The problem I had nearly the entire time I was struggling to define my rapist was that he didn’t have the right “vibe” for a rapist. Equally, I didn’t have the right vibe for a survivor. The whole thing was inverted, and I will tell you honestly, that’s how it went on for so long. I remember one night I was talking to a friend who had also dated him, saying I found his sex drive to be really difficult to manage. I didn’t get the impression he was having sex with me as much as he was having sex using my body. She laughed and said “he can definitely be a handful, but you don’t take shit” and that was the whole conversation. I guess I didn’t take shit, I am universally known for it. Years earlier I had extracted a dude from one of our parties for grabbing my breasts. He sheepishly said “sorry, I do that sometimes when I drink” and a screamed back in his face “If you know that, and you decide to drink anyways, then you choose to do it, or at the very least you decide that it’s worth the risk to me” and he didn’t come back for 2 years, and before he did, reached out to me to talk about all the ways he had improved his actions, as well as let me know he doesn’t drink anymore. Other men, when they got shitty with my friends, found themselves on the floor at bars, looking up at me, rabid, furious. I broke a nose in my early 20s for a hand in my pants. I exiled rapists with cold calculation. Threw beer at dudes who said creepy shit to women I hadn’t even met. I was a known feminist and agitator, who took no shit, and my boyfriend was raping me in my apartment, and I didn’t know what to do.
My first instinct was to try and handle it internally. If I could get him to stop, then I wouldn’t need to take further action. I tried to talk to him about including me more, or being less demanding. I tried to explain what was more my speed, or what wasn’t working for me. I suggested we take breaks from our sexual relationship to work on our communication. He always agreed and then the same thing again and again, he wants to fuck, so we are going to fuck, one way or another.
Watching a movie, he’s on top of me.
“I kind of want to watch this…”
He pauses it, continues to climb on me.
“I would rather we not on the sofa…”
He starts to guide me to my bed.
“We ate like 30 minutes ago I’m not feeling really sexy…”
“I don’t care what you look like. I like a full belly”
“I just don’t feel like it”
“Quick! It will be so quick”
Eventually I would realize without a strong, flat “NO” we are having this sex. And after trying the “NO” and it resulting in hours of emotional self-deprecation, or judgement of me, or questions, concerns, or a denial of the rest of the evening, because he isn’t feeling up to the rest of the movie now sulking, rather than enforce my “NO” I would allow myself to be argued down to “quick! it will be so quick!” Because 8 minutes of dry and shitty sex is better and easier than 3 hours of emotional release, or having him bail on our plans, or hurting his feelings, or explaining myself and we never do finish the fucking movie.
So there were dozens and dozens of those nights, where I said yes because it was easier and meant I got the night I wanted, and all it cost was a short burst of really shitty sex I didn’t want. It felt like a tax, for the date I wanted. And he collected it whenever the mood struck him. I would try to bring it up to other women I knew, to see if we could get to a place in our conversation where they would say what I was too afraid to, which was that I wasn’t having consentual sex and that was why is sucked and I dreaded it constantly. But instead I found out most of my friends were having shitty sex too and they laughed and I laughed and we though “oh my god men are so much work” and thats what it was. I felt like, this must be normal. I hadn’t been with many people and I didn’t know what it was like to be honest and all my friends seemed to be equally unsatisfied, so, I was like, I guess this is just what it is. One night, after we finished, I ran 3″ of water in the tub and sat in it with my hoodie still on and just soothed myself, because he liked “when I was dry” the best, so there was no foreplay, and I had felt like someone had been chafing me with sandpaper. I would get out of bed secretly after he was asleep and hold cold teabags to my genitals to try and calm the throbbing. One night I was bleeding so much I thought I had my period, so I got up to get a pad, relieved that at least either we would have some lubrication or he would be put off slightly. The next day when there was nothing, I realized the blood was from torn skin. I still believed this was just, my fault. He told me constantly my vagina was so small that it was a miracle we could have sex at all. The reality I now know is that my vagina was not freakishly small, it was not participating.
