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19 August, 2009

The Whole Story

I have been talking, with various people, about how to deal with the subject of rape, for the last day and a half or so. (And not talking, at times, because I'm not the sort of person who's really good at untangling exactly why some arguments sound like survivor-blaming and rape apologia because I find them too upsetting to disassemble coolly.)

And one of the things that came up for me and had me wickedly shaky last night is the way that no matter how many times, how many different ways, how carefully I tell my story, I cannot tell the whole story, not in one go.

I've written about the assault here not infrequently. And each post about it has a different piece of the story - like the issues around the social construction of consent and the failures of sex education to assist in rape prevention, the effects of women's sexuality being treated socially as a form of public property, my trauma around failure at the 'gatekeeper' social role, contributions from my repressed kinkiness, normalisation of rape and lack of support, the way uncertainty and the slow erosion of boundary defenses contributed, the induced vulnerability created by the social dichotomy between attractiveness and academics, trying to come to terms with shame and internalised self-hatred around the subject, comparison of superficially similar experiences, how I had to fight for the space in which I could actually lay the responsibility for the assault at the feet of the person who did it. In other places I've laid out the facts of the events, I've written about the major kink scene my liege and I did to try to do some mental reprogramming, I've written about other things. I've probably missed a few posts about it from here, too.

None of these are the whole story. The fact that there are so many renditions, so many ways of trying to talk about the experience, so many posts, that should probably be a tip-off as to the incompleteness, the giant fucking layer cake of the experience that can only be written about one pink-icinged stripe at a time.

I can't even think about it all at once, see all the layers. At least not yet; I wonder some if that's why I keep writing about it, trying to get all the angles clear so that I can grasp it as a whole.

There are so many stories in that one event.

There are all the stories about the social, societal, familial contexts that fed into what happened, that made the space in which it could happen possible, easy. And all the stories about the social, societal, familial contexts that shaped how I responded, where the damage ran, how I scarred, where, and how deeply. A few of those, I've written.

There are the stories about the events, the way things happened, and which stories those are depend on which events one wants to include.

There are the stories about the people, too.

And there are the secondary stories. Because, for example, one of the consequences of having a version of the story about him in my head - because I, unlike everyone I've told these stories to, almost knew him - is that it feeds my self-hatred and self-blame, because I can see a little bit through his eyes. And I know this, and this is why I don't often tell any of my version of his story - because it's very easy for me to slide into victim-blaming with it if I go into any depth, even though the victim is me. And even though I don't tell the story, I refer to it, I get frustrated with people who respond to my story as if he were a monster rather than an idiot kid, I gnaw at the incompleteness of things.

Someone wrote a post, talking about how there's a vision of what a rapist looks like, and it doesn't look like anyone we know, and that this isn't true.

And, for the first time I think, I wrote about who he was in response, not a name, not a referent, not treating him as an event, but the person I maybe almost knew a little. And part of that was to make that person's point a bit, to make it clear that this was ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, that my bog-standard assault narrative has a bog-standard person as the aggressor. And it's put me more in touch, mentally, with him as a person than I have been in a while, which leaves me shaky and uncertain.

He was a perfectly ordinary geeky, arty high school kid. A little on the tall side, with what gets called an athletic build; light brown hair, long enough to ruffle without actually being long and not that I ever ruffled it (that being a contact more intimate and affectionate than I was comfortable with), jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing type, like any other ordinary high school kid. I met him through one of my classmates, and he may never have known that I was technically not old enough for high school, let alone not a junior like that friend.

He did drama club at his high school, and I went to see him perform. He listened to Peter Gabriel. He lent me the Wild Cards books one at a time. He had a computer in his room at his parents' house, an old clunky thing with a green screen, and played Ultima on it. He quoted Monty Python, at length, on a frozen day outside the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, a day when it was windy enough to make the seagulls fly backwards. ("Albatross!") I remember nothing about what we talked about on the phone, and only one movie we went to (The Cutting Edge).

He was the sort of person that people I know would know, would spend time with, would never wonder about.

He was the first attractive, potentially compatible person who had ever shown interest in me; my experience of romance was all of the junior high variety, full of blatant abusiveness and harassment, and I was an awkward, nerdy kid unfamiliar with the vagaries of proper social interaction. He said I was beautiful, not that I really believed him; he said that he loved me, after a while. I had no idea how to deal with him, because in among all of this unexpected, unfamiliar, loneliness-curing kindness was the persistent ignoring of consent, pushing at boundaries whose precise location I did not, at that point, know, up until he hit the boundaries around sex, where I at least knew that I didn't want to go there.

When he let me escape after the assault, I fled to the bathroom to try to put my mind in order. When I came back out, he was fully clothed, sitting on the couch that he had tried to pin me to, and even in my pained dissociation I thought he had realised what he had nearly done, realised and was now ashamed. Maybe even wondering how he had read me wrong, maybe - and this would be good - wondering how long he had been misreading me, whether it went back to the beginning. There was sadness and silence there, and I did not ask what it was; he had never asked me what was in my head, and asking what was in his was too intimate even if I had not been shaking and shattered inside. He walked me back to the subway so I could go home.

It was probably the next weekend or the one after that he went to the second day of a Star Trek convention with me, which I left early, claiming headache, not saying that it was terrifying to be near him and I was bleeding inside. We never spoke again after that day.

I saw him, or someone who looked like him, in a bookstore a few years later. I had a panic attack and fled to the company of my mother at a cafe, sitting by the escalator he might have come down if he were leaving that way, and I watched the stairs moved in a panic.

When my lion and I went to see the Stargate movie in the theater a few years later, I was so triggered by the looks of James Spader that I could not really bear to watch any of it. I buried myself in other-things, and we laughed about the things we had done in movie theaters in the dark, without ever shedding light into that particular bit of darkness.


Graydon said...

It occurs to me that you're completely missing -- at least as it applies to you -- the axiom of inherent value. (The idea that you are valuable for yourself, period, end of sentence, full stop. This is not a function of context, social-or-other, how other people behave, or any sort of gift or granting. It just IS.)

That would rather fit with the history you've recounted AND explain why recognizing that the rapacious fellow is a human being is dangerous; you don't have the basis to think of him as both human and wrong without great effort.

Having that piece missing, that axiom that you are valuable for no other cause than existing, tends to make defending borders of self infinitely fractal; everything is a special case, with its own requirements of understanding and justification and the cost of creating same. Resolving events on that basis is possible but really expensive and arbitrarily time-consuming.

If you can, instead, or in addition to, introduce the axiom of inherent value, I think it's possible that your understanding of those events will alter into a more manageable form.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

That is, in fact, one of many problems, yes.

Graydon said...

Axioms are the sort of thing I think it's useful to ask a god for. Inside of the noggin, and ritually appropriate, so it's in the category of "that can work".

Don't know if that seems reasonable to you -- it almost can't, absent said axiom -- but it's not, in my experience, an impractical thing to try.

Aqua, of the Questioners said...

The issue as I see it is that a lot of women don't have the axiom of inherent value, because our culture doesn't believe it needs to be installed in women.

I know I went through a partly conscious process at some point, maybe in my late teens, and it was a leap of faith that if I had that axiom, I'd be as much me as when I didn't, and that I wouldn't need to ask anyone else's permission to install it, because otherwise some kind of logical paradox would result.

Maybe gods are exempt from that paradox; I don't have any, so I had to do it alone.