CN/TW: Descriptions of Assault and Rape
I was at a party the other weekend, when the subject of my book came up.
I decided to tell the anecdote of the faith healer, the punch line of which was the description of his hand on my crotch and ass stroking back and forth, while I tried not to laugh in his face or look at my mother who was also struggling. I played it like I always do; for laughs at the absolute ridiculousness of the situation. But this time something was different. Maybe it was the look on the face of the person I was speaking to. Maybe it was the fact that I was already thinking about something related to assault. Whatever it was, even as I was laughing, I was suddenly face with the fact that what I was describing was sexual assault.
A man was touching my body in intimate places, in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. He was stroking my crotch because he knew he could get away with it. Despite the fact that my mother was sitting right there. I was in a position where I couldn’t object, and I couldn’t really refuse. Not without possible consequences.
It’s not as if the realization changed much. I was already an assault victim, having come to terms with what had happened to me at 18 years old with a doctor.
But the realization that I had been telling the story of my assault as a humorous story made me stop and think.
We live in a society that is so ingrained with rape culture that assault is played for laughs on television. Consider this, having sex with an intoxicated woman is rape. Think of the show How I Met Your Mother. Think of Barney. The show shames the women Barney goes home with. The blame is placed entirely on them, even though it is clear from the show that Barney is specifically targeting them. Even though he is specifically tricking them. Even though they are intoxicated. Even though at times they are intoxicated because of him. He encouraged them to get drunk. He looks for women, the younger the better, who are already drunk. At one point, he even complains about how his place is too far away because the women pass out before they get to his place.
Barney is called disgusting, he is mocked, but his behavior is never called what it is. His friends don’t shun him for it. Instead they watch his attempts at rape as though they are entertainment and that is how we are expected to treat it as well.
In the L word, in the first season, the Lesbian-identified man (who may actually be just an incredibly terfy representation of a trans woman because of a series of things that are described later on, including the individuals bodily dysphoria. Since I believe he used male pronouns on the show I am using those now, but with a gigantic asterisk) has his sexual partner ignore his request not to involve his penis in their sexual interactions. His boundary is ignored, and his objection and discomfort over what happened is mocked. It is a graphic scene of a person being raped, and again it is played off for laughs.
So often sexual assault is played off as a joke. As funny behavior. As just a part of regular dating and sex.
If we removed the social pressure to ignore our discomfort, to be a part of a culture of rape, how do our narratives suddenly change?
All of a sudden my entire sexual history opened up before me.
The first time my boyfriend went down on me, as soon as he decided he was finished eating me out, he stood up and undid his pants. He pulled out his dick and told me it was my turn. He didn’t ask. He told me.
I always wanted to give a blowjob, it was something I fantasized about. But his demand caught me off guard. I don’t know if I was ready. I hadn’t been even thinking about it at all. I was too involved in processing the fact that I had just been eaten out for the first time.
I didn’t feel like I could say no.
So I did it.
When that same boyfriend bought a dildo and insisted on using it on me. I went along with it, but at some point it started to hurt. The strong smell of rubber was overpowering and making me sting. The dildo was too big, I hadn’t had penetrative sex before, and it was uncomfortable. It hurt. I said so. He slowed down but didn’t stop. He wouldn’t he said, until I came. Because he cared about my pleasure he said.
I faked it so it would stop.
The same boyfriend who initiated sex with me while I was asleep, which even if I admitted that I didn’t mind, should have been negotiated or at least my consent sought. What did bother me was that he always initiated without a condom. It was the only time, but at least I was awake enough to make sure he didn’t come inside me. If I hadn’t been I’m not convinced he would have made the effort. In light of things that came up later, I’m not convinced he wasn’t trying to knock me up.
I think of all the times that men made me uncomfortable with overly sexual come on and overtures. Of how when it was a boyfriend’s friend who was doing so, sometimes even directly in front of my boyfriend (at a time when I wasn’t poly), I still felt pressured not to seem uncomfortable. I felt pressured to not make it seem like their advances or comments were unwelcome, even when I refused.
I think about the first time a guy smacked my ass. It happened at school. I was in grade 7. The guy who did was someone who frequently bullied me. I kicked him in the shin when it happened. The other girls wondered how I expected to get a boyfriend if I didn’t play along and pretend I enjoyed it.
When I went to Catholic school, the girls were told to wear shorts under their kilts. Why? It was a game the male student body played, lifting up the kilts of different girls while they walked up the stairs. They didn’t use their hands, using rulers instead. The girls were told to wear shorts under their kilts.
How many gay men put their faces in my bosom, sometimes within seconds of meeting me? Too many. Too few asked first.
How many times did a man trip hand first into my chest on the bus, or slowly graze my breast with their elbow? How many times did they press their legs into my thighs as I sat as small as I could and they spread as wide apart as possible?
If we stopped pretending assault is a joke, just how many of us would find too many disturbing patterns repeating themselves. What if we found people’s discomfort scary instead of funny? What if we didn’t laugh at pain? What if we respected boundaries?