A follow up to “We are not things.”
I find it hard to write about my rape. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again, but inevitably in the wake of writing an essay like that, I think about how I tell the story. About what parts I leave in and what parts I leave out. About which details you need, and which details are superfluous. Which things people are hungry for as titillation, for the shock value. For the crudeness.
I usually leave out the race of my rapist. The last time I talked about it, I unfortunately found out a bunch of my friends were racists who were only too happy to tell me so, thinking that I would agree with them, at least in this limited case. That I would condemn all people of the race of my attacker. Or at least that I’d be willing to say he was a terrible example of his kind.
I usually leave out the actual acts, and you’d be surprised how many people ask me. How many people want to know what went where, and how he did which things to me. Not law enforcement people or therapists who might have a reason to ask. Normal, ordinary people who think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask me, “if he fucked [me].” Sometimes I get sick thinking about how many people want to know every last detail of tabs a and slots b.
I usually leave out all the parts where I recriminate myself. I pretend to be stronger than I am (an echo of Black Widow’s “it’s efficient”). I can’t handle the way people look at me with greedy eyes and tell me if I ever want to talk about it they have a shoulder to cry on. I’m not talking about fellow survivors here, I’m talking about all the random people I’ve met who are hasty to express concern, their tongues not quite licking their lips. All the people who want to hear all the gory details of how I feel guilty, how I think I’m a monster, while patting me on the head and feeding me platitudes and hoping the details still come out of me in a tumble of words I can’t stop.
I don’t talk about the rape that happened my senior year of high school. I don’t talk about how I consider myself complicit in that. I don’t talk about how fucked up that situation was. I had my rapist friended on Facebook until earlier this year, and I don’t ever, ever tell anyone what he did to me. I don’t talk about not saying no. I don’t talk about the pain I told myself I deserved. I don’t talk.
I can’t talk about these things.
As long as we live in a society where rape is considered a grand evening’s entertainment, I can’t talk about them. Not with people who aren’t part of the fellowship of the abused. As long as film and television and even popular music normalize rape, while simultaneously casting it as a thing only evil people do, I can’t be honest about everything that has happened to me.
My honesty is someone’s entertainment. The details of my violations, of the seizing of my power, the outlines of the abuses that were done to me become grist for the voyeuristic mill. I’m not a survivor, I’m not even a victim, I’m another exhibit in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! of life. I’m something to be enjoyed from a safe distance, a piece of tragedy porn that can be easily forgotten when it’s time for supper.
Using rape as a lazy trope to make men in fiction evil, or to give women in fiction hard backgrounds that they overcome builds a narrative for me as a survivor that I can never fit. But it also builds an expectation that my pain and strength are for other people to peruse with sticky fingers and salivating mouths. It builds an aura that I have to live up to, that I must be inhumanly strong, that I must be irreparably broken. But it also builds an aura of desirability around me that I do not want. It works like a magnet or some sort of charm.
As long as women in fiction are raped for the entertainment of the masses, to feed a bloodlust the entertainment industry nurtures and calls mature, it makes me an object as a survivor. An artifact. A display.
But I am a person. Not a thing.
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