ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
First love whose threats lit up phones for years. First love’s friends who make it impossible to walk on campus at night. Professor who can only finish letter of recommendation after I return to his house. Friend who texts after blacked out night to joke can’t take it back. Older mentor who gets mad when I say his wife’s name. Older mentor who gets mad when I get married. Older mentor who gets mad when I don’t ask for more help. Man who believes his own persecution sanctions him to. Man who locks eyes with me on subway platform as he strokes. Hand that drops a Rohypnol into celebratory drink that first month in Manhattan. Construction workers who whistle as I walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood doubled over in the sunlight. Emergency room doctor who says kits are expensive. Emergency room doctor who says if I didn’t drink so much, none of this would. Stranger who blocks the hostel door in Jerusalem and tells me to unpin my hair, because he wants to see what it looks like, and, because it doesn’t even occur to me to say no, I do.
I type and delete the words a dozen times: “Me Too.” I don’t know if this is something I get to say.
The first post I saw said this: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
All the women.
I am a woman, but the first time I was raped was as a man.
I know I’m not supposed to think about it like this. There is an unspoken pressure for trans people to have always known, to have always been trans. But it doesn’t feel like that for me. Once, I was a boy, and then a man, and then a girl. Maybe, in part, this is her fault.
The first time I see someone post “Me too,” it is about women and men, and I feel like I am on the wrong side of a story that shouldn’t belong to me.
The first time I was raped was by my girlfriend. And the second. And the fifth. And the fiftieth. The first time I was raped was as a fifteen-year-old boy.
To erase that boy is to erase an unspoken history. Is to say men get raped, too, and are denied the ability to talk about it, but then deny I ever was one.
I have typed her name and deleted it hundreds of times.
My best friend and I met by hooking up with each other. Two years later, she tells me she knew after having sex with me that I was trans, even before I did. I can’t help but wonder if my rapist knew as well.
There is a process of washing off each memory, like a skipping stone, before handing it to my therapist to turn over and over in her palms. I say assaulted, say blunt object, say trauma, say homophobic. Don’t say raped, or with, or metal wrench, or bled for weeks, or how she whispered faggot into my ear, or how this was her response when I came out as bi.
Six years after her, I am in a boy’s room, we are naked and kissing, and he asks me what I want to do. I sob into his arms for an hour, then leave.
I have never been assaulted by a man.
But I have a panic attack any time I try to be intimate with someone else with a penis. I don’t know if this is because I know what they could do, or because I know what she did, or because I remember what she called me that night.
The last sentence contains a lie. I don’t remember if it was night. My therapist says this is a symptom of my trauma.
Some days, the idea of sex with anyone terrifies me. I don’t know if this is also a symptom of my trauma. I type a text to tell a friend I think I might be asexual, not always, but a lot, is there a word for that? I change my mind and delete it. Maybe this is another thing I don’t get to say.
Violence has always set the parameters of my identity. My gender, my sexuality, my disability, are all in some way a product of violence.
The first time I was catcalled, I was a boy mistaken for a girl. Beating me to a bloody pulp was his method of correcting the mistake. I don’t know whether I fear catcalling more now than then.
I type “Me too” and don’t delete it. I turn my head away and hit enter.
I spend the rest of the day watching my news feed fill with these posts, hundreds of them. From cis women, trans women, nonbinary folx, trans men. From people still in high school, and from a woman who is like a second parent to me.
A friend tells me, “I’ve always known the statistics, one-in-four women, but seeing this I don’t know if any of my friends haven’t been assaulted.” Neither of us talk about seeing each other’s posts, about our shared trauma.
There have been various critiques of the “Me too” posts, changes to their exclusionary language, questions of whether they are necessary at all. But for me, it gave me a sense of solidarity. It reminded me that so many people who understand this pain, this violence that has shaped me. As I read each post I felt braver, and a little less alone.
Her name was Dannielle.
The Morning Ever After
The morning after the mastectomy, the surgeon stood at the foot of my hospital bed and told me the incision was not draining. Radiation to my breast two years earlier, he said, made it difficult, now, for the wound to heal. “The body never forgets radiation,” he said. But I heard him say, “The body never forgets rape.”
Every morning, now, a morning after.
Last night he threatened to tie me
to the bed and force me to listen
to him read from his dream diary,
one of the worst tortures in the world
if one could allow oneself to forget all actual
tortures in the world. Have you ever met a man
who knew what it was like to be a woman
because there was this one time
he thought someone was following him
home? If not, I can introduce you.
