I have a problem with the fight against rape and sexual violence.
Don't get me wrong -- I loathe sexual violence, it needs to end, and we need to be vocal - hypervocal, even - about it before it ever will. I've done numerous final papers about the rape culture, how all the different things like race and class and sexuality (and so on) intersect with and work within the patriarchy in order to create the rape culture.
My problem doesn't lie in the ideology behind the fight. There, I'm behind you all the way.
My problem lies in the rhetoric employed in the fight.
Specifically, the rhetoric and model of "The Survivor."
In every anti-rape, anti-sexual-violence form of activism I've been a part of, the message (apart from "good god, let go of the rape culture already and let us control our own bodies") has been centered around "Healing" and "dealing with it" (but never really "getting over it") and mostly, about crossing that line from "victim" to "survivor."
The thing is, the dichotomy of "victimhood" and being a "survivor" is absolutely false. Many, many people who have been victims of sexual violence go their whole lives with one foot in both worlds, stuck in between and never fully fitting into either category. Some people might never get to that place of "survival" at all, and will never be able to "heal" or "deal with it" in any meaningful sense. Like me.
There are lots and lots of reasons that I know I will never reach that place of calling myself or being a "survivor," which I won't go into here. Some of them are entrenched in the rape culture that makes me blame myself for my abuse and my rape(s), but some of them are simply because I don't have that capacity to "heal." You might be thinking, "Oh, don't be silly, you're only 20 years old, you don't know what you can heal from yet," and maybe, just maybe, you're right. But you're probably not. But that's exactly the problem I have with this fight against sexual violence. There's always the assumption that everyone can heal. That someday, if you just work hard enough at it, you, too, will be able to be a "survivor."
I reject that notion. It's simply not true.
But more, I reject the entire model of "The Survivor" as the universal model for all victims of rape/sexual violence. No (or almost no) victim's experience of sexual violence is identical. So why should the form that their recovery (or lack thereof) takes be the same?
I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear the story about the girl who was victimized for 7 years of her childhood and never got over it. They want to hear about the girl who was abused, but went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with children in Uganda. And while that girl who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize is no doubt extraordinary and amazing, that's not every victim's story. That's not how everyone's story ends. But just because my story, or four hundred other women's stories, don't end in sunshine and rainbows and the extraordinary (sometimes out-of-reach) achievement of overcoming one's victimization, that doesn't mean that those stories are any less worthwhile, any less valid. Our stories need to be told too.
Yes, thinking that you can get over this and you can "heal" is vital for recent victims of sexual violence. But not at the expense of alienating those who don't fit that model, of ignoring their stories of non-recovery.
So, with that, here's my story of non-survival:
I was abused by my brother from the time I was 6 or 7 until I was 13. I told nobody until I was 15. My mother walked in on us once when I was 9. She had a talk with me, told me, "don't tease your brother. Boys can't always control themselves." When I first told, I was in the hospital after telling someone I was slightly suicidal. The hospital would not discharge me if my brother were still at home, so my parents (my mom, begrudgingly) sent him out to live in San Diego, where my other brother was. I spent the rest of high school pretty much going from boyfriend to boyfriend, but not attaching myself to anyone, and never letting any of them in, really. I gave one boyfriend a blow job a few times, and he reciprocated each time. I never orgasmed.
I didn't orgasm until I was 19, the first time I was with a woman. Even then, we had sex three or four times, and I only orgasmed once.
I started cutting when I was 13. I still haven't stopped. I bruise, too, and burn sometimes. Occasionally, I go through cycles of disordered eating (but really, it's not an eating disorder), sometimes lasting a day, sometimes two months. I still think about suicide, in the abstract, even though I'd never do it.
I can't say no, even when I want to, especially to a woman. To men, it's slightly different, but it's not like they listen anyway. This past summer, I got drunk at a friend's party and ended up in a threesome situation with one woman and one man. He was sober. We were not. We both went down on him. I said I didn't want to once or twice, but never really assertively.
At a new year's party this year, I was raped by a boy I've known since preschool. Again, I was far more intoxicated than I should have gotten. It was a threesome situation, and I was into the girl, but not him. Somehow, he ended up inside of me even though I said over and over that I was gay, that I didn't want to, and once he already was, I said that I was done with the hetero part, that I wanted him to stop. He didn't. I told nobody until last week. I told my best friend, who had been trained as a rape advocate/educator. She asked me if I'd made it worse in my mind since January. She told me not to think so much about it, that "it was just an accident."
I can hardly function as a student. I've had to ask for extensions on most of my work this semester, and have to go talk to my class dean on Thursday about taking incompletes and/or getting extensions for my final papers past finals week. Not a day, hardly an hour, goes by that I don't think about my brother, or the boy this summer, or the boy I've known from preschool.
So, no, I'm not ok. And no, I probably never will be. But at least this story is authentic. At least with this story, there is no happy ending.