I have a hard time with love.
I think it’s another trait of co-dependency that I use up so much of my self trying to figure out what other people want me to be. And then the rest of my self that’s leftover is too small and too depleted to figure out what I actually want to be myself. With love, that’s definitely been a common thread for me. I want so much to be the perfect person for every person that I love. I want so desperately to be, for someone, ideal. The one who meets all their needs. The one essential person. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling so irrelevant. I have a hard time trusting, when I have friends, that they really like me. I always think maybe, somehow, they like the person I am on the surface — confident, smart, warm, compassionate, a little bit goofy, a little bit shy — but would scorn me if they knew what I sometimes feel like inside — needy, hypersensitive, anxious, depressed, fucking damaged.
When I tell people I’ve been raped, I have this whole narrative I feel obliged to give. The “I was hurt but now I’m stronger for it” narrative. The “I’m not a victim” narrative. The “I will never let anyone ever hurt me that way again” narrative. Stoic, strong, whole. That narrative is a lie. I was raped when I was 15, and it fucking broke me. It shattered me into a hundred thousand pieces and I’m still trying to pick them up and glue them back together but when there are so many pieces it’s hard to put them back together right, like a massive jigsaw puzzle where you don’t even know what the full picture is supposed to look like. But I have to pretend that I do, I pretend that I was able to put myself back together long ago, and that while I’m scarred, the way one is after surgery, the wound itself is healed and the scar is just a proof of my strength and a proud symbol of my suffering. That’s the way I’m supposed to be. I’m not supposed to be here, eight years later, still fumbling around in the dark trying to find all the pieces of myself I’m still discovering I lost.
Put those two things together — the need to be the perfect one, and the scary truth that I’m not even a “one” at all, I’m a hundred thousand — and you get my deepest flaw. I can’t be vulnerable for people. I can’t tell people, here I am, I’m broken, but you can have all the pieces and maybe, just maybe, letting you have them will help me put them back together. It’s because I’m scared. What if they take one look at the pieces and run? What if they valiantly say, “it doesn’t matter, broken or not, I love you anyway,” but then it does matter? What if the brokenness becomes too much? Something broken can’t be perfect. If I can’t even figure out who I am, how am I supposed to be the right one for someone else?
I’m just now starting to be able to be flawed. I’m starting to figure out that I won’t ever really be able to love someone, or give her the chance to love me, if I don’t take the risk of handing her the pieces. If I try so hard to be perfect, eventually the illusion will come crashing down around both of us and it will hurt all the more. I used to think I could (and should) keep it up for my whole life. “It doesn’t matter who I am, because as long as I can convince people that I know, and as long as people love me, that’s all that matters. ” But that’s not true. People can’t really love me unless they know me. And how are they supposed to love me if I don’t respect myself, or them, enough to give them my real self?
I’m not sure really how to be really vulnerable, even for mi’lady. What I do know is I love her too much not to at least try. Because if I can’t tell her my deepest fears, my biggest flaws, my most profound insecurities, then I’ll never know whether she loves me despite them.
Love? Is fucking hard.
Warning: potentially triggering material follows.
A week before Christmas, a lesbian in Richmond (just north of Berkeley in the bay area) was gang raped–four men, one hour, weapons. Apparently, according to the SF Chronicle, she had a rainbow sticker on her car and they targeted her specifically because she was gay.
So there’s a $10,000 price tag on these guys, and they’re not only going to be charged with sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, et cetera, but their charges will also carry the added “hate crime” designation. Which obviously makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, their attack was pretty clearly motivated by–or at the very least, very charged with–violent homophobia. They probably would not have attacked her had she not had a rainbow sticker on her car, or if she had not in any way appeared to them to be gay. So it makes sense to me that they would be charged with hate crime. It is horrible to be attacked so viciously on account of one’s sexual orientation and it is clear that her being gay was a reason they targeted her.
