I don’t know whether to be thankful that I saw this or not:
It’s a discussion about several med students who protest doing pelvic exams of women adults while those women are unconscious. I read it and remembered that I had an abortion decades ago. While the general anesthetic was taking effect and I was getting drowsy a team of med students came to my table. The smiling doctor noticed I was awake and said “You don’t mind if they observe, right?” After that abortion I had terrible pain in my bladder for almost a year. I had to go on prescription anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the irritation so that I could function. I was told that it might be an effect of the abortion itself (which I believed for years), until more than 1 obgyn told me it was impossible. It felt like I had a balloon swelling in there 24/7 and my urethra itched and burned painfully. Eventually over the years, I got through it. When I have a yeast infection it acts up intensely. In those instances I can’t sleep or lay still or put my legs together. I just cry on and off all day because I’m so uncomfortable. In the decades since the abortion I’ve only had a few relapses, and only one of them was extremely protracted and severe. It took place after I got raped in 2011.
The 2011 rape:
The rapist went back to front multiple times (anally and vaginally) and quickly with his fingers. He was extremely rough. The level of toughness took me by surprise and it was almost impossible to come to terms with while it was happening. It felt like he was trying to pry me open to fistfuck me, which is something he had verbally fantasized about beforehand (among other rape fantasies I did not share), as he turned into a violent misogynist while on tour with his band. I had expressed being completely disgusted by his extreme fantasies. In fact I have never had a rape fantasy; every last one of them no matter what it is, is rooted in consent. I don’t know if that sounds unusual, but it’s the truth. Even the roughest of my sex fantasies have always had a consent conversation working out the terms in the beginning. And even still, I’ve always been clear that I’m not interested in enacting even my own fantasies. It’s a huge act of trust even to let the other know about them. The most I can say is that I have loved intense passion that is consensual, and maybe some tough talk that was clearly framed.
I was clear that I found his ideas horrifying. But I believe that he had talked about ‘sex’ with me with some of the guys on the bus. (I believe this because he circulated naked photos of me against my will and made objectifying comments to me in front of them.) I believe that he got caught up in the dynamic with them and wanted to feel macho. I believe in doing so he completely altered and distorted the relationship he had with me, making it seem like he could do “whatever he wanted.” I believe that it made him feel macho to talk about me in this extremely degrading way that intensified as I began to grieve the passing of my father. I believe that talking about me like this had the effect of distancing him emotionally so that he didn’t have to feel the pain of separation, which he cried agonizingly about during his first 2 weeks away. Maybe he used violence to deal with separation anxiety somehow. But I also believe that he raped me in an attempt to maim my psyche and destroy my body. I believe that he wanted to make sure that I would remember him at any cost.
During the rape my orifices were uncharacteristically small and closed the whole time. Since the time of that abortion, I’ve disliked manual penetration except under very controlled circumstances. Though the rapist was my boyfriend at the time, he had never before penetrated me manually. I had also explained to him that back to front penetration de-balances PH and thus produces yeast infections, and that for me yeast is a crisis. For 11 months after the rape I was brutally uncomfortable from the physical symptoms I described above. But in the beginning period right after, I was relatively numb and could not feel much in my body. I tried to imagine that the rape did not happen and I went into denial. I tried to make love to other men, to tell myself that I had to keep going, but eventually I had to realize that each attempt was fraught with flashbacks that turned me cold, and that any kind of penetration and many forms of touching and nudity were no longer enjoyable the way they had once been. That entire set of experiences, from the rape onwards, the way rape has effected the way I experience, haunt and control my capacity to desire. 2 years later I am now fully shut down.
I can only think that the rapist chose to rape me on the night of my father’s funeral because I was emotionally overwhelmed and out of it. The night before the rape I had a wound on my foot that I had *not* noticed was deep and bleeding. He noticed it; and he gave me a weird look. I think he started calculating that he might have some minutes to get away with things I hadn’t permitted before I realized what was happening. He, like the obgyn world, assumed that if I couldn’t feel, was distracted and out of it, that my permissions became irrelevant.
On the night of the rape, he called me into the shower 5 times. Each time he yelled to me to get in was more aggressive than the last. In my emotionally overwhelmed state, I felt terrified that he would lay into me, fight with me, or go on a rant of further and harsher criticisms. I finally got in the shower with him to avoid verbal abuse; to keep his voice from escalating frighteningly. He had already gotten mad at me in the past for rejecting him sexually, and seemed to find himself charming for being demanding; what he proudly referred to as having “high standards for women.” I knew I couldn’t reject him without him either getting more turned on and thus more aggressive – which had also happened in the past – or getting mad and punishing towards me if I made too strong a case. When I wasn’t responsive enough, he grabbed my fingers and tried to shove them up his ass, but I was grossed out. My hand was limp and fell away without entry. I kept turning my body around to break his access to me, but he kept stabbing me in whichever side became exposed to him. I tried to embrace him in order to re-humanize him and us; to try to take the alienation out of the act, to remind him that I am flesh and blood, but he threw my arms away so that he could get better access to my orifices.
