Your Faves, Consent, and Never-Ending Trauma
Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, suicide, slut-shaming
A few things before you begin reading:
- This piece is over 3,000 words long, so be prepared.
- I use satire a few times as a tool to show absurdity and ridiculousness. If you read something that makes you raise your eyebrows at me, it’s probably satire.
- I refer to victims with she/her/they/them/theirs pronouns and rapists with he/him/his/they/them/theirs. This is not because I believe all rapists are men and all rape victims are women. It is because that is the more common scenario, because it was my personal scenario and it is the scenario that played out with the celebrity I am discussing. Regardless of the gender of victim or abuser, the sentiment is the same.
- This is not a trial nor a debate of a man’s innocence. Enter this piece with the understanding that he did it, he said he did it, I read the transcripts.
- The last time I shared my experience with sexual abuse on a public forum I was attacked by a man who victim blamed me and even accused me of being responsible for other people’s rapes. I will not tolerate any victim blaming and I’d appreciate anyone who shares this to do the same. Respect the sanctity of this piece and the subject as a whole.
Got it? Okay……
I was a “good girl.” I mean, I was an alcoholic, but a good girl. I got good grades. I proudly wore the badge of “teacher’s pet” for more than one teacher. I was accepted into a handful of different schools. People told my mom how well-mannered I was. And if that doesn’t sound square enough, I was a virgin until I moved out of her house. I went to Western Oregon University; a school that sits in a town that lifted prohibition in 2003, the year I arrived. The population was small and the Black population was almost nonexistent. Most of the Black people there knew me from home or knew the Black people I already knew. So we hung out.
One guy I had known for years. Knew his family, gave his parents and uncles hugs and kisses when I saw them at church or the store. So we started hanging out solo. I lost my virginity to him one night. Wish I had a better story to tell about it, but it’d be more interesting to literally watch paint dry. I’m still not sure if that’s the norm, but not surprised that’s how it happened for me. I was just bored, lonely and curious. The end.
A week after that uneventful night, I went to a house party with the same guy and a group of other Black and brown folks about three cars deep. It was what you’d expect a college party to look like in a town without liquor stores. In the middle of the room was a bar top full of Coronas. They were already opened, I guess to save time and struggles with a bottle opener. As I mentioned before, I was an alcoholic (*am, idk, whatever), so I had too many to count. I also sipped off the Hennessey bottle one of the guys brought with him. We danced, we laughed, we drank, we had good ol’ college party fun, and then we left.
I remember getting in the car with one of the guys. I had known him since I was 14 and he hadn’t been drinking that night. I had been laughing in the parking lot saying I needed to ride with him because he was the only one I could trust to get me back to campus safely. I never made is back to campus that night.
After getting into the car, which was already a fuzzy intoxicated memory, I don’t remember anything but flashes. Flashes of faces and flesh. It’s still a swirl. I can remember my phone number from the 2nd grade, but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened after we left that party. It’s all black and gray. What I do remember is a wild heat that came over my body, beckoning me to awareness. It was a combination of rage and embarrassment and it came on slow at first with those Black and gray flashes turning into a vivid memory that still occasionally haunts me.
The first clear image I have after getting into the car was being in my friend’s room surrounded by naked men. One of those men was almost 30, I was a fresh 18. Another one, a friend I’d also known for years, was sitting, clothed, in a chair watching everything. I remember yelling in horror, but I don’t remember anyone being shocked by my sudden “change of heart.” They all left, except for the guy I was “seeing.” I didn’t want to talk about it, and I was still extremely intoxicated. The shock only curved my buzz for a few minutes. So, I passed out, woke up the next morning, and was told all the vile things that happened to me by the “friend” who had the “decency” to watch instead of participate.
To add insult to injury, one of the parties involved went back home the next day and told people about it. My mother and sister knew what happened before I had a chance to tell them. And to this day there is a rumor that it was how I lost my virginity. I honestly still don’t know what feels worse; what happened that night, or the fact that so many people close to me believe(d) that it was how I chose to lose my virginity. Either way, it was those two feelings that brought me dangerously close to taking my own life multiple times in the many years that followed, the most recent time being only a couple of years ago.
What confuses me most about the situation is that I continued to see the guy through the rest of the semester. I think the isolation that followed the rumor made me cling to familiarity. To someone who didn’t judge me for what I did even if it was because he was involved. I eventually stopped dealing with him when he became physically abusive. Then, I dropped out of school and moved to Hawaii to get away from him and the trauma. I still owe the WOU over $10k because of it.
