What were you thinking while being raped?
Content warning: lots of talk about rape and sexual assault, obviously. Foul language, some discussion of suicidal ideation, alcoholism.
This is the kind of question we have the dubious pleasure of asking one another these days. On the one hand, I’m glad we can talk about this shit now. On the other, I’m not glad that most of us have an answer to that question.
I read this excellent piece today, and then I sat for a while, trying not to cry at work and trying to remember what went through my head while he went through my clothes. Trying to figure out what bent survival strategy my amygdala (the Little Animal?) was relying on when I stayed silent, when I smiled, when I submitted. Like Dr. Ford, I remember the event with crystalline clarity, but none of the petty details that pissants demand to discredit us. I couldn’t tell you the day, the month, or even the year for certain now. It was about five years ago, in 2013 or 2014, but I spent those years unemployed and in a suicidal depression, so the months run together in my memory. I know it was summer. I remember the sunshine and the blazing heat outside when he left my house.
He was a friend, more or less. I imagine a lot of you would say the same about your rapist. “He was a friend… more or less.” A friend of a friend. A friend of the family. That guy in the group. That guy at the party. Like, you’re friends, but you don’t have his phone number — that kind of friend. And then he gets friendlier.
We played tabletop games together for a year and a half before that summer. He was the quiet guy in the group, and I’m the kind of girl who talks to quiet guys. I heard a lot about his troubles in-game and out. There was something about an ex-girlfriend. Something about a fight. I listened with half an ear and made soothing noises. I remember not quite buying his sob story, wondering what the ex-girlfriend would say. I remember feeling ashamed of myself for doubting him without any information. I remember telling myself it was none of my business either way.
The weekly tabletop game became inconvenient when I moved, but he made the trip to my new apartment a couple of times, always with a group of friends. That kind of friend — the kind that would never show up at your house alone. At that stage in my attempt to drink myself to death, I wasn’t yet comfortable getting blackout drunk more than once a week unless someone else gave me a reason. Any reason would do. So I was glad to see them, and they were glad to see me, and the rum was glad to see all of us. We played games and caroused. We put on a movie, but we didn’t watch it — it was that dreadful Lone Ranger remake with Johnny Depp, and the audio on the pirated mp4 I had was so bad that we muted it ten minutes in and let Fall Out Boy take over the soundtrack. Vast improvement.
They left in ones and twos over the course of the evening, until we were alone. Me and my friend. And here’s the truth: if he’d made a move then, at one in the morning, I would have been down. I liked him well enough, I was drunk — I was frankly expecting it. He could have gotten laid that night by asking. But he didn’t ask
He talked. I don’t remember any of it. I leaned on him and watched the muted television, trying to line up the sound of his voice with the mouths moving onscreen. I drank more. He’d stopped, but I was used to that — as a seasoned alcoholic, I was happy to drink my friends under the table. He put an arm around me, but he didn’t do anything else. I felt safe.
Around five in the morning it started to get light out, an event that always made me feel like a degenerate when I greeted it drunk. I told him I was going to bed. He was welcome to stay, of course — I wouldn’t hear of him driving after the night we’d had. The couch turned into a bed, and I transmogrified it for him. I turned away, toward the stairs and my own bed, and then he stuck his hand up my skirt.
Here it is, #NotAllMens. Here are all the reasons not to believe me:
- I’m polyamorous, I’m a slut, and I’ve been around all the blocks, especially the one your mom lives on. I was down to fuck this boy… four hours earlier. I gave him all kinds of signals, the kind that would come up in court if I tried to press charges, the kind he would definitely remember me giving him whenever it ameliorated his guilt, even though he missed them all night long.
- I’m big and strong. European mutt peasant bones. Woman strong like bull, hitch to plow when horse dies. In case the drinking didn’t work, I was hedging my suicidal bets by overeating as well, so I was about 276 pounds then.* I’m five foot ten and even having lost some of the the extra weight, I’m a brick shithouse. This boy was two inches shorter than me, stocky, but I could easily have tossed him. At least, that’s what I thought.
- I was drunk as hell and so was he, even if he called it off earlier. Neither of us were in a state where we could legally consent, and I went into that state willingly, eagerly even.
- I was wearing a black t-shirt (emblazoned with the name of an anime convention and a giant, smiling cake) with no bra, and a ratty black skirt with bleach stains on it from cleaning the kitchen. No panties. I went commando a lot then — wasn’t like I was going outside anyway. I suppose the fact that he didn’t encounter any kind of barrier when he stuck his hand up my skirt could be interpreted as a kind of acceptance, if one were already in a rapey mood.
