The Survivors Project: David*
In its Nov. 14, 2012, print edition, Philadelphia Weekly ran an excerpt of its first book, The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse. The issue featured just eight of the 57 first-person stories we published. Here is another.
Editor’s note: Please take great care in reading this story, as it may contain graphic descriptions and other passages that may trigger strong emotional responses.
Age: Late 20s
Location: Philadelphia, Pa.
Occupation: Cook/freelance writer
Age abuse occurred: 16
*Name has been changed
It took me a long time to pin the right word to it, to call it what it was.
It happened over Christmas break, in high school. In a small town in the Midwest, teenagers were breaking into a liquor cabinet. Me, getting too drunk, taking too many shots. Me, trusting the bed of the classmate I had been fooling around with off and on. Him, coming into the room where I was too drunk to move, closing the door behind him. Him, putting his dick in my mouth. Me trying to tell him no. Him continuing. Me trying to push away with all my facilities. It took me biting down to get him to stop.
It would run through my head as the time I got too drunk—as if alcohol had excused what had happened. Maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing? Maybe it was my fault for being too drunk and somehow us fooling around earlier that day was an invitation to what happened. Maybe this was just being queer in a small town.
The Monday after break at school, he came into homeroom, taunting me with the words “weiner biter,” waving his finger as if admonishing a petty insult. I felt myself sink. I felt so low. The only thing I could feel was to blame myself, and I let our not-relationship continue on.
And I still never put the words to what happened that time, or the reluctant consent I felt every time there was a day off from school, and the inevitability of having to do it again. It wasn’t always reluctant, but when it was, I never felt lower. Again, I still felt like I was at fault, somehow. That this was some sort of price for wanting to be sexual or for wanting to not be completely straight or for having been the initiator of the whole situation some months before. Both it and the queerness stuck to me like my deepest secret for the remainder of high school, somewhat into college. Sometimes, the two weird guilts are intertwined, even though I know in my heart that being queer isn’t a problem. It’s still a side I feel like I can’t trust, I can’t explore, as if every man will be like this man, as if I will always be hurt. Even in “straight” sex, I can still feel the damage, as if any part of my body is some minefield of shame and hurt.
But still, it took me a long time to put the important word to it.
It took me that long to call it rape. It was around five or six years after the fact, when another friend had come forward. And for the first time ever, at the age of 22, I not only told what had happened for the first time, but called it that for the first time. It seemed weird. Though I know better now, so much of talk surrounding sexual assault and rape seemed aimed at women. But this is the same culture that told them the same feelings that I had running through my head: That it was my fault, that I somehow invited it, that something I did deserved it happening to me.
It hurts and it will always hurt. I still feel like the wound isn’t healed, like my own outward trust has never been repaired, that despite my desires to the contrary, my inability to let people in will damn me to being alone. I sometimes still have nightmares where he’s there. I avoided all talk of a potential class reunion this year. Sometimes, he still butts into my life, and it’s as if he somehow either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that what he did hurt and was wrong. Thousands of miles away, I still dread the off-chance that I’ll see him on a trip home. I had known him for years, and I had considered him a friend. Even when I confronted him at one point, the fact that I initiated the non-relationship was blown back in my face, that there again it was my fault for feeling queer.
I know that it wasn’t my fault, that the only responsible party was the rapist, that nothing I did was an invitation to rape. I know these things. But I also know, at the end of the day, how hard that is to let yourself be closer to freeing that lingering guilt and shame and anxiety and dread. I hope I can at least believe that I can just move on and not have it hang over me anymore.
The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse is available for purchase on Amazon.