Yes Means Yes, with one hundred percent more Hindemith

Let's talk about rape.  I do that a lot; it's one of the occupational hazards of being A Feminist and all.

So, someone recently posted this on Facebook, and I loved it.  I haven't read the article to which is refers, but the sentiment within the post is something about which I feel strongly because of personal experience.  I absolutely agree with No Means No, but also feel strongly about the need for Yes Means Yes as a paradigm shift, and about the need to acknowledge survival tactics for what they are.  Enthusiastic consent should be the minimum for sexual relations, period.

Storytime!  I have told this story before on my old blog, but I think a different retelling to address definitions of rape is in order.  No, I'm not horribly traumatized by this story, and, on the off chance that someone comments, I don't need apologies for it having happened.  It's just, the rape culture and all.

When I was seventeen-year-old junior in high school, I was dating a senior.  He was very good-looking.  He was also dumb as a rock.  I realized that I didn't want to date him the second he pulled me aside in weight training class to ask for my phone number, but I was fresh out of a relationship in which "no" had meant literally nothing to my ex-boyfriend, and so I had no idea how to say it anymore.  Thinking that I was being ridiculous, that this guy was good-looking, and that I didn't want to hurt his feelings, I gave him my phone number.  We went on a date to the dollar theater, and the first thing he did when the lights dimmed was stick his hand up my shirt.  While I'm sure that was sexy for him and all (especially considering that he was a virgin), to say that I was unenthused would be to overstate my interest in him.  However, I obligingly let him feel me up, and, two dates later, obligingly slept with him, because that was what I did.  I was a nice girl, I'd already slept with two people and, as a conservative Christian, though, in for a penny, in for a pound (the petals were already off the rose!), and thought it would be rude to refuse him.  (Not that the thought process was that complicated.  It was more like, "Well, I'm already a slut, so it's not like it matters."  And not like in a, "Why not have fun," kind of way.  More like a, "Well, I already let one guy, so what's the difference?"  Sex has not been fun for the majority of the time that I've been having it, although it's been fixed.)

That wasn't rape, though.  It was a couple of dumb teenagers acting like dumb teenagers, and my exhibiting behaviour you would expect from an indoctrinated kid who had been abused.  He had little- to no sexual experience, and most of my sexual experience was indifferent at best and abusive at worst, and condemned by my religious upbringing to boot.  I thought I was worthless.

One night, when we had been casually seeing each other for perhaps four months or so, with an increasing level of disgust on my part, I was settling in to have a nice night alone with just a glass of tea and the CD of my band's spring concert.  I didn't want to go out, and had let him know repeatedly before that I appreciate a phone call before he dropped by.  Perhaps that makes me a crazy hypercontrolling nazi bitch in the eyes of some, but I'm an introvert, and I would far rather have been allowed my space from someone who wasn't even my boyfriend.  I don't care who you are.  I need warning if I am going to interact with you IRL, and I was even less social in high school.

I was settling in to listen to the march from Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis.  I don't know why this is what sticks so hard in my head, but it is.  I just wanted to listen to the goddamn march and be left alone.  I didn't want anyone to come by expecting anything of me.  I mean, listen to that march!  Shit!  I don't care who you are; you want to play the horn listening to that.  My evening was booked.

There was a knock on the door.  Irritated, I looked through the eyehole and found myself rolling my eyes.  Fucking, this guy.  Since I was a nice girl, I opened the door instead of just pretending not to be home, and he wanted to go out, which translated to he wanted to have sex.

I did not want to, for a variety of reasons, and I told him, "Guy, I will go out with you, but I do not want to have sex.  There will be no sex.  I AM NOT HAVING SEX WITH YOU THIS EVENING, GUY.  So, um, DO NOT EXPECT SEX."  He probably nodded or gave some other sign of acknowledgment, but this dude was dumb enough that it didn't really matter.

We went to a movie.  It might have been Hannibal.  Whatever.  The movie ended, and he went through the usual routine of starting to make out in the back of his van in the parking lot.  I put a halt to those activities so say, "HEY, GUY!  REMEMBER THE PART WHERE I SAID NO SEX!  THERE WILL BE NO SEX!"  Now, understand how averse I was to it, considering that I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I had said no in a situation that didn't make me feel physically threatened.

Well, when one isn't planning on having sex, one doesn't buy condoms, but he figured, in his wisdom, that perhaps he should stop by a gas station and buy them anyway because, hey, it might happen!  My asking to go home (since we were not having sex) was just a "maybe."

