles and costumes and collars. We need to see the harm in these ‘entertainment’ pieces and look to our own communities to make them better, to roust out predators and support survivors, to work to make it as difficult as possible for abusers to hide behind the mask of kink.


Edited to add: This made me laugh a bit. What a reimagining.

Previously posted on my FetLife profile.