Thursday, March 30, 2023

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An Inspiring True Tale for All Queer Survivors to Know They Are Not Alone

(Content Warnings: Sexual Violence, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorder)

There are several motivations for me to write this story.

First, sharing is beneficial on a fundamental level.

Those of us who have survived horrific events can feel very isolated at times. We may convince ourselves that nobody cares about what we have to say or that nobody can possibly comprehend us. Please know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

You are not alone; many others care about and can empathize with your suffering. To us, it is unnecessary for you to prove anything.

We don’t require anything from you, and we understand how difficult it is to worry that you’ll disappoint the people you care about. Simply said, we adore you.

The second is that I personally found it challenging to locate resources that addressed my specific needs as a survivor in regards to my gender and sexuality.

I really hope that my experience can provide some much-needed context. I may not have all the information, but I’m willing to testify on behalf of others who don’t.

Third, there are instances when I genuinely require assistance. When I’m having one of those days, it’s hard to put into words how I’d like to be talked to, handled, or given space.

This testimony may shed light on the reasons why some of us have a hard time reaching out for help, or knowing when it is the appropriate moment to do so. Perhaps, if you are an ally, you will discover new methods to help the survivors in your life.

In August of 2008, at the ripe old age of 18, I became adulthood. Pictured on the hood of my friend’s car on my birthday are the least flattering haircut of my life, my hands shoved deep into a Bryn Mawr sweatshirt, and a shite-eating grin.

Like a drug addict clinging to an IV, I lived off the adrenaline rush of possibilities, of being so close yet so far away. I was itching for adventure away from my small village. A whole library’s worth of novels was on my reading list.

My goal was to engage with those who thought critically and expand my own capacity for deep contemplation through conversation. Maybe, I told myself, I wouldn’t be the same shy, fearful, acne-prone girl I’d always seen reflected back at me in the mirror.

If I could only become the person I was meant to be, then everything would be okay.

During those two months that fall, my life took on a surreal and breathtaking quality. For the first time ever, I was an independent adult. The girl down the hall ended up becoming my first serious girlfriend because of how hard I fell for her.

Because I was young and naive, I drank cheap liquor and danced till my legs gave out at hot gatherings. When I visited my first actual metropolis, I was astonished to see paintings, large stores, and individuals who did not resemble those back home.

Everything was moving at such a dizzying, exhilarating speed that I completely lost track of time and space, and failed to phone my parents to tell them I’d finally arrived at my fantastic new life.

Then suddenly, the planet stopped turning.

I invited a man into my dorm room on November 1, 2008, and we’ve been together ever since. After I politely asked him to leave, he barricaded the door and sexually assaulted me inside.

For quite some time, I avoided using the term “rape.” At first, I thought it was a sexual assault. Assault of a sexual nature felt less serious and less long-lasting. I haven’t let anyone in on the specifics.

If I had to lie, I would provide only the barest of details. My willful denial of reality prevented me from accepting the reality of the situation. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t happening because I couldn’t bear for it to be true. For the sake of my own sanity, I made up an alternate version of events, and that’s the one my closest pals were exposed to.

I avoided using the word “rape” for one entire year.

And it took me nearly three years to admit that I had been assaulted in a way that was both physically and morally wrong. It’s taken me five years to accept the fact that I didn’t earn it, and it’ll take me at least as long to accept the fact that I’m a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted human being.

That’s fine with me.

It’s human nature to react in this way when faced with a traumatic experience. Now I know that what I did, and what others do, is a necessary part of the process of recovery from our wounds. I now understand why I was unable to complete telling that tale, and that’s fine with me.

It’s fine if you aren’t quite ready to share your tale just yet. You have complete creative control over how your tale is told.

It’s fine to retreat into your story for a bit, if that’s what it takes to keep it from getting cold. You can keep it to yourself for as long as you like.

Even though you’ll hear various versions, I did tell half the truths about this: I had only been kissed twice before that moment.

I lied to my high school friends about getting heavy petting and handjobs to hide the fact that I was actually terrified by the small number of boys I accidentally encountered throughout my formative years, and I continued to lie in the aftermath of my rape.

I discovered that it is just as simple to lie about the body as it is to lie to it. Furthermore, I realized that somewhere along the path to recovery, I had internalized the messages that had been projected by flyers, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, cops, friends, and family: that this incident had robbed me of my “innocence.”

Because I had never been touched before, I thought this act had rendered me “broken” and “ruined.”