I actually had no reason to think that he would even try to have sex in the shower. The night before I had reminded him that I hate sex in the shower, when already knowing this, he (strangely) asked me whether I wanted to take a bath or a shower. The shower encounter (upright and against walls) hurts my back – I have 11 fused discs in my spinal column, disc degeneration in my neck andlower back and arthritis in my neck – and makes my muscles spasm. After accusing me of not bathing enough, and criticizing me during the funeral weekend, telling me I was “disgusting,” his choice of approach in the shower was insulting and humiliating. When I confronted him later, he seemed to actually believe that using a threatening voice to make me get into the shower, to have back to front (anal to vaginal) penetration roughly and multiple times despite me having expressed my dislike and anxiety of this, and to actively refuse all forms of embrace or affection constituted “sex” rather than rape. He overlooked also the fact that when I tried once again to embrace him after this horrible encounter, to try as a therapist put it “to get control over the situation,” he pushed me away and told me once again that I smelled bad.
How does he possibly make the case to himself that this was consensual? Because he believes that ‘rockstars’ are allowed to do whatever they want to women?
I wonder how he has made the case of his innocence to other people as well. The night before the rape he told me about what happened at his brother’s funeral. I was trying to understand why his verbal abuse was particularly stark and obvious, why he seemed aloof and like a stranger for the funeral that he begged to attend, after I made it clear that if he was at all ambivalent about me he should not go further into my life. Instead he kept me busy trying to adjust to the emotional vertigo of being forced into extreme intimacy and extreme loathing/contempt ridden distance at a moment’s notice. It’s hard to describe what all of that felt like layered over the recent death of my father.
In fact the rapist kept demanding that I make myself increasingly more vulnerable to him. But then he would slap me down with insults, horrified by the vulnerability that he had requested. And even at the moment he attacked me, I thought to myself, “this man is very disturbed” and “I can’t believe that this is actually what he wants to do.” So I tried to introduce a reminder that I am human: I tried to hug him. But he unwrapped my arms and threw them away so that he could get better access to my orifices.
When he told me, prior to the rape, that at his brother’s funeral, his brother’s widow had attacked him verbally, saying that he never did anything with his life. I wanted him to feel better, believing I had cracked the code for why he had been behaving so badly. I asked him whether her comments had anything to do with him, or whether what she said could be an effect of mourning and loss; even perhaps a resentment of him that he was standing there alive though her husband had died. As I was saying this, the rapist gave me the most bizarre look. It was not comforting at all. It scared me. And I can’t help wondering if it was then that he started thinking that he could get away with anything that weekend, and chalk up whatever my response was to me being in mourning.
Of course I don’t know how he renders that night, and I may never. But between the hauntingly strange facial expressions over the gash in my foot and the ‘widow-in-mourning,’ I can’t stop wondering to what degree he planned the rape.
When we broke up a few days later, he came to my house and said “There was no abuse right?” But he didn’t say it like he was asking me. He said it like a mantra, as if to use the power he had over me, not just by having manipulated that vulnerable space of the intimate with violence, but also by having witnessed the friends and family of my prior life, the foundational moment of my father’s passing; by shaking hands with the people who haunt my psyche. It felt to me as if he took all this power I had given him in love, in addition to power he had taken from me in violence, and used both to get me to repeat after him, so that I would become a zombie stuck in the charade of life where violence doesn’t happen, repeating mechanically after him.
Truthfully, I’m not proud to admit this, but if I could have lived in that charade where violence is denied, I would have chosen to. It just so happens that I could not. And as the remaining 4 days of the relationship dragged out, and during the period after in which he contacted my friends, he increasingly did things to demean and exploit my life, to expose himself to me as an abuser; as the pain in my body lingered, I had to come to terms with the irrefutable and material reality that what he did to me was a profound act of violence.
I wonder how he talks about this, or what guilty men (or women who are apologists for such men) help him write alibis, figuring they might need the same done for them some day. The men who cover up for rape must themselves feel very guilty for their own abuses. To those men, I propose this to you:
Come to terms with what you have done and stop it. Do not excuse others. Instead of excusing, stop them and stop yourself. The entire matrix of patriarchy – from nonconsensual pelvic exams of unconscious women by medics-in-training to verbal insults to rape – needs to see the kinds of wounds it leaves and stop pardoning or denying them. To the women who pardon and salve these men: you are not helping them; you are participating in the cycle of violence.
The cycle cannot be changed solely by the oppressed victims. The perpetrator must come to terms for his actions or nothing will change. The best people to make him see what he has done are those closest to him; those most likely to behave the same way.
Help us and help yourselves so that we can all heal.
This world of mechanical sex and the reduction of the woman’s body to an instrument does not leave men immune. It is only a matter of time until the violence that is done to women is also done to men. In fact, histories that are not made public show that this has already happened.
Below are outlines of the domestic violence cycle. Look at them and ask yourselves: how much do you fit?