Iconic “romantic” image: of a WWII vet sexually assaulting a stranger by kissing them through observable physical resistance (check the hand) and atmosphere of non-consent.
RAINN says “Rape Culture” is not a considerable cultural problem, but they are only focusing on violent first degree kinds of rape.
Barbra Kay, a Canadian journalist, cites that “Rape culture” is overblown because it’s only a tiny percent of the population that rapes, so saying we live in a culture of rape is misleading.
And this kind of stuff is really kinda starting to piss me off.
Contrary to our othering, vilifying approach to “rapists”, rape is not just an easily recognizable crime that select evil people commit. It is a culturally lauded system of behavior that is connected to toxic patriarchal masculinity (kiss the unconscious princess), entitlement (“no” means keep pestering), sexism (“men can’t be raped”), misogyny (hysterical and/or underhanded women “cry” rape), the prevailing misuse of substances and alcohol (must I, really?), as well as racism (“most rapes involve black men and white women”), and virtually any societal oppression you can fucking think of, if you do think about it.
“Being considered ‘crazy’ by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment.” — Jason Hairston
As has seemed to have been the experience of most promiscuous people I’ve chatted with, I’m discovering I’ve actually been raped by others more times than I will ever be able to count, including while sleeping. I emphatically defended that guy as not being a rapist, at the time. Because I developed in a rape culture.
I also spent more than a decade in a close friendship with someone who periodically raped me, but couldn’t fathom what he was doing as rape. I would have a very hard time confronting him, hung over a hazy morning sun with no pants on again, only for the cycle to continue. Because I developed in a rape culture.
Because I developed in a rape culture, it was difficult for me to transcend being good, giving, and game (die in a fucking carfire, Dan Savage) to hold someone accountable for royally violating my sexual trust.
Even when I knew that’s what had happened, which wasn’t always the case, it was challenging to overcome the internalized victim blaming to hold someone accountable for taking advantage, especially when they had also made my dick hard in the process; Because I developed in a rape culture.
But that was only part of my story that had locked me into this pattern of perpetration; the key for me, it turned out, was that a lot of the sex I was initiating with others was rape, too.
I’ve pressured men who clearly didn’t want to sleep with me into sex, because I’d been groomed my entire existence to be beguiling and desirable, my worth completely wrapped up in others sexual interest — and his body wanted it; so sit down, and shut up.
And that was rape.
I spent nearly 12 years in a relationship with a person I raped. He was visiting my city, as a friend, when I jumped him from out of nowhere while we were shitfaced drunk in my house. We’d discussed nothing of embarking on a sexual relationship in our multiyear platonic friendship. I had given him no time to respond or consider what was happening, let alone consent; which he wasn’t capable of doing anyway.
Turned out, I found the next morning, he was a virgin. Oops!
Know how many times I told that story to our gigantic group of friends, people we met, people who watched him get on his knee on New Years Eve 5 years later and propose to me? It was one of my favorite stories for a long time, and I told it likely hundreds.
Know how many times anyone pointed out that it was rape? Zero.
That marriage, by the way, didn’t work out.
I have spent a lot of time in my privilege bubble life chatting sex and poop and bodily functions with others, generally in places like San Francisco and Seattle. From that vantage point I am here to tell you that I am literally fucking surrounded by a dense mass of people whose lives are just like mine has been; saturated with sex that isn’t consensual.
And sex that isn’t consensual is rape.
People who have developed with a clear and complete, respectful value of consent are the rarity of my experience, not the norm, and those people have usually had to work very, very hard at unlearning what is considered normal (and frankly, -none- of the people in my life who have put in that work are men).
I have come back to the conclusion repeatedly, ever since I was a teenager, that we simply fucking rape one another in this culture.
Rape is all over Hollywood, all over our media and cultural representations, most of us not even registering what it is.
Rape is represented in our success stories, in our business practices, in how we founded this country.
Rape is imbibed in the liquid that feeds our growth into sexual beings like fluorocarbon. Like thick, gelatinous air.
Patriarchy, toxic masculinity, manufactured insecurity, our pervasive hatred and sexualization of femininity, all contributore to this culture of rape.
