Through Violent Sex, My Body Bears The Pain My Mind Won’t

Facebook/ John Landon
Healing from trauma — from violence — is not a linear process; it is one that is largely, for me, a strange stumbling through circuitous shadows.

I have always been drawn to (consensual) violence and sex. And in turn, always a bit ashamed as well. I am — perhaps — drawn to its ardor, its passion. Its volatility. Its refusal to be quelled. That screaming, biting, the welts of teeth and fingers and stinging flesh are all the beautifully strange manifestation of a desire that can’t be expressed in any other way.

I want to trace your lust all over my body. I want to wince as I walk and remember you. Why do I want to hurt your body to show just how much I crave it? Why do I want to be frightened at your hunger?

There is an extraordinary — if gutting — memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch called The Chronology of Water and you should read it if you haven’t. Among other alternatively sublime and sickening explorations, she wrestles with the sexual abuse of her childhood; her body is armor, it’s a vessel of great sorrow, it is the book onto which nightmares were written; it is her “skin story.” Through consensual sadomasochistic sex with another woman she achieves a catharsis she previously thought impossible:

“I didn’t know yet that sexuality is an entire continent…I didn’t know yet how many times a person can be born…watching pain and feeling pain mattered on my skin more than anything had since I was a child. Unlike drinking. Unlike drugs. I could feel it. I could more than feel it…
What I really wanted was to be taken to whatever the edge of self was. To a death cusp…she whipped me red where my shame had been born and where my child had died, and I spread my legs as far as I could to take it. Even my spine ached…I’m trying to be precise. I’m just saying maybe healing looks different on women like me.”

Perhaps it seems preposterous to believe that violence could negate violence. But I would be lying if I said the violence of my own childhood — not like Lidia’s, but a family riddled with addiction, depression, very very scary fights and uncertainty that I can only describe as dizzying vertigo — did not rear its head as I shed my clothes and begged to beg.

Healing from trauma — from violence — is not a linear process; it is one that is largely, for me, a strange stumbling through circuitous shadows. Like feral cats, my memories arch their ragged backs against my legs on a sunny day as I stroll down the sidewalk; there is no rhyme or reason for their appearance and I am half startled, half sick every time, though I see them prowling about my garden every day. They are mine, but they are not controllable. They flash their tiny teeth and sometimes grow in numbers until what was once a yard is a throbbing mass of mangy fur; they scream and howl and hunt me.

Healing from trauma — from violence — is not a linear process; it is one that is largely, for me, a strange stumbling through circuitous shadows.

For the life of me I can’t find the quote, but I used to keep it in my wallet. My ancient therapist — ancient like the grizzled owl from Secrets From The Rats Of NIMH if that means anything to you — had walked, in painful slow motion, to her glutted filing cabinet and produced a slip of paper. It was from another writer who said his mind was like a powder keg, his thoughts a long wick, and at any moment a particular memory could set the entire thing ablaze.

It was both a prophecy and a warning. The key, I suppose, to not igniting oneself is knowing how to diffuse that tell-tale trail of sparks as it slides towards you, the smoke curling in your nose and eyes.

And for me, part of my healing is relying on my body to bear some of the pain my mind won’t.

I like my wrists and legs bound. I like watching my body buck in anticipation, your face hovered above my dark curls; I can see the shine of myself all over my thighs. There is no grace in my grimace, but I feel radiant. I feel myself begin to dissolve; not like ash into water. I’m becoming a pool of light.

Straining against myself, against you, my eyes blindfolded in a soft cloth, the motes dance on the back of my lids and my mouth searches for your flesh, but you turn me over and render my ass a complicated network of brilliant red streaks; vermillion slaps and stings and throbs in time with my blood.

There is no mother, no father. No dread, no fear. There is just saliva and skin and sharp intakes of breath. And I never want to return.

I have not been, and, of course, do not want to be, raped—but I do have rape fantasies.

I have had strangers — men — grope and sexually humiliate me on the street. Lick my face because they felt like it. Force themselves on me in bathroom stalls mistaking the warmth of my body on the dance floor as an invitation to feel the warmth inside my body. Endured call after call after call on the street — the kissing noises, the open desire to fuck me, the threats of intimidation. In the absence of a response, you are always a fucking bitch.

