Tuesday, April 2, 2013

throwing off the blankets *trigger warning here peeps*

I'm gonna tell you again before you read on that this may be triggering.  I'm also going to tell you before you read on that this may tell you more than you want to know about me.  You've been told.  Carry on if you like.  Or don't, if you don't like.  I’m good either way. I'm an informed consent kinda girl.

Ok.  Here goes…and deep breath...

I never wanted to tell this story. It's not the sort of story one wants to tell. It's not the only story I have of this sort to tell, either, but it is certainly the one I feel the most conflicted about, the one that is most amorphous, slippery - the one that has given me the most grief. I have been inspired lately, by blog accounts of brave, brave women telling their stories in the wake of Steubenville.  I was particularly touched by this brave post by Kim Simon at HuffPost. And I think, now might be the time to add my voice into the world.

This month has the dubious distinction of being Sexual Assault Awareness Month (at least in the U.S. – thanks to President Obama), which has the dubious distinction of falling on the heels of the Steubenville case (and so many others), which many survivors have been triggered by.  I know, from my time working on the Sexual Assault Crisis Line that these are the times crisis line-volumes pick up.  And for good reason.  No one wants to go backwards.  Not even me.  I've written this piece in fits and starts over an extended period of time. And thought about it a lot. And worried about it a bit.  Will it change the way you look at me?   I know it had a profound impact on how I saw myself for a long time. It feels risky. It feels vulnerable. It feels scary. It feels, well, it feels shameful.

So why am I sharing this?  Why do I feel the need, the compulsion really, to tell this story publicly, for the first time?  

Because that girl, that young woman, Jane Doe from Steubenville, she should not have to bear her shame alone. She had no choice in the sharing of her story. That choice was taken from her, along with the choice she should have had to pass out safely, and untouched. And the young woman from BC, whose gang rape was recorded onto phones, she should have had that choice too.  

I think, in their honour and the honour of so, so, so many people, it behooves us to stand up and tell our stories (caveat: in an appropriate place, which does *not* mean standing up and blurting it out in one's Intro to WS class, mkay?).  Hang out our shame, right alongside theirs.  Maybe... just maybe.... if we all started to speak, to share, to stand up and stand out with each other; maybe if we refused to hold onto it, the shame wouldn't belong to us anymore.  And because maybe if I share this story, if we all start to share our stories, something will shift, and it will be one that my daughter will never have to tell. 

I was raised by a feminist. I was taught all about good/bad touch and knew I had a right to do what I wanted with my own body. I knew about party safety and walking in groups and all of the stuff we tell girls to 'keep themselves safe.' I took Wen-Do for Christ's sake!  I was a feminist kid, and then a feminist teen, and in high school, I hung out with a reasonably feminist-y, pensive, Neil-Young-loving, philosophically existential crowd of boys (ok, so we had a few arguments over whether "Down by the River I Shot My Baby" was misogynist or not, *and it is, oh yes, it is* but for the most part, feminist-y boys). I was in love with one of them. Natch. I was also horribly insecure. And an uber people-pleaser. And these two things, I would surmise, made me a pretty easy target. 

At any rate... there was this party.  (Isn't that always how these stories start? So... there was this party... anyways...). It was at my house. My moms were away. So 'my boys' came over for some drinking and some drugs. Yep. Drinking and drugs and my boys and Neil Young. Just another Saturday night. It was a really nice night.  Hanging. I was high as a kite (party girl, me) and really, really drunk. It got late, and eventually, around 2 a.m., it was down to three of us.  A good friend, the boy I loved, and me. I was really tired and starting to pass out. I sort of came in and out as they chatted, and as I struggled to stay awake and wondered when the hell they were going to leave.  

Around 4 a.m. or shortly thereafter, the boy I loved got up to leave.  Not so, my friend. Not two seconds after my ‘love’ (who wasn’t actually my love) left, my friend started wheedling for sex. I remember quite clearly saying no. That I was too tired. That I needed to pass out. That I had the spins. All of which was true and clearly evident whether I'd said anything or not. But there was begging and wheedling and 'c'mon-ing' and touching my hair and more wheedling. There was edging closer and closer.  I could barely keep my eyes open. In fact, they weren't open when the kissing started. I'm not sure when exactly it occurred to me, but I realized at some point soon after that he wasn't going to leave until I stopped protesting and deflecting.  Like, really wasn't going to leave. And I was so tired and drunk and high and spinny.  And I lost the energy to stick up for myself.  I didn't have it in me. I just... gave up.

A few hours later, he left.  The sun had come up. As I was lying awake on that hot summer morning, shivering under a mountain of blankets, staring into the space between the cracks on my bedroom ceiling and my self-loathing, I heard the phone ring. It was, of course, the boy I loved. "You SLEPT with him, didn't you?!" he demanded, his voice full of indignation, and maybe, some disgust.  Before ‘hello.’  Before ‘good morning.’ I didn't have words. Silence hung crisply suspended between us. I was a whore. And he knew it. And I knew then, in that moment of silence, that not only would he never love me, he would probably also never respect me again, either.

