In 2012 I was raped.
Until a few months ago, I had only ever told three people. I wrote the draft of a blog post about it a few years ago, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. I think part of the reason it was so hard for me to talk about was because I had never heard stories like mine. I had heard very little about men as victims. I had heard nothing at all about the uniqueness of same-sex assault. I’m no stranger to vulnerable self-disclosure, as many of you will know from reading past blog posts. This, however, was a line I have never felt ready to cross until now. Just as never hearing stories like mine was a reason I couldn’t share it in the past, it is the primary reason I feel compelled to do so now. Maybe we all benefit from the visibility of stories that we don’t normally hear. So, here goes!
I will not go into excessive detail about the assault. However, there are a few graphic details I have included intentionally because they are important and unique to a same-sex assault.
Note: I think this is important to understand, if you are not already aware. A “top” is a sexual term referring to the one who penetrates during sex and a “bottom” is the one who receives. Yeah, that’s graphic, but it’s relevant for understanding a unique aspect of same-sex assault. Many men who have sex with men are only/mostly tops or only/mostly bottoms, while others may prefer both, which is known as being versatile. Prior to my assault I had only ever been a top. That is important to the story.
Note: I often prefer to call my attack an assault rather than a rape, for reasons that will become clear later in the post. It was, to be clear, an incident of rape, though.
I was at a bar with some friends and had been drinking. As we were getting ready to leave for the night, my friends’ ride showed up and we said our goodbyes. I had driven to the bar, but decided I should not drive home. So, I called an Uber and went to quickly get something out of my car before it arrived to take me home. In the parking lot next to my car a very tall, large man approached me. His face is still a blur in my mind. He tried to convince me to go to his motel room, which was within walking distance. I refused. He asked where my friends were, and I told him that they had just left. Then he grabbed me forcefully and began to rub his hands and body all over mine, continuing to ask me to go back to his room. I immediately wished I hadn’t told him my friends were already gone.
He started to become very angry that I wouldn’t agree to go to his room. He then ripped my shorts down aggressively, popping off the top button. He shoved his finger inside me and with his words tried to convince me that I’d like it if I just relaxed. In a dark parking lot behind the building I stood there with my back to him, while his right hand was inside me and his left grabbed my arm in what would become finger-shaped bruises.
I never hit him or pushed him. I could tell by his much larger size, his temper, and the bruises he was creating on my arm that he could and would easily overpower me. Instead I used my words. I begged. I pleaded. I cried. When he shoved his penis inside, I shouted out involuntarily in pain. It was the most pain I had ever experienced. I begged him to stop. I told him I had never bottomed. Eventually I stopped talking. As I was bent over I looked around the parking lot desperately for someone who could help. Before it was over I did see someone walk by. But I didn’t say anything. They were too far away. He’d have a chance to react to my cry for help much more quickly than they could have gotten to me. I was scared. It was probably only a few seconds that I could see that person walk by, but it felt like a lifetime. He pulled out and turned me around aggressively so he could finish on my face. I would later have to wash him out of my hair the next day. He said something like, “I told you you’d like it,” and then walked away. I never got in my Uber. I crawled into the backseat of my Jeep and laid in a fetal position in silence. I couldn’t cry anymore. So, I was just silent. It felt like he was still inside me. I was bleeding. I would bleed for several more days. I stayed there all night, and drove myself home when the sun came up. Due to a combination of being intoxicated, it being dark, and him being behind me the whole time, I couldn’t picture his face. I kept trying in my mind, but I couldn’t. That fact would haunt me for a very long time to come. He could be anyone. What if I was seeing him around town and didn’t know it? He would know me. Would he see me and be proud of himself? Would he try it again? I avoided all gay clubs and many public places in general for a very long time after that.
The First Person I Told
At the time of the assault I was in a relationship with someone I loved very much. This incident destroyed us. I still do and always will love him, but we were never able to overcome this. From my perspective, his response was the exact text-book response of what not to do. In retrospect, however, I now have much more understanding and empathy for his experience. He was the first person I told. And, in part, the reason it was a long time before I ever told anyone else.
After I was assaulted, I was not interested in having sex. From my boyfriend’s perspective, I was suddenly never in the mood to be intimate and noticeably resistant to our normal level of affection. He was clearly getting frustrated. One night we were in bed and he asked me what was wrong. This time he wasn’t frustrated. He was genuine. He was concerned. We had recently gone through a bit of a rough patch, and — unknowingly to me — he had been blaming himself, thinking he was the reason I had become distant. His sincerity touched me. I knew it was time to tell him what had happened. It was one of those conversations that happen quietly in the middle of the night. It was completely dark. We were lying next to each other, but could not see anything. I looked straight up at the dark ceiling as I felt him at my side. I think I needed the cover of the darkness and the comfort of his touch to finally feel like I could say the words out loud.
The words. Little did I know how important the choice of words would be. I hadn’t talked about any of this out loud yet. As I started to do so for the first time, I noticed myself intentionally avoiding the word “rape.” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I don’t know why, but that word was terrifying to me. I tried to convey to him what had happened without that word. I didn’t do a very good job.
I fumbled through my explanation with words like “forceful” and “told him not to” and “had been drinking.” His first interpretation was that I had cheated on him. He immediately erupted in rage. He was hurt and angry that not only had I cheated on him, but that for weeks he had been blaming himself for the state of our relationship.
I tried to calm him down and get his attention long enough to try to explain again. I made it worse. In my second attempt I revealed that I had been the bottom in this incident. That happened to be a big issue for us, because I had never been able to bottom for him. I won’t go into detail, but basically it had just been too painful for me when we had tried in the past. So, at this point he now believes (1) I’ve cheated on him, (2) He’s been carrying the weight of blaming himself for my distance in the relationship, and (3) I let another guy do something very intimate that I had refused to do with him.