And all of us, regardless of gender, internalize and mimic these lessons.
We think rape is sexy and fun, we think rape is a mating dance, we think rape is courtship and romance. We think the rush we get is passion, we think it’s the fire burning, the indication of a mutual spark, while so often not having the awareness or connective skills to perceive mutuality or what our signals are saying to us.
In my experience, that rush whisking me into bed with someone was my red alert alarm. The same rush I got when I walked in on my parents having drunken, mortifying sex. It was the same rush I got as a child while I was violated while I pretended to sleep. The same rush I got when my best friend re-enacted that abuse in my teens. The same rush I would get as an adult when I met someone a little too charming, a little too slick, who turned out to be a sexual predator.
That rush was not my ‘holy shit I am turned on and want this!’ alarm — and it took me nearly 25 years to figure that out. Why? Why did it take me 25 fucking years to get this?
Because we are familiar to rape. We think rape is normal. And even when we can recognize it:
We think rape is trivial.
We think rape is the victims fucking responsibility.
We think rape isn’t rape if the cells in our bodies respond sexually.
We think being pressured into performing sex acts that make us uncomfortable is how to show our love toward somebody.
We think being manipulated into having sex under false pretenses is just kinda sleezy, rather than the rape that it is.
We think that coercion isn’t rape, that pity sex isn’t suspect, that stalking can manufacture consent.
And in my experience, not only do people like me who adopt contemporary models of ‘masculinity’ in their empowerment and rejection of oppressive feminine roles also fall into the traps of a toxic and dominating rape culture we’ve ourselves internalized, many so-called progressive men seem to think of gracefully tolerating being raped as a part of what makes them in touch with their ‘feminine’ side.
Rape culture is a “phrase used to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender, sex, and sexuality.”, but the common use of “Rape Culture” and its examples aren’t speaking to how much of a rape culture we truly fucking live in.
The problem, in my view, with the common use of the term “Rape Culture” is not that we don’t, actually, live in one. It’s that the term is often used when only looking at the tip of the violent misogyny iceberg of rape, apology, and the most vile of threats and opinions regarding rape.
I’m using it, even for the subtle shit. I will continue to use it, despite the discomfort of those around me, because we live in a “Rape Culture” and I think it’s about time we woke the fuck up about the role that rape quietly plays in our everyday lives, the indirect ways in which we request affection, the liberties we feel entitled to once sex enters a relationship, and on, and on, and on.
But “What does consent really mean?” …
…someone, usually a geeky cis white guy who (like me not long ago) doesn’t quite want to give up rape, inevitably asks this.
I know, it’s so weird and confusing right?! And probably, I need some supposedly level-headed, emotionally vacant dude to sit me down and explain to me why rape is so unavoidable and consent is so ambiguous and why rape just isn’t actually rape and I should stop saying rape is rape because authority figure and also rape isn’t really rape.
Nah. I’m good, thanks.
For everyone else: Here’s my living framework for consent, improved upon by Ava Mavin. ALL parameters must be met/negotiated for ALL PARTIES in order to have consent to engage sexually, and frankly, for me, in a lot of other nonsexual scenarios, too.
IDEAL Consent is:
I am fully aware that I am being propositioned, and what it is I am being propositioned for. I am aware of any surrounding circumstances that pose a risk to me. I am free to ask questions and am given clear and honest answers.
I have communicated clearly and emphatically through my words and/or actions “I want this.”
I am interested in what we’re planning and I’m enrolled in that process as well as in the results. I am decisive; even if that means I have decided that I want you to decide what it is we do.
My words and actions match up, there is no contradiction between what I say I want and how I am behaving. Furthermore, this activity is aligned with my values as I understand them; my overall feelings about participating in this activity are positive.
Lucid means I am awake, I am conscious, and I have control of myself.
A working definition of Rape Apology: The phenomenon of relating to an act of rape, and choosing to distance from that relation by holding the person who was violated responsible for your discomfort.
Where I come from
Though I’ve been watching, absorbing, observing this for a long time, years, thus attempting to dismantle and address rape culture in my personal life within the context of my relationships, I am writing this now after I hit the ice berg I was only previously looking at the tip of.