- I said no, and then yes, and then no again. I’ll explain the thought process that lead to this below, but that won’t make it any more rational. The fact remains that he got at least one “yes” out of me. Apparently those are eternal, like unicorns.
So he got his hand in there, and I jerked in surprise, because that’s not the way I usually say goodnight to my friends. I told him I just wanted to go to bed. I told him, “Another time. We’ll make another time for it, I promise.” My head was pounding from the rum and standing was painful. When he took hold of my hip and bent me, pulled me back onto the couch-bed, I didn’t get back up right away. Then he was on top of me and he was so much heavier than I thought.
Then I felt fear. Like you, I’m a strong woman. Not just body-strong, but headstrong too, the kind of woman whose man folks make whipcrack noises at. I’ve been homeless and I’ve starved, and I’ve carried a family through both, because I’d never met a man who could even carry his own weight. Men didn’t scare me then. I thought of them all as “boys” regardless of age. All just out beating the bushes for their next mommy.
But he was so much stronger than I expected. So much heavier. I don’t wanna suggest that someone go around laying on top of kindergartners or anything, but we need to find some way to demonstrate the sexual dimorphism of humans, because you truly have no idea how much stronger a man can get than a woman until you feel it. I can lift 300 pounds with my legs… but I could not shift a 180-pound boy off my hips when he dragged my skirt out of the way and shoved himself into my unprepared body.
I was so confused. This was a kind boy, a nice boy. A gentle, softspoken boy. A boy who hadn’t dared to kiss me all night long while I’d draped myself over him. This boy whose face was buried in my chest while he worked into me, each thrust more painful, dry and hairy skin dragging and warping — everything about this was so ugly. How could this be? He was just a boy. He was smaller than me. He was… he was muttering “You like that?” under his breath, but he didn’t wait for an answer or seem to expect one.
So he got his yes. I couldn’t move my right arm, it was trapped under his body, but I relaxed the left, the one I’d been trying to push his hips back with. Obviously he wasn’t raping me, because this boy would never rape someone. Which meant that if the sex we were having hurt, it was because I wasn’t wet enough. And this was our first time together,** so how could I expect him to know what to do to get me goin’? If I could manage to conjure some lubrication, this would all be fine. I tried to enjoy it. When he said, “You like that?” I murmured, “yes.” He didn’t seem to notice.
Contrary to what you’d think from reading fanfic, the Harry Potter books feature no spells for lubrication, and I didn’t have the wizardry to make this experience pleasurable. I’d used all the magic words I knew — “no” hadn’t worked, and neither had “yes,” even when I slapped a “please” onto both. This stupid, feckless boy… he had no idea what he was doing. It would be over soon. I closed my eyes and focused on the thought of my bed, my pillow, my lovely dark green sheets. Get through this, and I can go to bed. He’ll go home and I’ll never have to see him again, and he’ll never have to know what he did. I can spare him that.
I can survive being raped… but he can’t survive being told he raped me.
That was what I was thinking. I was trying to protect him. Because he was a boy, a child. Because they all were.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was “Julie of the Wolves.” It won a Newbery Medal. It’s on every scholastic book list, or it was in the 90s. It got me interested in survival stories, and for years I went through all of them. “Have you read ‘Hatchet’?” my teacher asked me, and I rolled my eyes. “Hatchet is a kids’ book. I’m reading ‘Into the Wild.’” Yes, I was born this insufferable.
It took me 25 years to realize that Julie of the Wolves is terrifying victim-blaming bullshit.***
It’s the story of an Inuk girl who ends up in an arranged marriage with a boy her age, a boy even more confused and lost than she is. Tormented by the other boys around him for having a wife but no stories of sexual conquest, Julie’s child-husband comes home one night and assaults her. He tears her clothes off and throws her down, but hasn’t much idea of how to satisfy himself with his prize. He forces his tongue into her mouth, writhes atop her, and then runs off, delighted that now he can properly claim her as his wife, apparently? Frankly, if that was all it took, you wonder why he didn’t just lie. Oh, right. Because it was a handy excuse to exercise his societal right to brutalize his property.
In this moment, Julie recalls the words of her father, the words that repeat over and over throughout the book: “When fear seizes, change what you are doing. You are doing something wrong.” She flees the house into the tundra, and the rest of the book — yes, this is merely backstory, just a little Plot-Inducing Lady Violence, or PILV for short (see Supernatural for abundant examples) — is about her living in the wilderness with a pack of wolves.
