April, 2010

Ain't No Ball & Chain Holding ME Down!

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For the past year, I’ve been having an internal battle with myself that I tried to avoid for the most part, never wanting to admit what was going on. I regretted my past actions and as a result, was starting to hate myself. Not a moment passed by that I didn’t remember all my mistakes. I hated the person who I became, an awkward and quiet girl. Where was the womyn I claimed to be? Where was my passion and my fire?

My anxiety heightened and I stopped living in the present. I just dreamed of the future. Of a better time than right now, when I would be a better person, more happy with myself. I was a stranger in my own skin, and for a majority of the past year, just kept to myself because no one else would understand.

There is nothing wrong with a little depression.  It is a reasonable response to this fucked up world and you don’t need to hide or deny it.

(Doris #15, Cindy Crabb)

Here’s the deal: More than a year of my life was wasted in a relationship that I HATED. It’s embarrassing to even admit I was with THIS person for so long, we were nothing alike. He didn’t understand my passion for social justice, and was embarrassed to admit to his family that I was a cunt-lovin’ feminist. Why didn’t I leave earlier? My friends didn’t like him, or if they did it was mostly respect on the part that I was dating him. I was scared to let go, to be on my own. For years growing up, I never had anybody around to listen to what I really wanted to say. I was always the “single friend”, but I didn’t care because I didn’t want to be tied down to somebody just to not be single.

I was raised by a supportive, tight family and had two male role models — my father and my older brother. For the most part, my dad was my best friend up until the gray area when I got my period and teen angst set in. My older brother was a second father to me, he told me that boys were a waste of time and they were all the same. But this is a guy I chose for myself. Why?

He made me feel as if nothing was possible. He didn’t go after his dreams, or work hard enough in school to accomplish a degree. I lost motivation and inspiration by being with him, falling into a hopeless slump. He always wanted to know where I was and who I was with; if it was a male he would get jealous and guilt-trip me into leaving so I could talk to him. I stopped having sex with him in the middle of our relationship. I just wasn’t attracted to him anymore, but couldn’t say it to his face. I gave in at times. Who was I?

He wasn’t a bad person, in fact he was very kind and people-friendly To put it in the words of a friend of mine, “he was good to you, but he’s not good for you.” Once I finally left him, I told myself that I would not be with anyone for a while. I needed time and space for myself, and did not want to accommodate anyone else’s needs.

I started college this past fall upstate, and I was more than excited to get away from the city and to be around new faces. But when I met new people, I felt like nothing I said would remotely interest them, so I kept to myself. I had friends but I still felt alone. I needed time for myself, and realized that before I started opening myself to more people, I need to feel confident in my own skin.

This past winter was the roughest season of my life, but by reading feminist anthologies, working with fierce womyn and spending my time around the most positive, beautiful person I’ve ever met, I made it through. Although, there are still days when I feel like shit and want to crawl into a ball, I remind myself that I am in control of my life. I hated this unfamiliar place, but now I love it.

Now, I am coming to terms with who I am as a womyn.

Scared & Powerful

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In 2002, I decided to take an IMPACT self-defense class because I needed to feel physically powerful, capable of stopping a person who tried to attack me.  I needed to know I could do something about my father’s too tight hugs and grabs and yelling.  On a mat in a gym in a simulated rape scenario which began with me crying and ended with me kicking a would-be assailant harder than I ever knew I could, I learned the beauty of being scared and powerful at the same time.

I found strength in my hips, power in my arms and legs, the precision in my fingertips. I learned that I didn’t need any special athletic talent—only training—to find the holes in what an abuser says about how he intends to hurt me. Like every human body, the words abusers use to scare their intended victims are full of weak places. When I find the weak place I find the opportunity to change the story. But I don’t change it to a story of how good I am at hurting another person, because that wouldn’t change anything.

I am in a rape scenario, lying down on the mat, crying. The instructor, playing the role of a perpetrator, pins my arms. I don’t have to fight arms with arms. This is not a contest. Instead I take the tension out of my arms and wait for a flaw in his body’s logic. I know my hips and lower body will throw him off if he gets on top of me and if he doesn’t, there is a limit to how much he can hurt me with so much of his body occupied restraining my arms. The minute he moves, I move. He has to let go of my arms to proceed and when he does, I will find a vulnerable part of his body to strike.

