Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2-2-2016 Entry: Dealing with the Trauma of Sexual Assault and Rape as a "Male"

Hello my darling readers. I know that it has been over a week since I last wrote and many of you were probably eager to hear about the party on Friday, but something occurred shortly after my last entry that has really turned my world upside down. Last Tuesday my therapist and I made something of a major breakthrough and for the first time in my life I truly took on my oldest, deepest, darkest, and most powerful trauma. As one might expect, this was not an easy task and it nearly drove me over the edge of suicide just by simply looking at that trauma without shame or denial.

I almost never do this but I would like to ask you, my darling reader, for a favor. I would like to ask that after you read what I’ve written below to strongly consider sharing this entry far and wide. Share it on Facebook, share it on Twitter, share it wherever you feel it appropriate to do so, but please consider doing that. I always simply rely on the writing itself to generate interest or readership because I feel like overtly asking others to promote my work risks cheapening it, but today I must make an exception. The entry you are about to read is perhaps the most important entry I have ever written and the words that will follow have the potential to truly do some good in this world. I cannot force you to share what you are about to read and I will never know if you do so or not. All I can do is hope that after you read this extremely revealing and personal accounting of a horribly difficult subject to talk about, you will recognize the importance of the message it carries with it. I am breaking my silence, and with your help that broken silence may actually help others to do the same.

I’ve spent so many years not dealing with this. So many years pushing it below the surface, hoping it would go away. It was so long ago, how could it still be affecting me? I didn’t think of it often so surely it wasn’t there, doing any harm. It was just a sad memory and a tragic experience but nothing more than that. I was just a kid, just a small child, hardly aware of my existence beyond my toys and family, broken and dysfunctional as it was.

I had no idea what was happening to me because I hardly understood who I was, let alone what sex was… what rape was. Yes, for the very first time in my entire life, I am acknowledging that what happened to me was rape. I wish I could say I came to that understanding on my own but it was my therapist who finally put these events in their proper perspective, with a true and penetrating light. I was raped as a child, again and again. My body was used against me to do something I didn’t want to do. What I wanted didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. I was nothing but an object to her. I had no feelings, no desires, no preferences, and no choice. I was raped. I was forced to have sex with her time after time before I even knew what sex was.

In our culture there is very little conversation about male rape, and there is virtually no conversation about male rape when they were not penetrated. As my therapist put it we have conversations about little people (children) with vaginas who are sexually assaulted by men. We have conversations about little people with penises who are sexually assaulted by men, but what about those little people who are sexually assaulted by women?

It is precisely because of that virtually non-existent conversation that I always felt ashamed of what had happened to me. For the longest time I didn’t understand that shame but now I’m seeing it more clearly. I was ashamed that I felt so violated and dehumanized by being raped by a teenage girl time and again  as a young child because society didn’t talk about this the way it did other kinds of rape. We’ve all seen the news stories about priests molesting (raping) little boys. We’ve all heard stories of pedophiles molesting (raping) little girls. We’ve heard countless stories about adult women and men who’ve been raped by men, but what about what happened to me? Teenage girl forces male child to have intercourse with her?

The closest thing that comes to mind are those stories of adult women taking young teenage boys to their bed, but even those stories don’t carry the same societal outrage. Those stories become punch lines to jokes on late night television. Those stories get debated by people of all kinds trying to determine if they are actually rape stories or if it’s just a really lucky teenage boy. Many suggest that the boy knew what he was doing and while it may be illegal, it doesn’t carry the same moral outrage as a woman being raped by a man. But what happens when the boy doesn’t know what he was doing, and couldn’t actually give any degree of consent? Is it rape then? Is there moral outrage then?

These are the questions that have plagued me my whole life, although never so articulately expressed as those above. All I knew was that I was forced to have sex with my teenage babysitter time and again, and it wasn’t something to be talked about, and certainly not something to really be hurt or bent out of shape about. I hadn’t been penetrated, so where was the harm? The experience wasn’t physically painful, so where was the damage?

Inside me, that’s where. Inside my mind. Inside my sense of self-worth. Inside of every relationship I have ever engaged in. That’s where the damage was and until today, it was hiding in plain sight for me. I swore time and again that my experiences with that teenage babysitter didn’t affect my life as an adult. Sure, I felt an odd attraction to women who were older than I was, but where was the real harm in that? Women ten years older than me are often attractive and I’m an adult capable of consent, so how could it be a problem? Just so long as I didn’t allow this attraction to older women to become detrimental to me or my life, then everything was fine. I even married a woman almost two years younger than I was, so it clearly wasn’t an issue… except that wasn’t the issue.

My attraction to older women is a mere side effect of my experience. The true issue, the real damage, the persistent trauma arises in a very different way. When you are raped there is no room for you in the equation. When someone forces you to have intercourse when you don’t want to, there is no room for you. Your body is being used against your will as an object to satisfy the person raping you, and you have no say in the matter. When the rape becomes habitual like mine did, then you learn to make room for it. You learn to accommodate the taking of your body at the expense of your needs. You know that you have no choice, and so you learn to put yourself aside like you don’t matter.

