A year ago, I went to a party, got drunk, and when a guy I didn’t really know asked me to take him home, I said yes. We went home, had consensual sex, and eventually went to sleep. In the morning, he woke up, asked me if I was awake, climbed on top of my chest, pinning me to the bed, and shoved his cock down my throat. He grasped my head so tight that I could hardly move it, and I was gagging so much that my mouth filled with vomit, and he just thrust harder and harder. I could hardly breathe, and the rest of me was frozen from the shock. I did not want this. I couldn’t stop it, all I could do was hope that he’d finish quickly and release me. So I lay there, choking and wondering if I had asked for it, if this was what I deserved for everyone that I’d ever slept with, for presuming that I could bring home someone and still be safe, and when he climbed off, he lay beside me as if nothing had happened and to stop myself from crying I curled into him like it was something I had wanted to happen.
I need to be very clear here – at no point did I say no. I didn’t have a chance to. But at no point did I say yes either. When he had me pinned down, if I had been able to move at all, I could have tried to push him off – but I was terrified that if I tried, he still might not stop, and that would turn it into a whole different situation. I had friends in the next room, and while it was one thing for them to have to hear me having good sex, I didn’t want them to hear me having bad sex. And I was in shock, believing that this was what I’d been asking for. He stayed in my bed for a while after that, dragging my hands down to his cock repeatedly, continuing to touch me. I opted for a “I’m trying to sleep” approach, sliding across the bed, too hot to hide under the covers but just hoping that he’d leave, which he did eventually, sheepishly mumbling goodbye as he stumbled out.
I spent the rest of the day pretending like nothing had happened, apologising to my friends who were staying for all the noise, and making jokes about how fucked up my hair was. “He was clearly right-handed” said my friend as she took a photo of my hair from the back. Turns out that a guy continuingly shoving your head down to his dick and then later pinning you down makes it pretty hard to comb your hair out afterwards.
(That’s not the first time I’ve posted that image on Hubris. The first time I described the guy as “kind of pushy”. Back in January I was still determined not to talk about it or to acknowledge it really. But y’know what? No.)
On the Sunday afterwards, I went to Xmas Dinner with the Lovehawks, and I told them the story, trying to frame it in a “hey, isn’t this funny, ha ha, oh you should have seen my hair, hilariousness” kind of way, because I’m one of those douchebags who uses humour to deal with things that they’re not okay with. But of course they saw through my false bravado, and were like “You know, that sounds kind of rapey”. And there it was. There was the word that I’d not wanted to use. For months I would cling to the ‘y’ on the end there, before my counselor asked me how else I would define sex without consent. But I am skipping ahead of myself.
The next day someone asked me in that nudge nudge wink wink kind of way how my Friday was, and told me everyone knew what I’d been up to. That made me sick to my stomach and I couldn’t stop crying, so I rushed home to hide, which made for a really awkward conversation with my manager, who was really concerned about me but I didn’t want to tell him what was going on. I was supposed to be having lunch with Iva who I hadn’t seen in years, so she came over instead, and my first introduction to her boyfriend was for him to hear me talking about what had happened, trying to be calm. After they left I was still shaken, and another friend came over to see if I was okay. She held me while I cried some more, and then helped me compose an email to the guy telling him that what he did was not okay.
“I think it’s important to let you know that I was uncomfortable with some of the things that happened on Friday night. I’m not sure what you’ll do with this information, but you need to know that it left me feeling more than a little upset. I had a lot of fun before we went to sleep, but that doesn’t mean it was okay for you to wake me up by forcing your dick into my mouth again. I didn’t say no at the time, because I was pinned down, but I didn’t say yes either. And that’s not okay.”
I held off on sending it for a couple of hours while I thought about it, wondering if I should escalate the situation or not, or if I should just accept that sluts like me eventually get what they deserve, and I should just fucking deal with it. And I knew that thinking like that made me a bad feminist, and the fact that I lacked the fortitude to stop it happening when it happened made me a bad feminist, and that thinking there was such a thing as a bad feminist also made me a bad feminist. Eventually I pushed the send button though, after tracking down a non-work email address for him.