And while I realize that this attention — in no small part — is predicated on being a thin, conventionally attractive white girl in often provocative clothes, I will never believe I deserve to be devoured — torn bit by bit — by those I have not offered myself to.

I thought — as many people seem to — that decades of men trying to make me feel small, ashamed of my promiscuity, my love for my body moving through space, has fueled in me a perhaps perverted desire to be consumed, violently.

That through some bastardized alchemy and self-delusion, I’ve transferred their misogyny into my own concepts of desire; like a fish swimming in poisoned waters, it’s only a matter of time before I float — dead, dead, dead and belly-up to the surface — or begin to feed on the very poison I’ve tried so hard to elude.

But I’ve come to recognize this self-flagellation as fallacy. As a pathologizing of my desire. Of society’s endless desire to control my narrative.

I recently discovered a journal — it is pink and has a fucking teddy bear on it — that is filled with the feverish writings of a 6th grade sex fantasy in which I have sex under complete, pretty savage, duress. It has the hallmarks of adolescent confusion — there is SO MUCH “violently thrusting” — but all in all, it’s a pretty solid sadomasochistic fantasy if I do say so myself.

Aliens arrive, naturally, and are very keen to understand how humans have sex; they can time travel, but human copulation remains a mystery! Myself and my crush, naturally, are chosen as said humans to illustrate said act. What transpires is a lot of painful nipple pinching, bondage, (the walls have very high-tech retractable harnesses and whatnot) and LAZER GUNS being fired at us as we educate our intergalactic brethren.

OH AND MY ENTIRE CLASS IS WATCHING THIS EXCHANGE through the windows of our classroom.

In short, I have always wanted to punish my body—to offer it bare on an altar—to counter my own fear, my frantic mind-spinnings on the past. Even at 11, the height of sexiness was being forced to give up control for a while. Why struggle when you can’t even move?

I have always wanted to punish my body — to offer it bare on an altar — to counter my own fear, my frantic mind-spinnings on the past.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he describes a group of prisoners who don’t know they’re prisoners who are trapped — where else — in a cave:

“Behold! human beings living in a underground they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them…Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance...if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall?...
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners. Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another...The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

To assume that women fantasize about rape because of an inexorably internalized misogyny is to assume they are the prisoners in Plato’s Cave. That they are unable to see the puppeteers madly tugging the strings—and that assumption is infantilizing and wrong.

This knowing suspension of reality is at the very crux of fantasy. Knowing full fucking well that what you are conjuring is indeed a smoked mirror of your mind, and yet. The power of casting a spell on yourself cannot be underestimated; it’s intoxicating and curative.

But how odd to use your mind to exert sexual violence on yourself! Doesn’t your mind have better things to do — nay, better means of healing — than to self-abuse? Than to imagine a man taking your body against your will?

I am a firm believer in stripping the darkness of its darkness by controlling the shadows of our minds. We are both prisoner and torturer and thus, we are Queen; we are controlling the kingdom of our fears. We only throw shadows upon the wall that we wish to slay.

Jaclyn Friedman — a noted and vocal advocate against and survivor of sexual violence — said it best for me: no one that watches horror films actually wants to be chopped up in the basement. To suggest otherwise is nonsense.

We like touching the edge of our madness, our void, our fear. By living — consensually, lovingly, safely lashed to a torture of our devising — can we lance the psychological blister that rubs against the cockles of our mind.

We are both prisoner and torturer and thus, we are Queen.

Angela Carter, in her collection of dark, pseudo fairy tale erotic short stories from 1979 — The Bloody Chamber — writes in “The Erl-King”:

“His touch both consoles and devastates me; I feel my heart pulse, then wither, naked as a stone on the roaring mattress while the lovely, moony night slides through the window to dapple the flanks of this innocent who makes cages to keep the sweet birds in. Eat me, drink me; thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden, I go back and back to him to have his fingers strip the tattered skin away and clothe me in his dress of water, this garment that drenches me, its slithering odour, its capacity for drowning.”

Again we find the healing — the consolation — and the devastation of violent sex. The strange re-birthing that the stripping of “tattered skin” can provide.

Sex is skillful at promising you you’ll drown, but just when you think your lungs will burst, your head breaks the surface of your own pond and you’ve never tasted air any sweeter.