You don’t matter… You aren’t important… You have no worth except to please me and my needs. Your needs aren’t important. They have no place here. Only my needs matter and you will satisfy them whether you want to or not.

Over and over again those traumas have played out in my mind, in my life, in my relationships, and in my self-image. I don’t matter. I’m not important. My needs aren’t important. They have no place. The only value I have is when I accommodate the needs of others, even if those needs hurt me or devalue me. I do not have a place in the equation because who would want me? I just get in the way. My desires get in the way. My needs get in the way. I get in the way, and so I must push myself to the side where I won’t interfere. I must pretend like I’m not there, like I don’t matter, like I’m not important and just do what must be done.

I remember not understanding why we were doing what we were doing. I remember feeling like I didn’t want to do it anymore but she wouldn’t let me stop. She forced me to keep going even when all I wanted was to be done. I didn’t like this experience and I didn’t understand why what I wanted didn’t matter, but I knew that it didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. It had happened too many times before. I’d been used in this way too many times before. She had the power and she used it to take what she needed from me whether I wanted her to or not. She took advantage of me, of my naivety, of my lack of understanding and forced me to have sex with her, over and over again.

Most of my memories about these instances of rape have been repressed or perhaps even permanently erased, but some of them are the most vivid memories I have of my childhood. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine only being able to remember a handful of things about your life as a 5 or 6 year old, and one or more of those memories is of you being forced to have sex against your will? Of you being raped and used like you didn’t matter at all? Now imagine those memories were also a secret to be kept. No one was supposed to know. I wasn’t allowed to tell what was happening. I wasn’t allowed to say what went on behind closed doors when my mother went away, leaving me alone at home with this seemingly trustworthy girl.

I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, and as I grew up I kept it a secret. It was my shameful secret, and do you know the thing about shameful secrets? You do everything you can to not think about them. You do everything you can to pretend like they aren’t there, like they don’t affect your life or have any power over you. Shameful secrets get buried, hopefully never to be unearthed.

I remember starting to talk about it when I was a teenager. I told a friend about what had happened to me, but I didn’t tell them all the details. I couldn’t, and it didn’t matter anyway, right? It’s not like these experiences were still affecting me. I wasn’t being abused by this babysitter anymore and I didn’t really blame myself for the abuse, so why worry about it? Every person I’ve ever told about these experiences always says the same thing, it wasn’t your fault.

Blaming myself was never the problem, at least not explicitly. I knew I wasn’t to blame, but that didn’t stop me from believing that I deserved what happened to me. I might not have been at fault but there must have been something about me that deserved to be raped the way I was. That’s just who I was, the person who deserved to be raped. Otherwise why would it have happened?

What I didn’t understand fully until today was that I was a victim. Sure, logically as an adult I knew what she did to me was wrong but it was just a thing that happened to me. It didn’t kill me, it didn’t leave me physically scared, and it never hurt physically. Sometimes, and this is the hardest part to face, I enjoyed the attention she gave me. The shame I feel about that cannot be put into words or expressed for you to fully understand. How could I enjoy what happened to me when what happened to me was so awful? How could I ever allow myself to sometimes be an almost willing participant in such a horrible act? No, I couldn’t face that shame so it was just something that happened to me and from what my denials tried to tell me, it didn’t really affect me.

What I didn’t understand was that its affects were so profound, so all-encompassing, and so in my face that I couldn’t easily identify them. Even when I struggled with depression or suicidality I couldn’t see how these experiences had affected me. These feelings of worthlessness, of not mattering, of not being important or wanted were so deeply rooted in a past that I could no longer remember that it just felt like that’s the way I had always been. I could never remember a time when these feelings weren’t there. I could never remember a time where I actually felt like I had worth or that I mattered or that I was important because those memories had either been lost or repressed beyond salvaging.

My rape had happened so early and so often that being raped became normal. As far as I knew, it was just the way the world was, and so it became the foundation upon which I built all of my relationships. I learned from that teenage girl that my needs didn’t matter as much as other’s did in any relationship, especially a sexual one. I learned that if things were going to go smoothly, I had to get out of the way and allow them to do as they pleased. I couldn’t say no, not without risking losing them. I had to let them take whatever they wanted with the hopes that their satisfaction would make them want to stay with me, except they never did. They always left, for one reason or another, and with each departure my belief that I was worthless became stronger.

I never connected the dots, never saw the writing on the wall. I wasn’t worthless, even if they left me. No, I was a victim. These feelings of worthlessness were a consequence of a crime committed against me. I identified with my trauma instead of the label that belonged with it. I would never allow myself to think of these experiences as me being victimized, because where is the power in that? What is the use of identifying as a victim, especially a victim of a situation that holds so little moral outrage? How could I honestly call myself a victim when I felt so much shame about my almost willing participation in this sexual assault ritual?

