I’ve been beating myself up lately because it feels like really, the only thing on my mind that compels me to write is fucking rape, and then I get like, “who wants to read about that? who comes here to read my navel-gazing about how fucked up I am and how I can’t stop obsessing about a stupid event that happened ten fucking years ago? and why do I need to dwell on it anyway can’t I fucking move on with my life?” and the truth is my life has moved on, and it also hasn’t. And the same people who were interested in reading about my relationship and my random thoughts about queer politics might or might not be interested in reading me process my trauma, but that’s not my problem. And processing this rape isn’t really only just processing this rape but it’s about processing how everything in my life before and at the time was already brittle and it’s about trying to piece those things together so that I can figure out how to want, fully, to be alive.
I saw this the other day and was like, yes. This is my anthem.
The past two weeks I’ve been on the east coast and have spent a bunch of time with friends of mine from college. These friends were the very first people in the world who knew about my rape other than my rapist and the nurse at Planned Parenthood a few weeks later who, when I went for STD testing, knew immediately what the situation was just by looking at me, even though the whole reason I waited a few weeks was to avoid just that likelihood. But otherwise my friends in college were the very first people I ever told and it has been so strange now, at the ten-year mark, to revisit my relationship to it then. In ways I can’t believe how much I was able to separate myself from myself, how much I clung to this “this fucked up thing happened but it is in the past and anyway now I’m stronger for it” fucked-up survivor narrative which is now the whole reason why I have so many problems with the word “survivor.” Cuz in retrospect it doesn’t really feel like I survived it feels like I was just getting by however I could, and in college, my m.o. was like, I just gotta have a normal life, have real friendships that are meaningful to me and I can’t fuck them up by dumping some insane fucking trauma on them. I was also scared, I think, because I didn’t know what would happen to ME if I actually started really talking. When I was in Boston last week I spoke about it a bit with my best friend from college who is actually the first person I ever told about it and she said that yeah, it had been clear to her at the time that I hadn’t really known how to talk about it, how to be both a person who was still reeling from this nightmare AND a person who could be normal and thrive. And I of course remember still having intense flashbacks during those years, especially the first two years of college, and just not being able to move for hours, days, but not being able to even think about telling anyone why.
I guess I had a lot of internalized shame and to be honest I guess I still do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling disgusted with myself for continuing to use this blog as a platform to write about this stuff. And if anyone else who has ever experienced any kind of sexual trauma or violence were to say to me that they felt shame around talking about their experiences I would SO VEHEMENTLY reject that without skipping a fucking beat, and so I’m trying to have that same graciousness with myself. And it makes me wonder how in another five years, ten years, how I will look back on myself now and think, “how did I do it? how did I survive?” the way I’m looking back now at college. I try to remember when and how it started getting easier and I can’t even force my mind to go back there without feeling like I’m going to throw up so I don’t know how to figure it out.
In early May, I went to a queer dance party in Oakland and left early by myself because I was feeling tired and drained, and I was followed by two assholes who were bantering with each other about my ass as a piece of fucking meat and I turned around and yelled at them to fuck off, yelled as loud as I could and was so angry. And rather than leave me alone they shoved me against a building and one of them went through my shit and stole all my cash and the other one went through my dress and stole my body. He couldn’t get a full erection (evidently my fault because I was a “fucking pervert dyke”) so he decided his hand was good enough. The whole thing lasted all of about five minutes and I am insanely proud of myself for staying in my body and not abandoning it. I stayed put with all my might. And I consciously decided at some point to just cry, thinking that maybe if I let it all out and just let my emotions be what they were, maybe it would stop them. So I did, I cried and crumpled to the ground and begged them to stop. And the one going through my shit was like, “this isn’t fun anymore, let’s go” and they left. And I felt broken and shaken and flattened and disgusted and terrified and humiliated, but I was like, whoa, I’m still here. I’m all here. And I called about eight different people to try and connect with someone, to stand up to my inner voice that wants me to isolate, cuz I was like, I am not going to do this again, I am not going to go through this alone. And I am so proud of that.
