Three reasons why I’m a feminist today (TW for rape and sexual assault)

The sex-positivity will happen, I promise. But before I can go into that, I feel like I should explain where I’m coming from, and why. So this is my attempt to describe what happened to me, and why it’s made me the person I am today. It involves sexual assault and rape, and if for any reason you’re not comfortable reading about that, then I completely respect that. If you do continue to read, well, I’ve tried not to be graphic, but I have also tried to be honest. Aside from changed names, every word is true, and I get that that might be disturbing. The next post will probably be about masturbation and porn, and why it’s awesome, so if you’d rather skip this and read about that instead, stay tuned.

Ready? Okay.

Before I begin this properly, let me first say that I do not offer this as a definitive account of what such experiences must or should or even usually feel like. What happened to me is similar to what has happened to many women, particularly young women, before me, but it is by no means the only way these situations can play out. I am writing this as my own personal account, partly for my own benefit, and partly so that others, whatever their experience, will be able to read my version of events and perhaps take comfort by the similarities that they can draw. And if not, at least it’s one more story out there, at a time when we need as many of those as possible.

In my final two years of school, at the ages of seventeen and eighteen, I was raped on three different occasions, by three different men, in three different ways. This is my story.

To provide some background, I have always been curious and exploratory with regards to my sexuality, and with that incredibly open. I realised I was bisexual when I was fifteen, and decided the only way I could deal with that in an environment where I didn’t know anyone who admitted to being anything other than one hundred per cent straight was to embrace it. With that in mind, I spent hours surfing the internet for gay and lesbian websites, frequented the gay districts of London, and found an LGBT youth group. In short, I encountered range of people who could offer me advice and support on these strange and terrifying feelings I was having. These people were also sexually confident in a way I’d never even dreamed of, throwing their sexuality into the open, and helping others do the same.

As a sexually-repressed young teenager, this was incredibly attractive. By the time I was actually ready to start dating, I had absorbed a sense of sexual liberation, and was determined not to lose it. I ran an informal LGBT club at my (all-female) school. I wrote articles for magazines and websites. I went on Pride marches. But in addition to the more obviously apparent activism, I was also prepared to talk about my sexual experiences. Looking back, I probably went a little too far, but that the time, it was vitally important to me that I did not feel shame when explaining that yes, I was physically attracted to both boys and girls, and no, I did not see any kind of problem with that.

When I was seventeen, I finally found my way into a social circle which included a lot of young men my age, which I had never encountered before. My attitude of talking candidly and honestly about my sex life got me a reputation for being flirtatious and outrageous. I had a habit of saying things like ‘well of course I enjoy threesomes’, followed by a suggestive look. (In fact, I still occasionally do this.) My stories about various girls I had dated also led me to be referred to as ‘the Lesbian’, since nobody knew any others, and bisexuals didn’t exist. I should probably have tried harder to avoid this, but at the time I didn’t care. The other girls hated me because I was everything that they were not, but I had close girl friends elsewhere, and I was more concerned with how interested in me the boys seemed. Though I had dated several girls, I had never had any experience with a boy, and the idea fascinated me.

Entry into this social group was also my first exposure to real parties with alcohol on the kitchen table and drunken dancing til early in the morning. It was exciting and felt reckless, but paradoxically it also felt somehow safe. After all, this was someone’s house, with people I knew and trusted. It wasn’t like getting drunk in a club somewhere in town.

And so I come to the first ‘event’, as I have come to think of it. A party, with alcohol, although not as much as you might think. I had had maybe three drinks over about four hours, and was tipsy at worse. Someone had spilt something on my top, so I had casually taken it off in full view, revealing my bra, and asked one of the girls to lend me a dry one. One of the boys began taking pictures of me in a pseudo-photoshoot style. Then people began to go home, and those of us who were staying the night settled down on various beds and floors and sofas.

I found myself sharing the two sofas in the living room with just one other person, a boy (or rather, a man) who I am going to call Tarquin. (If you want to know why, look up the Roman Tarquin on wikipedia.) He was tall and vaguely good-looking, and though I didn’t know him well, we had occasionally flirted in the past. In the living room was a table stacked high with half-empty bottles of alcohol. Tarquin had turned off the lights, and asked me to pour him a short of vodka. I did so, stumbling slightly as I brought it to him. In one practised movement, he took the glass, pulled me towards him and threw me backwards like some perverted ballroom dancer. He put the glass to my lips and held my head backwards. It was swallow or choke. I swallowed.