Because of this, I started making up sexual encounters to fill in the gaps in my memory, as if the ghosts of my past lovers’ flesh and blood could protect my skin from his bare hands and hide the bruises left behind by his grasping teenage fingers.

I infused these interactions with sensitivity and a sense of awkward teenageness. This was a nice fantasy to have around for comfort.

The idea that my body had initially come to terms with sexuality through naive teenage couplings, even if they weren’t the proper gender for me, was far more comforting than the alternative.

I was socially expected to remain chaste for quite some time. Until that point, I had never had a sexual encounter. I considered myself to be a virgin because of this.

It’s hard to determine if my hymen was damaged in the deed itself or if it had been broken beforehand by some unassuming tampon or strain, considering the significant trauma to the area and the resulting blood loss.

Feminists’ description of the hymen as a “mythical membrane” is something I’ve heard before, but it’s hard to internalize when you’ve spent so much of your life considering yourself “broken.”

Of course, we’re not suggesting that rape is a sexual act. I want it to be crystal clear that rape is not sex. The rape I experienced was not a casual hookup. Violence against women is never justified.

And yet, I can’t deny the inextricable link between rape and sexuality. Ultimately, I’d like to discuss the intersections between my gay identity and my experience as a survivor.

After a rape, there will be repercussions, consequences, and constant reminders. Your physical form will either be visible to you or invisible to you. A few hours from now, it could be a dried husk that you have to tear down.

If you forget that your body exists, you may injure it. Only the sight of blood will convince you that something is still holding you to this world. In addition, the presence of a second physical entity further complicates matters.

A month and a few days after the rape, I had my first sexual experience. My complete sexual awakening happened immediately after the rape, for better or for much worse.

After a few weeks, I told my parents the full story, even though they had only heard the bare bones of it from the news. To this day, my mother still insists that what happened to me was “simply sexual assault, not rape,” a distinction she established that seems to bring her some measure of solace.

Regardless, I will never correct her. What my parents needed to know was whether or not my sexuality was a phase, a coping mechanism, or a sign of my “crazy year.”

This delivery is invalid because the rape rendered it illegitimate.

My LGBT identity has always been a source of tension in my relationships with my loved ones. Not sure if they’ve ever considered another perspective. I’ve made up my mind not to bring it up again in conversation.

As a result of nightly memories and inconsolable crying, I eventually ended up in bed with my first girlfriend. I was too scared to sleep without someone holding me.

I wasn’t sure whether I could trust someone else with my body, but I gave it a shot. Because of that, I finally gave in and had my first sexual experience.

It doesn’t matter the conditions, sex is always difficult. It’s stunning to look at, but not without its challenges. My entire sexual experience has been as a survivor. As a sexual being, I’ve always carried this weight, and the wounds I’ve experienced have colored my attitude to every sexual interaction.

In the past, I’ve been envious of folks who can start sexual encounters with complete confidence and enthusiasm rather than dread, anxiety, or terror. In retrospect, I see that regardless of one’s life experiences, sex is always an odd and novel experience.

When we undress someone else for the first time, we all feel a little bit of fear, even if it’s the good type of fear that makes your heart race.

The act of having sex became my means of processing my experiences. I have tried other approaches, but they weren’t quite as effective. I kept a journal and used the camera I’d gotten for Christmas to take several photos of myself.

I had several nosebleeds at the time for various reasons, and I discovered how to induce them, so I filled notebooks with sketches and smears of my own blood.

On the other hand, I was having a lot of sex. Sexual experiences characterized by a wide range of sensations and a high degree of trust. I was curious about the range of sensations I may experience while still being alive.

I was interested in learning how to experience discomfort and pleasure when I had complete command over them. Sex helped me communicate with my body, which had become into a foreigner speaking a foreign language.

Queer sex in particular was helping me rediscover all the exquisite details of human nature that had been obscured by my past relationship.

The only time my body truly felt at ease was when it was bringing pleasure to another’s. As I got older, I became an expert flirt.

At some point, I decided to shave my head and start dressing in whatever made me feel good. I’ve had girlfriends and been alone, but the majority of my relationships have consisted of one-night stands and transient fuckbuddies.

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Each one had its own special place in my heart for a short while, whether it was a few minutes, a few days, or a few months. What I discovered about my own body was revealed to me by other people’s.

The scars had always been there, weighing me down as I tried to navigate sexuality, and I’d never had the chance to feel their smooth, warm flesh. Their embrace was warm and comforting, never making me think about the past.

They weren’t like my physical self, and it pained my heart to know that they still wanted me, that they desired even my most shattered parts, if only for a short time.

