Uncategorized

Sexual Abuse Leads To Sexual Dysfunction (Perspective On Consent): Rape Culture 305

Warning: This posts contains writing that may be particularly triggering for survivors of sexual abuse, especially for those whose traumas occurred during late childhood and/or as young adults. If you are having a bad day already, this might not be the best piece of writing for you to engage with.

I was by incest from very early in my childhood. I mean messed the fuck up. The word “no” was not a part of my vocabulary until my mid- to late-twenties. When I did try to say “no” for the first time at 19, I had a complete emotional breakdown just from typing it. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I didn’t know what to do. And to avoid this sudden flood of confusion, hurt, shame, and guilt, I simply stopped saying it. I didn’t know, of course, that this was why I stopped saying it. It was simply too overwhelming for me to even consider “no” a possibility.

Now explain to me exactly how someone who cannot say no can ever give their consent to another human being until the day they finally can say no. I’ll give you a little hint here: you can’t.

I would say anything but “no”. I would say “I don’t know”. I would say “I can’t”. I would say “stop”. I would even occasionally say “please stop”. I would playfully smack my date and giggle. I would playfully pinch my date as hard as I could and run away. I would be stunned into silence. I would go limp. I would cry (often silently). I would stop breathing (often accompanied by tremendous but invisible pain). I would anticipate (with equal parts excitement and dread) what my date might want from me later on that night, and tell him some reason early on in the evening that I calculated would dash his hopes of getting laid. When he decided to juggernaut his way through my boundaries anyway, I would start getting a little silly. Child-like. I would start pretty much instantly to silently panic over this, because I knew I was expected to be mature, and not like a child, so I would often swing a full 180 only moments later and become spontaneously hypersexual. It would creep my dates out when all this came to pass. As it should. I might even alternate with aggression, but I’d try to make it seem like I was being playful or even sexually adventurous. Some of them froze up because of it. But most of them pushed on because they wanted to fuck me, even if they were running for the hills afterwards. Because they felt entitled to since before all this awkwardness on our date began.

And that’s when I would freeze up. I’d shrivel up and shrink down into myself and sometimes I’d fight against myself to stay in the moment, with wild eyes and a sexual intensity that did not match my chronological age and the inexperience expected of me because of it. It was easier for us both if they couldn’t look at me. I’d close my eyes. They’d turn me away or physically overwhelm me so that they couldn’t see if I was crying until after it was too late to stop.

At 12 years old, I was flashing my flat chest at my 16-year-old date, who found virtually everything I ever did sexually exciting. At 14, I was laying in the sun making out with his roommate, who was approaching his 20th birthday at the time, and I ran into the nearest playground when I sensed the presence of his erection between us. I was secretly terrified that, like my friend who was only 13 at the time when he was 18 and they started to have sex any time, any where, he would get me pregnant too. At 15, I tried dating a boy I thought I liked because we were friends. He was 17 at the time, and expected me to make the first move (possibly because he was, for a time, in the same class as the man I dated when I was 12). Half of our first date took place in a playground. When I didn’t make a move, he called me a frigid bitch. So when I was 16, and interested in a 17-year-old guy I had known for years already, and a guy in his early 20s from a local college asked me out on a date, I wasn’t so frigid any more. I put my hands all over his chest often. I flirted. I was over the top with excitement when he took me for a walk in a dark park and put his hand up my skirt, pulled aside my underwear, and you can guess what followed, right there on the park bench I had previously taken for granted for several years. I was thinking of the boy I liked, who was closer to my age, and wondering if he would like me more because I was willing to go the distance if he made a move on me. Only I didn’t know what to do or how to stop or how excited I should be, and within a few minutes, I was more terrified than happy. That sense of terror endured for a full week and a half before he invited me to his parents’ basement one day while they weren’t home. And that’s where I’ve had myself convinced for half my life, that I experienced “consensual” sex for the first time. It was 2 days before my 17th birthday, and he broke it off within the same week. I moved on the following summer to dating a 23-year-old. He turned out to be the single most traumatizing person I have been in an intimate, sexually active relationship with.

