Sunday, March 30, 2008

what counts?

this is about:
truth. reality. authenticity. level of: influence, trauma.

how do you define violence as violence? what counts as sexual abuse, violence, rape, assault? if it didn't totally destroy you, if it didn't ruin your life and send you into some (visible) insane spiral of self-destruction, does it deserve a place in your story? should you include it when you tell your story?

(i think i have answers to these. feel free to share your answers. but these aren't questions that really need direct answers. more, they need acknowledging as questions that exist.)

my oldest friend (since pre-school) and i discussed this a few days ago. we didn't come to much of a conclusion. i still haven't come to much of a conclusion.

for some context:
M and i are both well acquainted with all of the definitions of rape and sexual violence. we've both done a good deal of activist work around violence against women. we know the talk, we know the realities of violence.
we were both abused as children. we've both been in unhealthy relationships - hers more blatantly violent than mine. we both grew up in less than functional families. so we both have plenty of trauma in our respective pasts.
but this one part, we both aren't sure about including when we tell our stories.
she and i were both, by definition, victims of an alcohol-related rape a few years ago.
we were both wasted, mostly at his insistence - especially M. the guy involved? he was totally sober. things happened that neither of us wanted to happen. things that would never have happened if we were sober. things that he was well aware would never have happened if we were sober. there was no doubt about the lack of consent; neither of us really consented to this.
neither of us know, though, whether or not to call it "rape." whether or not we want to call it that for ourselves, acknowledge it as such in our minds.
for one thing, if we do...that makes three for me, between the ages of 6 and 21. and at least two for her. that's a lot. that's a scary kind of truth to usher into either of our lives.
and the major sticking point here is: neither she or i were destroyed by this, by what happened with erik. (aside: i first wrote that as "by what we let erik do." and i caught the self-blame and rephrased. what does that default to self-blame say about what happened, about what it counts as?)
both M and i are far more scarred by the rapes we experienced prior to this, when we were little. the fact that erik made us go down on him when we clearly didn't want to? seems to pale in comparison. it didn't wound us as deeply because we didn't expect anything better than being used/abused.

does that make it less of a rape, then? should we be calling it rape when we weren't even all that traumatized by it? what does that mean for our stories, for our relationships?
other (compassionate, educated) people would probably look at this and call it rape.
but if we don't call it that...what implications does that have for the stories we tell?
does it affect our honesty? can i tell my story honestly and not include that as part of it? or, on the flip side, can i tell my story, include this as part of it, call it "rape," and still be considered "honest"?

M asked me, this week, if i included that incident when i told people my story.
usually, i don't. sometimes, i do. it's mostly an arbitrary inclusion/exclusion.
M does, kind of. but not as the main thing. and not always, but most of the time.

the questions come down to: who decides what counts as "legitimate" assault? where is that line that defines rape, and who gets to draw it?

stepping back from all of this, stepping out of the confusing tangle of facts and truths and questionable definitions, though, i go somewhere else, somewhere even bigger than this question of what counts/doesn't count.
that is: why does it matter? why is legitimacy and authenticity so important to us?
we all look for validation outside of ourselves, for people to tell us "yes, that's awful," and "yes, of course it counts." and that's so important. having people in our lives who believe us, who don't doubt our stories - it's vital for survival. but no matter how much they believe us, their validation won't validate anything...if we don't believe it ourselves. if we don't believe in ourselves.
we can't make our stories believable...if we don't believe them ourselves.

so i guess, when you break it down even further, it comes down to this question: why do we doubt ourselves? why do we doubt our own accounts, our own stories?

i could answer this with some obvious answers, answers that would sound wise and well-informed and maybe even beautifully self-aware...but they wouldn't be coming from my heart, because my heart isn't there yet. so i'll just leave the questions without answers, and add a few more:

when was this self-doubt ingrained into our psyches? how did it get to be so widespread, so endemic? where does it come from? what purpose does it serve? and, lastly: how do we heal that, how do we extend the same kind of validation and legitimacy and authenticity to ourselves that we (most of us) are so willing to extend to the people we love?