Additionally, I was engaging in some risky behavior. Having a tendency toward anxiety and a desire to please others both contribute to my general disposition. I had zero confidence in other people.

In my experience, the level of trust required to engage in sexual activity with another person was different than the level of trust required to allow someone entrance to the innermost recesses of my soul. Having sex didn’t call for me to divulge my innermost thoughts and feelings or discuss the problems that kept me up at night.

Body dysphoria consumed me, and I didn’t always want to be touched during sex or to take off my clothing. This was not always well welcomed or understood.

Because of this, I wasn’t always sure if my feelings of dissatisfaction were due to my gender identity crisis or my experiences as a victim. Meanwhile, I had to find a balance between meeting my own wants and satisfying those of others.

It was hard to know whether my feelings for someone were genuine or the result of the other person’s intense interest in me.

I had gotten myself into a situation where my weaknesses could be exploited. And they were abused so often that it pained and made me feel even more shattered.

Every time I thought I was on the verge of digging myself out, I’d hit rock bottom again.

Several sessions with therapists were held during this period. Roughly half were able to help me feel better about the situation, while the other half really made things worse.

When we talked about my sexuality, in particular, I felt more confused and hateful about who I was. Several anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs were added to my daily regimen.

I saw a hypnotist and engaged in a course of memory replacement therapy. I tried self-medication since I wasn’t getting the results I wanted from treatment. I didn’t want to include anyone else in my misery when I was feeling really down.

In such times, I isolated myself because I was concerned that other people would be poisoned by my “toxic” personality.

On the other hand, I tracked down substances that could help me get beyond those difficult times. When my health began to suffer, when I stopped attending to school, when I resorted to spending hours alone with a pair of scissors, I still continued to use them.

In fact, it was quite some time before I ate again. When I did eat, it was usually from a jar of peanuts I kept by my bed and would eat by the precise number. About 135-140 pounds is my natural weight. By the end of 2009, my weight had dropped to 112.

To this day, I find it hard to imagine that my body looked like the photographs from that era. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I was able to do as much physical harm to myself as he did.

We queers tend to look inward a lot, but only when it’s necessary. We create our identities apart from the general population; we are aware that we are unique and must make extra efforts to comprehend these distinctions.

As a result, we devote a lot of time to introspection, looking back on our life stories to learn more about the factors that contributed to the development of our unique personalities. If you’ve been through something like this, you know that it causes you to question your own abilities.

You start to doubt your existence, your decisions, and your motivations. This doubt was especially painful because I was working through the arduous process of resolving issues with my sexual orientation at the same time.

I tend to project a manly image. Wearing menswear, my colorful collection of cut-off shirts, or my studded flannel vest makes me feel confident. As an outlet for self-expression, it’s important to me that it’s flexible enough to accommodate the many ways in which I like to fuck around and the many ways in which I see the world.

I like how the androgynous aesthetic looks and fits me. I don’t identify as either a female nor a male. When it gets too confining, I shrug off the gender labels that society has placed on me, and when I need support, I wrap myself in them.

I don’t identify as a woman who loves other women, thus the term “lesbian” bothers me. In fact, I do use “dyke,” even though the word itself makes my lips feel like a punching bag. It’s like trying to spit out glass while wiping blood from your lips.

I consider myself first and foremost to be “queer” because of my infatuation with queer theory and the way it captures the way I experience my gender and my desires. Years of reflection have led me to the acceptance of the aforementioned claims, which I can now recite with ease.

Sure, I fit that description. I do enjoy donning such items. Yes, I find these bodies appealing. It helps me to know that I can state a few things about myself and either know that they are true or that their potential to alter and morph is entirely okay, especially on the days when it’s hard to tell if I’m up, down, or deserving of a position in the world.

I’m only about 70% happy with my body, but when I feel good about myself, I can experience a brief sense of attractiveness and desirability. On a good day, I can get as high as a 60%, and on an exceptional day, I can even reach an 85%. The attention that I get from females is something I appreciate.

Making people happy is one of my favorite feelings. I enjoy that I don’t have to convince myself that people don’t want to be in physical contact with me because my body is filthy and harmful. The sensation of being desired, desirable, appealing, and gorgeous is one I enjoy.

Everyone enjoys this sensation. Since that violent incident pushed an already anxious and self-deprecating personality over the brink into self-loathing, I particularly enjoy this feeling because I tell myself most of the time that I am none of those things.