And then last week I was with my dad in my hometown and we were driving back to his apartment but there was some sort of race or parade or something through my town so he had to take a weird route and he drove right down that street and passed right by the spot where my rapist watched me run by him from his car ten years ago. And my clueless father took us right down that street and I have very intentionally avoided that spot for ten whole years. I haven’t been to that spot since it happened. And it’s funny because I was just thinking recently about how maybe I would want to pay that spot a visit sometime, maybe by myself or maybe with someone close to me, but maybe just by myself and sit there and rock. I thought maybe it would be good to confront that and see it as a regular spot on a regular street in a regular town. But the very second I knew where the car was going, I started throwing up and I had to frantically open the car door and lean out and puke on the street while my baffled father tried to figure out what to do. I couldn’t even talk to him I couldn’t even think, I just had this total panic meltdown and every tiny millimeter of my body needed to get the fuck away. And it was raining and we got back to my dad’s place and I couldn’t go inside, I needed air so I walked to the playground at my old elementary school and sat on the bench in the rain and stared at the playground that I used to play on before, and I tried to connect to a time before everything, when I would just play, on that very playground, with the same (child) body I have now.
I’m struggling. It’s like time is fucking around with me and has decided that it doesn’t need to move in a linear fashion, it doesn’t need to make things easier for me, it doesn’t need to be predictable and it will just do whatever it wants so-help-it-god. And I’m left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. Sometimes though it feels like even picking up the pieces is too much work, let alone the making sense of it.
One of my very favorite bloggers, and someone who in the meantime I feel really close to, wrote recently about a particular memory of her own trauma, a very specific memory that always flattens her and leaves her shattered. And someone commented, and said to her, have you ever asked that memory what it wants? Asked it why it keeps coming back? Cuz maybe if you can figure that out, you can give it what it wants and it will eventually stop coming back.
The simplicity of that stunned me. What does it want, this part of me that keeps poking and prodding and sticking, and what do they want, these images and memories and body-memories that keep revisiting? I know I need to figure that out. The thing is, the only way I’ve really known how to deal with it has been to push it away and say “no, you are not allowed.” I’m so terrified of giving it space and letting it in, I’m so terrified of what it will do it me and by syllogism, what it will do to everyone in my life.
In the meantime, I’m on the plane to Berlin right now. By the time I post this I will be there already but I’m writing this on the plane. And for the next three weeks I’m hoping that whatever part of my brain it is that is rising up and needing attention will just quiet down so that I can get some rest, get some space, and maybe then try to start figuring this out when I get back.
Also, sorry for saying fuck so much lately. It just sorta happens.
It’s April and I have so many unread and unresponded-to emails sitting in my inbox from all of you and I’m so sorry. I’m going to get to it. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since January. Shit happens?
Last year in April I didn’t post at all. A year before that in April, I posted this as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month which falls in April. And then a week or so later I posted this. And that part I has been all by its lonesome since then, these two years since. I don’t know if I’ll ever write the II, III and IV I’d intended on writing then, I don’t know if it’s important anymore. Two years later it almost feels fitting to leave it hanging like that because it never will wrap up in my life, it never will be completed, finished. There will always be more to the story and the violence will go on, against me and others.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is also the month in which I was raped. This year, in April, it was ten years ago.
I feel exhausted by that. It’s been ten years and it still feels like it was a moment ago. Is it always going to be so close? It’s been ten years and it also feels like it’s been a hundred long, hard years. Will it continue to drag on and on and on like that? Will the next ten years feel this long too? Its nearness feels claustrophobic and its distance is draining.