The solidification of this long coming epiphany has occurred in direct correlation to having been raped early this year by a casual dating partner, and being subsequently emotionally abandoned in favor of rape apology by the primary one.
In hindsight, it was, of course, really silly of me to think that I would have gone from being a person who casually raped people and had tolerated rape and rape apology for most of my 30+ years living, directly to having found people I was attracted to being with who were truly safe and removed from all that shit.
But I did think that. Hope that. And they weren’t safe, and neither was I, and having been wrong about that has really sucked.
The warning signs from them both keep flooding back. Remembering how I bullied my felt senses with my brain. Remembering the boundary pushing. Remembering my primaries favored catch phrase “Can’t rape the willing!”. Remembering my sense of not actually being safe. Remembering my sense of not actually being supported and respected despite the cloak of ‘niceness’ they both had.
Warning signs are also coming back in other forms; Remembering the subconscious abuses I rendered to both of my ex’s while I avoided and downplayed my instincts that I needed to get away from them. Remembering how I would lash out to try to protect myself and make sense of what was happening. Remembering holding on and on and on to that false intimacy, while I stuck around those relationships begging them with bricks to face themselves.
For products and perpetrators of a rape culture, true goodness is its own kind of heroic. It takes attentive, solemn, unending work to be a good person. It requires skilled humility and having learned a firm, yet supportive self accountability. It requires self love and the honoring of ebb and flow; to be a good person is to recognize when oneself is not doing so and have the wherewithal to return to balance. True goodness can not survive unexamined shame, or the avoidance of facing growth of ones own ethic or self identity. True goodness is action, not of simply performing external deeds and favors, but of profound personal integrity, and quality apology when having drifted astray of it. True goodness requires giving up, over and over again, the compulsive circular chase for superficial proof of ones goodness. To be a good person means to be under your own constant examination, and to have the willingness and ability to question your ideals, entitlements, and beliefs. True goodness is pure courage.
Unlearning thousands of years of conditioning.
At this point in my personal evolution, I believe that sexual consent is only ambiguous when it is held up against the persisting ideals of a culture of rape.
A culture that lied to me about what rape is, what consent is, and told me since I was a child that I was supposed to be a sleeping beauty waiting for a stranger to come turn me on by taking advantage of me in my fucking sleep.
A culture that supported and encouraged me in my dangerous, hurtful sexual aggression and coercion.
A culture that taught me to reward abuse, and rewarded me for mimicking my abusers.
I’m also so thrilled to announce to no one in particular that I am super, SUPER done with attempting to teach “that guy” who insists he’s not “that guy” who rapes like “that guy” about how one might learn to eventually stop fucking raping like “that guy”. I have resigned my guilt and shame-marinated position as The Rapist/Rape Apologist Whisperer.
There is no role for that ‘nice’ objective lover viewing all sides of my rape so strenuously that he forgets to stand up for me.
There is no role for the passive cuckhold who wants to be pressured by me into fucking.
There is no room for the flagrant cheating peacock I know I can’t trust to be straight with me.
I will not again make it my responsibility to educate the intimates in my personal life about rape culture, much less ever again doing so while I struggle to heal from being raped by one of them, like I did when my last amatonormative relationship fell apart.
Now I’m awake, and I know: My safety and growth is more important than anyone’s fledgling concept of sexual boundaries, no matter who they are or what I may feel for them (or, more accurately, for their potential).
Sex for me is bonding, healing, deeply intentional, aware, spiritual, and sacred, or it doesn’t fucking happen. Period.
I have wanted for my entire sexual existence to own the above value for myself, while being relentlessly steeped in the deep end of a culture which has done virtually everything it could to deny me of the empowerment of even considering it a viable option.
A culture that taught us all that being raped brings us in alignment with our womanhood, and raping brings us in alignment with our power.
From physical violence to gaslighting to emotional blackmail to being sexualized by grown men since I was ten fucking years old, I have undulated in time with a culture that wants me to rape and be raped.
Fuck “Rape Culture”.
It’s not for me. It never really was for me. And that is no longer up for debate.