However, it troubles me that these four men would get a heightened criminal conviction, be more highly sought, or be seen as far worse criminals than would be the case if the victim were a straight woman. For any woman (or man or child or anyone) to be gang raped is horrible beyond belief, and it occurs far too often that women are raped or gang raped or abused by men in any sexual or physical capacity. And we never hear any fuss made about it. Occasionally we see a paragraph in the newspaper about a midnight rape, and we think “oh, how awful” and then we move on, because we’ve heard it so many times before and we’ve forgotten how to be enraged by it. Or worse, we think, “god, what was that woman doing out by herself at that time of night? what was she wearing? I bet she was a prostitute/drug dealer/slut” and can quickly minimize our empathy.
But the truth is, it must be just as horrible for a straight woman to be gang raped at knife-/gun-point by four men over the course of an hour as it is for a lesbian. And men who rape or abuse straight women should not get off any lighter than men who rape and abuse gay women. Those men are all perpetrating hate crimes. Granted, the motivations may be different (“ugh that bulldagger needs to be taught a lesson” vs. “I’m going to get me some of that pussy”) but in the end, it’s always about objectification, dehumanization, assertion that “you belong to me, I can do whatever I want with you, and by the time I’m through you’re going to know that.”
I’d imagine that being raped on account of being a lesbian and being raped on account of being a woman would have somewhat different psychological effects, but they would both be pretty fucking traumatic. As I’ve written here before, I was raped when I was 15 by a complete stranger, and it had nothing to do with my being gay (as there’s no way the man could’ve known) and everything to do with my being a piece of flesh that he was entitled to possess. And I’m telling you, I don’t think it could have possibly been worse if I’d known it was because I was gay. Not that it would’ve been better, but rape is rape and you feel like shit, you feel dirty and violated, you feel stripped of power and dignity and personhood, you feel broken and bruised and hurt, you feel shattered and alone, above all else alone, because everyone around you carries on as normal, and the world doesn’t stop just because your world stopped. I can’t speak for other women (gay or straight) who have been raped or violated, but these are all the things I felt, and I am going to say one thing: it would have made a world of difference if I had known that I would be able to count on a reaction like the reaction this lesbian woman’s gang rape is getting from the lesbian community here in the bay area. If I had known that my going to the police would have inspired a public outrage, then I might have gone to the police. Instead, I had seen too many times that rape is one of those things that people shake their heads about but inevitably excuse, because there must’ve been something wrong with the woman, because only a certain kind of woman gets herself raped.
Rape is always a hate crime. Men who perpetrate rape have not one ounce of like, love, respect, or any positive human emotion for their victims. So I do think that the four rapists of the Richmond lesbian should be charged with hate crime. But I also think people need to understand that any woman who is a victim of rape is a victim of a hate crime, and that when any woman is raped, there needs to be this kind of outrage, this outpouring of love and care for the victim. We all need it. And I think the fact that it’s seen as more outrageous when a lesbian gets raped on account of being a lesbian than when any woman regardless of sexual orientation gets raped on account of being a woman is an indication that we as a culture all contribute to the dehumanization of women, and all contribute to the way in which men own and possess women’s bodies.
I understand why the lesbian population rallies in support of one of their own. That makes sense. My heart aches for her, my gut hardens and my stomach churns for her. My jaw clenches, my eyes well up. I tremble in disbelief, I am dazed. I want to find her, hug her, cry with her. I want to bring her back a piece of her soul, because I remember how long it took for me to get mine back. I want to hold hands with all other lesbians in solidarity and join together to figure out how to combat this violence.
But I also want this to be a reason to join hands with other women, with all women, and with men, in outrage, sorrow, and disbelief over rape of this woman and all women, and I want to use that solidarity to raise passion and fury, and change the way people think of rape and think of women in this country. Because every time a rape goes unreported because a woman is scared of being blamed, every time a rape is excused because the woman brought it on herself, every time another awful rape is passed over because it’s not newsworthy and it’s just the same old, every time a man gets off with a light sentence because if we took it all seriously our prisons would be home to a third of the men in America, every time any of this happens, we are all stripped a little bit more of our humanity and dignity. Gay and straight alike.