There are numerous things in my life that I have doubts about. Confidence in my presentation is low. I take pleasure in being manly in order to deflect male attention, but sometimes I wonder if this is because I have a phobia of being raped.

Sometimes I wonder if I tie to conceal away the parts of myself that he touched, or because I like playing with gender. Sometimes I don’t completely undress for sex, and I’ve wondered whether this might be the same reason.

My sexuality is something I ponder on my darkest days. I waste a lot of time thinking about inappropriate topics.

Do I simply find women appealing because of my past experiences? Should I try to find people who are the complete antithesis of him? Do I have sex with the kind of people I wish I were, the beautiful and secure types who have never experienced this kind of heartbreak? What I do, if any, has legitimacy?

Although I am aware that none of this is true. This can be difficult to keep in mind and grasp at times. It’s as if everything that makes me queer is a possible reaction to what’s happened to me.

And there are moments when I need reassurance that my actions are acceptable and my identity is sound, no matter where they come from.

Before this happened to me, I admit, I did find females attractive. As long as my actions bring me joy, I should continue doing them.

I need to treat myself kindly because I deserve to be treated kindly, and keep in mind that all bodies are legal and valid. You deserve every bit of kindness you can give yourself, therefore it’s only fair that you shower yourself with it.

Getting out of bed is an act of courage on its own some days. It can take all the strength we have to look ourselves in the eye and put on the clothing that makes you feel confident and happy.

We should give ourselves more credit for the small but significant successes we experience on a daily basis, such as getting ourselves to and from work on foot, tidinessing our living quarters, or even just deciding to stay in bed and watch our favorite show.

We made it out alive. This signifies that we are still alive and will continue to be so despite the worst that has happened to us. Therefore, the fact that we are experiencing life at all is something to be cherished and celebrated.

Every moment that we keep putting one magnificent foot in front of the other is something to be celebrated. Furthermore, being gay provides us with still another reason to rejoice.

I know far too many queers whose trust and control were ripped away with fists, kicks, and hands that wouldn’t let go, and there are times when that knowledge fills me with tear-inducing wrath.

There were far too many people who internalized the blame, who questioned whether or not their silence counted since they were close with the offender or whether or not it mattered because of the relationship. They will target your body if it is somehow unique or unusual in appearance or behavior.

We queers have the most stunning bodies in the universe. To the extent that it is possible, we have created entire universes within our own bodies. We’ve fought hard all our lives to have our bodies and the things they do be recognized as legitimate by a culture that doesn’t embrace us. The price we paid was paid in blood and life.

Just being queer means we have to work harder to find love and keep it. We LGBT survivors have to keep doing the impossible.

There are various ways to be a supportive friend even if you are not a survivor. You need not know a survivor, but I bet you do.

Two people in the United States are sexually assaulted every minute. Imagine how many people have survived since you first started reading this article. An ally’s most vital role is that of a patient, nonjudgmental listener.

Master the art of listening intently, providing a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold, and leaving when asked. When notified a certain area is reserved for survivors only, it is important to heed the warning. Always be on the lookout for rape jokes and be willing to call them out.

Second only to helping survivors, believing them is the most crucial thing you can do. They may encounter resistance from listeners or a failure to grasp the significance of their message.

Help us out here and believe what we’re saying.

Please believe us even if we have doubts, if we can’t give you specifics, and if the tale evolves. Adding to our insecurity that our experiences are invalid is the worst thing you can do.

Accepting us is crucial in third place. There will be many challenging shifts ahead of us, and they may test the strength of our bond with one another. Recognize that there is now room for disagreements.

Recognize that we all experience good days and terrible days, and that even after a string of good days, we can be sent back into a negative state by a single event.

Recognize that there will be times when you just cannot lend a hand and will require some space from you. Just let it go and realize that this is how things are.

Recognize and reassure us of our inherent strength and beauty.

Each day, I get up and put one foot in front of the other. I intend to proceed. Because I have earned this opportunity. Simply said, because I think life is beautiful. Just because there’s nothing else I can do. In the same way, you will proceed.

You’re continuing to make progress each and every day. Although it may not be obvious at the moment, the process of healing is analogous to growing in stature. You will look back at those images one day and be amazed at how tiny you once were. A time will come when we can look back on this time of sadness with fondness.

Your scars will become less obvious, and even if you never forget they’re there, you’ll realize they don’t define you. Once you reach that point, you’ll realize how much your struggles have helped you grow as a person. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you’ll see something amazing: you’re stunning. Never in your life have you had more reason to feel proud.

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