content warning: rape, sexual assault, trauma, scary thoughts
This is one of those posts that I didn’t really want or intend to write, but I guess I needed to. I’m shaking a little.
What do you call rape? When I come at this from a GWST and feminist perspective my first response is to say any sexual act that is not consensual is rape. Anything that was not yes. But I’ve come to realize it’s more complicated than that. When is it actually helpful for someone to call the sexual trauma they experienced “rape”? When is it empowering and when is it just scary and uncomfortable and anxiety-causing?
I’ve referred to certain events in my past as “trauma” or “not totally consensual”, which may seem to some people to be beating around the bush, not getting to the point, or even denial. But I don’t see it that way. Yes, maybe I should recognize the fact that I very may well have been sexually assaulted. By someone who didn’t realize they were doing it. Who didn’t realize it wasn’t completely consensual. Who didn’t realize that my “maybe”s and “I guess”s weren’t really permission. But isn’t it my decision to make about what I call my experiences? Whether I term what I experienced as rape or not? Does it somehow devalue others’ experiences if I don’t call it that? There are these conflicting debates going on inside my head about what I know to be true what I’ve learned in studying feminism and what I feel in my head/heart/body.
What about when I don’t actually have memories of a specific incidence of assault, but just get uneasy feelings around certain people? The concept of repressed memories is so scary because there could be huge things that I don’t remember, or it could just all be in my head and I could be confusing fiction for fact. Memories are this huge grey area, they change with the retelling of stories and sometimes people recall events as having happened to them, when in reality, it happened to their sibling. On the one hand, I feel guilty for questioning myself so much, yet I also feel guilty for possibly thinking these things could’ve happened. It’s scary to think about so it’s much easier to further repress any possibility of sexual trauma having occurred and just chalk it up to an ‘overactive imagination’. The thing about repressed memories is that it seems to be completely in the mind. There are bodily reactions, like anxiety or uneasiness around certain people or certain groups of people perhaps, but there is no bodily memory of what may have happened, only foggy possibilities clouding my mind.
When wondering about these things I can’t help but think back to Take Back the Night this last spring and how uncomfortable I felt marching with my friends who were self-identified survivors. I didn’t feel like my trauma was… worthy? of being titled rape. Which sounds so fucked up. But this stuff is muddy and fucked up and scary and nothing can really make it not those things.
I wonder how many people have repressed sexual trauma because of the stigma associated with it. Sexual assault is an incredibly difficult topic to talk about and I was stumbling for words and having some realizations about possible trauma that I may have experienced earlier today and now even as I’m writing about this I am distancing myself to preserve my sanity. I don’t want to think about all of this. It’s fucking terrifying. But if I never confront these demons and this darkness, then what?
I was hesitant to write this post and I’m hesitant to publish it because I feel like when people make claims of assault the first response of so many people is “prove it”. But I can’t necessarily prove it, and even if I could, I have no desire to. Why do we, as a society, make people who claim they’ve been sexually assaulted feel like frauds?
This is my horror. This is my anxiety. This is my fear. I deserve to think about it and not feel guilty or worried I could be making it up.
Typing this is getting harder and I’m shaking more but I did it. It’s done. I couldn’t edit it again.