Still don’t like being raped: Extended discussion ping and pong (AKA, dispatching feedback from rapey idiots)
Ping: “Your definition of consent and of rape is not leaving room for developmental exploration, and for people who are just finding their way about sex.”
Pong: I am speaking to awakening from a lifetime cultural influence which tainted my sexual development and caused a lot of hurt and confusion for both myself and my partners. My point includes the nuance that the ways in which we encourage our selves and one another to explore and find our way about sex needs an overhaul — because a lot of it revolves around unconscious rape and being unconsciously raped. IDEAL consent and a more stringent definition of rape are two tools to combat this which I expand upon even further in my followup to this piece.
Ping: “You’re being prejudice against people (like me) who like being woken up with sex/being unconscious during sex, by calling that rape.”
Pong: These behaviors are not in and of themselves corrosive when at some point a consensual agreement was made surrounding them. But I also want you to consider that what is consented to by saying “wake me up from unconsciousness with sex some time” or “I want you to fuck me after I’ve passed out” is rape play.
You will be unable to consent when the physical act is initiated and/or carried out by another human being at a later time.
Perhaps all sexual developments are not as graphic and colorful as mine, but lord knows we have all been encouraged to canonize, pursue, and glorify rape, violence, and power struggle in sex, in pop culture, in relationship pursuits, in the everpressing rush to act like an adult. It’s sort of the patriarchy’s jam, donchaknow.
Rape not being seen as an actual violation due to the presence of a rape culture that normalized rape is the actual issue, and it’s a subversive problem that is effecting our society in both subtle and tremendously dramatic ways that once you see, you can never unsee.
Consider that by asking for this you are asking to be raped by your partner. You don’t have to agree or anything; Just think about it. Over time, preferably. Lots of time. For my part, I’m gonna walk down the path of our tendency of accepting rape in even its most subtle forms as being something worth taking grave fucking issue with.
But most pointedly, and to bring my own focus back to the personal nature of this essay; rape not being seen as rape was devastating to my life, my psyche, and my development as a person. As part of my reform from that, I am drawing a very, very clear line in the sand. Sex that is not IDEAL is rape.
Ping: “The behavior you’re talking about is bad, but it’s not rape”
Pong: Arguing over the current largely accepted definition of rape is basically my anti-point — I’m saying it’s woefully lacking.
The real point of sharing my story in this public manner is to shake up some apathy, and stimulate not only this existing conversation, but to provoke those delayed reactions after being initially dismissed.
Is it rape?
If not stated in my state legislature, should I consider it rape in my own personal intimate life?
When I dig down into my guts and listen to myself about this, do I know for sure if I have ever raped anyone?
Has anyone ever raped me?
Is that why I have been feeling so fucked up about the sex I’ve managed to have maybe?
If so, do I want to continue to rape? To risk raping?
If not, do I want to continue behaviors that cause me to question whether I’m raping?
Was that time in the back of that guy’s car after he fed me shots for three hours rape?
Was that time I manipulated those two people by lying to them both about one another and withholding my STD status too.. was that rape?
His dick was rideable and hard but he was passed out — ????!???!
Her lips said no but her body said yes —- ??!?!?!?!
How do my actions and beliefs contribute to rape culture?
How has rape culture contributed to me?
When it comes to combating this cult of personality on both an individual as well as broader level, I think it’s really important to take a look at how we are defining rape and what that’s been meaning for us, not just say “pfft. That’s not how rape is defined.”. Especially when it.. erhm.. actually is.
At the very least, we should be asking how we are unconsciously encouraging rape that IS collectively defined. I, and Washington State, have made our decision about that for the time being.
Ping: You’re lessening the impact of the word “Rape”/I don’t like the word “Rape” therefore I will not listen to you.
Pong: Ok first of all? Fuck you.
Secondly: I’ve seen this notion in both question form and as outrage. My friend Ava has encapsulated this well, and touches on why I tend to simply say ‘rape’ rather than using ‘casual rape’ or ‘common rape’ or ‘second degree rape’:
“Well, there’s rape. And then there’s rape coupled with assault. Which, interestingly, is what most people think of as rape. But an absence of assault is not an absence of rape, or even a lesser degree of rape. It simply leaves less physical evidence, which also makes it more difficult to identify and prosecute.”