Last year, my friend’s husband died all of a sudden and a few months later she asked me, “will it get easier?” and I didn’t know what to say. Does sudden and horrible trauma get easier? In ways, of course. Yes. Life becomes livable because it has to. There isn’t really an alternative. I go on and do things, I get excited about things, I feel pain and joy eventually and I love people and they love me and I laugh and sometimes cry and I struggle in normal ways and in extremely difficult ways. And in ways, no. You can never get back what you had before and you have to live with that, as long as you live.
Ten years on and I’m now struggling with that perhaps more than in the past. I’m far enough away that I’m squarely on my feet, but not so far that I don’t remember what it was like before and I want her back. I want the her-bef0re back, I need her. I want to remember what it feels like to feel unthinkingly safe and to take up all the space I can and to breathe SO deep and laugh SO hard and to feel like my body is my own and to be in it. I have always thought that the her-then needs the me-now, and that has given me some comfort, to imagine the me-now and everyone who loves her surrounding the her-then and giving her strength, and imagining the her-then feeling it, re-imagining the isolation. That has given me some comfort. But now I feel like it’s the me-now that needs the her-before because the me-now — I am tired and I want to remember. Just that.
Some years on that day I’ve tried to forget, some years I’ve intentionally remembered, some years I’ve tried nothing at all and let what came up come up. Some years it’s been a normal day and some years I’ve cleared my calendar and done something special alone. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do this year.
I’ll be back soon, I think. With more to say about other things than this.
There’s something on my mind recently that I’ve been struggling to put to words. When I was out last weekend with ML, we had a good conversation about it and I intended to write about it right away but then I sat and stared at a blank document for a while, the words bottlenecked in the tips of my fingers and I couldn’t type. Maybe this time will be different.
[Trigger warning: this post discusses violent rape.]
There’s a serial rapist in a neighborhood in San Francisco where many of my friends live and where I go to frequently, and he’s struck multiple times. The attacks have been violent and in public in early morning hours. And I’ve been really turned off by the way it has been discoursed in communities I’m tangential to and in general by the patterns I have witnessed over and over in the past, repeated here, as responses to extreme violence against women.
I found out about it because of an email blast by the local rape crisis center to all of its volunteers; the email gave the details of the attacks, I guess just as an advisement to the volunteers about potential hotline callers. It also said that the police are on the case but that they’re asking that it not be brought to media in order that they can find the rapist more easily; media attention might alert him that they’re looking and he could relocate. Before too long this email had spread throughout the various networks I’m a part of and I got it sent to me in various truncated forms several additional times, always along with some sort of cautionary note by the sender about being careful, not walking alone, taking appropriate measures, and finally “be safe.” People are hyperaware and there has been a palpable climate of anxiety.
There are multiple layers of all of this that I struggle with. There’s the obvious fact that the sensationalizing of the street attack and the stranger rape is highly problematic, especially given the ubiquity of rape, sexual assault, and violence perpetrated by non-strangers. For me, though, that’s a more difficult argument to grapple with given that for me it is not a myth, it is not sensational. Still, I can’t write about the problematics of what’s going on in SF right now without bringing that up, the hyper-paranoia and perhaps exaggerated response to this sort of rape, especially in contrast to the silence around all other (and way more common) forms of sexual violence. Related to and beyond that, though, I’m angered by the way this kind of information is just sent into the world to live its own sensationalized life and that it seems like the only real possible reaction to it is fear, and the result is a kind of social control of women operated through this fear. One of my friends called the rape crisis center to ask if they were planning or knew of any organized community or collaborative response and she said they just sounded annoyed and dismissed her. This isn’t to say that it’s their job to put something like that together, but that given the way they disseminated the information and offered no container for coping with the gutteral punch of the email other than to suggest that individuals who have feelings about it call the crisis hotline, a dismissive response to my friend’s inquiry just seems inconsiderate and even irresponsible to me.
