On New Year's Day, just before my 17th birthday, I was sexually assaulted by my boyfriend. We were sober. We were young, aroused, attracted to each other, making out and having fun. We had slept in the same bed for the first time the night before, and our sexual exploration was broadening, but we had not yet had intercourse. I wasn't ready for it yet. We were both virgins. That day, we had been away visiting his extended family. We got back to an empty house, and took advantage of it. We were making out, there was lots of touching, and clothes were off. We were in his bed. Our bodies were close, and I was enjoying the feel of our skin on mine. I felt attractive, desired, and adult. Without warning, without asking, there was pain between my legs. My boyfriend had penetrated me. It hurt. I was confused. I said, "Wait. What’s happening? No. Stop." There was one more thrust, and then he stopped.
This happened 14 years ago. I blocked it out, continued to be in a relationship with this person, and decided that since I wasn't a virgin anymore, it didn't really matter what I wanted. I was sexually active through the next few years of our relationship, but most of that is a black hole in my memory. I don't remember feeling anything, or what the sex was like, or how frequently it happened, and I never used birth control or condoms.
Once, I told this boyfriend that if you took my brain and put it in a jar, as long as I was able to think, I would be perfectly happy without a body. Looking back, I can see the intense detachment I felt from my body. To this day, I have body issues, difficulties with being confident sexually, with claiming my right to pleasure, with learning to live in and love the body I have. It is two steps forward and one step back. I think I have healed from this trauma, only to find myself feeling frozen and broken and timid again.
At times, I have diminished my experience, attempting to rationalize away my pain. “This is 'gray rape.' What happened to me is nowhere near as bad as what happened to that other woman, so who am I to call myself a survivor? It’s not really rape because he stopped after I said no." But then I remember how I felt. How confused, hurt, and ashamed. I remember sitting on the toilet the next day, feeling raw and painful. I remember blood on the toilet tissue, and I remember crying. I remember the subsequent years of deep depression and eating disorders.
So, those are the facts. My first sexual experience was non-consensual. I was sexually assaulted by my boyfriend at 16. My boyfriend assumed consent that was not actually there. He may have stopped when I asked, but he never asked for my consent in the first place. I am a survivor of sexual assault.
The sad and beautiful moments of my story have come from those times I have outed myself as a survivor. In my early 20s, I discovered feminism, and it saved my life, and helped me to believe in my own strength. I began telling my story to a few friends. Once I started, they started responding with their own stories. Suddenly, that 1 in 4 statistic became very personal. My dearest friends are survivors of incest, of rape, of abuse, of confusing sexual experiences that they don't know how to name or classify. I look at women on the bus, in my workplace, in my classrooms, and I know that the deafening silence of our stories is there in the room.
So, I roll up my sleeves and do feminist work. I educate men and women about their bodies, about sexuality, about pleasure and consent and communication. I work to heal as a whole person, deserving of pleasure, with a whole and complex sexuality. I challenge rape and sexual assault myths in conversation. And, when I feel safe, I out myself as a survivor of sexual assault so that it has a face, and a name, and a body. It's my story, it's your story, and it's the story of someone you know. Those stories are painful and complicated, but there is strength and healing and change in the telling of them.
Thank you to the other storytellers. I am in awe of your strength.