Here’s a way to think of it: When someone punches me in the shoulder to greet me at a party, I don’t sneer at them “That’s assault!!”, even though that’s exactly what it is. I tell them to knock it off, and use the stronger language if they escalate. Or, if we have that consensual arrangement, I take the punch good naturedly (or I punch them right back).
Has defining assault in the way that we have watered down more severe versions of assault?
Has it stopped buddies from punching each other in the shoulder or rat-toweling each other in the ass as acts of endearment?
Does escalating to calling it ‘assault’ tend to get a persons attention and call for pause of some sort?
Has the law around assault given recourse to people who are being punched non-consensually and then receiving resistance to their objection?
“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” — Carl Jung
Calling rape rape does not take away from the severity of rape. This is a false equivalence and, I suspect, a gut reaction to minimize, like so many efforts before, the profound commonality and pervasiveness of this violation being unmasked and held to account.
The premeditated assault type of rape being held to such an extreme degree, and overwhelmingly being the type that’s generally referred to when rape is decried, has had, I think, the side effect of stigmatizing all rape and rapists into that ‘they’re gonners, kill them with fire’ category.
All rape, or people who have raped, are not in that category.
*I* am not in that category.
So I counter officially with this: Rather than lessening the impact of the word rape, I am using the truth about the existence of rape to increase the impact of the concept of consent in my life.
I see the arc being akin to the last few decades of working toward the denormalization of domestic abuse. For someone, somewhere, it dawned on them one day, finally: “Holy shit. My husband beating me is abuse.” and got that whole thing started. Now, we also have the resulting campaigning to end child bullying recently, which I perceive as a focus shift to a part of our accepted culture which helps create the environment for those adult abusers to develop. I believe the culture around the type of rape I am referring to is similar to this.
Ping: “What about intent? If someone isn’t intending to rape, then how can it be rape?”
Pong: Google ‘accidental rape’ and ‘unintentional rape’ — it’s actually a thing — and/or, watch this video of a stirring rape prevention advert which speaks to the subject of this thing that does in fact exist.
I know from my own experiences and from being certified in grief recovery that our systemic misunderstanding of grief and misinformation regarding how to address that emotional process leads the way to unidentified feelings like betrayal, shame, and mistrust being stifled — only to pop up later looking like they’re directed at something else.
Our current stigma makes it really damn hard for a person to admit to themselves that they were raped, even when it’s confessed upon and literally named.
It is my opinion that the intent of the rapist, as well as their response to being called out about the behavior, has more to do with how one might handle their impact on the situation/relationship and less about whether or not having had non-consensual sex with someone is technically “raping” them.
Did I intend to rape people in *my* life? No.
Did I rape people? Yes, I damn well fucking did.
Pussyfooting around rape was not working to address the cultural grooming, the rape-encouraging behaviors I needed to be looking at to transform how I’ve internalized our rape culture and continued to allow it to rule my relationships, my self esteem, and my life.
In a larger sociopolitical sense, mealmouthed language also adds to the stigma of people who do have the courage to face those rapes for what they are and speak them.
I’m open to the possibility of the people I’ve sneak attacked not thinking I raped them, but that doesn’t make it any less rape. Seduction is wonderful, but it ceases to be seduction if the object of that seduction does not want to be seduced. I didn’t have consent, I didn’t ask for it, and ultimately I didn’t care to make sure I had it. Whether they want to hold me accountable for that doesn’t effect whether or not I should.
Ping: “This [piece] is fucking deranged. You need help.”
Pong: This troll actually brought some thoughtful response to me, because he is right — people who have developed like I did need help to overcome it.
In my case, I was raped in my sleep when I was young, enraged and hurting from parental abandonment. I refused to see myself as a victim of either of those people’s choices, the result of which is another example of why our culture of victim blaming is abusive unhelpful bullshit.
Rather than surrender and accept that I was gravely injured, I weaponized my white pussy privilege, snapped, and became the Fuck Highlander for my adolescence and 20’s.
Fuck Highlander was welcomed with open arms until I chose to stop her. I had very little outside incentive to change, as do most perpetrators of abuse, particularly sexual. No one wanted to get involved, if they recognized it at all. No one was willing to confront me. I had to confront myself.
