…and there is no real “no.”
A friend posted this blog link on facebook tonight. I had wanted to see Divergent anyway, but now I want to read the book before seeing the movie (I tend to find they skimp on messages in movies). It got me thinking; not only are movies and tv glorifying sexual violence, but we are trained that being “hard to get” is a turn on, and no never actually means no. This is more pronounced with people who grow up in chaotic and abusive situations.
When I was discussing the concept of rape with a co-worker many years ago (she was working towards licensure as a therapist and in the process of completing her PsyD), she defined rape and assault as needing a decisive “no” with physical resistance. At the time, I had not mentioned my experiences with Duckboy to anyone except my own therapist, but even to her only in the most vague terms. I was taken aback by this friend’s rigid and adamant definition. I tried to gently give “other” scenarios (my own experiences without divulging that it was myself I was speaking about, but hypothetical subtleties in situations), but she refuted it all. She said if the woman was truly not wanting any contact, she would fight back and scream “no” until her voice was hoarse if she had to… “what if she says no, but he doesn’t pay attention? …what if she was trained to refuse once, but if he pushed the idea, she had to go along with it? …what if he laughed her “no” off and continued what he was aiming for? … what if he said she was leading him on, so had to do it? what if she was scared because he was so much bigger and stronger? what if he could hold both of her hands in his one and pin them above her head? what if the “no” caught in her throat as she was trying to say it but all that escaped was tears and shaking her head? What if…” To all this, her reply was that it did not meet the definition of rape, and was barely teetering towards assault. That conversation was had early in my acceptance of what had happened (there’s something about being in a situation that makes it feel normal, especially when you have always been taught to go along with whatever the stronger/louder/older person says without argument). Prior to this conversation, I had started talking to JF about what had happened with Duckboy, but this conversation had me ashamed for feeling that any of it was something that should not have happened. I started telling JF that it wasn’t anything wrong; that Duckboy had just been “a little forceful about the sexual stuff, but it was ok…” I think she had tried to get to the truth of it all, but I was too ashamed. It was not only not ok to fight back, but it was not ok to be disturbed by any of it if I hadn’t fought tooth and nail to get away. If he had no scars or bruises, I was consenting… I think it’s at about this time that the cutting had moved to my legs. I don’t really remember doing it, but I do remember having the gyn ask what the words on my legs were (and later JF asking about them because I had flat-out denied the existence of the cuts that were most certainly visible to the gyn). The gyn thought she read “slut” and “whore”, but she wasn’t sure about it so JF wanted to talk about it. I told her I wasn’t sure what they said, and that I didn’t remember writing them (I honestly did not remember it. I think that was one of the many times I had “checked-out” and cut myself only to wake in the morning to new cuts)… I remember telling JF that I didn’t really know why that would even cross my mind. When she asked if it related to Duckboy, I reiterated that he never did anything wrong; he was just a little forceful… I stopped talking about it shortly after that. Words appeared in blood on my legs, but I refused to talk about it. I was lost in the shame of feeling wronged when I “obviously” wasn’t. I started OD’ing on pills to help drown out my head (though only once was I “caught” and sent to the ER. One other time I was sent to the ER because the nurse thought I meant I had taken that many pills only 2 hours ago, not 14 hours ago), and to help ease the dissonance between what I felt, and what “society” (or at least a handful of “friends”) said was right or wrong. Mind you, my therapist, the nurse I trusted, and the gyn all colluded on the idea that what they understood had happened was indeed “wrong”, but for some reason I didn’t listen to their opinions… I didn’t address any of the assault or abuse stuff again for almost 15 years, but it crept back to my awareness regularly in the form of body memories and flashbacks. I remember the times I would close my eyes and “just get it over with” when a friend asked for “benefits” even though that was all purely consensual. He attributed it all to my coming out later that year. I never told him about Duckboy. For years, I was adamant that what went on with Duckboy was all in my head in terms of “appropriateness.” Even when the flashbacks interfered with my relationships (apparently I went pale and stopped breathing for a few seconds the first time my ex pulled out a realistic dildo. She had offered to stop, but I recovered my bearings and did my best to ignore the flashbacks taking over enough to convince her there was nothing wrong), I refused to acknowledge the damage done by Duckboy. It was only after the millionth recommendation from the millionth hospital social worker that I sought sexual assault counseling this past summer. Even when the body memories caused me to cut severely in an effort to rid myself of them, I refused to acknowledge a history of assault. When asked about it, I attributed it to the body memories, but refused to give details or call it anything other than him being forceful. There were the body memories that came before Duckboy, but I had no actual memories to pair them with, so they “didn’t count.” You can’t really work on something you don’t remember except on a physical and emotional level… at least, I have no idea how to do it, and I thought it was all in my head (ok, so it is, but in a different way). I know the basics of the situation from second-hand stories of what went on, but at the same time, my involvement is constantly denied after the first admission of occurrence. I was too young to really remember, so I only have the stories they told me about it. I know the guy served time for it. I know he assaulted more than one kid at the parties. I know I was told I stopped going to bed when the other kids went because I would throw a tantrum at the parties. It was before my brother was born, so I can assume I was younger than one and a half. The only reason I even know anything happened was that I was told to alert my parents if the guy ever tried to contact me (after he was released… I might have been 12 or 14). But all I have of that time are distorted nightmares and vague body memories. The stuff with Duckboy isn’t too concrete, but I remember more than I do of the earlier stuff. I have explicit memories of what he did, and fears connected to specific events. I react strongly and violently when touched without expecting it, especially by someone I don’t know and trust. I have scared family friends with my reactions when they were only trying to be genuinely, harmlessly playful (things that are harmless to someone who has never been violated turn into assaults for someone with a history). Triggers are rampant in medical settings because of the nature of medical exams. Even when I trust my doctor, dissociation is almost inevitable. I have yet to figure out if it’s more helpful to be alone with her, or have my wife there. It gets confusing and full of flashbacks either way. Speaking of doctors, I’m surprised more gyn’s are not more sensitive to assault histories. I think they are almost as uncomfortable addressing the possibility of abuse (past or present) as we are divulging it. It took me years to find Dr. F. Before her, no one asked about any specifics beyond the existence of an assault history. Dr. F actually sat down and talked before having me strip for the first time. She checks in regularly and is always asking what helps to make it all easier. I have not yet made any effort to find a gyn here because it’s so difficult to find someone that’s willing to take time and space to make things feel safe… Even at the hospital, when the doctors knew there was a history and those triggers had led me to the hospital, simply labeled me as “resistant” and “defiant” when I insisted on a female doctor for any exams. There was more than one occasion when I was not given a choice to refuse the exam or ask for a female doctor. There were several “unwarranted” exams that I was not able to refuse. Then they wondered why I “left” during the exam. They deemed me a danger to myself for dissociating in a very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and triggering situation… They replayed the old scenarios in new ways. You would think that with a greater push for awareness and understanding of assault situations (and trauma in general) that they would work harder to keep from triggering people and re-victimizing them. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen in that field…
Anyway, what was my original point? Oh, the thoughts on the rape scene in Divergent… well, I guess I addressed it. I’m glad that our kids are now being taught more often that “no” means no, and not a veiled “yes”. I’m glad that we are educating everyone on the concept of respecting boundaries. I’m glad that society is changing, albeit slowly. It gives me hope that one day my future kids will know that they don’t have to do anything that feels so wrong. I will never tell kids not to fight for their right to refuse to do anything. I will make sure they know they can always look to my wife and I for support around anything… and I will forever be vigilant for signs of abuse with the people I care about. No one deserves to be hurt.