The rest of the men involved in that incident have crossed paths with me a few times, some more frequently than others. One is the uncle of my cousin’s child, so our encounters became a necessary evil. I always spoke to him, waved or hugged hello and good-bye. Nobody would ever know how much it pained me. Or how I spiraled into episodes of depression after each meeting. And surely nobody would believe he was my rapist. I didn’t even believe it. It wasn’t until I sought therapy 3 years ago that anyone told me that I was raped. That same therapist diagnosed me with PTSD.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I knew I was violated. I knew I felt icky about it, but I never called it rape. I told close friends about it and they expressed their anger over me feeling depressed and suicidal as a result of the trauma, but still it wasn’t identified as rape. I mean, you don’t continue to associate with your rapists, do you? And it’s not like I ever reported it. It’s not like I COULD ever report it. Who would believe me? Much easier to believe one girl is a hoe than it is to believe a handful of men raped her. And did I really want to be responsible for ruining the lives of those young Black men? So many factors played into me spending the last 13 years pretending like nothing happened, my life wasn’t ruined by it, and everything was just fine.
Knowing this, knowing my truth, I’m triggered by stories like Nate Parker’s. I admit my immediate reaction was to dismiss it as hearsay, then as something that is forgivable. But then I heard and read more, and let it stew and saw the similarities to my own experience. Drunken college students having sex. Drunken college girls not giving consent. Drunken college boys not confirming consent. Regretful morning afters that are worse than any you can imagine and seem to never end.
It’s easy to excuse Nate and his buddy for their “mistake.” How were two young, sexually driven men to know that a girl one of them had slept with before didn’t want to have sex with them while she was drunk? It’s not like they snatched her off the street, ripped her clothes off and violently attacked her. But then again, it’s not like that’s how most rapes look. Most rapes are not graphically violent. Most rapes are not committed by strangers. Most rapes are not appalling to the public. Most rapes are committed by someone you know. Most rapes go unseen and unheard. Most rapes go unreported.
We have this romanticized vision of rape. That it’s some unfathomable evil and to participate it in, you must be an unfathomably evil person. To be a victim of it you must be some angelic little girl. It’s that idea of the stark contrast of good and evil that keeps us from acknowledging most cases for what they are. Rape is always the lack of consent leading to a sexual act. The absence of a “yes.” The presence of a “no” whether explicit or implicit by omission of that “yes.”
I know many view my (first) rape experience as just a hoe getting ran. Those exact words have been used. But that “hoe” never gave consent to “get ran.” That “hoe” doesn’t even remember any of it. That “hoe” was an 18 year old girl whose second sexual experience was also the worst experience of her entire life. That “hoe” still spends quiet moments contemplating whether the years of her life after were (are) worth living. That “hoe” will always have a part of her feel like she died that night and everything that came after is only by luck or the lack of courage to run the blade deep enough to break the skin. I doubt that the homies who ignored consent for a community nut ever gave that night a second thought.
Reading Nate Parker’s response to his experience first made me think, “Well, at least he acknowledges it happened.” But what’s missing from his words is the same understanding that was missing when he decided to tag his buddy in to have sex with a drunken girl. In his reflection he makes it about him. About his trauma, the trial, the embarrassment, the shame with it resurfacing. What he does not do is make it about the girl. It’s just not about him. It was never about him or what he felt or wanted or thought. It’s about the girl who never gave consent. No matter how many times she gave consent before, the fact remains that she did not or could not give it that night.
DRUNK PEOPLE CANNOT GIVE CONSENT.
If they are too drunk to drive, they are too drunk to give consent. The reason drunk driving is illegal is because alcohol impairs your judgement, dulls your senses and reactions. Driving drunk would put you and others in harm’s way. Why then, do we not apply the same to our bodies? We don’t trust you to stop at a red light drunk, but we trust you to have safe sexual encounters.
And I know this sounds extreme. Drunk sex is often liberating, your inhibitions are lowered and you can experience more. But is any of that worth the risk of violating the other party? Whether they are a stranger you picked up at the club or your partner who lives with you. People are more concerned with being exempt from committing rape than they are with making sure they never violate the other person in such a way. Wouldn’t you rather play it safe? If you go out with a girl and she gets drunk, just tuck her in and holler at her when she’s sober.