Today, however, I understand the power in accepting my place among the victims of rape. I understand that by finally giving this act its proper name, I am, in fact, destroying its power over me. No longer will I allow myself to believe I’m worthless, that I don’t matter, that my needs are not important, and that I must have deserved the pain I’ve felt. I did nothing to cause this crime even if I participated in it or found some degree of enjoyment in the attention she gave me, yet, I have been the one bearing the weight of it these many years. No longer will I carry this around silently, resenting its weight and allowing it to drag me to the ground unconsciously. No longer will I embrace the rationalizations that I have formulated and that society has impressed upon me all these years about male rape. No longer will I allow the shame I feel to prevent me from facing the truth of these experiences.

A female forcing a male to have sex with them happens, and it is just as detrimental of a crime as any other form of rape, especially when that male is a child like I was; especially when that rape happens so often that it becomes normal. The physical components might be the opposite of our typical understanding of rape, but the psychological damage is no different. She took me against my will and understanding, and forced my body to do things to her that I didn’t want it to do, and the mental-emotional effects of that crime are still impacting me over twenty-five years later.

I never asked for the shame I’ve carried as a result of my victimization, but I refuse to willingly carry it around anymore. I was raped. I was raped again and again by a teenage girl, more times than I can remember, and I refuse to call it anything but that anymore. It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. I’m not laughing now and I certainly wasn’t laughing then. I was groomed to be the perfect participant in a horrible ritual of violation and was taught to believe that what she was doing to me was something I should have wanted her to do. I have suffered the consequences of those beliefs ever since.

I didn’t deserve what happened to me. I didn’t deserve to have to carry the weight of that my whole life, and I absolutely didn’t deserve to be the victim of a crime that holds so little public scorn or outrage. I was a child and my body was used against me before I even knew what was being done to it. My first acts of sexuality were me being raped.

The only solace I can find after all these years of shamefully carrying this around with me, of refusing to call it what it actually was, is that I am now placed in a position where my voice may actually be heard. These words may actually reach the ears of other victims and of society on a larger scale. Had I faced the truth of my experiences so many years ago when I first started telling others about what happened, abbreviated as those stories were, I wouldn’t have the opportunity I have right now to reach a larger audience. True, had I spoken up all those years ago to the right people the person who perpetrated this horrible act of stealing away my innocence would have been tried in a court of law, but that was never the justice I really desired. She was a young girl and while her youth does not excuse her acts of sexual assault against me, they do suggest that in some ways she was a victim herself. I have firmly believed all these years that she learned this activity from someone who did something to her as a child. Whether that is true or not does not really matter now. What matters to me, right now, is that I am standing up and admitting that I was a victim of rape, and I am not alone. There are many others out there who were violated in similar or even worse ways than I was, and the worst thing we can continue to do as a society is not talk about it.

Silence is what gives sexual assault room to exist. Silence is what prevents us from addressing the ever so important concept of consent. Silence is what keeps people from recovering from their trauma and what keeps perpetrators out of jail, out of treatment, and out of culpability. What happened to me wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t okay. It was horrible. Even when it didn’t feel horrible because I’d been groomed to participate in the ritual of sexual abuse, it was still horrible. The most horrible part, though, was that I had to spend over twenty years in denial about the fact that I was raped because no one spoke up about it. How could I call it what it truly was when no one else seemed willing to do so?

Now I have named my experience. Now I have identified the origin of so much of my life’s trauma and dysfunction. Now I am breaking that silence, for myself and for anyone out there who is secretly holding onto the guilt or shame that so often accompany being sexually assaulted.

I have spent the last week grieving for that childhood that I lost, for that innocence that was taken from me. I have finally stopped denying what I went through and for the first time in all these years I have allowed myself to be truly sad about what I experienced. Shame that was instilled in me by the silence of others prevented this from happening before now. By not naming my experience what it truly was I never dealt with the pain that was concealed within it. I was just a little kid. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. No one deserves to be violated that way. Not me, not you, not anyone.

Talking about what happened to me will not undo the past, but it might just change my future. If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted I want you to know you are not alone, even if people never seem to talk about it. The shame you may feel, the guilt you may feel, and the denial you may be dealing with are all normal consequences, but I want you to know that it’s okay to admit you were a victim. It’s okay to talk about what happened to you. It doesn’t have to be a secret and you don’t have to pretend like it didn’t happen like I did for so many years. Claiming your right to the label victim doesn’t say anything bad about you. It doesn’t make you less important and it definitely doesn’t suggest that you deserved what happened. It just means that something horrible happened to you and that you, despite the awful experience, are still alive. You still matter. You are still important and no crime, no assault, no rape, will ever take that away from you.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or rape of any kind, please do not keep it to yourself. Tell a friend, tell a parent, tell a sibling, tell a pastor or priest, tell a therapist, or tell the police. You can even send me an email if you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. Even if you don’t want to pursue legal recourse the way I didn’t want to, you deserve to have someone there for you and you deserve to know you are not alone. There are so many resources out there that can assist you, but if you have no idea where to begin you can at least start here http://www.sexualviolencecenter.org/ . If that isn’t enough and you need more resources please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I will do what I can to help you find the resources you need.

Please know that you are not alone. Please know that you didn’t deserve what happened to you. Please know that the pain you may feel will not always define your experience. There is power in facing the trauma, in naming it what it actually is, and in breaking your silence.

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