But I remembered that line. For years it was the needle in my heart that made me sing, the cruel certainty that drove me: when you are afraid or unhappy, it’s because you are doing something wrong. There is always something you can do, and if you’re not doing it, what’s happening to you is your fault. Julie ran into the frozen tundra! If you’re not ready to do that, you must not have any real problems.
When Julie was raped, she thought that line. When I was raped, I thought about Julie. I thought about her terror, and her husband’s confusion. That helpless child, that foolish boy. He never had to understand what he’d done. She spared him that, by giving up her entire life as a human.
That’s what it is, isn’t it? That’s it right there.
It is for boys to be boys, to rampage and rape, to corrupt and kill, to despoil and destroy, for they know not what they do. No matter how many times they are told, they still somehow know not what they do.
It is for women to be patient, nurturing, eternally forgiving. It is for us to endure their violence as we endure the wild swings of a toddler’s fist — because he doesn’t know any better. It is for us to protect boys from their failures as long as they live. It is for us to sequester the knowledge of their sins inside us, carry them to our graves like a canker in the heart of a peach, so that boys may remain ignorant. It is for us to ruin our lives, generously, willingly, with a smile, so that no boy’s life will be ruined.
I didn’t throw that boy off me. I didn’t scream at him — I didn’t even speak to him when he was done. I got my clothes in order and I went upstairs. He left. And that’s all. That’s the bargain I made with myself then, one I imagine a lot of sexual assault survivors make. “I won’t say anything about this… and in return, I never have to see him again. I can pretend it didn’t happen.” That’s the best deal I could hope to get. At that time, before #MeToo, before President Orange is the New Black, before Kavanaugh… at that time I didn’t even think to question that deal.
I guess Dr. Ford probably made that deal with herself a bit too. But what happens when you promise your silence in return for your sanity and then your rapist becomes a Supreme Court judge whose face you can’t possibly escape?
I guess what they’re saying, ladies, is that the deal’s off.
Speak because his sin is not yours to carry or conceal.
Speak because they know exactly what they do.
Speak because you did not do anything wrong.
Speak because I need your voices to drown out the toddlers throwing tantrums in congressional aisles.
Speak because when they ask this question, they ask it to put the blame for their violence on you.
They’re not interested in the answer, but they’re going to fucking hear it.
What were you thinking?Another example of the fickle nature of memory, this combination of vagueness and specificity. “About 276 pounds.” I know that was the number, because it’s emblazoned in my brain, square red numbers on the scale. I have no idea when I weighed myself, if it was that day or the week before. So I definitely weighed 276 pounds back then… but not necessarily on that exact date.
* Another example of the fickle nature of memory, this combination of vagueness and specificity. “About 276 pounds.” I know that was the number, because it’s emblazoned in my brain, square red numbers on the scale. I have no idea when I weighed myself, if it was that day or the week before. So I definitely weighed 276 pounds back then… but not necessarily on that exact date.
** Yes, I vomited writing this paragraph, and I authorize you to vomit also on my behalf. Vomit, and be cleansed of these germs of rape culture.
*** Yes, it IS, Jean Craighead George, you ancient rape apologist. Someone asked her about this issue, did you know that? This is what she said in 2010:
“I’m delighted to be on the list of Banned Books. To think that I am in the company of Mark Twain, the Bible, and other giants of literature is mind blowing. What an esteemed group. I don’t know why “Julie of the Wolves” was banned, but the critics seem to be fussing about Daniel’s pushing his wife, Julie, to the floor and tearing her dress. They call it “rape” because they didn’t read it correctly. Daniel ran outdoors saying, “I can,”(surprise) — that is, he is able another day to claim Julie as his wife — so Julie, who is afraid of him, leaves. I had to have an urgent reason to have an Eskimo girl run away, as the Eskimos are very home and family oriented. Since “My Side of the Mountain” was criticized for not motivating Sam, I motivated Julie. And thereafter lies her tale of revealing the intelligence and behavioral traits of wolves.”
Okay, so let me break this down. I totally get why you’d be happy to be in the company of the Bible — it’s also rapey as hell. So then you say that Daniel throws Julie down, tears her dress, and assaults her to the extent that he feels ownership over her and she feels so terrified and violated that she first vomits and then flees her home to live in the wilderness. And this is not rape… because it motivates Julie to leave and lets you tell the story you wanted to tell.
Fucking disgusting. Sorry, I don’t have any more enlightening thoughts about this, and that’s why it’s a footnote. This woman was fucking disgusting and I regret placing such importance on her words, that’s all.