I mentioned before that I had only had a few drinks that night. This was not out of any moral decision; I was a small and inexperienced drinker, and it took relatively little to make me drunk. And even if I had been used to it, a double shot of pure vodka is usually enough to make anyone’s head spin, at least for a second. And a second was all it took. Before I realised what was happening, before the burning sensation in my mouth had died down, I was lying flat on my back on the sofa, with Tarquin straddling my chest, pulling up my t-shirt to grope my breasts with one hand, while unbuttoning his jeans with another. I’d seen a man’s penis once before, when another one of the boy’s from that group had tried to convince me to give him a handjob. I had not expected to find myself with one in my mouth, gagging and choking as Tarquin forced himself down my throat.

At the time, I felt sick and dizzy from the vodka, scared and uncertain. But I also remember panicking that maybe I wasn’t doing it right, that this man who had forced himself onto me might not be enjoying my pathetic attempts not to choke with him in my mouth. I remember not being able to breathe, let alone cry out. I don’t recall if he had my hands pinned, or if I was too shocked and confused to resist. At any rate, it clearly wasn’t quite what he’d wanted, because after an indeterminate period of time he got off me, and disappeared to another room to sort himself out. I woke up the next morning feeling shaky, and my jaw ached. He grinned at me over breakfast. Everyone else thought I was just hungover. I didn’t say anything.

That said, when the initial shock had worn off, I did subtly mention to a few of the guys that something not-quite-appropriate might have happened. Their response was all the same. ‘Yeah, that’s Tarquin. He does that to all the girls. Anyway, weren’t you stripping off earlier that night? What did you expect? Besides, you’re a lesbian. You should be flattered.’

Time went by, with me starting my final year of school and turning eighteen, and I found myself in an impromptu relationship with another one of the boys in that crowd, Tereus. (Yes, that Tereus.) There are many things I could say about that relationship, but suffice to say, it was abusive. Emotionally abusive, verbally abusive, and, on one memorable occasion, physically abusive. It all happened so slowly, however, that I hardly noticed at the time. I mention this now partly because of what happened next, but partly to recount his response to my experience with Tarquin. He not only agreed with the others (that Tarquin did this all the time so it was ‘nothing personal’, and I had been flirting outrageously with him), but shot me down when I tentatively referred to it as sexual assault. ‘Don’t you dare even think about using that word,’ he told me, angrily. ‘That devalues real sexual assault victims. Yours was a drunken mistake. It’s not like he actually raped you or anything. Quit being such a drama queen.’ So I did.

Tereus did not consider us to be properly dating, though we slept together at least once a week, and he took pride in telling me about all the other girls he was simultaneously having sex with. (It is not hugely relevant, but perhaps interesting, to note that he refused to use condoms with me. More on that in another story.) I suddenly found myself self-conscious about my body and insecure, with the result that I did not so much as kiss another person in the whole year that we were unofficially dating. Except once.

It was another guy entirely, Domitian, who had introduced me to that crowd in the first place. Domitian and Tereus hated each other, yet were friends at the same time (I never understood this), and Domitian had watched with vague amusement as I became more and more tangled. Tereus, who was on his gap-year, used to go away on holiday for weeks at a time, and it was during one of these absences that Domitian invited me to a ball at his university. It was a pretty big deal: black tie and ball gowns, with a champagne reception and music and alcohol all night, finishing at around 6am. Flattered and excited, and also feeling somewhat lonely and abandoned, I went.

And let me be clear, I went all-out. I wore a full-length evening gown, styled my hair, and had a friend do my make-up (which I hardly ever wore). I wanted to look special that evening. I wanted to look amazing. I wanted Domitian to see me and be completely stunned. I was not disappointed, even if his first words when he saw me were ‘Wow, you scrub up pretty well!’. The ball was absolutely wonderful. I felt swept away by the music, the lights, the whole decadent experience, and Domitian was a total gentleman the entire night, dancing with me at times, but always being respectful. At about 5.30, however, we were both starting to get worn out. This was not my city, so we had agreed that I would stay in his room and sleep for a few hours, before taking the train back home. I had crashed at the houses of male friends many times before, and hadn’t considered it an issue, so half an hour before the ball officially ended, I found myself being led to a student block just two minutes’ walk away.

I was so exhausted by this point that I stripped off my dress without thinking about the fitted black satin underwear I had underneath. (I had bought it specially so it couldn’t be seen under the dress.) I heard Domitian gasp, and smiled to myself that someone, if not Tereus, could find me attractive. Domitian gave me a t-shirt to wear in bed, and I curled up  and was asleep almost instantly. I was vaguely aware of Domitian getting into bed with me, which was just as well because the room was freezing. He put his arms around me, which felt quite comforting. Then I remember through a dreamy, subconscious haze, hearing him whisper ‘I’m going to take advantage of you now’. And then he did.