The story I would tell about myself, later, throughout my twenties, was that I had once slept with a boy just to get him to leave my house.  Hahaha. Ha! It's funny, right?  Tough girl who doesn't care... yep - that's me. (The internal voices were differently tough. What kind of person would do this? What kind of woman? What kind of feminist? What kind of slut?)

But I think I always knew, even then, and even though I couldn't admit it to myself, that this was only part of the story.  The part of the story that doesn't include my protestations of being too drunk, too high, too exhausted, too barfy. The part of the story that doesn't include coming in and out of various states of consciousness. The part of the story when I woke up part way through and realized that it was taking so long because he, my friend, was trying to be 'gentlemanly', and I had not been showing enough enthusiasm.  When I realized that in order to make it be done and over, I needed to show... enthusiasm. The part of the story that could not possibly happen to a Wen-Do taking, feminist daughter of a feminist mother.  A Wen-Do taking feminist daughter of a feminist mother would most certainly have done a better job of asserting herself, of protecting herself. Wouldn't she?  

He left somewhere around 6 a.m.

He politely thanked the girl for a nice night. 

A nice night.

A gentleman.

And the girl, that girl who slept with a boy just so he would leave her house, she collapsed into her bed. Into her bed that was in her home. And pulled every blanket she could find over her body. It was so hot outside. And she couldn't get warm.  

It took that feminist girl, now a feminist woman, over ten years to recognize and to call this what it was. It wasn't violent. It wasn't some stranger jumping out of the bushes and holding a knife to my throat. It was my own friend, in my own home, on what might have been a beautiful summer night.   

I know I'm not alone. 

I know there are millions of us. Each having been covered with our own blankets of shame. Some luckier than others, if there can be such a thing in such a circumstance.

I know that if we spread those blankets out, they would cover the hugest of geographies . . . a map of the blankets that didn’t keep us warm afterwards; it would zigzag a mishmash of paisley, stripe-y, polkadot, super-heroed, patterned, fluffy, ribbon-edged shame across our country, and across many others.

We have to keep this dialogue going. We have to keep talking about it. We have to hold on to the momentum of awareness and media of Steubenville. We have to talk about consent. More. Lots more. And keep talking.  Pass it on.  And then we have to explain consent and respect for boundaries. We have to raise our voices for realistic sex education in schools. We have to stop talking about the horrors of rape in South Africa and India as if they are the only places these things happen ('cause aside from being, you know, wrong - it's also racist - folks), while we continue to look the other way when it happens in our own backyards. We have to admit we see it. We have to admit it's there. And these are just starting points.

We have to do more than just talk about consent and non consent.  That is not nearly enough and doesn't do much to solve the underlying problems of rape culture.  We have to teach our littles about sexuality and how amazing and wonderful it can be and it should be and is. We have to role-model sex positivity, that is - that sex and body lovin' are unequivocally beautiful things in all of their myriad forms and expressions.  That sexual pleasure is a gift, however we choose to, or not to, express it.  That shame should never be a part of sex. Because the sex-shaming culture we live in is an intrinsic part of rape culture. I'm not sure that one can exist without the other. We hear in it the dialogue about Jane Doe in Steubenville. "What kind of slut would make herself available to the football team?" And here's the thing - in a sex positive culture, it doesn't matter if I choose to fuck the whole damn football team.  If, that is, I choose it because it makes my body and heart happy and full of desire. I want a world where my daughter can choose to fuck whomever she wants, without shame and without gendered moralizing, because it makes her body and her heart feel happy and full of desire. I want this for my son, too (and recognize that while this currently plays out differently for men and women in our culture, that men's sexuality, too, is held-hostage by cultural bullshit around sex). (And yes - I did write that. And I do mean that. I want my children to grow up to have freaking fantastic sex. In the manner(s) of their choosing). I want a world where desire is not problematized when shared in truly positive and consensual ways. A world where our authentic sexual expression is actually celebrated -- football team or no football team, monogamously or polyamourously, by ourselves or with one other or with multiple others, 'vanilla' or 'kinky' and so on and so forth. Maybe I'm oversimplifying, and I certainly don't mean to. There is a whole lot of patriarchy to unpack here. A whole lot. But I truly believe that our shame (which is of course a part of that unpacking), our down-deep-closely-held-shame, is what fuels rape culture. That a world without sex-shame is one in which rape-culture will cease to exist.  

We aren't there yet. Not nearly. Not even close.

Right here and right now, there aren't enough blankets in the world to keep all of us warm.

But I'm still hopeful...

**with thanks and love to my pre-readers/editrixes, who assured me that I sounded somewhat literate. And that this was, in fact, something that needed writing about.