There have been so many false starts to what this piece has become. Who needs another rape piece, anyway? There was a time a women’s literature review specifically asked that submissions about sexual assault take a pass. We are too numerous, we are being defined by our abusers. One of the false starts was a piece I wrote for The Toast about having been newly diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and how ill-equipped I was to deal with this latest blow, having begun my 38th year with a rape, then being laid off from my job. I had to pull that piece because just before it was published I received a cease and desist. Though the piece did not identify the man who raped me in any way, I felt it better to just take the whole thing offline. And become silent.
I was alone when I started speaking. When I went to the rape crisis centre, my counsellor said “You need to know he’s doing this to other women. This was a crime of opportunity. It didn’t begin and won’t end with you. And it’s not your fault.” I didn’t know those probable other women. He didn’t live in my city. While his general reputation was such that when I started talking people would say “That guy is awful, what did he do to you?” there were never any specifics. No other women. I was alone and a part of me wanted to ensure I stayed alone. I never wanted to hear a woman have to tell this story, knowing I could have prevented it. So I talked and talked and talked. Then I got an email from lawyers.
A couple years ago, some women much younger than I started talking about the men who raped them. These women were writers and these men were writers. (It’s not that writers rape and are raped more often; simply, writers have the skills and platforms to disseminate this information.) Then the attention happened. Names were named. Not every woman accepted these stories. High-profile female writers decried the naming and shaming. Victim-blaming responses cropped up. Fine, I thought, take your patriarchal rewards and sleep well at night. I re-tweeted and supported and raged along with the brave young women.
“Is it going to happen for me? Will it come out? Will people finally know?” Someone began. A piece was written. Details of her account were startlingly close to mine. People became angry for her. Others connected dots, and reached out to me. Because of the wonder of social media yelling, I found the other women, those women my rape counsellor told me were out there. One of them dated the man who raped me after he raped me. I learned the stories he was telling about that night and the aftermath, the flat-out lies, implicating other institutions, making them unwillingly complicit in his life-long abuse of women.
Too many men are told that a lack of resistance equals consent. I understand that is a cultural failing; some men fully internalize this idea and others use it in service of their own fucked-up needs. But if your rapist uses this defense, of not knowing what consent really is, of it being a “misunderstanding,” then begins to write feminist pieces, well, you know something’s up. This is a person, you learn, who knows all the buzzwords. Certainly if anyone would know how a woman would feel waking up, face-down, to a cock in her and a voice saying “I’m coming,” it would be a feminist?
For a long time I believed that he fucked up. It never stopped being rape, for me, but I believed that he may have been confused. But when he started writing about feminism, I knew he wasn’t controlled by some patriarchal narrative, filling him with false information. That is when I realised I could never forgive. I had said that he didn’t know the definition of rape, but that wasn’t true. I think he knows very well, and decides to do it anyway. Then he scurries away behind his depression, his drinking, his put-on sensitivity.
He also said he, too was drunk, “and high” in addition. It was his excuse for mistaking lack of resistance for consent. Yet he was not too drunk and high to get hard and enter me. He was not too drunk and high to come all over my sheets. “I hate to tell you this but you wanted it.” He told the later-woman that I had invited him over. That is true. I invite lots of my friends over. I thought he was my friend. My friends have never raped me.
And what about that boyfriend I talked about? “Everyone where I’m from is polyamorous, I figured you were too.” And what about the bruises on my knees? The goose egg on my head? Did I fall down often? Then I probably was too drunk to consent. Was I physically manipulated? Dragged? Pushed? I’ll never know. I don’t remember a single thing between leaving the bar where I was celebrating my and my friends’ birthdays and waking up to being penetrated. I can’t explain how my panties were in the kitchen but my pants were in my bedroom. And I cannot believe, will never believe, that there would be any mistaking being unconscious for “wanting it.”
Most men can’t comprehend the damage their more dangerous brethren can do. Aside from combat, I suspect most men never see the worst that a man can dish out. But women see it. We see it all the time. We see the manipulation, the physical abuse, the rape, the gas-lighting, the theft, and control. And so it is difficult for most men, the good men we love and trust, to hear the words we are not allowed to speak. When we say “this guy is a bad guy” we don’t mean he is rude to the wait-staff or rides his bike on the sidewalk. We mean he is dangerous; he is harmful to the women you care for. I have seen so many good men remain not willfully blind, but nonetheless ignorant, to the pain we’re in, the scars on our psyches, the screams we cannot voice. When our good men find out, through whatever means, they are full of guilt and sadness. Publicly or privately, our good men take a stand. I have seen it, and I have been cared for by good men.
I am so tired of saying “my rapist.” “My rape.” Talking about it like a wedding: what I wore, what I drank, what we said, the night ending with his orgasm. How your life is changed and you never get to stop being changed. I became friends with women who share this abuser, our common interest not the music I shared with him, but the pain he gave to all of us. He will blithely continue on, preying on the women who don’t know who he really is, because in my case, we seem to have stopped talking. Initial rage always seems to die down to pleas of forgiveness and due process, like we were ever given that option. My life teeters on his lies, and I have not been whole since. When the other piece about our mutual abuser came out, I was hoping at least that the silence around him could be broken. I suspect it can’t. I suspect this piece will result in some bad outcomes for me, and none for him. I still cannot name him. I am still afraid. I hate being afraid. I hate being afraid of his lawyers; of men I don’t know well; that he’ll do it again and I will be complicit because I couldn’t stop it; of censure; of silence.