When I had given up on getting it to not happen, I figured at least I could try and build some fences. He wasn’t to come past if he was drunk, he was too much to handle those nights. He immediately found and exploited loopholes. There would be a party, I would say “I’d rather not go…” he would say “I won’t drink, not a drop. Come with me, please. It will be good for us” so I would go. Within 10 minutes of arriving he would disappear, and 30 minutes later return to me, wasted. I would go cold as ice, angry, but only we knew our deal. One night I just refused to acknowledge him once he got drunk, and had avoided him for about 2 hours, when he found me speaking to a friend outside. He pushed in front of the friend, interrupting the conversation and jammed his tongue into my mouth. I shoved him off, revolted and betrayed. “So cold!” Another friend jeered. He throws up his hands “My girlfriend, the ice queen” (he called me this often, with great enjoyment) laughter. My friend said “aww, Jenny, he loves you.” And it hung in the air like she had burped in my face. Oh does he? DOES HE? I started to hate being told how loved I was. Feeling the crowd on his side he leans to kiss me again, I say “no!” And move evasively. He immediately deflates “I can’t even kiss my own girlfriend” and sulks away. Several people tell me to go after him, that he’s inside talking about how much it hurts that I don’t show him affection, I am told to be nicer to him. He of course left out the part where he agreed to not drink, isn’t supposed to be around me when he is drunk, and all of our painstaking conversations about my boundaries. He drinks more, gets too drunk to bike home and is loaded into my car. I’ll have to get him into bed on the second floor of his building or mine. God save the Ice Queen.
When I tried to tell people he was hurting me, or I was unhappy they told me it was normal. When I tried to have or enforce boundaries with him I was told I was harsh or cruel or cold. He assaulted me and then sulked, and people told me to go find him—to go to him and make him feel better. I was losing my patience, and no one was letting me suffer anything. So I decided to convince him and everyone else that he and I were not meant to be, for other reasons. No one accepted that he, this lovesick puppy, all sweet with his long hair and big grin would hurt anyone, let alone the girl “he really loved” and as far as everyone else was concerned it was I who was being awful to him, cold, indifferent, unfair. I knew by the time his sexual pressure escalated to the point where he didn’t even bother to wait for me to be awake before he started having sex I didn’t want with my body, that no one was going to tell me that I was right to want out.
I was embarrassed to admit to anyone that I had let this get so bad. I felt I had led him on by not stopping it sooner, or by permitting him to coerce me. I felt like I had betrayed my feminism because I said yes when I wanted to say no. I thought people would rally behind him like they did with a drunken kiss, and say “but he loves you” and it would all be moot. I thought if I didn’t say it that it wasn’t happening and that if I could just get out of the relationship it would go away and that would be that. It took me a year to even say the word rape. Saying it felt like admitting I had failed. I felt like I had failed myself, failed people who saw me as a warrior, failed my friends who I had supported through much shadier and predatory encounters, by making my rapist breakfast the next day. And most of all I felt like a fraud, that my feminism was a lie, that I had talked a big game and done nothing, less than nothing, I had permitted and consented to this.
Most of all I thought “no one will believe it happened to you and that guy is still alive” and I was ashamed he was. I had a patch that said “kill your local rapist” and I made my rapist breakfast, I held him after he raped me while he cried and said he thought I would have enjoyed the “surprise.” Kill my local rapist? I loved mine. I tried to stay friends with him for a year. Go on bike rides with your local rapist. Hit the farmers market with your local rapist. Beach day with your local rapist! I took a seam ripper to the patch on my bag. And my mental health ran aground.
Looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self, that it wasn’t that I was inconsistent, it was that I was unequipped. It’s easy to imagine pulling the knife from my belt when the rapist is a faceless stranger in a parking lot. Much harder when you know his sister and can picture his mother crying over his casket. I wanted it to be a mistake, as much as anyone because I cared about him, not in the way I expected or the way he wanted, but in a real way, in a way that would have been better left at arms length. The reality of the situation is that it is hard to separate the art from the artist so to speak. What do you do with 16 years worth of relationship and a few dozen bad nights? We aren’t equipped to tackle complexity at that level. And definitely not instantaneously. A year later I was ready to accept that the friend I had then was not the friend I had reconnected to because I was not the same, and he wasn’t different. A year later I was ready to accept that I didn’t like the relationships I had with most of those people and that they had never really been good. 5 years later I was really unpacking that what I thought were a few dozen bad nights were actually years of grooming, conditioning, abusive and manipulative behaviours, and a gross and unhealthy fixation on me as a plan B. Nearly 10 years later now, I wish I had thrown it all out so much sooner, I wish I had spent more time speaking to the other girls in my group of friends, and I wish we had compared notes. I wish I had been there for them in the way that I had needed someone to be there for me. And I wish I had just hurt his feelings, right at the beginning, and walked away when I knew it wasn’t where I belonged anymore. The expanding depth of field keeps showing me more and more of the background, the things I wish I had seen when my focus was so tight. _______ your local rapist, but most importantly forgive your inner survivor.