After doing that, I have needed every ally, therapy session, healing circle, recovery method, and self care regimen I’ve ever had to own and address that pain and the ensuing rape in my life; both what I’ve inflicted, as well as breaking free of the self loathing cycle which kept me enmeshed in a pattern of being re-traumatized over and over by more rape.
It’s a tremendous undertaking to own and recondition something like this. It takes years. It takes loneliness. It takes discomfort. And it requires the totality of a person to succeed.
To give up stealing sex as power and a means to sooth and validate oneself. To untangle the automatic habits developed in all the time having done it, of which I will undoubtedly find there are more.
To commit to always be examining myself, and watching for it, and to be open to account from others. To spend the time alone I’ve needed to spend to discover and maintain my baseline, who the fuck I am as a sexual being. To embrace meaningful consent, to understand that doing so would transform and limit the role of sex in my life, and that because of this I might just have to develop other parts of myself to lean into besides my sexuality.
A lot of people need the same help I did. Maybe even you. So thanks, troll.
— NOW YOU
I recognize rape happening in my life
But now what am I going to do about it?
The socio-evolutionary arc in how we ultimately resolve rape culture in its various forms and incantations all over the world, is a long and expansive process that requires many drops and ripples in the collective.
We want this to go away now, to make a law and poof, a year from now, 5 years from now, it’s resolved — but it will not happen that way.
Change of this nature and complexity happens slowly, even on an individual level. As a society, it takes generations to unlearn the conditioning we’ve been taught. It takes intense healing and brutal honestly regarding the trauma perpetuated and maintained by that conditioning, as well. We have a long road ahead of us, individually and collectively, before the reality of rape culture can truly be amended from our normalized interpersonal lexicon.
What was originally supposed to be one big rock thrown into the lake (and, I figured, ignored) has taken on its own little life, and for that I am thankful. I appreciate how many of you have shared and discussed my piece. Though I felt exposed and solitary, I absolutely did not enter this foray alone, and I’d like to remind you, dear reader, that it takes a village; that you are a part of that village. What my contribution has been with this writing, essentially, is to share that I’ve found my stance, and language, in that existing debate.
- Consent around sexual interaction is characterized by empathy, and is Informed Direct Engaged Aligned and Lucid.
- Non-consensual sex is a form of rape/Rape is sex in the absence of consent.
- Consensual non-consent sex is a form of rape play.
- Our culture of non-consent surrounding sex is rape culture.
- Our culture of non-consent surrounding bodily respect (like that person on the bus who touches your shoulders without asking to indicate they’d like you to move out of the way) is our culture of non-consent.
What people outside my sex life view as consent in their own lives, what communities at large decide “Consent Culture” means within them, and whether laws continue to shift in the direction I have moved are out of my control.
I only know what my values are, and what I want to lead by example with, how I want to encourage others to consider differently, what I will tolerate in my own life, and which sorts of communities in which I wish to participate.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass
My place in this larger movement, other than continuing to heal myself, is to sew up my contribution to this conversation by sharing how I came from where I was, to where I am, standing squarely against the flow and refusing to move with it any longer. It took, essentially, three things.
Step 1: I recognized that there was a problem.
If you’re reading this, you’re already here. Emotional armor is not easy to shed, and we have it for a reason. Our armor is protecting us from feeling things that our unconscious worries we are not able to feel without dying; our armor development is about survival, and that’s some serious fucking shit.
It is a non-trivial task to even be looking at the catalyst for putting that armor on, let alone our part of a problem which has managed to cause us, and those around us, so much torment.
Even more so when it is such a loaded, triggering issue as rape.
Even more so still when it’s an issue in which vital aspects of our identities have been defined: a culture of normalized sexuality steeped in rape.
This was, by far, the hardest step for me. It happened long before I’d even considered what was happening in my life was rape. Knowing something was wrong and taking ownership of it was the wind at my back, before I had found the language.