Learning self-defense means not having to live on the terms of anyone who has hurt me. It’s story of the intelligence a woman’s body finds when she finally believes that not every man can overpower her just by virtue of being a man.  The story is more than that, though, because before that class I was working to get distance from my father, but still enduring his hugs. Feeling my stomach in the back of my throat and wanting to turn my skin inside out to get away from him.

My sister’s college graduation fell between the third and fourth weeks of class and when I saw my father, my body found the posture I had learned to use at the sign of threat. Feet shoulder with apart, strong leg half a step back, hands in front of my body saying “stop.” When my father moved toward me for a hug, I said,

I’m not in a hugging mood

I hadn’t planned to do this, my body responded automatically.

What?

he said, and started coughing or laughing, I wasn’t sure.

I’m not in a hugging mood

I reiterated

But I’m your father

He tried to move around me. He tried to talk me out of the line I’d drawn. I was scared, yet proud of how loud and decisive my voice remained. I looked at his eyes and saw vulnerability. Literally, because the eyes are a common target used in self-defense, but even more than that. Abusers are not all-powerful.  They too are scared. They have lost kindness or empathy and want what they want so desperately that hurting other people to get it becomes increasingly possible. If they want someone close to them, they take away the choice to leave. Knowing how to apply strength to the vulnerable targets of someone’s body gives choice back to me.

It isn’t true to say that I stopped being scared of my father. I would no more stop being afraid of erupting volcanoes or falling rock. The change is this: after the class I became scared of my father the way a capable adult is scared of a driver speeding down the wrong side of a busy street. I was no longer afraid that I didn’t pacify him he would yell and his rageful words would obliterate me.

In the months that followed that class he yelled a lot—insistent phone calls demanding that I hear his version of the events that led my mother to seek an order of protection.  I learned to hang up. I learned to erase messages. I learned to be steady and confident, not to give in every time he yelled, and eventually he yelled less.

I need to resist the temptation to declare myself the winner of some contest because the minute I do that I stop advocating for safety and start defending my ego. This is not about beating my father or anyone else. It’s about having a life that is not diminished by abuse.

The hours I spent in that basement gym elbowing the duct-taped helmeted instructor who was playing the role of a perpetrator gave me the confidence to know that I am every bit as capable when I’m afraid as I am when I’m calm. There is beauty in the ability to advocate for safety—first our own, then someone else’s—when we’re feeling fear because we feel fear when we stretch ourselves. We feel fear when we maintain integrity in the face of someone trying to undermine us. This is what it means to say, “stop” and “yes” at the same time.

Play Possum

500_possumi was raped by a male “friend” in the presence of two other (male and a female) “friends” when i was 16.  it was a terrible way to lose my virginity.  i said no and weakly tried to push him away but then i FROZE.  i didn’t know this was one of a few normal ways to respond to a sexual assault:

IF SHES NOT MOVING, STOP!

American University, Assault & Activism

500_AU EagleIt has been a long time since students at my college were organized, cooperative, and angry. But I go to American University, and our school paper, The Eagle, is infamous for publishing inflammatory and often antagonistic opinion pieces by a staff columnist- and last week, the columnist chose to write about sexual assault and date rape.

I’ve been working with Women’s Initiative, a campus group, and have regularly had to respond to pieces published by The Eagle and mobilize others to do so. At the beginning of September, the paper published the first of a regular series on sex and dating that told women at AU not to worry about drunk hookups: to think of situations where you couldn’t decipher where you were and what was happening as a growing experience, and not as assault. The column was chilling. In response I launched (con)sensual, a campaign based in artwork and social media that spreads knowledge of and encourages the practice of verbal consent in any and all sexual interactions. I’ve worked closely with THE LINE Campaign since last summer, and wanted to use my experience to begin an open dialogue on campus. I worked with campus organizers on getting the posters in residence halls and bathrooms and further mobilized and collaborated with other groups on speakers and events.

For this reason, words could not explain the frustration I felt when I discovered “Dealing with AU’s anti-sex brigade.” The article proposed a number of claims: that date rape was not a valid crime, that straight women deserved rape for going to parties, and that rape was an innate action and an unimportant issue. The Eagle was at it again! The author stated:

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!

