In the middle of writing this article, “me too’s” have flooded my timeline, my marrow, my lungs. They’re everywhere. People’s’ stories, memories, testaments of sexual assault and harassment echoing outwards and inwards, reaching, running, clawing, yelling, whispering…an ever expanding everywhere. The sadness and the anger burn so hot.
I thought to myself – fuck the question of how do we find pleasure and eroticism after trauma – how do we even find breath after these experiences?
I had never had sex before I was raped. I had never even kissed anyone. I told him that. He told me it had to happen sometime.
Afterwards, when I began to try and re/connect with my sexuality, my eroticism, my body, there was no developed erotic place for me to go back to, to aspire to, to fight for, to mourn over. Other than teenage masturbation experiences, that assault was my only frame of reference for those things for a very long time.
I hated that fact. I feared that fact. It made me question all of my desires, all of my impulses, all of my fantasies. I wondered if any of them were even mine – or if they were simply a result of the trauma. I felt haunted. I felt broken/in to – hacked.
If I wanted someone to tie me up in bed, call me names, say certain things to me– Was I just reliving trauma? If I wanted to be dominant – Was I simply trying to reclaim power? These questions and doubts flooded my every desire.
I wanted to know. If this hadn’t happened to me, what would I have wanted? What would I have yearned for? How would I have sought out pleasure? I didn’t know what was me or what was a response to trauma.
I had to fight really hard to challenge my notion of some unsullied, organically- grown, alternate universe version of my sexuality. I had to shed those ideas in order to begin tending to my erotic self.
I’m queer. I told him I wasn’t attracted to men. He told it had to happen sometime-
I had never acted on my queer (or any) desires at that point, but I knew I had them, but afterwards they started feeling murky – like everything else. One day I asked my therapist what had been swirling in my head – What if I want to be with women because of him? She answered – so what if you do? Does it make you want to be with women any less? If you knew with 100 percent certainty that your desire for women was an effect of your assault, would the desire magically disappear?
I had to start treating my desires as valid and valuable and mine.
I also had to shed the illusion of this sacred vacuum where eroticism grows. This massive echo chamber of “me toos” has reiterated how many of us don’t have that option. There have been so many people in the communities I’m a part of -women, queer folk, femme folk, POC folk – that have shared these experiences with sexual violence of all kinds. How many of us have to learn how to value and cherish and find pleasure in our bodies (whatever that looks like) after, during, and amidst trauma.
And even outside of these explicit experiences of sexual violence, what is the landscape that we learn about bodies and pleasure and desire? How is this affected by our identities? Who in our society is taught that their pleasure matters? Their desire matters? Matters so much that it’s considered a natural, inevitable, fundamental force/fact of nature? Grab her by the pussy. It’s just locker room talk. It’s how we’re wired. It’s hormonal. Sow your oats. Have fun, just don’t get nobody pregnant- they’ll try and trap you.
Who gets taught that they have to be hyper-aware of all of their behaviors and actions in order to have a chance at keeping themselves safe from other people’s desire? Why are you wearing that? Cross your legs. You need to get married. Put some pants on there are menfolk in the house. Stop being so thirsty. You’re not leaving this house looking like that. Stop switching when you walk. He teases you because he likes you, just be nicer to him. What did you expect? Stop being rude, give your uncle a kiss.
Who has been taught to feel entitled to their desire? their pleasure? their body? Who doesn’t even have the voice or words to disclose trauma, because it wasn’t supposed to happen to them.
These frameworks, these things we say. We have to pay more attention. We eat these things. We eat these things whole. After my rape, I thought over and over, I should have known. What did I expect?
And I had to fight not just this guilt and shame from the assault, but I had to also unravel so much more messaging I had internalized about my body’s entitlement to safety. Entitlement to pleasure, love, caring, desire came afterwards. First I had to convince myself that my body is mine. My body is mine. My body is mine. My lines, my pinks, my openings, my wets, my smooth, my rough. Mine.
My body is not just a place that leaves me open to harm and hurt. My body is not just a soft place to house other people’s desires. There are so many other experiences it allows and gifts me access to. . Building on and protecting these truths is so critical in the fight for self.
[Feature Image: Brown-skinned individual with black curly adorned with flowers smiles into the camera and in the next frame holds her hand to her face. Flickr.com/chandlerchristian]