Gloria said...

Great blog. I believe what it all comes down to is each individual's own beliefs. You seem to be pondering many questions. You may find Biography channels new real-life series "I Survived" to be helpful in your healing process. It focuses on how individuals overcame unbelievable circumstances, such as surviving domestic violence and rape. I think victims of such abuse will find it highly cathartic and inspiring. It's definitely a show that empowers the viewer to keep moving forward. It airs Mondays at 9pmET/8pmCT. You can check out for more info. I'm proud to be working with Bio on spreading awareness. I hope you find the show to be as inspirational as I do. Does this sound like a show that would interest you?

Vagishvari said...

I don't know the answers to those questions but I can tell you I still blame my self for what happened our sophomore year of college. A few weeks ago I had a flashback during sex, which is something that hasn't happened in a year, and afterward I blamed my self for the flashback. Blamed myself for it happening and for being the source of that flashback.

I know that it's not my fault, but I still in my heart blame myself for being abused and raped. Maybe it's because she was a woman, maybe it's because I didn't try very hard to fight back, I don't know but I wish I could fully accept the idea that it's truly her fault - I'm not sure I will.

If I come up with answers to those questions I'll let you know but you seem to be ahead of me.

Anonymous said...

im 14 years old. i want some one to know what happened to me. but i'm too embarassed to tell anyone else. your article just caught my attention andithought it wasvery good. so here's my story. i don't even know what it counts as legally but i feel violated and i don't like that.
i went on a cruise with my grandma and her friend and her friends grandaughter. i met this really cute guy. i was looking for a fun time. i had never been kissed and honestly i wanted my first kiss to be on a cruise ship. well any way, this guy was 17 and he was from virginia. we talked. he seemed really cool. the next night i was hanging out with him and he asked if he could kiss me, i said yes. and he did. then he asked if he could kiss me again? he did but this time he shoved his tounge in my mouth. i pushed him away from me. on day 4 i saw him again and we were hanging out... him, his sister, my friend, and i. it was fun. but my freind heard a rumor that he was 19. i confronted him on that and he told me it was a lie. i was like ok.... so later that day he and i left the other two. i was really tired, and he walked around with me aimlessly. then he started leading me down stairs...heres were i was out of my memeries kind of fuzzy.( nothing that i drank, but i was too tired.) before i knew it we were on floor 2 and he was telling me his room was down the hall. i led him back to the stairs were we laid down. when i woke up (not really remembering falling asleep) his hand was on my chest and a lady was talking to us. i jumped like 3 ft in the air. i told him i should go back to my room and take a nap. when we got to myroom we saidgood bye. then he kissed me..and again with the tounge. i pushed him off.and he just said oh you don't want to make out. i said no. so we kissed again, and he tried again, so i just gave him a hug. ithink he started kissing my neck, but really my memerie is so messed up from the moment. but i remember him grabbing my butt. thats when i left.
sorry this is so long.... it's almost over. pormise.
after about ten min. in my room thinking what the heck just happend i relized i lost my friend. so i went back up to were we left i got closer my friend mouthed the word 19. when i sat down she told me she just asked his sister what her brothers age was and she said he's 19. that's when i went into shock. i just kept saying 19?. then i asked his siter for myself...19. i avoided him for the rest of the cruise, or tried he followed me around all night, and i was too embarassed to tell him to go away.
so it has been a week since then, and i am still shocked, i mean i'm the kind of person who sees the best in everyone. and it was really hard for me to relize that he mighthave known what he was doing.. and i was looking up aftermath of sexual assult and i have basically been feeling everything listed, but not too severly, just writing this down has made me yeah. not sure why i did this but i really don't know what to do or anything..i keep saying to myself grow up and get over it..but that's hard to do.