I was horrified by the piece and its publication. I immediately worked on a letter for the editors, and submitted a rewrite of the entire piece that was focused on the importance of consent:

Let’s get this straight: any person who heads to a party and drinks five cups of the jungle juice is unable to provide consent. To justify manipulating someone who is inebriated, taking advantage of someone with physical threats, date-rape drugs, and coercion, and/or disregarding someone’s ability to enjoy or consent to sex is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s back and shooting it in the dark.

I drafted a petition and form letters for others to send to the editorial board. I met with a collective of activists on campus and organized a multitude of efforts to spread awareness of the article’s false and harmful claims. The petition went out later that week, and began gathering signatures. I spent the week in meetings, collaborating and spearheading efforts to work on messaging, make the activists on campus a more productive and cohesive unit, talking to the press, and even being featured on the CBS Early Show. I re-launched (con)sensual, and the new hostile environment that emerged from this article rendered a destructive welcome for the newest shipment of artwork.

We are still working, however, in the aftermath of the piece. We have used the incident to push for a full-time, professionally-staffed Women’s Resource Center, and for the university to hire a full-time sexual assault counselor. I pledged as the WI Rape Awareness & Eradication Dept. Director to stop telling women how to not get raped, and instead educate my campus about the inequalities that create violence and urge them to be a part of a progressive cultural shift to eradicate that violence.

The impact sexual harassment has on the lives of all people, and especially women, is impossible to ignore. Rape is one of the most underreported crimes, and sexual assault is likely to occur to over 25 percent of women on every college campus. Sexual assault happens every day, and every second. For The Eagle to hold up rape excuses and justifications as journalism is revolting. The overwhelming fear of shame most women feel after being sexually assaulted is real and painful, and the memories of their rapes should not be used as tools to combat an oppressive publication. The Eagle, for too long, sold rape controversy to its readers, using it as an impetus for readership and a method to grab the attention of students. They have since apologized- but this entire incident made me aware how fleeting the tenants of respect, consent, mutuality, and communication have become on my own campus.

Sex, foreplay, Masturbation, and my girlfriend

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In January of 2010, I started to masturbate. I now masturbate about every night. I recently talked to my girlfriend of 6 months about sex, and I told her that I’m ready for it, she replied no, and and she wants to wait until after high school. I am 16 years old, and she is 15 years old. I really want to have sex, and I’m horny a lot lately, and I really don’t know what to do. I want to be more intimate with my girlfriend but I don’t want to hurt her. We are both “prude” and I just want to put some more intimacy into our relationship. We have only done little pecks on the lips, we’ve never made out. I was thinking about either grabbing her boob, and/or fingering her. But I don’t know what to do because I’m afraid that if I try something sexual like grabbing her boob or fingering her, I think I might lose her as a girl friend.

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Yes/Maybe/No

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A few weeks ago, I discussed “Yes/Maybe/No” (YMN) lists as an underutilized tool amongst my peers for fostering sexual communication and consent. The concept of YMN lists came to me through a friend who is a member of Conversio Virium, the Columbia University BDSM club. Catching a spare moment together, we spoke about issues of rough sex, violence, and consent, and she soon told me about the popularity of making such lists in the BDSM community.

To give a clearer idea of what a YMN list is, I’ll give a description by Adult Parlour Games. A YMN list is defined as a master list of sexual moves, categorized by “what’s totally acceptable (everyone says, ‘Yes!’), what’s absolutely forbidden (anyone says, ‘No!), and what’s negotiable (any combo of ‘Yes!’ and ‘Maybe?’)” (Feb 2009). My friend explains that a YMN list makes it easy for an individual to share sexual desires with partners in a way that is open and especially necessary when placed in a BDSM context.

My first question was how such a list provides a space that dissolves the impracticalities that challenge individuals discussing their sexual desires. How easily can a woman say that she enjoys being tied up in leather and whipped? A YMN list reduces the stigma of having such a conversation, but it opens the conversation up further. When my friend said to me that some of her peers in the BDSM community have the healthiest relationships she’s ever seen, I started thinking hard about my own sexual decisions and methods of communication.

After discussing YMN lists with THE LINE Campaign, I suggested to my partner the possibility of creating our own lists to improve our sexual relationship. I was driven partly by intrigue toward how he would respond and partly by excitement of finding out each other’s likes/dislikes in bed. I may not be into what is strictly defined as BDSM, but I like sex, and I like it rough, which entails some hair pulling, slapping, and the odd moment or two of being cuffed or tied down. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to ask my partner that we make YMN lists.

