I say this a lot, but it bears repeating – as cynical as I may appear, I can still be incredibly naive and optimistic about people. I’ve come to actually be proud of that, because it’s not a naiveté borne out of not having bothered to live or open my eyes, and certainly not one borne out of having been sheltered or lucky (though I know that, in many ways, I am).
Sometimes, my illusions get shattered, in small ways as well as big ones.
Relatively speaking, I’m extremely open with people about my experiences of rape. I don’t generally go into detail, but I often reveal that I’ve been raped and revictimized several times, by different individuals, all of whom were known to me. I was talking to a woman yesterday who I’ve known for about six months, and I alluded again to those experiences (unemotionally, just as a statement of fact in contextually understanding other things that had happened to me and the timelines of my autobiography).
She interjected to say “I can’t believe you’ve been raped so many times.” I sort of shrugged and nodded. She said “And they were all strangers?” I responded “Oh no, all of them were acquaintances, people I trusted at least on a basic level.” And then she asked my illusion-shattering question “But…if you knew them, how did you know it was rape?”
I stayed calm and think I actually managed to avoid showing just how shocked I was to be asked this question by a 29 year old, intelligent, well-educated woman (she just graduated from teacher’s college, so she’s going to be passing that education along to the next generation shortly), but I shattered some illusions back with some gentle force.
(trigger warning behind the cut)
I knew because, above all else, I had no intention of having sex with these individuals, whether they were familiar to me or not.
I knew because on two occasions, I was passed out and came to while a man was having sex with me, only to find I was barely capable of moving, let alone pushing him off of me.
I knew because the first time it happened, before I even had a chance to say “no”, before I even had a chance to set boundaries and define how “far” was okay, as soon as I tried to push a hand away because things were moving too far, too fast, he grabbed my hair and banged my head against a nearby tree root.
That’s pretty much exactly what I said to my friend. Dispassionate descriptions of the events; if there was any emotion in my voice at all it was mostly compassion for her, knowing that this had to be the first time anyone had voiced these realities in her presence. And I’m grateful for my ability to do that, because damn–clearly somebody’s got to. I’m shocked and amazed and saddened that a 29 year old woman in our culture has apparently never been told about date rape, though presumably she’s heard the term. I’m angered that anyone can graduate from teacher’s college and be granted license to educate others in the province without ever having this explained to her.
Lots of things in the world make me angry, and lots of experiences threaten my ability to remain a vocal, passionate feminist. But these are the ones that remind me. Because the reality is, although I know now, and I think it’s pretty obvious how I know, I didn’t always, and it’s important for me to remember how I learned.