And that boy? That boy who was now a man, just one year older than me, who I was interested in persistently for years? Well, he did like me more now that he knew if he made a move on me, he could go as far as he wanted. He started making moves on me, and then cracking jokes to break the tension between us. Then I wouldn’t hear from him for months at a time, and believe me, my heart ached over it. I felt sad and rejected, angry and frustrated, anxious and in love, and when his last name would finally show up on the call display, all I wanted was to be wrapped in his arms again. It turns out all he wanted was to take me out of our neighbourhood to secretly practice cunnilingus on me in the most exhibitionist way possible, because the idea of getting caught in the middle of a sex act in public by a complete stranger got him off, and so did the idea of my humiliation—not the idea of actually giving me sexual pleasure. He only took his pants down once, and I was so triggered that I couldn’t go through with returning the favour of my own volition. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t explain it to him either. That was the end of our secret trysts. I was 18 and he was 19. We were both pretty emotionally fucked up people, and there’s no two ways about that.

He was outright dangerously fucked up by the time he was in his early twenties when we caught up later on, by which time he thought threatening to rape me in my sleep was “flirting”. I was still fucked up enough that despite this clear and intimidating threat, I let him into my home and into my bed for a night. I didn’t know that night how lucky I was that nothing happened. It was the last time he was alone with me in a private place. He continued to intimidate me with similar rape threats every couple of years when one of us would initiate contact with the other, until I finally terminated contact for the last time four years ago, and promised myself I would never answer him again.

Twice, while placing ads online seeking an intimate female partner while I was in my mid-twenties, I received answers back from women identifying themselves as close to ten years younger than me, disclosing that they were still in their teens. Sixteen years old and in high school, cruising craigslist and answering that ad from the really interesting queer with an atypical way of communicating themselves (that, incidentally, doesn’t reach too many other people). The first time it happened, I genuinely struggled with whether or not to answer at all, and decided on answering. I sent back an email detailing a complex of emotions ranging from a desire to affirm her capacity as an adult to make her own decisions about her body, to a grave warning that she should know that when I was 16, the only people who were sexually interested in me had a criminal intent. I remember having the urge to detail what our country’s criminal code also has to say about the nature of intimate relationships between adults such as myself and young adults such as her, and how it thusly prescribes my very huge responsibilities towards her, even though I do not have a specifiable authority over her beyond the gap in our respective life experiences. We decided to just be pen pals, and have never met. I guess she would be in her early 20s now, though we don’t interact more than once a year, so all I can hope is that she is growing into a strong and independent woman like I know she can. She confided in me twice about events that she could not talk to anyone else about, because they would judge and condemn her instead of supporting her through it. I am honoured that she saw me as emotionally and intellectually fit to confide in.

The second time a 16-year-old woman approached me as a prospective sex partner, however, was entirely different. Having thought intensely about how to be supportive without being predatory through the course of that first interaction with a 16-year-old woman, I responded in a similar way to her, too. She wanted to meet. And I mean she really wanted to meet. Still talking around the word “no”, even though, looking back, I really should have said no, we met (to my genuine surprise) at a public fast food restaurant near a train station, had a conversation there, and went for a short walk downhill toward the train station before parting ways and never meeting face to face again for about 4 years (by which time, we met by accident). I remember making sure she knew she could (and should) call someone she knew, just to let them know where she is and how she’s doing, and I gave her information about me too. During our conversation, she disclosed the circumstances under which she “first had sex” at 13 while under the influence of a cocktail of illicit drugs with a stoned 14-year-old boy, and she tried to convince me of her sexual savvy and autonomy while I awkwardly and silently tried to suspend both judgment and paternalism, which I would have found patronizing if I were in her shoes again.

I knew in my heart that something was happening that was wrong, and I didn’t know what to do about it or what to say to halt it in its tracks. Looking back, I now realize that this moment was the first time I was being triggered in relation to my own history of sexual abuse, by someone who I could have hurt in the very ways I have been traumatized when I was on her side of the table and my 23-year-old boyfriend was listening to me fight with myself between the sexual abuse and the hormones flooding my brain and body. I crossed the line by meeting her at all, and I still struggle to forgive myself for that. At the same time, I am grateful that I at least had the sense to refuse her subsequent requests for private time with me in my home—she signed up on a personals website no less than 3 separate times to re-initiate contact with me over the following year (while she was 17… not that her being one year older would make any difference to me), eventually even requesting my services for her and her boyfriend to be photographed in erotic bondage, and to each be massaged by me with the explicit expectation that a sexual exchange between them of some kind would be taking place while I was touching one or both of them. I don’t remember if I even replied just to say no. I only remember reporting the profile to the site administrators.

