Posts tagged essay
Aimless Love

When I stay in my house in far Southeast I've started taking a new bus in the mornings. The mornings when I don't wake up next to my love and the commute is already long, the buses crowded and full of frustrated and damp commuters. Everyone sitting on one another and crowding each other's space bubbles, personal boundaries already compacted to fit the special etiquette of public transit where strangers touch legs in tight seats but don't talk or make eye contact.

The bus that makes the most sense is the one a couple blocks from my front door that drops me off right in front of work. But each bus has a personality, a genre of people who inhabit it and this bus is grumpy and miserable. No one says good morning or offers a seat to people struggling or elderly. No one assists with arms full of too many bags or even says I'm sorry for stepped on toes. I imagine this bus is what a big city like New York feels like. Crowded and yet so lonely, no human connection at all. The empath in me is exhausted before the day even starts to touch arms with these folks. It's too much, too cruel, too cold.

The route also goes by my former house, the site of which still saddens me, forces me to remember my dog friend the literal love of my life who is just suddenly no part of my life at all. Break-ups are hard enough but breaking all ties with a roommate who used to be a pal never occurred to me.  I never thought to keep my heart to myself when it came to the dog we were co-parenting. So there's a pit bull shaped scar at the center of me that I don't know how to heal. A hurt I can't fix and is too awkward for most anyone to talk about.

“Just be friends with S find a way to figure out your differences for the dog.” As if it's that easy. As if I can forget the harsh words. The lies. The abusive partner allowed to move in. The passive aggressive hatred and jealousy he allowed them to direct towards me. That partner’s threats of violence. The constant substance abuse.  The once friend's ability to forget all I did for him and our dog friend, to push me towards possible houseless all because I asked if our dog friend had been fed that day.

As if I can forget or forgive the unnecessary cruelty of yet another so-called friend choosing a partner and a drug (alcohol and the high of co-dependence in this case) over our friendship. I can't forget and I can't make due with continuing to be mistreated in the name of occasionally seeing my dog friend, an animal I loved so deeply she's thanked in the inscription of my book. So I've ripped off the band aid and moved on, no more abusive relationships no matter what I’ve promised myself.

Me modeling in one of those lovely downtown buildings once upon a time.

Me modeling in one of those lovely downtown buildings once upon a time.

So I found a new bus, one where the people are kinder. They smile and follow the rules of we're-all-in-this-smelly-form-of-public-transit-together. It’s also a bus that skirts that part of town completely, the part with so many strange hurtful memories. Instead it drops me in the heart of downtown Portland. There tall buildings are topped with gargoyles and other decorative stone frippery. Where buses and trains and streetcars all meet and share crowded roads with cars and pedestrians. The smell of petrichor wafting off the bricks. Pigeons argue. Pan handlers sell Street Roots. Stores advertise sales and display oddly dressed mannequins.

And the people. All the beards and flannel and North Face jackets. The hippy lady with the orange leg warmers. The gentleman in shiny shoes and equally shiny hair. The woman in fishnets and leopard print coat, seemingly immune to the cold. The man living on the streets, face grizzled by time and weather who has a life likely infinitely more difficult than my own who smiles and says good morning, knocking me out of my selfish internal whinging about jobs and roommates. And I carry that smile on to a woman across the next street who seems lost and saddened by similar thoughts. She smiles back and seems a little lighter.

All these odd and wonderful strangers going about their day. So many of them looking like extras cast for a movie set in the Pacific Northwest (did I mention the beards and flannel?) And I'm reminded why I stay in this city even though it's difficult. Though I constantly feel on the verge of being priced out of housing or frustrated into quitting the newest in a long line of dead end jobs. I stay because this is the closest to feeling at home I've ever had. And for that morning reminder, those fleeting smiles, that pay forward momentary sweetness that creates  the feeling of we are none of us alone, for that I'll walk 20 minutes to work and take in the city that I love. It's a frustrated love but what love isn't.

So you want to get with* an assault survivor?

*And by “get with” I mean consensually date or have sex with. 

Reposting this essay from my old blog because something tells me it will only continue to become more of an issue in the upcoming years. I use hetero-normative pronouns for ease of story telling, knowing that assault can happen to anyone/anyone can be on either side of this healing process.

Rape changes a lot of things.

Sex gets complicated. Walking home in the dark gets complicated. People who remind you of the person who assaulted you get complicated. But I personally refuse to let that moment of ugliness win. I think of putting distance between me and the night I was raped as a challenge and adventure, rather than the end of the world.

Then some new thing comes along that reminds me that being a rape survivor will always be a part of me. A teeny tiny part, but a part nonetheless. After going on a slew of first dates recently I realized dating was going to be another thing that gets complicated.

There are two things I need to get out of the way with guys up front to see if it’s worth our time to have a second drink. Is he into rope? And how does he react to a casual mention of the other r-word? I know better than to torment myself with a fella who can’t handle either.

Since I tell my assault story a lot usually I say something about having been in a story telling show or having recently finished writing something.

“Oh, what was it about?” The good ones will say.

“I’m so sorry.” The keepers will say when I tell them, when I say the big scary words that will make a lesser man run in the other direction…“I was raped.”