It sounds weird. It sounds like anything but fun and “natural.” However, we have NEVER lived in a world where consent is taught and valued and understood. It’s going to sound weird. In a world where women are largely viewed as objects for men’s consumption, expecting men to keep their hands off of drunk women sounds extremely weird. Aren’t you supposed to get a girl a little something to drink for her to “loosen up” enough to give you what you want (and surely what she must want too)? Why is taking turns with other men using a female body as a lifeless blow up doll a problem when well, she didn’t say no? Why would she say no? She knows those men, she wore that dress, and she had like five AMFs. Clearly this is where she wanted her night to end. With a variety of random penises aimed at her. It’s every girl’s dream. And if it’s not, well then something must be wrong with her. Women live to be controlled by men. It’s in the bible.
We really have a mess to deal with when it comes to rape culture. Many people out there have probably stood on the wrong side of a rape case without even a second thought. It’s what’s “normal” and encouraged. Nobody is teaching our children about consent. Somehow that doesn’t make it into safe sex conversations but every 13 year old knows how to put a condom on a banana. A little more education on consent and the control of one’s own body could have prevented Nate Parker from violating that girl with his friend for fun. Then again, maybe he is just evil and disgusting.
And that brings me to this. We cannot support rapists. We cannot turn a blind eye to rape charges brought against our faves in hopes that they just didn’t know or that they grew. Because no amount of ignorance or learning will take back what happened. It won’t reverse the trauma. It won’t cure the victims’ PTSD. It won’t raise those who took their own lives from the dead. It also won’t stop it from happening again. The more rapists we publically forgive, the more rapists we create. There are young people out there watching how we handle this, how we handled Cosby, how we handled R. Kelly. And they know through our actions and words that if they decided to have nonconsensual sex (better known as rape) with someone, their lives will go on, they will be adored, nobody will care. But their victims will forever bear the scars.
In the 13 years since my experience I have forgiven the men involved. I understand they were also young and drunk and using impaired judgement. I understand they do not see what they did as rape. I understand that harboring anger toward them takes too much energy from me. But no matter how much I’ve forgiven them, that night shaped me. That night steals away bits and pieces of the life I never got a chance to live. It is always with me. It is always painful. It will never go away. For victims whose rapists happen to be famous, everything is amplified. They receive a message from the masses that their famous rapist is more important than their peace. We tell them that we don’t believe them. Or worse, we do believe them but we just don’t care. Get over it because the rapist clearly did. What did you expect; it’s your own fault. Now hush and let me consume this problematic piece of art.
Moving on, I’ll be the first to say I was more than thrilled when I heard Nate Parker was making Birth of a Nation. I used to joke and say I wanted triplets I’d name Nat, Demark and Toussaint after the leaders of slave rebellions. I know the Nat Turner story well, but still looked forward to seeing it on the screen. But no. I cannot spend my money on something that supports the success of a rapist. I cannot let some unknown girl see me reward a rapist while she struggles to get over her trauma. I cannot show boys that they can still have my support even if they rape someone. I just can’t. The movie is art and that art in particular I believe would fill my soul with the revolutionary spirit it yearns for. But I will have to pass on seeing it in theaters when it comes out. I may find a way to watch it for free, but the more I read his words, the harder it is for me to even look at Nate Parker’s face.
I don’t want to play any part in the pain of rape victims. This does not just affect the one girl he violated that night (Since starting this piece, I read that she took her own life a few years ago). It affects all of us victims. Every story I hear about rape brings my own experience to the forefront of my mind. I grieve again every time I hear a similar tale. I don’t want to be a part of this culture that allows these horrific things to happen and go unpunished. These rapists need to be held accountable. Even if the (in)justice system does nothing, we can send a clear message that we do not support this. We have plenty of opportunities to do so. I just wonder when we will seriously take a stand.
It is unfortunate that it may be a Black man who we finally decide to take a stand against because too often the actions of one speak for all of us. Persecuting him could send racist America the message that we accept that we’re violent rapists inherently. But I care less about what racist people think about Black folks than I do about my son becoming a rapist or my daughter being raped. Taking a stand could very well decrease the chances of that ever happening.
I started writing this to process my own feelings which is something I have to constantly do in regard to the sexual abuse I’ve experienced in my life. But what I want to end with is this: I will not tell you to imagine if that girl was someone you love. I will not hypothesize a situation where you would experience that pain. I will simply say that millions upon millions of people suffer from the trauma of sexual abuse. Do you want to contribute to that trauma in any way? Or do you want to take a stand and possibly keep millions of others from experiencing that trauma? Hold people accountable and show up when victims need support. Otherwise, you continue to uphold rape culture and you’re a huge part of the problem.