In hindsight, my interaction with this particular young woman has been an infinitely valuable lesson to apply to my own life. She taught me that as sexual abuse survivors, until we get meaningful help, we have sexually dysfunctional and inappropriate coping mechanisms for dealing with being triggered in relation to our trauma, and that these coping strategies are so far out of line with normative socialisation and commonly shared social expectations, that few people can bear it for any duration. Many sexual abuse survivors will experience ostracism and marginalization from the mainstream of nearly everything they attempt to get involved in because of the strange ways we often attempt to manage ourselves and our traumas. Most will only ever find a mutual sense of understanding, validation, and acceptance from other sexual trauma survivors, and the search for these positively affirming emotions will often take longer, the longer and further back in one’s lifetime s/he endured sexual abuse. We gravitate towards each other through no intention of our own while we are pushed away by everyone else, because no one else understands why we are the way we are, and most people cannot tolerate it over the long term. But this comes with complications, because we also trigger each other in ways that we often don’t know we are being triggered, and thus, don’t know how to cope with. Which brings me to my final personal anecdote for this entry.

It was a year later that I became closely involved with a family of five — an openly sex-positive mom in her 40s who was dating a man in his early 20s, and who had raised her three children (14, 15, and 17) with little to no help from their father. I suspended my judgment around their age difference for as long as I could. I was struggling with something else. Something bigger. Something I didn’t know how to identify, to navigate on my own, or talk about with anyone. That something was a lot of powerful emotions I couldn’t make sense of, towards the middle child. I never acted on my emotions towards him or either of his siblings; though he did once spontaneously tell me about a painful childhood experience he hadn’t shared with anyone before, and I responded by giving him a hand-written letter the same night with which I intended to assure him that he could talk to me if he didn’t know who else to talk to, and that I wouldn’t judge him or think less of him if he did. I didn’t understand where my more complex emotions were coming from. I just knew I needed to keep these emotions to myself and under control. And with some difficulty and no finesse whatsoever, I did.

The middle child came out on a single occasion to meet me at a public art gallery with a girl his age whom he had a crush on. I surprised them both by treating all of us to sushi when the gallery closed, and we enjoyed a wonderful end to the evening before we all went to our separate homes on the train. He acted differently without his mom present—more like you would expect a 15-year-old to act. He had a happier disposition, more energy, more creativity, and less of an air of trying to prove his maturity while simultaneously struggling to discover it. I may never know any specific reason why this difference existed in him, but I know I recognized myself in it. I also recognize in hindsight, a pattern of sexual micro aggression between this particular parent and child, which conspicuously mirrors what I experienced in my sexually dysfunctional natal home at 15.

Not long after the art gallery outing, conflict erupted between the mom and I around her tolerance of my chronic state of mental health during this period of my life (most prominently experienced by me as an enduring state of emotional dissociation, and most prominently experienced by her as an enduring state of self-centeredness). By no insignificant coincidence, an identical conflict was erupting at the same time between myself and a woman this mom and I shared in common. All of us survivors of early childhood sexual abuse, and all of us survivors of later childhood sexual abuse as well. And subsequent to that, a significantly pettier conflict erupted between the middle child and I. Apart from revisiting the fact that I broke the very promise I made to him in that hand-written letter, we all went our separate ways, and have remained separated since.

The time I have spent reflecting on this particular relationship has taught me something important about my sexual abuse, and sexual abuse survivors in general, more than any other interaction I have had with either a sexual abuse survivor or a sexual predator like those I was repeatedly exposed to throughout my life until just the past few years: I (we) have triggers from that abuse that I (we) don’t even know about until they are already tripped and a chain reaction begins, forming a feedback loop of cyclic sexual predation and abuse. I saw so much of myself in that particular 15-year-old that it triggered a lot of my sexual abuse history (I still don’t even know how this happened); and from being triggered, but not acting out in inappropriate ways, I learned to begin developing coping mechanisms around my sexual trauma that are, perhaps for the first time in my life, not sexually dysfunctional. This has in turn allowed me to look back on how I awkwardly-as-fuck navigated through that relationship (and through my dealings with those two 16-year-old women), which has in turn allowed me to look back on myself at 15 years old with new perspective that I could not see until I had come far enough.

And that, in turn, has helped me empower other survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and to fully re-conceptualize consent. Take it from someone who has survived a lion’s share of sexual predation, exploitation, and abuse as both a minor and an adult; who unintentionally walked right onto the very line that defines sexually predatory behaviour, and (somewhat miraculously) managed not to become one of the very pedophiles s/he was once relentlessly victimized by; all while awkwardly fumbling through an acute awareness of exactly where that line is among plenty of adults who just don’t—realizing the capacity to give consent (or realizing one’s incapacity) is the single most empowering turning point of a person’s entire life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s