What ended up happening is that he refused my suggestion. No anger or hostility was involved, but we did launch into a huge discussion, in which he laid out reasons why he wasn’t against YMN lists but couldn’t make one himself. His reasoning unseated my own determination, forcing me to look critically at what may be a faulty conviction that YMN lists provide a holistic answer to sexual communication.

The conversation began with me asking what he thinks of YMN lists. He wrote that his concern was how they might be perceived like “a/s/l” inquiries, in which a person’s nuance and existence on a spectrum is eliminated by what seems like packaging. When I asked him to elaborate, he asked me, “Why pick a ‘no’ today, when it may be a ‘yes’ tomorrow?” I realized that he was pointing not only to the problems of packaging oneself, but also the fact that creating a list is also in some ways forcing oneself to establish a particular identity. My partner may like to pull my hair in bed (“yes”), but tomorrow he may not want to do it at all (“no”). To list is to categorize, and to categorize creates an idea that certain things, like sexuality, can remain static and contained.

I remained troubled. If my conviction in the powers of a YMN list is unhinged, then can I still make a list for myself? Do I still believe in other people’s lists? I asked my partner if he thinks that YMN lists are unnecessary, and he immediately answered, “Well, no, I still sincerely believe that the one good thing about YMN lists create consent! They’re just not for everyone.”

My partner and I agree that creating YMN lists won’t do much to change our relationship, but that’s because of who we already are as individuals and how we already communicate. We consent to talking about what we want, what we don’t want, and how and when we will tell each other these things. These are some of the most important takeaways of YMN lists, but we didn’t need one to get there. A greater message lies within an act of list making. To have one is a great tool for people who wish to declare their sexual needs, but it won’t make a difference if there isn’t already the feeling that sexual communication is important. In some senses, the YMN list did help my relationship foster communication, but not through the sheer act of putting a pen to some paper and writing a few bullet points down

A Letter to Dave

One year ago today, I lied to my parents and told them I was sleeping over a friend’s house when really I was going to see you. The lying really wasn’t a big deal; I had lied to them many times before whenever I wanted to see you. I was damn good at it too; they never even suspected that I wasn’t where I said I was. They had no idea that I had even kissed anyone, let alone that I was having sex with someone nine years older than me almost every weekend for a period of nearly four months. You can imagine how shocked they were when they found out.

I had always returned home safely and on time and everything always went according to plan. So why would I think that this time would be any different? Unfortunately, the evening of March 28, 2009 ended very, very badly for me. I was left wandering up and down a dark street at 2am crying in the rain in utter disbelief that I was in the situation that I was in.  Being raped and left in the middle of a bad neighborhood after midnight was something that only happens in the movies and to girls on the evening news…right?

Yes, Dave, I want to make clear to you that what happened that night was rape. Yes, I did go to see you specifically for the purpose to have sex with you. Yes, I know you were incredibly fucked up that night. Yes, it was somewhat consensual at the beginning, but what ended up happening is that you forced me to have painful sex (I would rather not call it sex, but I will for lack of a better word) with you that I did not want to have. You raped me. You told me that you do not remember what happened and that you do not want to remember what happened. However, I think that it is incredibly selfish of you since I have to live with the horror of what you did to me each and every day. You’re the one who should be in pain because of what happened, not me.’

You had me pinned against that dumpster in a position where I could not move. The back of my head, my neck and my spine were smashing into the corner of the dumpster so hard that I was covered in bruises the next morning. It was impossible to scream for you to stop because the air was pushed out of my lungs as my body was pressed against the steel. I was able to say “Stop” and “you’re hurting me” a good dozen times, but you ignored me. Once, you did respond to me by saying “Shut up, I don’t want to hear that.” You tried to convince me to have sex with your friends. You tried to get me to call you master. You told me that you loved me. You told me I couldn’t fall in love with you. You told me not to be “a fucking prude”.  You fucked me in the ass without permission and yelled at me to get up when I fell to the ground in pain. You came inside me without permission. You left me there. A part of me knew you weren’t coming back as I watched you walk away, but at the same time I couldn’t believe that you would leave me there, in a neighborhood filled with drug addicts and dealers and gang members. I tried calling you multiple times. I kept thinking this can’t be happening…this can’t be happening. One of the times I called, your phone answered by accident and I heard you telling your friends what happened.