We went to our usual dark spot and he started to take his clothes off.  I said, "HEY, GUY, I WANT TO GO HOME, AND WE ARE NOT HAVING SEX, OKAY GUY REALLY."  So, if we're counting, that's, like, a spillion "nos", approximately.  Well, just in case, of course, he kept disrobing, and then he started to undress me.

Honestly, I do not even remember exactly how we got to the "having sex" point.  I remember that I said no the entire time, but he couldn't have taken all of my clothes off.  This is why I'm talking about survival tactics.  I'd actually been forcefully raped before, with full physical threat, and I knew what that felt like.  I didn't want to go through it again.  I kept on saying no to him, but I went through the physical gestures that would spare me being held down and forced to have sex.

I don't know when I stopped protesting.  I'm pretty sure it was well into the act.  That would have been the point where I started crying, silently, not responding at all to his ridiculous flailing, because why bother?  I was no more than an appendage for his pleasure.  It wasn't even that he gleefully disregarded my "no."  I wasn't even sufficiently human to warrant notice when I said it.  I lied there and wept silently, did not move, did not respond, and stopped saying no, because I didn't want to fight back against this guy.  I mean, he was nice, right?  Even if he ignored me saying no?  It's not like he forced me.  He just knew that I wouldn't back up the word with my fists, with my feet, with my teeth.

Afterwards, we got out of the van, which was good, because I wanted to scream.  I didn't know that the word "rape" applied to what had happened there.  All I knew was that I hated him more than I had ever hated anyone, abusive ex included, because at least my abusive ex had thought I was human enough to abuse.  This guy literally did not see me as a factor in our sexual relations.  He asked me to sit by him, and put his arm around me, which was odd, because he was rarely affectionate, and I didn't want it from him, either.  Maybe he knew I was upset.  I don't know.

We drove to McDonalds to get some chicken nuggets.  A song came on the radio.  "I don't care about anyone else but me."  He took me home.  He kissed me good night.  It was all very civil.

Now, what the hell is wrong with our society that, while I was willing and able to call what happened to me a violation, I thought of it as grey, maybe rape-ish, but not, you know, rape-rape, like what happened to me in my prior relationship?  I mean, I DID stop saying no after a while.  I DID take off my clothes, even if I had told him before that I didn't want to.  I DIDN'T fight him.  I didn't think of what I was doing as the survival tactic that it was.  I thought of it as automatic.  There was no conscious thought.

Then, one day while I was in Missoula, I was driving and listening to the radio, and the song that I mentioned earlier came on the radio again.  I hadn't heard it since the day that I had been out with Guy.  I had to pull over, gasping, and nearly vomited.  Oh, God, I thought, that shit was rape.  It was worse, in its own way, than what had happened to me before him, because I had never even given myself the right to claim it as such, and because most people wouldn't think of it that way.

Shouldn't have been fucking when I was a teenager.  Shouldn't have been fucking someone I didn't like.  Shouldn't have gone out with him when I didn't want to.  Shouldn't have taken my clothes off.  Shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't.

And there wouldn't have really been anyone I had known at the time who would have said that he shouldn't have disregarded my request that he call before he stop by.  That he shouldn't have ignored me when I told him that we would not be having sex.  That he shouldn't have stopped at the gas station to get condoms when I told him we were not having sex.  That he shouldn't have taken me to the dark spot when I asked him to take me home.  That he shouldn't have ignored me while I said no the whole time.  That he shouldn't have taken his partner's silence as assent, and that, for that matter, no person, male or female, should consider an unresponsive partner a consenting one.  (This wasn't the last time we had sex in which I was unresponsive; a similar occasion was when I had spent all day in summer band and a good deal of the evening working, and he stopped by unannounced to pick me up from work.  I didn't want him to and I told him because I was completely exhausted, I smelled like ass and chicken, and I hated his guts, but he didn't listen that time, either.  I fell asleep for a few minutes during and he didn't even notice.  This is a problem, you guys; it's funny in a let's-make-fun-of-his-dumb-ass kind of way, but it's also immensely fucked up.)  He shouldn't have done any of that shit.  I was raped because he couldn't even be considerate enough to call before he came over, much less consider that maybe the cessation of my protest wasn't consent.

My point isn't to ask for sympathy, so please don't give it.  I don't care what you, dear reader, think about what happened to me, so much as I care about this story's part in the larger narrative.

We need a narrative in which enthusiastic consent is the baseline for consent.  Ceasing to say no is not consent.  I deserve better than to have felt responsible for this asshole's coldly waiting out my protest.  My daughter deserves better than to ever feel that way, and so does every other female.