People have asked me since why I didn’t resist, why I did try harder to stop him. My only answer to that is simply that I was too tired to say no. He was impossibly gentle with me, probably because he was afraid of properly waking me up. I think I murmured a few protestations at first, but I was semi-conscious at best, and wasn’t really aware of what was being done to me until afterwards. I didn’t feel anything. In fact, it was almost as though I was thoroughly anaesthetised. I only properly realised he had just had sex with me when he stood up to throw away the used condom. At that point I went into panic mode. I got up immediately, now completely awake, and pulled my dress back on. I left without saying a word, and as soon as I shut the door behind me I burst into tears. The ball was just ending as made my way out, wearing a crumpled dress with make-up and tears streaming down my face. I wandered around the town in a confused trance, before finally making it to the train station and catching the 6.45 train.

I called Tereus as soon as I could, crying hysterically. It took a while to get across that I had spent the night with Domitian, and that we had had sex. At that point, Tereus hung up the phone, and I assumed I’d lost signal from going through a tunnel on the train. After a week of no contact, I got an e-mail from him saying that I had betrayed him utterly by sleeping with the one person I knew he hated, that I had ruined our relationship, and that he could never trust me again. Somehow, the thought of all the girls Tereus had slept with while seeing me didn’t occur to me. I felt sick and ashamed, horrified that I could have done such a terrible thing. I convinced myself that it had been my fault, I had consented to this, I had caused it. It couldn’t be rape because I had initiated it. So I never confronted Domitian, never let on that I knew what he had done to me, and pretended to everyone else that I had wanted it. I never mentioned that I had been mostly unconscious the entire time, and could not have consented even if I had wanted to. Several years later, one of Domitian’s friends asked me to tell him the story of when I had raped him. ‘You know,’ he said jokingly, ‘that time you forced Domitian to have sex with you after the ball.’ That was the first indication I had that he knew exactly what had happened, and had tried to cover it up by turning me into the one who had taken advantage of him. I have not spoken to him since.

It is probably fairly obvious by now that the third man to rape me was Tereus, who lovingly took me back after my disgraceful behaviour, promising to forgive me and to give me a second chance. But he wanted something in return. For months he had been pressuring me to have anal sex with him, telling me about all the other girls he’d done it with, how good it felt, how much they loved it, and how repressed and prudish I was for saying no. As someone who prided myself on my openness about sex and kinks, I was hurt, but not convinced. After the incident with Domitian, I had demanded that Tereus and I use condoms, which led to a new onslaught of accusations that sex was no fun anymore, that I was no good in bed, and that there was no point in him seeing me. When that started to erode my confidence, he threw in that I was no longer tight enough – an insult which, for an eighteen-year-old girl who had only been having sex for a year, really stung. Eventually, I told him I would consider it.

I had always enjoyed kink, to some extent, dating from back when I was seeing girls. Tereus was not hugely into BDSM (for which I am incredibly thankful), but he did occasionally handcuff me, which I had always enjoyed in the past. One time when his parents were out, he handcuffed my hands in front of me, forcing me onto my hands and knees. He then disappeared to the bathroom, to get what he considered ‘lube’. It was not lube. I never found out what it actually was, but I know it was some sort of moisturiser or cream to sooth the skin, not remotely designed for what he was going to do with it. I protested. If we were going to do this, I said, I wanted real lube. I was stalling – I knew he didn’t have any, and I was hoping against hope that if I made enough of a big deal about it, he would drop it. He didn’t. He put an experimental amount on me, and eased his way in. I screamed with pain and begged him to stop. He accused me of being melodramatic and a cry-baby, but grudgingly did so, applying more of the moisturiser. Then he tried again. I gritted my teeth in pain and tried to protest rationally, but I couldn’t turn round properly with my hands bound in front of me, and besides, any movement hurt like hell. Finally, I just begged him to go slowly and gently, which he did at first, though he quickly reverted to acting as though it was regular sex. I felt like I was being torn apart, but I knew that if I just stayed still, it would all be over sooner.

When he was finished, he set about trying to find the key for the handcuffs, which I only then realised he did not have. He turned his room upside-down, joking about how funny it would be if I were stuck in them forever, while I cowered naked on the bed, shaking. The he got a phone-call from a girl I knew he had been seeing in the past. He sat down and chatted to her for half an hour, watching me squirm in my uncomfortable, constrained, exposed position, while telling her how gorgeous he thought she was and no, he wasn’t busy right now. Eventually he hung up and, after much more searching, found the key to the handcuffs. I was humiliated beyond measure, not to mention in pain, but I refused to let it show. I thought that, if I could convincingly act like I’d enjoyed it, somehow that would mean that I had won, or at least regained some of my dignity. It was stupid and desperate, but that was the only way I could come to terms with what had just happened.

I am pleased to say that I was the one who eventually ended things with Tereus, after a few more weeks of similar anguish, including an incident when we argued and he bent my wrist backwards until I screamed. I have only spoken to him once since then, when he called me up six months later to tell me how much he missed me and couldn’t we be friends again. I said I wanted nothing more to do with him, and hung up, and I take pride in the fact that I was able to do that. But this is not about how I recovered from an abusive relationship, though it took time to even get to the stage where I could call it that. This is, as far as I remember, an honest account of three men who took advantage of a certain situation, and who hurt me more than they ever really realised.