“How we call down judgment upon ourselves is simultaneously the most horrific and the most beautiful thing about us.” —Zadie Smith
There is a time and a place for a swift kick in the ass. I have gone from “HAHA, rape.” to “*I* am not a rapist! *MY* friends aren’t rapists!” and “Oh come on, that’s not really rape?!” to “..is it?” to “God damn right that’s fucking rape god damn god damn!”.
Our breakthroughs have a violence to them that is important to recognize and have compassion for, particularly when we’re presented with ingrained pattern-oriented gets which are contributed to by upbringing and a violent, patriarchal society. Those profound lessons hurt. They are called fucking BREAKthoughs for a reason. Because OUCH!
But a kick in the ass, when present, is a kickstart in the process of healing, not a constant element of that process, and this is an integral part of addressing the underlying cracks in ones integrity.
Just as we’ve figured out that we don’t heal up from a bone break by resetting the broken bone over and over until the end of fucking time, our emotional bodies can’t heal that way, either.
We also can’t heal effectively if we keep using our just-set arm to the degree that we’d like it to be functioning again already; we end up with a painful mangled half-healed mess, and the same too goes for our psychic healing.
So here’s another kick in the ass for you:
I could not truly transform beyond this or any pattern in my life as long as I:
- Hung on to beating myself to shit over my habitual behaviors
- Continued engaging in/making excuses for engaging in said behaviors
- Continued to compulsively indulge in distracting myself with judging the patterns of others (Saviorism and blaming victims, are common ways of doing this).
This healing has been about ME, and now your healing has gotta be about YOU. Not your community, not your lovers, not your ex, not the world, not your friends: YOU.
Step 2: I got back in touch with my body…
It is no coincidence whatsoever that the conversation around consent and rape of which these writings piggyback began for me in the BDSM and Sex Positive communities, but the correlation might not be what one would immediately think.
One of the glorious and wonderful things about BDSM (as well as vanilla sex) is how the experience of sensation brings us into alignment with our bodies, and what wisdom our vessels have to share with us through those senses.
Those experiences, not only in developing a broader view of sexuality in general, but in developing a more profound felt-sense listening, have shaped my ability to address and regard these incredibly uncomfortable truths about myself.
As most of us who have engaged in any form of ‘alternative’ community probably know, these communities are not without their faults and failures. Often Sex Positivity is confused with Enthusiasm For Sex, and there was a tremendous amount of emotional abuse and manipulation disguised as polyamory and sex positivity in my experiences.
ADDED 2016: There is also a vast lack of accountability and bravery in alternative communities, particularly in leadership and holding them accountable for taking action. Though the information is valuable, the author of the above linked piece, Charlie Glickman, is himself a now-known perpetrator of abuse. Despite a large community willing to hold him to account and assist him in participating in communal restorative justice, he thus far has continued to leverage manipulative behaviors to save face and retain control. Despite his continuing to do this, he is still in a position of leadership and power in the sex educator community, and still doing sessions with vulnerable populations.
In this fight, it is vital for us to acknowledge that even the people we hold in our highest regards are a product of rape culture, and are inherently protected from the impacts of their abuse. None of us are immune to it and none of us are above it; if there must be an us vs. them, then let it be the us’s that have cultivated the courage and resources to challenge this about ourselves, and the us’s that have yet to get there. But we certainly won’t get there any time soon by allowing known predators to stay in the lead of this movement.
These faults and failures aside, the issue for me personally was that BDSM is overwhelmingly about sex, and in the context of relying upon it to wake up and break out of rape culture (which at the time I had no idea I was trying to do), it too easily serves, nae, is designed to serve, as an echo chamber for keeping things how they already are —just like any other form of sex that’s been birthed in our culture of rape. Just like, I suspect to some degree, YOUR forms of sex.
The lack of distinction Charlie Glickman made between sex positivity, vs. expecting one to feel positively about your brand of sex is not simply present in sex positive community, it is present outside of those communities in a very, VERY big way.
An excellent example of an intersection of these issues outside of the Sex Positive Culture movement is: Wanting (“needing”) your partner to want the type of sex you want to such a degree that you forgo IDEAL consent to have it with them (or provide it to them), rather than accepting your incapability as sexual partners.