This week my feed is blowing up
with fear of two things: the disease
that turns your body inside-out
and the men on the street who say
Hey beautiful what’s the matter
can’t take a compliment?
While the men calculate the odds
of catching an invisible virus, the women
risk going outside every single day,
dressed in their own permeable skin.
Not Screaming, but Resisting
A fellow nude/fetish model had introduced me to J., a tacit stamp of approval. I had posed for him several times in a studio for commercial projects when he asked me if I wanted to do a trade—a set of photos I wanted for my own portfolio for a set of photos he wanted for a personal project. We decided that instead of spending money on renting a studio, we’d just do the shoot at his apartment.
He offered me a glass of water and showed me prints from the series he was working on, featuring intimate close-up nudes of our mutual friend and a bunch of other models I knew. This was proof that, 1) he had women’s trust, or that 2) he was a chronic consent violator and would do this again.
“Oh, she’d kill me if she knew I showed you these pictures!” he exclaimed. And then he moved closer, breaking the unspoken barrier that exists between a nude model and a clothed photographer. He took his dick out and I did not say any words with my mouth, but my whole posture said “no.”
What happened next is kind of a blur, not because it was so extreme that my brain has blotted it out, but because it was unremarkably common. I remember the discomfort and disappointment of realizing, “Oh, he’s another one of those guys.” I remember that he tried to get his un-condomed dick inside me and I demurred and played coy and got him off quickly with my hand.
When I hear stories of people who yelled at would-be assaulters who crossed a line with them, said no clearly, and then got out of the situation, I do not feel comforted or empowered. I’m not impressed by righteous and good victims, white cis women who know their worth and will not tolerate the disrespect. I am a white cis woman, too, and I know that just as the ability to harass and assault people is connected to power dynamics, so is the ability to resist and reject harassment. In that situation with that photographer, and in many other experiences with both sex work clients and romantic partners, I’ve found ways to reduce potential harm and trauma. I can think of only a handful of times that I have outright said “no,” but I can think of many, many times that I’ve said “okay,” or offered a compromise that would hurt me less and get me out of a room faster.
There is a spectrum between a verbal “no” and a verbal “yes,” but consent violators and people who have their consent violated (to be clear, that’s a Venn Diagram with some overlap) see and interpret this spectrum differently. We must go deeper into this conversation about those gray areas. And as we do that, we must always believe survivors, and stop centering only the survivors who are white, cis, and have the social capital to name what happened to them.
Better Off for Knowing
I’d just quit my job the day he invited me to grab a drink. His girlfriend had just gotten off work. She was exhausted but he convinced her to join us. I’ve told myself this isn’t my story to write. I shouldn’t have even been there, should have known the invitation had strings attached. He wanted the three of us to have sex. He was persistent, aggressive. Bought us round after round of drinks. He insisted on driving us home, saying he’d drop me at my house.
He drove me to their house instead. I went upstairs to use the bathroom before calling an Uber. When I came downstairs, she was on the floor. He stood over her. She had tried to intercede. “Amy doesn’t want this,” she’d said. When we tried to leave, he followed us onto the sidewalk. I begged him to stop, to go inside. He didn’t stop until she was on the concrete. Didn’t stop until she stayed down.
When the police arrived and asked where he was, she told them she didn’t know. He’d left; she didn’t know where he’d gone. It wasn’t my story to tell. I rode with her in the ambulance, stayed with her as they took X-rays and checked for internal injuries. When I found out she hadn’t left him, my heart broke. I couldn’t sleep. I hardly ate. He told friends she had walked into a door.
Years later, she has extricated herself from their relationship. I see a call for survivors of assault to share their experiences. I post a few words about what I witnessed, the most I have dared to publicly share. I worry that I’m overstepping but she likes the post. I see that she has shared her own #metoo status.
I am grateful every day that she protected me from him that night. Grateful that she survived their relationship. But I am scared that he is still out there. I’m scared to live in a world where men feel entitled to women’s bodies. I understand the importance of knowing the toll that entitlement can take. I believe that I am smarter, stronger, better off for knowing.
Still, every day I wish to God that I didn’t.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change.
We received over four hundred submissions to our initial call and will not be accepting additional pieces at this time. We may reopen for submissions at a future date. We also must acknowledge that the submissions we received overwhelmingly came from white, heterosexual women. While we are actively assessing how we can do better in our next call for submissions, we also believe this points to systemic inequalities that need to be addressed: who has access to healthcare and to therapy, who has been taught to speak up and who has been taught to be silent.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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