I apologize for the general trailing-off feel of this, but I don't have much else to say.  That's my story.  Most of the women I know have a story like it.  I'm sick of that.  If it was just me that would be great, but, for fuck's sake, it's women I know, and it's women who have been unfortunate enough to be attacked by powerful men.  We need to remove the option of, "Well, she didn't scream," or, "Well, she stopped saying no," from the equation.  We need a better narrative.



This post is firmly in the spirit of "the personal is political."

This has given me a problem for a long time.  When I sit down to write, I start thinking, and thinking is never good for me.  It always starts as a niggling suspicion: "You don't have anything important to say."  This branches out into the more destructive, "Since you have nothing to say, why don't you read what other people have written?  They have good things to say."

I'm finding this to be particularly poisonous to the process of writing about my past.  Again, I think that I have a history with experiences that fill a wide spectrum of emotions, and I think that I have the ability to frame these events in ways that will make them interesting to a reader.  I don't think that my stories are uniquely fascinating (I think that most people have fascinating lives when you get down to it), but I think that I have the ability to express that people who have been through similar things are not alone, even if they feel as if they are.  That is why I want to write. 

The problem is, a lot of what I want to write about happened to me when I was a teenager.  Now, I don't know if I agree entirely with Twisty Faster when she says that, "Teenage girls are the most despised people on the planet," but it's certainly close, and I see these own prejudices in my own thoughts about teenagers, particularly girls, and very particularly my former self.

A few months ago I went through the terrible poetry I slaved over as a teenager in order to post some of it for mockery, and, after looking at the vast majority of it, was stunned.  I wasn't stunned over how terrible it was (although it was pretty terrible for the most part, and there was certainly comedy fodder).

I was stunned at how ungodly fucking depressed I was.  I mean, it's one thing to look back and say, "Yeah, I struggled with some depression issues as a teenager.  No big deal."  It's another to look back at poem after poem talking about a sense of worthlessness, about blood and death and shit that no teenager should be obsessed with, period.  It took me, for a moment, out of my smug sense of adulthood and placed me firmly back in the shoes of the honestly troubled teenager that I used to be, and it made me cringe, because she deserves better than to be mocked by adults, even if that adult is the person she grew to be.

See, I want to minimize that girl's experiences.  Her earnest morbidity is embarrassing to me; I don't want to identify with her, with her reducing everything to blood, with her bizarre fascination with death.  I want to identify her as privileged and spoiled and stupid, and I want to say that her problems were entirely of her own making.  (Again, to be fair, these things are true, to a degree.)

But I can't do that while giving an honest recounting of abuse.  I can't do that while giving an honest recounting of how incredibly heavy the world felt at the time.  I can't do that while reaching out and saying, "You're not alone."  It's not funny that I was so depressed.  It's not funny that I put up with abuse.  None of that shit is funny, and, if I keep on laughing at myself as a teenager, I'm doing a disservice to teenagers who are now going through some of what I went through.  In minimizing my own struggles, I minimize those of people who struggle now.

I don't know.  I mean, on the one hand, it really has been a decent coping tool: it's easy not to feel keenly the memories of isolation, of mild physical abuse, of self-loathing, of rape, if I shrug them off as normal, stupid bullshit that all teenagers go through.  "Oh, yeah, I was a dumbass melodramatic kid.  You know teenagers."  However, on the other hand, it's easy for me to mock it: I'm here to do it.  If I had actually succeeded in my suicide attempt my freshman year, or if I had tried again later in greater earnest, and if I had died, that simply would not be funny.  And there are kids who do this.

I can't point a finger in the mirror and laugh without doing damage to my perception of people who hurt.

The thing is, I never went to therapy for real.  I never went through therapy for the abuse that I went through because my parents weren't even aware of it until long after it had been over and done.  I ended up making a lot of immensely stupid decisions because of a lack of awareness of the motivations for my decisions, but I came out on the other side.  And I've laughed, because part of me really does find melodrama morbidly hilarious, but it's partially because, when I really sit down and think about how I felt then, I want to curl up into a ball.  It was truly horrible.  No, it wasn't as bad as what a lot of people go through, but what mattered was how I felt at the time.  No, I don't carry the feelings with me, but it is very hard to think about them without laughing hysterically at the sheer absurdity of how goddamn heavy everything seemed at the time.  I never sat down and thought honestly about how awful it was, and I'm having to actually do this if I want to write.  It's hard to think about a time when you were miserable when you're genuinely happy.  It's like throwing off a warm blanket and stepping into the howling cold.  You don't have to do it, so why would you?

