So, since I mentioned off-hand earlier tonight that I was raped several years ago, I’ve gotten a couple of concerned messages, which I’ll just address by saying I’m not upset by talking about it, I’m not particularly upset by it in fic or on tumblr, and I don’t mind talking about what happened to me specifically or about sexual assault generally. For those concerned or curious (and it’s okay to be curious about it, it’s not a thing that people talk about often enough) how this affects my writing and my relationships, I’ll ramble a bit, but behind a cut for anyone who might be upset by it (which is just as valid a reaction). However, my experiences are just that, mine, and I don’t presume to say that anyone else should or does feel the same way; sexual assault is very particular, and there’s no such thing as a wrong way to feel about it or react to it.
So, the short version of what happened to me is that I got drunk at a party with a male friend who walked me home, had heard I was the kind of girl who hooked up with a lot of people when drunk (which I was, and I was sort of a virgin in that I’d never done penetrative sex, but I’d done just about everything else), and then he didn’t stop when I said stop. Which had always worked before, and which I had every reason to think would work that time, because I considered the guy a friend at the time. I’m fairly sure there was something besides just alcohol in my drinks, looking back on it, but I’ll never be certain. There are parts of that night that I don’t remember at all, parts I don’t remember clearly, and parts I remember much too clearly.
And even though I’d been involved in sexual assault awareness/education on my college campus for about three years before it happened, I still had a lot of shame about it and I didn’t do anything about it, didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time, and didn’t file a police report, because I was pretty confused and ashamed for a while about what had happened. It felt a lot like something that was my fault, or just “bad sex” or something that I should have expected to happen for hooking up with a lot of people, which of course is not true, but is hard to get away from when you’re embedded in that cultural narrative.
I’ve mentioned before that I left fandom things for several years, and I’ve mentioned before that at another time in my life I would have found SF very triggering, and still would find things like it triggering if they were male/female, and the above is the reason why. I know for a fact that the guy who raped me still considers what happened to have been rough, consented sex, because that’s what he’s told a number of mutual friends, including men I dated, as a way of telling them “what kind of girl” I am or am not, and we worked together for several years after. I also ended several friendships at the time online and irl because of the victim-blaming things people said to me, which were worse than the rape itself, because it came from people who I’d expected support from, who presented themselves as allies and advocates, and it came wrapped in a sympathetic tone.
Rape is a really confusing, hard thing to think about and talk about even if you feel like you’re educated about it: it seems so simple, no means no and yes means yes, and how could there be anything more clear. Except that it’s really unclear once it’s happening, and there’s a lot of unspoken violence in sex and intimacy. When I was in college, I lived with various combinations of a group of seven women and one man, and by the end of college, we were almost perfectly statistical: the man had been raped by his father from a very young age, one of the girls had been raped for about a year and a half by a boyfriend everyone told her she was perfect with, another had been very brutally raped by a coworker, and I was dateraped.
(One in three women will be raped in their lives, and one in ten men will be, most of them before age 25). I was the last one to happen, between junior and senior year, and knowing everything I did about most rapes being done by someone known to the victim and the violence of the rapes of people close to me only made it more frightening when it happened to me, because while there wasn’t any overt violence in what happened to me, all I could think about was the people I knew who had been hurt when they were raped and tried to resist, and I was afraid of the same thing happening to me, so I did nothing and just let it happen.
(And here I’m making a distinction I hate: there’s no such thing as rape-rape or gray rape; all rape is rape, and the violence of being coerced or held down is just as bad as violence which draws blood, but this is how it seemed at the time. This is what I mean about rape being really hard and confusing to talk about: I know these things aren’t true, and I don’t say them about other peoples’ experiences, but they feel true when I’m talking about my experience, becase it’s a difficult cultural narrative to get away from).
I look at my rape as sort of like a car crash: I had no reason to see it coming, I couldn’t really have prevented it, I didn’t have a responsibility for it, it could have been worse, and it was bad, but it didn’t ruin my life. I really dislike rape or sexual assault being used as a narrative device to explain why someone’s “broken.” I’m not a broken person, the men and women I’ve known who were sexually assaulted are not broken people, they’re just hurt people who have or are in the process of healing.
I won’t lie and say that being raped didn’t make being intimate and trusting people again very difficult—a lot of what I’m writing about with Keeler and Encke in SEP right now comes from a very personal place with what my husband and I dealt with when we were first together (he was my second relationship after being raped, and what happened with Keeler’s first fighter is basically what happened to one of my college roommates). Obviously I’m not happy with what happened, and it definitely affected the way I think about men in particular and my comfort with sexuality in some ways (to be more specific about an earlier conversation about porn, I don’t care for most m/f porn and rough m/f porn in particular even though I like that kind of sex and really like it in same sex porn, because it’s just too triggering for me even though gender isn’t “supposed” to matter. It does matter, and it’s dishonest to say it doesn’t, because while it might not matter to one person, it matters very much to other people, for a wide variety of reasons).
So, in talking about rape in fic or fiction, or discussing consent issues in fandom, it doesn’t particularly upset or offend me, except when someone is persistently malicious or confrontational, or when someone presumes to speak for all sexual assault survivors, as has sometimes been the case on artist-confession threads regarding SF (eta: or, conveniently, in the tag just now right before I posted this). Rape is the denial of someone’s right to own their sexuality and body; telling someone on the internet that they have no right to enjoy the things they enjoy isn’t quite so intimate or immeadiate, but it’s a denial of ownership and autonomy all the same.
Writing about rape, and characters owning and moving past their rape, is obviously a big part of my writing: that’s the center of Abel’s arc in Negotiation, Cain’s part of Basic, and now Keeler’s part of Basic. I find it cathartic at this point in my life to own it and analyze it, but at other points in my life I could hardly think about it at all. If I’d found SF right after I was raped, it would have been unreadable for me because the details are so similar even if SF is ultimately consented. And I think were SF m/f, I would still find it very triggering today, because while men are raped in many of the same circumstances as women are, and it’s just as awful, coercive or rough sex in m/m or sometimes f/f porn isn’t quite so personal for me, so it doesn’t feel quite so close.
I haven’t talked about this so explicitly before because it just doesn’t feel like a central part of my life. I like to think that I spend so much time writing about it because it takes a lot more space to untangle, rather than it being at the center of what I think about all the time. For those who were concerned about “making” me answer 18 on the ask meme thing (most traumatic life event), there was really no making—I’ve sort of talked around the issue before, and if I didn’t want to talk about it, I wouldn’t have included it. (And really, sitting with my grandmother when she died was far harder). But for me, and this isn’t necessarily true for everyone, there’s a certain relief in just saying it, because while it was an awful thing, it’s not an uncommon thing, I’m not ashamed of it, and it didn’t change who I was except to make me more distrustful of men in certain situations.
I’m not so upset by discussion or writing regarding rape except when, as I mentioned, someone presumes to tell me how to feel, or when someone is unabashedly ignorant (“I want to rape him, I mean it as a compliment” page commenters are a perfect example). I don’t get it right all the time and I have a fucking master’s degree on the subject, and I spent six years writing a fucking dissertation and now two more years on a book manuscript on the economics of race and coerced sex and sexual violence. I know a couple things about how to talk about it, but I own it and apologize when I get it wrong, and all I ask is that other people let me own my experiences and not tell me how to feel.