I’m also struggling with the faith in the police that that initial message conveyed, and particularly with the lack of questioning the police’s methods which, in this case, was essentially “don’t tell the media because we need to find the guy and if he knows he’s being hunted he’ll move” and to me reads as “we need him to strike again so we can catch him” or, “it’s more important that our strategy for catching him not be interrupted than for the community to be able to feel safe.” When I was subletting in North Berkeley in summer of 2008, there was also a serial rapist who was breaking into the homes of young women who were living alone and violently raping them. I was, in fact, living alone and in the immediate vicinity of his previous attacks when the police knocked on my door, handed me a flyer with “information” and how to contact a tip line, and then left me alone in my ground floor apartment with windows that didn’t lock, shrugging and saying “sorry, can’t help you there” when I asked them, panicked, “well what should I do??” What we should do, apparently, is fear for our lives and our bodies, because what else does this method of disseminating information call for? And, why did the crisis center that historically only will cooperate with police to the extent that it is forced to so blindly follow in the police’s footsteps in this case?
Then there’s the fact that eventually a local newspaper did release a blurry black and white still from a security camera of the suspect, and that the only thing about him that is discernible from this photo is that he is black and that he was wearing a dark hoodie. What is the purpose of this circulating when there is no chance that anyone will actually be able to identify him based on that photo and instead it just sends the message: “be afraid of black men in hoodies.” This is such an ugly dynamic and it’s one that I don’t really know how to untangle. But sending that out into a world in which black men are already racially profiled in super intense ways and experience intense criminalization on a daily basis is irresponsible at best and nasty and racist at worst. This is not to say that it’s racist to talk about a black man being a rapist, or to identify this one as a black man. I’m not saying we should pretend he’s not black or refuse to engage what comes up around his race. I’m just asking, in this case, what is the point of that blurry photo being circulated? If the rest of the messaging around there being a serial rapist is “he’s brutal, he comes up from behind, and he isn’t deterred by fighting back” then how is having a blurry and unidentifiable photo of him helpful for the community? If the logic is the paternal “ladies, just stay inside” then it seems to me that this photo will only exacerbate that as the message by bolstering the public imaginary that all black men are to be feared. It’s just ugly.
And then for me there’s the very personal level of struggle. I have been feeling a lot of anger, resentment, irritation with people who have been talking about this and have been having difficulty articulating why. I don’t think even I have really been able to understand myself why those emotions are coming up for me. It came up for me a lot when I was hanging out with one of my friends who lives just blocks away from the most recent attack and she insisted on walking me the one block to my parking spot when I was leaving around midnight. I wasn’t angry at her or irritated at her but I was feeling a mess of angry/frustrated emotions that I couldn’t quite place. I guess the best way for me to explain it is that, for me, this serial rapist on the loose doesn’t change things. I don’t feel any less safe knowing that that’s out there. I don’t feel any more safe at any other time when there isn’t a known rapist on the loose. I always feel that fear, I always feel like any second now it could happen again. I know that when it happened to me there hadn’t been any community warnings and so I guess I just feel like, what do these warnings do, what are they for, if it happens anyway, whether we are prepared for it or not. And, what does it even mean to be prepared for it? It’s impossible, you can’t possibly. I feel like I just have so much resentment that I can’t understand the fear that other people have about it, I can’t understand fear from the side of not-knowing. It makes it hit home for me so much that I live in a different world than they do. My normal is so wildly different. And it’s occasions like this that bring it all back to me when in general I feel like I do a pretty good job of dissociating from it in my daily life. I do a good job of intentional forgetting. Not forgetting that it happened, there is not a single day that goes by that it is not present for me, but forgetting how it makes me different, forgetting the anger and bitterness about it being the background of my daily life.
I didn’t really intend to end here. I wanted to go into a sort of brainstorming session of what might a robust and healthy community response to sexual violence look like, and how might we organize around that more rather than stopping at feeling trapped and afraid? I have thoughts. But I’m feeling drained, so I’m going to stop. More soon. Xoxo.