The past few months have been many things.
Inspiring. Validating. Triggering. Infuriating. Gratifying.
Of course, I’m talking about the growing #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. At long, long last, survivors of sexual violence, abuse, and assault in all its forms are not only being heard, they’re being believed.
Although I’ve been moved to write about this many times, I’ve hesitated, as I’m hesitating now. Even as I type, I’m questioning whether I want to open this up again. I feel ashamed and think people are just so weary of this story…
Well. I’m weary of it, too. Exhausted, really.
A few weeks from now will be the 6th anniversary of the day my close, trusted friend raped me. He wasn’t the first, as I would come to realize in the subsequent years of recovery and loss, but his was the most violent, which ultimately made it impossible to dismiss or minimize, as I had been trained to do over a lifetime of gradually intensifying sexual violence starting when I was about 8 years old and continuing until I was 42. (See: The Boiling Frog Principle of Boundary Violation)
I tried to do those things after the rape, minimize it and dismiss it. I tried to blame myself, to make excuses for him. I tried to find a reasonable explanation for his choice to punish me with rape.
Ultimately I couldn’t, not after 9 separate sexual assault professionals heard my tale and description of the event and said, “um… that was rape.” Later during the endless hours of reading articles on sociopathy, rape trauma syndrome, PTSD, survivor stories, and so much more, I learned that only 27% of women whose experience matches the legal definition of rape consider themselves rape victims/survivors.
The summer of 2012 taught me why. It taught me why I sometimes still wish I had dismissed it instead of accepting it:
Once you accept your (non-stereotypical-stranger-rape) experience is actually rape or sexual assault, it often opens up this Pandora’s Box of previous experiences: “Well, if this is rape, then that time in 2011 was rape, too. And 2010. And 1997, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1989, 1988, 1987….”
You suddenly realize that you’re not just now a victim of sexual assault, you have been for a very long time. Some toxic mixture of rape-culture rhetoric and denial-for-survival kept you from realizing it. I think back to those early days when a doctor or professor or friend or lover or stranger perpetrated some level of sexual misconduct, and I remember how people responded if I mentioned it.
“Welcome to being a woman,” a close relative told me after I divulged that a college professor trapped me in his office and forced my hand to caress his erection, telling me that he all he could think of was how much he wanted to fuck me every time he looked at me in class. He was 45. I was 20. (Adams)
“What were you doing there in the first place?” a partner told me when I explained how a friend didn’t heed my hesitation and indications to stop. It was my fault for being there, so it wasn’t rape.
“She’s just being vindictive,” Steampunk organizers said behind my back when I told them about Professor Elemental’s assault, while saying to my face, “I believe you but our hands are tied,” then celebrated him as a Guest of Honor.
“Have some compassion!” a PTSD therapist told me, chiding me for judging my rapist too harshly. He must be in incredible pain to do something like that, and she said my ego was the problem. It was because I thought that rape was a bad thing that I was struggling so much with it.
….a few of the endless stories of how I was silenced over the years. That total lack of support or belief became as traumatizing as the assaults themselves. Or should I say, re-traumatizing. The police didn’t believe me and said I was just trying to cover up an affair with the accusation. My community didn’t believe me, although they knew me and not him. They still took his side. They said I was vindictive, lying, exaggerating, etc. etc. etc.
All those things deepen the trauma and the shame. It is meant to silence the survivor, but I will never be silent again, even knowing what I still risk by speaking out.
Last year I pulled many things off this blog while I was looking for work, as I was concerned that my personal entries would hurt my already-difficult chances at finding remote work as a middle-aged woman, and I regret that now. I put them over on my OMGrey blog, which is where I process the last of the sexual assaults. On there you can see my evolving (conscious) understanding of consent and sexual violence, something my nervous system has always known, thus the C-PTSD.
Around that time, I also created a blog called The Order of the White Feather, which was a place to address Rape Culture head on. There I suggested a way to handle a situation where someone comes forward with an accusation or story of sexual violence: #BelieveHer.
Although my suggestions didn’t take hold at the time, I’m so pleased to see that’s finally starting to happen on a cultural level. Today I read about how a judge sentenced a serial sexual predator to 175 years in prison after making him listen to the women whose lives he irreversibly altered. Each day I read about another woman coming forward and being heard, being believed. Each day I read about another predator facing social and professional consequences, and that’s where it must start. We as a society must hold them accountable, just as we’ve started to do.
I can’t help but wonder if I spoke out now, if anything would’ve been different. I wonder if I speak their names now, if I would publicly and officially throw my voice into the #MeToo ring, if the Steampunk community would now actually boycott Professor Elemental. If my former community in Austin would ostracize Bost, the rapist. If The Atlantic would fire Grady, their correspondent.
I haven’t yet regained that much belief in people. Support of your community can either be the start of healing the trauma or it can be what deepens the damage. For me it was the latter. For so many survivors, it has been the latter. Frankly, I’m not sure I have it in me to fight that particular fight all over again, as it will still most likely hurt me while the perpetrators aren’t even questioned, let alone held accountable socially or professionally.
So I still say a huge FUCK YOU to the Steampunk Community for their complicity.
Same to the Austin Poly Community.
You are nearly as guilty as they are, and you know who they are. I’ve named them here. I’ve named them before. Nothing changes.
However, in this age of #MeToo, I dare to hope there is a new dawn for survivors of sexual violence. Perhaps finally the default can be what I proposed all those years ago: #BelieveHer, #QuestionHim.
For me, hope is still truly too dangerous to embrace.
I haven’t posted here for a long time, as I don’t have much to say anymore. . . but I felt inspired because earlier today when I scrolled back through this blog a few years. Although I was reminded just how much these experiences have changed my life, my career, my goals (I’m a different person now), one thing did catch my eye. It made me feel proud of a book I wrote back in 2013, one I’ve been ashamed of because the content is so triggering and centered around sexual assault.
My inspiration to speak out again today and write this blog post came through this quote from author C. L. Stegall about my book Avalon Revamped:
Every once in a while I get the opportunity to read a piece of work that makes me think, “This is the one the will put this author on the map of the reading world.” Avalon Revamped is that book for O. M. Grey. It deals with some horrific truths and should be read by every person on the planet. It is a great adventure, with serious underpinnings that elevate it into a higher realm of genre literature.
Although it didn’t put me (as O. M. Grey) on the map, that’s partly due to my inability to market it properly and partly due to the shame I felt around telling those stories.
Perhaps now in the midst of #MeToo, it would received well.
Frankly, I doubt it.
In the mean time, I will continue to survive and to thrive as I travel the world.