I went out to dinner that night with Kate Benton who I hadn’t seen in years, and it should have been amazing because that’s when I found out she and Rob were engaged. Instead I could hardly open my mouth, I was spacey and shaken, terrified thinking about what the response to my email would be. And also, I was feeling dreadful for having sent it. It would have been a hell of a thing to receive. I felt awful for the way that I was with Kate and Rob and Jess, that I was too wrapped up in my own shit to celebrate properly with them, or be responsive in any way, and I didn’t want to talk about my own life at all, which until then had been going pretty great. And so I got home to his reply. He was shocked, apologetic, and thought he had behaved like a dog. I cried some more, and wasn’t sure how to respond. I ended up getting my ex boyfriend to help me with my wording. For someone who works in communication, it was particularly frustrating to find myself so short of words to express myself.
I decided that unlike the time that I was assaulted when I was 14, this would not be something I felt the need to bottle up and keep secret, so I spoke about it openly with my friends when I felt it was appropriate. That was a hell of a learning experience. One girl said “Oh, if you’d done self-defense courses, you’d have been able to push him off”. Oh, is that so? Cos what I really needed was another way to think about what I had done wrong. Thank you so much! That was the tipping point with her, and she was gone from the people I cared about. When I told another friend, she asked me how much I’d had to drink and went back to talking about her work. I switched off then too. I was reminded of a friend who when I’d told back in 2006 that a taxi driver had tried to grab me in his cab was like “well, were you flirting with him?”. No, and even if I had been, that still wasn’t okay. Others tried to move off the subject as soon as possible. My silence was their comfort. I found myself wondering if some of the uneasiness some of my male friends displayed was due to them questioning if they’d ever done a similar thing and hadn’t realised it. I think that I made jokes about it also was disconcerting for some, but that’s the way I process and handle. At times I felt guilty for talking about something that was hard for people to hear, but I didn’t know what else to do. I found myself telling people I didn’t really know about it, because I needed somewhere to put it. I couldn’t keep it inside.
Outside of the mostly safe place with my friends, when I had to have interactions with him, my body would tense up, and I’d spend time dry retching afterwards. My work suffered and I got in trouble for making stupid mistakes. I thought about leaving but reminded myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I started reading his twitter feed, stalking like a crazy person, looking for any sign of remorse or an indication that he wasn’t having an easier time of it. I drank more and laughed louder when he was around. There was a lot of arguments on the internet at the time about Julian Assange, and a lot of people who I thought I respected going off onto CIA plots, and talking about how sex without a condom doesn’t mean rape, and every single thing I read about it made me feel worse, and like I had less credibility. And I was terrified thinking about the next time I slept with someone, wondering whether or not i’d be able to handle it, if I’d freak out, and if I’d ever be able to enjoy giving blow jobs again.
As it happened, I ended up getting drunk and going home with a female friend of mine, who said she wanted to give me a safe experience to help me move past it. For the most part, it was lovely, and positive. But I still couldn’t get over it. And strangely, I started worrying about him as well. I doubted that he had the same kind of amazingly caring friends that I had who would sleep with him to help him work through it. I didn’t know if he’d told anyone at all. And I wondered if he thought it was just an “oops, my bad!” situation that could be easily overcome, that hadn’t had any lasting damage. I wished that I’d said more in my initial email to him, but wasn’t sure if it was fair to bring it up again. I ended up messaging him at 4 in the morning asking if he wanted to go get a coffee sometime and have a chat. “I’d rather we just talked on email” came the reply. I felt shut down, and angry. I was trying to be good about this but I was not okay. So I went to see my counselor again.
I hadn’t seen her in over a year, and so I felt a little defeated going back, although I know I can go see her any time I need maintenance. So I cried in her office and we had intense discussion about semantics. As always, she suggested that I examine myself the way that I would a friend, because I am too hard on myself. If I heard about someone pinning one of my friends down and forcing their cock down their throat, how would I feel? I’d feel like fucking killing them. She suggested that I might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when I told her about having an anxiety attack in the dentist’s chair as I was held down and stuff done to my mouth by the dental hygienist. I failed to articulate to her that I know that he didn’t mean to have sex with me against my will, but because I didn’t consent that’s exactly what happened. She said that I was being too nice to him, that I shouldn’t be so worried about his comfort because he clearly hadn’t been worried about mine, and that I was well within my rights to send him another email, if I thought it would help me.