Only all these years later can I understand and articulate each of those points and how they must have made him feel. At the time, though, I was just someone who was recovering from a horrific act of violence and trying to find the words to describe it for the first time to the one person I loved and trusted most. His emotional response of anger and hurt was so immediate and so loud, that I didn’t know how to process it. I was the victim here. Why was he attacking me?
I tried a third time to explain. This time I emphasized much more intentionally how non-consensual it was. I did not want this to happen. I told the guy not to do it. I told him to stop. He forced me. I was crying as it happened. I was bleeding after it happened. The pain lasted several days. As clearly as possible, I articulated everything I could think of to explain to him this was a horrible, unwanted thing that happened to me, and it was definitely against my will.
He wasn’t buying it. He continued to argue. Finally, I just yelled out that I was raped. The “R” word. I really didn’t think I would have to use it. I tried so hard to describe it without saying it. I didn’t know how to say it. But suddenly it just burst out of me.
His response, in a tone of disbelief and disgust: “Raped? You’re not a girl! Why didn’t you push him off?”
That’s the line. The line I would never be able to get out of my head. The line that I unexpectedly found myself bringing up in an argument with him two years later after I thought I was over it. The line I can’t ever seem to get over. Part of my internal struggle before telling him had been with that same idea. That it was somehow my fault. I should have fought him harder. I should have been more of a real man. To then hear my boyfriend say that exact thing to me, just completely broke me.
I didn’t respond. I got out of bed without saying anything and locked myself in the bathroom. He immediately realized how serious it was, and I think regretted his choice of words. We both ended up spending the night sleeping on the floor with a closed door in between us. He was in the hallway; I was in the bathroom. He apologized and attempted to comfort me, but I just couldn’t process everything I was feeling. The physical and emotional trauma of the rape. The self-blame. The blame from him. It was all too much. So, I just stayed on the floor.
He asked why I didn’t just call it rape from the beginning, so he could have understood what I meant. I didn’t know. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t used that word either, but I was also mad at him for thinking I had even done that part wrong. Like telling him the wrong way was just another thing that was my fault. From my perspective, I had been holding this pain inside for so long and really needed this person who I loved and trusted to have a perfect response. I needed him to understand all the things I was saying and all the things I didn’t know how to say. I understand now that I needed more than what he could have possibly given. From what I think would be his perspective, he had quite the emotional journey that night as well. I couldn’t understand or forgive his response for a very long time, but I do now. We both understand each other’s perspectives much better now and (in part because of what we’ve been through) will always love each other as family. And yet I can still never seem to forget that haunting line about not being a girl. Of course rape is horrific when it happens to anyone, but the thought that it doesn’t or can’t happen to men is another unique layer. The thought that I wasn’t “man enough” to stop it never fully goes away. The lesson I took away that night was that men can’t be victims. I shouldn’t have been drinking. I shouldn’t have taken an Uber home by myself. I should have been stronger. I should have fought harder. And even if the logical, social justice parts of my brain argued otherwise, what I internalized was: “Never talk about this again.”
And I didn’t for a very long time. Eventually, I was drinking with one of my best friends and I just said it. Kind of out of the blue. I’m not sure why, except that I guess I just needed someone to know. He said, “Oh shit” and then we stared at each other in silence for a long time. He didn’t know how to respond, so we just left it at that. Several months later I told another of my closest friends who said, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. What can I do to help?” I don’t think I needed him to actually do anything to help other than listen, but I think that response was pretty perfect. I don’t know that any of us knows how to respond when someone shares something like that. Unfortunately, I’ve been on the other side of that conversation as well, and I’m not sure if I’ve always handled it the best way or not. Each time I’ve tried to respond as best as I could, keeping in mind what it had felt like to be in that person’s shoes when the roles were reversed.
In my current nonprofit job I teach a violence prevention strategy that multiple research studies have shown leads to significant reductions in power-based personal violence, like sexual assault. The work is meaningful. It’s challenging. And I believe in it. It has also caused me to confront my feelings with this experience in more reflective ways than I had previously allowed myself to do. I feel enough distance has passed since my assault that I can finally talk about it in a way that feels important to me. I’ve processed my shit more. In that process, though, I’ve learned that part of what made it so hard for me was the isolation of never hearing of a male, same-sex assault. I don’t know what, if anything, having heard stories like that would have actually done for my own healing journey, but I do think it would have made me feel less alone. When I finally shared with the first person, and it didn’t go well, I felt even more isolated.
Years later, I just want to put it out there. It happened. It was hard. I’m okay now. I feel deeply connected to the importance of the work I do and the hope for a better world. For those who’ve intersected with these types of violence in your own life, I am sorry. All of us probably know someone who has been impacted. So, the last thing I’ll leave you with is my two cents if you find yourself in a conversation where someone discloses something like this to you. Pause. The knee-jerk emotional response isn’t always helpful for them and probably isn’t what you actually intend to communicate to them either. Take a beat. Thank them for sharing. Ask them what they need. Believe them. Don’t question them, play devil’s advocate, or ask too many follow-up questions. There’s time for that later, if necessary, but at first just show compassion. The other thing I’d ask is that you share stories of male victimization and LGBTQ trauma. Visibility matters.
Thank you for letting me share. I have a lot of feelings right now. I’m slightly terrified I will regret posting this. It is not a decision I’ve made lightly, though. This draft has literally been saved in my blog account for years. And now I’m releasing it.
I’m releasing a lot of things.
[Photo source: http://www.nomore.org]