Part of what has me thinking about this is the death of Mrs. G*.  See, she didn't really care if it was melodrama.  What she cared about was that there was this kid who had tried to hurt herself.  What she cared about was that she had a teenager who turned into a nervous wreck in the middle of rehearsal and had to be guided out in order to pull herself together.  She cared what my reasons were, sure, but she wouldn't have judged me on them.  She had the time and the care for a sixteen-year-old who had been raped the day before, whose world had fallen apart, and she wasn't laughing.  She was the only person to take that teenage-me and say, "You matter," even though she was at least somewhat aware of how incredibly fucked up I was at the time.  I haven't even done that to myself, because, when I wasn't completely falling apart, I was bitterly mocking my own hurt.  I thought it was absurd, even then, because I was a teenage girl, because my problems didn't matter.  She told me that my problems were real and deserved to be addressed when I wasn't even willing to tell myself that. 

I want to work in a rape crisis center.  The thing is, I don't know how I can do that, how I can do what she did and go to other people and tell them, "You matter; your stories matter," if I don't even do that to myself.

So, here goes.

*I have no idea what her politics were, no idea of her position on feminism, and don't want to attribute any views to her that didn't exist.  My point isn't that she was an explicit advocate for victims of abuse, sexual or otherwise, although she certainly played the part by being a generous, attentive person.  My point is that I would like to take that healing care and apply it in areas of interest to me, and I am passionate about advocacy for rape survivors.


So, yeah

Okay, seriously?  I'm pretty bad at blogging.  It's a combination of the inability to hold down a thought for long enough to write a comprehensive post on anything (usually my posts die because I start reading something else), or it's that I can't bring myself to come over here and blog.

To top that off now is the fact that I do believe I'm going to start writing on something.  Maybe.  I don't know.  I say that a lot.  But I have a set of autobiographical stories in mind because, despite how boring I am personally, I've had some bizarre, interesting shit go down in my life.  I can't give a comprehensive story of my life for a lot of reasons, but I can give a series of short stories.  The idea came when I was sitting last year in a hotel room on New Year's Day en route to visit family in Georgia, and they were playing "Clocks" over some sports montage that my gentleman caller was watching, and talking about how it was a Decade!  Over!

And I thought, you know, as decades go, mine has been pretty fucking insane.  Maybe I should write about it.  "Ten Years In The Life: A Checklist Of Shit Not To Do With Your Life."  Except, of course, the later parts that got me here, that required the earlier parts, but whatever.  Everyone takes their own path, and mine is usually exceptionally crooked.  I was one of those kids who probably burned their hands to a crisp repeatedly on the stove.  Make of that what you will.

Anyway, exacerbating that was the death of someone to whom I was not close as an adult, but who was important to me through the worst of my teen years, when I was being abused and was so depressed that it's a miracle that I didn't try to hurt myself again in greater earnest.  I was very sorry to hear about her death because she was truly one of those people who knew what people needed and when and, the day after the worst of the problems happened, when I sat in band class and quietly had a complete meltdown in my chair, she pulled me out and asked me what was wrong.

She was the only adult in the entirety of my time in high school to ask me what was wrong.  It doesn't matter that I didn't have the words to tell her and wouldn't have if I did.  It just mattered that she asked.  That was the kind of person she was.  Mind you, I'm not blaming my parents for this, because neither of them was particularly happy at the time and I was giving them absolute hell as payback for the shit that I was going through.  But, still, she was the only one to ask.

And, in a couple of days, I'm going to a memorial service for her, because it's that important to me.  However, at this memorial service I will probably be seeing a lot of people I went to high school with.

Have I mentioned that I broke and ran from here as fast as I could upon graduation for a reason?  I wanted away.  I did not want to see people from high school anymore.  I wanted to forget about it.

I realize now that that isn't possible or productive, and I'm not running from my past.  It's just, I don't want to see people from it.  One of my greatest fears upon moving back home, and one of the biggest reasons I didn't want to, was the fear of encountering people I knew.  I don't know what to say or to do.  And I'm about to go be around a bunch of them probably, at a service to honor someone who helped make those awful years tolerable.  I'm not looking forward to that part.

So, long story short, this makes me want to write.

Yeah, this isn't about politics.  I won't be able to write about politics for a while without the post containing largely the word "fuck" and the occasional sputtering noise.  I am done with this bullshit.  It's not apathy.  It's the opposite.

So, yeah.  I'm going to continue right on being boring now.