I asked if you wanted to go get coffee, with the intention that we’d talk about, like, music, or movies, or pop culture, or pretty much anything at all that was just casual conversation and nothingness, but I didn’t explain that properly. I said I wanted to “normalise”. What I meant is that I wanted it to be different from how it is right now when every time I have to be in the same room with you, I tense up and I get panicky. I know you didn’t set out to violate me, and that you are sorry that I felt that way, but the truth is that I’m not over it, and I’m not okay.
I struggled with whether to tell you this or not, because I wasn’t sure if it would help me at all, but the not talking about it isn’t working, and I need that to change. I’m sure that you were shocked when I emailed you to tell you how unokay I was about being pinned down, but did it have an impact on you beyond that at all? Like, did you even give it a second thought ? Did it make you question the way you live your life? Worry about how you will deal with people in the future? Stir up a whole fucking bunch of assault trauma that happened in the past that you thought you’d dealt with? Because that’s what’s happened to me.
And yes, it’s been a couple of months, and no, I am still not over this. And I don’t know what to do about it. I do want to normalise, I want to be comfortable around you. I hate that I can’t offer a solution, that all I am presenting is a problem. Maybe there’s nothing that can be done about it but time. I know we weren’t really friends before we slept together, and I don’t expect that we’ll ever become so, but I hope you understand why I need to say these things instead of being bottled up and seething with useless rage. I don’t have the solution now, and I don’t know when I will, and while I’ve tried to express or at least sumarise everything that I’m feeling right now, there’ll probably be new emotions later that I haven’t dealt with. Like I said, I don’t know how you feel about this – or if you’ve even thought about it lately, but I’d really like to know – do you have any ideas on how I (and you) could feel better about what happened?
His reply was really good, and considered. He asked me a couple of questions which were totally okay to ask, and we agreed that time would be the best way to heal, and I said that I was going to move on. Rather than focus on what had happened, I tried to make plans for the future. When I finally got a chance to talk to the married man about it – the only person I’ve ever slept with in which every single thing I did I absolutely wanted to do, rather than feeling a sense of obligation or whatever – once he was done offering to get his friends to beat the shit out of the guy, he made the good suggestion that the next time I slept with someone, I should tie them up in order to feel more comfortable. That’s exactly what I did when I met a guy from OKCupid and took him home. I explained that I didn’t like having hands on my head while I was sucking cock, and that actually, I’d like to tie him up. Success!
I went to Slutwalk, in the dress I was wearing the night of the party, and was interviewed by Radio New Zealand about it. I thought the march was great but had to leave during the speeches because they were too much. Mad props to Jason and Kate for being there.
Time passed and the memory faded somewhat. Eventually the guy was leaving for greener pastures, and since people were talking about him, it made me remember everything again which was really hard, although I wished him well. In the speeches, someone referenced the party, and everyone turned and looked at me and laughed. I was the punchline of a joke that actually wasn’t funny at all, and so I am super glad that Kelly was around for me to bawl and bawl and bawl onto. That shook me for days.
Time has helped a lot though. What’s also been incredibly healing was finding a dom and experiencing what consensual submissive sex is actually like. Discussing your limits beforehand and knowing you can change your mind at any time, and having someone be absolutely aware of how you are feeling while ostensibly treating you like a wet hole is really liberating. You’re actually in charge the whole time. I appreciate that this isn’t the solution for everybody, but it’s nice to know that rough sex doesn’t actually have to be the kind that leaves you traumatised for a year.
So what do we take away from all of this? Because it has to be a learning experience, right?
I guess most importantly, there is nothing as sexy as enthusiastic consent. Don’t ever presume anything in bed. Make sure your partner is really into it. And you or your partner can withdraw consent at any time.
If your friend tells you about a negative experience they’ve had, make sure you listen to them. Don’t judge them, or suggest other ways that they should have coped. They did whatever they needed to do in order to get through the experience at the time. Believe me – they’ve already worked over all the alternatives in their mind a thousand times. However they need to talk about it or act out afterwards is up to them.
And I hope that you never have something similar happen to you, but if you do, you need to remember that no matter what, it wasn’t your fault, and that there are many amazing people you can talk to about it. If your “friends” make you feel bad about it, find someone better to help you deal with it. Time helps a lot. It’s not a magic fixall though, and I’m still kinda choked up as I finish this off, but at least it’s done now.