If I had known what I know now about rape culture, about apologism, about victim-blaming and silencing tactics, I would not have fallen for the same abuse three times. I would have been stronger, and I would have known how to say no. But I didn’t, and as a result I suffered three times what no one should have to suffer once. There are so many worse stories out there, stories that make me shudder and wonder how these women can be so brave, how they are still standing after enduring what I cannot even imagine. Mine is not one of them. But it is a survival story all the same, and I am stronger for having told it. That is all I really wanted to say.

9 thoughts on “Three reasons why I’m a feminist today (TW for rape and sexual assault)

  1. What happened to you was awful. Nobody should have to go through anything like this and the rape culture we live in just makes it even more sad when such things do happen. Sorry for what you have been through and thank you for being courageous enough to share your story(/stories).

    • Thank you for reading. I chose to post this stuff up because if I’d read something like this five years ago, it would have made my life a lot easier, and I hope this can help someone else. (With that in mind, feel free to share this with whoever you think might benefit from it.) Hope you like the rest of the blog, which is a little more light-hearted!

  2. You are a courageous person to have come out of these things more confident and self-aware. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything addressing these issues that was quite so eloquent or informative. Thank you for your blog and for sharing your experiences; just a few entries have boosted my confidence and knowledge dramatically. I am, however, so sorry you had to endure these experiences to have got to where you are today.

    • Thank you. It means a lot that what I write can be meaningful to anyone. (Makes the whole thing worth it.) I hope some of what I’ve said helps you be more confident and self-assured in the future. Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Ongoing battles with rape culture (TW for rape and sexual assault) | Procne The Swallow

  4. I wasn’t sure whether to leave a comment as I don’t want to take away from this fantastically honest and raw piece of writing, but I’m pissed off enough after reading this to weigh in with my tuppence worth.

    As you know, I had an experience with Tereus whilst you were seeing him; however, I didnt know this until afterwards, whilst lying in the (slightly disappointing) afterglow. He decided to tell me about the FIVE other girls he had slept with that week (and it was only Friday) before having the audacity to ask ME if I had left him at risk of STDs as I was on the pill and this was before I lived in constant fear of STDs.

    To put it in context, the way he had seduced me into bed in the first place was by noticing that I had cuts from self harm on my wrists and by getting me to talk about why. At the time, I was experiencing fairly extreme flashbacks from multiple childhood sexual abuses and I told him I had been raped as a child. His concern post-sex was that my childhood sexual assault may have put him at risk of catching STDs, when in actual fact he put me at the most risk of anyone in my whole life. He also told me very, very personal details about his relationship with you and another mutual friend.

    He then took nude pictures without my consent, his excuse being ‘I know you’re into all this nudism stuff, me and my girlfriend found your skinbook profile’, by which he meant ‘I made my unwilling girlfriend look at me getting off to pictures of you, her good friend’.

    I knew they were together, and at the time ‘Penelope” was one of my best friends.It is the absolute worst thing I have ever done in my life and the single incident I regret the most. MY only defence is that I was in a severely fucked up place at the time and wanted to gain power over my sexuality. At the time, sleeping with a friends boyfriend seemed the best way of doing so.

    I don’t regret telling her, even though it threw open a massive can of worms and, I suspect, had an impact on your relationship with them both. I could have kept it a secret and preserved our friendship but I couldn’t bear the thought of him sleeping with that many other girls, unprotected, many of whom were her very close friends. It’s been nearly four years and we still aren’t even half the friends we were. I dont know if I did more harm or good in the long run, and the way I dealt with it afterwards was horrible but I’m glad I did, even if its just because he didn’t want me to and I think it had been a while since anyone had gone against his wishes.

    Everytime he gets a new GF on facebook, I half consider sending her a message warning her, but it’s not my place. Boys like him should come with a health warning.

    • Thank you for this. I only ever knew bits and pieces of that story, and now that I know the details, I just want to give you a cuddle. And then punch him. That too. I also get extremely frustrated and nervous whenever I hear that he’s with a new a girl. It’s not my place, and there is nothing I can do, but I would feel so guilty if I heard he’d done the same to someone else.

      I think you were right to tell Penelope – she had a right to know, and he was so used to getting his own way about everything. Eventually (far too late) I did the same, and I doubt she will ever speak to me again. But at least now she knows.

      Thank you for reading, and for being brave enough to post this here. Don’t ever let anyone treat you that way again. You’re too awesome for that.

  5. Pingback: It’s only abuse “if”… (TW for – well, you can guess) | Procne The Swallow

  6. Pingback: For confident and assertive girls who don’t “need” feminism | Procne The Swallow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s