…And then she was like no! (Laughter) I have to put my phone somewhere where I can’t hear it.

You try to tell me it wasn’t rape after a statement like that? I was so angry and confused that I decided that I was going to try to find your house. I found the address you had given me in my purse. I walked in the direction you walked in and I found the right street, I went up and down that street trying to determine which house was yours. I’m not sure what I planned on doing once I found you, but I know I wanted to hurt you. I never found the house and I thank God every day that I didn’t. As I looked for your house I also began to call my friends in hopes that they could pick me up. It was 2 in the morning; they weren’t awake and didn’t pick up their phones.

Do you have any idea how alone I felt that night? I ended up being forced to call my parents whom I had lied to. I asked them to pick me up at the 7-11 which was miles away from where I told them I was going that night. I walked there and sat on the ground and smoked a cigarette as I waited for my dad to arrive. The cashier from 7-11 came outside to have a cigarette. I probably looked like shit and my eyes were probably red from crying.

Are you okay?

That was the first time that night that anyone showed me any kindness. It touched me so much and I wish I could go back and thank him for letting me know that there were still good people in the world at such a horrible moment like that. I think I managed to choke out a yeah to him. He stood next to me until my dad got there.

I had to tell my parents everything. Do you know how painful it was for me to tell my parents not only about what you did to me but also to admit that I had been lying to them for months? My parents were just happy I was okay. After I got done telling them I went into the bathroom to take a shower. I undressed and looked at myself in the mirror. My flesh looked pale, cold and gross. I wished I could tear off my skin. I got into the shower and washed the shit from the inside of my thighs. I went to bed and cried myself to sleep.  You, David, made me feel so violated, so disgusting, so worthless and so defeated that I could not look at myself in the mirror again for weeks.  In fact, it was so painful to think about that I blocked the memory from my mind for months.

You called me the next day when I was at work crying. You were the one crying? You told me that due to your negligent indulgence in absinthe and who knows what else, you ended up in the hospital. You told me that you woke up on your porch without your wallet or the ring that tore into the opening of my vagina the night before. Good! I should have just hung up the phone, but I wanted the opportunity to scream at you. I went outside to the parking lot and yelled into the phone as customers walked by staring at me. I told you that I had trusted you and that you hurt me and that you left me there by myself and that I never wanted to see you again. I think that the main reason I stayed on the phone with you is because I was in denial about what actually happened; that it was rape. I think I felt that if we could work out what happened that night that it would just go away. You told me that you were sorry about what happened and that we could get together to talk about it. You never kept any of the promises you made and you thought I still wanted to have sex with you. You were never sorry. You were just covering your ass because you knew I could get you arrested.

I’m not a monster, but I acted like a monster last night

…you said. I believed you back then but now I know that a monster has always been a monster and will always be a monster. Drugs and alcohol had nothing to do with it, they did not give you the ability to rape me without hesitation; you were always capable of it. Now, I am able to pick out a monster from a crowd. I can see it in the way they walk, talk and move because I know how you walk, talk and move.

I used to blame myself for what happened. I used to think, Why didn’t I realize that he was a monster? Why did I let myself be put into that situation? I blamed myself for having such low self worth that I would ever sleep with you in the first place. The truth is that it is not my fault for having low self-worth; it is something that I have been taught by others throughout my life, including you. You took advantage of my vulnerability at a young age. You were 26 years old; you should have known better than to mess with the feelings of a (barely) 17-year-old virgin.  You knew that I could be easily manipulated and that is why you sought after me in the first place. I gave up my virginity and sexual dignity so that you could have sex with me, someone who you could easily take advantage of.

Since this past October, I have been experiencing nightmares and panic attacks that stem from my memory of that night on a regular basis. I get nauseous and scared whenever I see someone who looks like you. Everyday has been a struggle, but with the help of a therapist and friends I have made progress. However, I know that the memory of that night will always be with me and I will always be scarred. Although, now I’m realizing that I can transform the anguish and fear that I feel because of what you did to me into strength and a passionate, thriving and carnal fervor for life. I survived what you did to me. I’m still here. I appreciate every drop of sunshine and warmth, every hug, every listening ear, every smile and every act of kindness so much more because you brought me into a world where none of those things existed. I will never allow anyone to treat me how you treated me ever again. I don’t deserve it. I deserve a man so much stronger than you.

Skyla

All Posts from April, 2010