I have not been here in a while. I have written, but I have not posted those thoughts here. However, last week I finished a paper for graduate school. I was asked to think about how my gender or race shaped my life and experiences, and how those experiences shape my thinking. I wrote hard and clear about what hurts, my treatment, and experience as a survivor. I wrote about how life looked alone, with others, and how my experience differs as a woman than it would as a man. If it rubs you the wrong way, please consider that you may very well be someone I am talking about because you have not handled my story that I trusted you with, appropriately.
There was a lot I left out that didn’t feel like it belonged there but I can briefly share here, including how I do not pursue people anymore because I am so tired of rejection and hurt. How my health continues to deteriorate. How I have lost people close to me since we got married in June and how much it hurts that the people we trusted to stand next to us on our big day, turning away from me for unknown reasons confirms to me that I can’t trust people because this is the way my mind works at this point in my life. How I have panic attacks that find me in the random and mundane because something takes me back to that place: in a TJ Maxx, my bachelorette weekend, in the car, etc. That my flashbacks have grown more vivid in the last year for some reason. Finally understanding my need for overachieving and it’s links to what I went through. Yet also constant feelings of being able to do nothing right- literally nothing, but understanding that constantly seeking validation is obnoxious to everyone around you. Anything about my depression and how close I have come to relapse in the last year.
Anyway, here’s the paper:
To look back at my life and how race or gender have affected the events and my reactions to these events, my focus is drawn to events that center around being assaulted when I was in high school. November 2019, marked ten years since my assault, and I often find myself looking at events in hindsight and realizing that my assault and my gender have determined how I have been treated, as well as the ways I have acted as a survivor. I have watched for ten years how my assailant and others have exercised the power of my assault over me, whether purposefully or as a result of the socially-constructed rape-culture we live in.
As a preface, I was assaulted when I was sixteen. I knew my assailant, I had dated him for over a year, although at the time of the incident we had been broken up for many months. It was an openly known fact that my family did not approve of him, so when continuing to see him, I did so without my family’s knowledge; as a newly-licensed driver, this became relatively easy. He assaulted me in a public space, I am petite so I did not have a lot of force to fight back. I did scream when I saw someone passing by, the woman looked in our direction, and kept walking. At that point, I went into “freeze” mode and tried to make myself mentally anywhere, but there. Later that week, I told one male friend, and then I did not speak about it until January 2012. I did hear that my assailant told people he took my virginity and there were some rumors and name-calling when I was not around. This is why to this day, I am really only friends with one person from high-school. The same people who had watched this boyfriend throw me against lockers for speaking to a male colleague during class and did nothing, willingly believed I had lost the most special part of myself to him, and this told me all I needed to know about any of them. I did not know at the time this was the beginning of the different reactions towards sexuality when it comes to men and women. That even though I had done nothing, because it was rumored I had, I was called a slew of names, while he was patted on the back for bedding a cheerleader and beauty queen. In January 2012, I was watching television with the boyfriend of the year, a rape scene played on screen, I told him, “I think I was raped.” Within a month, I had ‘come out’ to my family, friends, and church, and I was seeing a counselor. I also had encountered my first experiences with victim blame and rape culture, my personal favorite being one of my bible study friends saying “Wow, you must have sinned really bad for God to have punished you like that.”
My gender has been a defining factor in the reactions I received from the day it happened to today. I understood within a few years of speaking up, although I never reported it to the police, that survivors are very often blamed, and just as often, not believed. What drove home how many people in my life, and around the nation, did not have empathy for survivors was the testimony of Christine Blasely Ford. It was terribly phenomenal to scroll my social media and read people I trusted with my story discussing how Justice Kavanaugh was the true victim. The election of Donald Trump and the dismissive nature of our nation towards the slew of women who have accused him of sexual misconduct has opened a can of worms in my life that will never be closed. I have learned things about people I love, that I can never unknow. I can say with complete confidence that my assailant, as a male, has never been asked the things I have, like what I was wearing, if I did anything to imply I ‘wanted it,’ if I was sure I had not done it then regretted it, or if we had done it before and now I was just mad at him and trying to make everyone hate him. I have had jokes and comments made about assault in general, and about me specifically, to my face and on social media. All of it has defined who I have become with my family and friends “at home” because if I cannot trust them with the worst thing to ever happen to me, they do not deserve to be trusted with any of the good either. It also makes me very sad to be that cynical.
My cynicism and my anxiety carry into school, both my workplace and my education. I have been asked to leave a class for a scathing review of one of my professor’s book on sexual assault in the twentieth century, and how he took part in rape culture by writing it. [Sentence removed here for legal reasons]. I had a hard time with the thought of returning to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s campus after the shooting last spring, because new trauma can cause one to feel other trauma-induced feelings. I can find myself in highs and lows in defense of the people like me who live with our specific type of pain daily. I do see how my gender and my experience have positively affected, as well.
Being a woman, who is okay with feeling her feelings, I have let what happened to me help define the emotions I let myself feel. Without the hurt, I endured that day and every day since then, I would not have the empathy I do for others. I would not care as deeply as I do for my students and their needs. I would not be walking through life with other women who were assaulted in the last year and loving them and telling them it does get easier. I would not have the heart to decide to leave another school, and a master’s program that was almost finished to continue to pursue my heart for education and the kids I get to help raise through it.
My gender has positively affected my experience with sexual assault too because I do see other women who talk about their assault and their feelings. I have women like Christine Blasely Ford, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Chanel Miller, and Lady Gaga to look to. One of my male friends was assaulted before we met, and he never felt like he could speak about it because socially it feels like it is even less acceptable to be a male who has been assaulted. It was hard for me to go through my feelings alone for over two years, I cannot imagine what he feels living through it daily, knowing he does not get to share the burden with others, in all the ways I am able to. For as many adverse reactions I have received, there are also people who are empathetic. There are people who think of me and send an email during the news coverage of Biden and Trump’s growing list of accusations to say they are sorry I lived through that and if I need them they are there, but he does not have that. My gender allows me to talk about it and feel my feelings, being a male who talked about his assault would gain him more negative commentary than my waiting and lack of legal action gained me.
Today, I reiterated my story for what seems to be the three-thousandth time, and I felt my emotions. I decided some time ago to follow Ernest Hemingway’s piece of advice, and to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” Being a woman for me means, I live with what he did, every day. The trauma resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a chronic musculoskeletal disorder called fibromyalgia. Both make sure I am reminded, daily, even if I wanted to forget. My trauma means I live with the anxiety of having children and something similar happening to them. I also wait for the next person in my life to show me why they are not trustworthy. It also means I scream all the louder about the things that matter. It means there is a fire in my belly to pursue my dreams and pursue them fiercely to prove to anyone that I am more than what happened to me. [Sentence removed about perpetrator because of identifying information]. I would never be thankful for him or what he did to me, but I am grateful for being a woman who owns my story and loves myself despite the hard parts. Without my struggle, I would not be me. Without my pain, I would not love so fervently. To love myself, I cannot hate the experiences that shaped me.
*references to textbook were removed.
but I did reference this book we’re using in the course