Yesterday, I participated in the #Metoo social media trend to show solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. My intention was to be a voice for those who have felt and continue to feel voiceless and to stand for those who felt too triggered or vulnerable to recount their assault. I also did it to show those I know who have suffered from assault that I understand, empathize, and stand with them.
I was sexually assaulted 7 months ago. My assaulter was a guy (*Jack*) I had met on Grindr. When I went to his apartment, I had every intention of having sex with him. He was attractive and nice, and after two years of abstinence, I wanted to overcome my sexual anxiety, and finally start acting like all the other gay men I knew. We tried to have sex, but I was too nervous and unprepared for it to work, so we ended up watching a movie and falling asleep.
He forced himself inside me while I was sleeping. At first, I pretended I was still asleep, hoping it would dissuade him from continuing. When he didn’t stop, I acted like I was aroused, because I felt too afraid and humiliated to act otherwise. It wasn’t until the pain became too excruciating that I cried out for him to stop, which he did. I then laid wide awake in his bed for hours, too shocked and overwhelmed to move. When the paralysis finally lifted, I snuck out of his apartment and went home.
The weeks following my assault were the worst ones of my life. My depression and anxiety were unbearable. I felt mentally destroyed and emotionally unstable. I couldn’t trust my memories of the event. I told myself I was making up my assault, that I was exaggerating it in my mind to feed into some victim complex. I convinced myself I had sent wrong signals. Worst of all, I blamed myself. I said, “If only I was as sexually adventurous and open as my peers, this would have never happened. Sex would have worked the first time, and he would have never needed to rape me.”
I never confronted my assaulter, nor did I give his name to the authorities. Instead, I deleted his phone number and tried to erase him from my memory forever. I didn’t have the strength to do anything more than that.
What haunts me most about my assault is that I knew my assaulter had most likely committed sexual assault before. He had casually told me about a sexual encounter he had with a shared acquaintance, and how that acquaintance accused him of assaulting him. Jack and the guy had sex, the guy asked him to stop, and then the guy told friends that Jack had assaulted him. In his version of the story, Jack was a victim of poor communication and mixed signals. The other guy was a tease and an overdramatic liar.
I made the ultimate mistake when Jack told me this story. I gave the assaulter the benefit of the doubt. I told myself there must have been a misunderstanding. There was no way a guy as attractive and nice as Jack could commit a crime like that. I attributed the incident to one of those unfortunate, sexual grey areas, where both parties were at fault for miscommunication. I justified the actions of a person who would assault me just a few hours later.
I’ve kept this part of my assault a secret because of my own personal guilt. I didn’t want people to know I had succumbed to rape culture and justified the actions of a rapist. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had willfully ignored all the warning signs. And I didn’t want to accept that by not telling anyone about my attacker or the assault that I was potentially enabling him to hurt someone the way he hurt me and the other guy. After being sexually assaulted, I didn’t know if I could handle any guilt or culpability on my end. I knew I was wrong, but I didn’t know if I could live with both my assault and the guilt.
When it comes to assault, there are so many expectations for what you’re supposed to do when it happens. People simultaneously believe you’re entitled to privacy while expecting you to name your attacker and seek action against them. They believe you should be open and honest with the trauma but do so in a way that is palatable and not at all reflective of the rape culture many of us contribute to. You’re expected to be hurt and vulnerable, but to keep those thoughts to yourself and not bring the energy in a room down.
We’re expected to be a million things when the reality is we can barely manage being one.
I wrote this article because I needed to confess to the mistake I made. I wrote it to apologize to the person I didn’t believe, and to acknowledge how I often contribute to rape culture despite my best intentions. I can only try to be better and more honest going forward.
*For this purpose of this article, the name of my attacker has been changed*