Some will say, “Wow” or “gee” or just reach across the table and touch my hand while making an apologetic face. Those are also acceptable.

The ones that I want nothing to do with will say, “That happened to my sister once” or “not all guys are like that.” That’s when I ask for the check and go home. Even if they aren’t purposefully douches those guys aren’t ready to deal with the reality of dating and/or sleeping with a survivor in any meaningful way.

Casual sex is usually pretty do-able with some negotiation and discussion of the things that are trigger to avoid. Fuck buddies will gladly dance around those land mines in order to get laid on occasion.  And I've found it empowering at times to get my  brain casually fucked out during the healing process but your mileage my vary.

It’s the friends and longer term dating partners that get complicated. At first it will be great and I’ll think “yay, this is working I don’t have to have a hard talk about consent and rape with this person.” Then the universe reads my mind and shit gets weird.

It happens again and again. I’ll meet a person and we get along swimmingly, we’ll flirt, and maybe even casually sleep together or engage in kinky play. Then one day not to long after I can feel a shift in the universe. I’ll notice they’ve liked things on my Fetlife profile or visited my website. Suddenly the flirtation is no longer there, the hugs get briefer, and the conversations more awkward. And I know...they’ve read about my rape. Shit just got weird.

Sleeping with a rape survivor is scary. I understand. Especially one that refuses to shut up. So I started asking these interesting men that seemed to be pulling away for no other good reason what was going on and I was right. My being vocal on the subject makes things a little weird for my well meaning sexy friends.

I understand, but hot guys of the world, we can still rub yummy parts on one another if you’re into it. Consent is hot and I’ll gladly show you why. So don’t pull away or disappear.  A whole ton of other things, glorious delicious body rocking things have also happened to me. Let’s focus on that stuff!

I’ve already before about what folks can do to support a rape survivor but what can a fella do to make sex and dating less weird when pursuing a person who has been assaulted?

1. Ask before you touch. Not every time but the first couple of times is not only nice but required. There are few things sexier than a guy who grabs the band of my underwear, looks up with eyes full of trouble and lust to ask, “Can I take these off?” It establishes that consent is a thing he understands and that he will ask when in doubt instead of barreling forward. I will go so much farther with a person who asks because I don’t have to stay on alert and worry about him. He gets it, he’s trust worthy.

2. It’s just as important to not withhold sex as it is to not force it. Of course it’s okay to not be in the mood but if you’re not having sex because you think it’s what she needs, that’s not kosher. Rape makes intimacy difficult to trust, and has a tendency to make survivors feel alienated from their bodies. So if she says “fuck me” then by golly fuck her! Don’t do any of this “but if I fuck her I’ll remind her of her rapist and then…” If you can’t trust her enthusiastic fuck yeah consent then take your squishy bits and go home.

3. Remember eventually something will go wrong and that’s okay. It’s just the way things go, no matter how careful you are a boundary will get crossed slightly or someone will get a bit hurt. That’s no reason to avoid whatever activity because it’s kinda extreme or tangentially related to the person’s assault. Tiny mistakes are a learning experience and not in the same neighborhood as a blatant consent violation. So go forth and do all the things both of you are into and communicate like crazy when something weird happens.

4. Rough sex is not equal to rape. Just as being bound is not equal to being held down against your will. When those things were used against me as a form of physical violence it was scary. What makes BDSM hot is the part where I beg you for those things. So there is no reason to tiptoe around stuff if I asked for it, okay?

5. Don’t be afraid to ask her on a date/to play. Just because you may know this intimate thing about her past isn’t a reason to avoid her like a broken toy. If you’re interested, go for it. Survivors already worry about what people think about them so don’t treat her like she’s dirty or fragile.

6. Relax. It’s not a big deal unless one of you makes a big deal out of it. Don’t force her to talk about it. Asking questions to understand is perfectly okay. But if she wants to go into it, let her talk about it on her own terms. And for the love of everything don’t try to be her therapist, she needs to recover from the experience with a professional not her special man friend.

7. Trust her. Your instinct might be that since she hung out with a person who ended up violating her consent that she has shitty taste or instincts. You should protect her from life and especially from new partners, right? Nope! The fucked up thing about psychopaths is that they are super charming right up until they mess up your world, so it wasn’t her lack of instincts it was his being a icky mother fucker that led to the rape.

8. There will be hard days. If she’s ready to be shopping for sex partners/in a relationship then 99% of the time things will be fine. Every once in a while something will come out of nowhere and trigger her into a tiny ball of tears or fury. You can’t fix anything, just stick around and hold her or listen, this too shall pass.  If she’s emotional and having a rough time more like 99% of the time, she has work to do before she’s ready for you. Just stick around until the timing is right or transition into being people who don't rub genitals together.  Friends are something every survivor needs more of, after all she probably lost most of her old "friends" when she outed the asshole who assaulted her because they "didn't want to chose sides." 

9. But she reported her rapists, what’s to stop her from reporting me? Don’t rape her!

Want to know a secret? These are things you should be doing with anyone you’re dating/sleeping with. It’s so easy!