I’ll tell you this story in words and ask you to please meet me in the silence.
Why am I like this? Why can’t I be normal? Why do my views on sex and love misalign? As a researcher, I’m trained to ask why. I’m learning to be an expert in answering why. I’m obsessed with the intellectual playfulness of why. I demanded answers to why. Yet this “why” puzzle was one I could not solve in my mind. Sitting in paradise I came across a word. My friend and I conversed next to a beach in Thailand with crystal clear water and patterned lines in the sand. We were discussing the interesting things people reveal over Facebook. “Today this lovely girl posted that she was a rape survivor…” He continued on. I paused, my heart stopped, and I interrupted. “What’s the definition of rape?” I demanded. “How is it different from nonconsensual sex?” “I don’t know,” he replied looking sympathetically away. I grabbed my iPhone to Google the definition. Immediately I thrust my phone away from me and tears welled up in my eyes. I stared intensely at the lines in the sand. “I was raped.” I told him. I proceeded to read him the definition of rape in the third degree: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” When I was 18 years old, a college freshman, and a virgin, I was raped. I never called it rape. In fact no one called it “rape” until I used the word rape.
I said no. I listened to the arguments for why we should sleep together. I said no again. I woke up naked to blood, a broken condom with cum, and a boy running out of a foreign room. I called one of my close friends. She quickly came to the rescue. She was glad I was safe. The next day I went to the student health center, I got Plan B. They gave me a safe sex talk with the assumption that I wanted to be having sex. No one used the word rape. I quickly moved on. I dropped the memory into the depths of my sub-cortex, the place where you store things you don’t ever want to see again. After noticing my reactions in romantic situations over the last 8 years, I developed a narrative with my rational brain.
The first time I had sex was “nonconsensual”, consequently I had a skewed perception of sex. When I told my therapist, she said, “That’s not ok. What happened to you is not ok.” She never called it rape. We are rational creatures, yet we experience the world through our senses. The body knows trauma. Deep within my hips laid a story. I felt my inner thighs quiver anytime someone talked aggressively about sex. I witnessed my jaw clench in those moments and I couldn’t soften.
Now I had a label for my experience: rape. I hoped that would allow me to find order amidst the disorder that I felt. I returned home from Thailand with a new truth. I was ready to tell the world. “I was raped”, I told a close friend. He replied, “I knew that, you told me.” “Had I told him?” I thought. I had told him that my first time had been nonconsensual. He knew that meant rape. My therapist assumed I knew that nonconsensual sex meant rape. “Was there some course in life that I had missed? I thought rape was violent.” Unfortunately, order unfolded into disorder. My fury: unrelenting.
Using the word rape unleashed my anger on the world. Tears streamed out of me at random moments. I quivered and screamed in my bed. I am strong, but that doesn’t protect me from the world; bravery doesn’t save me from my senses-- the senses that knew my body was violated. My body and my mind remained disconnected despite the fact they knew the same truth. Rape. How could this one word hold so much power? Words are important form of communication, but rarely describe the pure essence of a feeling. However, rape, the word, fundamentally altered my world.
Rape, the word, involuntarily arouses my feelings of blame, shame, and disconnection from the world that I love so dearly. My rape was made of an action, but I felt that the world asked me to accept it in silence. Silencing of truth grants it power beyond acceptance. There is power in silence, but there is also power in words.
“Nonconsensual” sugarcoated my story. My silence was driven by fear; fear that no one would believe me, fear that I was a broken human, and fear that I was unlovable. Unlike my rapist, I couldn’t run and escape his action’s consequences. I had to face the pain.
Rape is a particular type of human violation; it threatens your physical safety but also threatens your essential humanness: the ability to make a conscious choice. Rape disconnects humans through an act that is meant to represent love and connection. Rape pierced my supple heart in a way that only made it more compassionate. The darkness allowed me to intimately understand the human experience of suffering. I know the look of despair because I have lived it. I gave myself permission to feel it all. I confronted my anger, so I could let it go and be free. Too much anger will destroy this vessel. Now, I’m calling it rape; I was raped. The action occurred in reality. Rape needs to be identified; it’s a horrid act against humanity.
I accept rape happened, but that doesn’t justify it. It’s not ok I was raped. It will never be OK. I will no longer be silent. In the world of actions, my actions are words: to tell you this story so we (you and I) can understand the consequences of actions. There are many questions I will leave unanswered on this earth. The question: was I raped? Will not be left unanswered. Ultimately, only I needed to call it rape. I didn’t know any better 8 years ago, but now I have drawn a line in the sand. The question: why was I raped? Unanswerable. It took me a long time to humbly realize this paradox of our world. I respectfully accept these questions do not have scientifically rigorous solutions. I don’t know the answers and I no longer strive for the answers; my mind cannot grasp the sea-breeze air.
As humans, we share an underlying desire for order yet humanness carries with it an overarching seeming disorder. We have an obligation to be human: to dance in this beautiful chaos. We must go on dancing.
In the end there is nothing wrong with me; Here I am. Naked. Alive yet sometimes trembling. Human. Part of this intricately connected world. Heartbreakingly, we live in a world where rape occurs. My rapist took away my choice in one action, but I have a choice in perspective. Rape doesn’t define me. Survivor doesn’t define me. Words do not define humans; humans define words.
Please meet me in the silence.