My experience as a sex worker, and later a giver and taker in the Sex Positive scene, has ultimately positively shaped me. Yet the single most profound, life altering lesson I learned in my many years experiencing those things was the utter importance of having touch in my life…
…In a way that was not sexual and would never become sexual.
Hooo shit! You can’t heal your relationship with rape culture by having more/different sex? Whaaaa?
No. You can’t. I am here to tell you: No. You can’t.
Working to stop using other people’s sex to define our Selves is one of the absolute core elements of healing from rape culture.
For me, it all began by receiving an amazing massage, by a person who expressed her empathy by having an actual conversation with my body through her hands. I left that situation changed.
I had convinced myself that my body literally did not know how to relax anymore without sex or drugs, but I was walking sober across a parking lot like I’d just slammed a fistful of vicoden, and in that moment, my world, and eventually my purpose, shifted forever.
It changed again when I discovered circus aerial and began taking classes, a physical challenge which engaged me both motivationally and creatively, the love for which forced me to re-prioritize my escapism through drugs and alcohol abuse.
It changed again on a fateful day at an erotic theater, of which I was a troupe member for many years due nearly implicitly to the fact that sex wasn’t allowed there. I was body painted, naked, in public, during one of the most psychically devastating breakups of my life. It was the first time I was naked in public, the first time I had been body painted, and I was an absolute emotional and physical mess.
It changed again recently, when I chose to deepen my self understanding as well as my bodywork practice by taking a class in Somatic Unwinding, a simultaneously intense and utterly gentle exploration of some of our most subtle and quiet felt senses.
One of the most overlooked elements of rape culture is how our starvation of intimate, non-sexual touch compounds the prevalence of rape in our lives.
Humans need touch to survive. It is part of our programming, and touch is absolutely essential for our mental and physical health.
One of the aspects of our culture of rape is the pervasive patriarchal teaching that intimate touch must be sexual or leading to sex; that in order for us to receive that vital touch with any form of authenticity, we must convince someone to approve of our approaches to sex, or we must convince ourselves to acquiesce to anothers approach.
The result, if we fail at this, a part of us is unconsciously convinced, is that we will DIE.
My journey back into that knowing world began, not with more sex, not in the arms of a lover, but on a separate track, with the safe intimate touch of a completely nonsexual massage.
Years of touch exploration later, my body, once a weapon, is now an ally of mine. Without that ally, without that connection with myself, I would still be lost.
Step 3: I addressed my unresolved grief.
Grief is a stigmatized and misunderstood emotional process that few people have learned the skills to maneuver. Grief — a FEELING, that we feel in our BODIES — is most often automatically met with intellectualization, which takes us away from our emotions, and into our circumstantial stories.
What we commonly learn about navigating grief are myths that only help to stuff the experience down deeper, allowing it to linger indefinitely. Myths that encourage us to divorce ourselves from our true feelings, to stuff down the tears that help us release the physical manifestations of our emotions from our bodies, to poison ourselves by holding on to what is meant to move through us.
Though we often internalize this as being a fault, our difficulty and confusion in resolving, or often even recognizing grief as a contributing factor of our suffering, is not a personal failure, pathological condition, or a personality disorder; though unresolved grief is often diagnosed as such.
Rather, it is how we are intrinsically taught, expected, and encouraged to handle the inevitable experience of any loss that is disorderly and pathological.
Conflicting feelings over a change in a familiar pattern is the hallmark of a grief experience, and up until a few years ago, my life has been a void — a fucking crater — napalmed by an excessive, unending barrage of unresolved grief.
And rape, as it turns out, was one of the things I was throwing into that crater, trying to fill it.
I came to suspect grief as a culprit in my suffering after over 10 years of psychotherapy and more conventional mental healing avenues that just weren’t getting me the results I wanted. I’d get a diagnosis and a plan but it always seemed like a surface solution for a symptom rather than addressing the real problem.
The way I learned about grief and how to handle it was by seeking out the help of a friend who was certified in The Grief Recovery Method, which I now teach as part of my practice. With those tools, I was able to identify and resolve my grief..
… which had been hurting others, too.
“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow” — Swedish Proverb
This is a wonderful sentiment, and it is true — for the person who is sharing.
Listening to a persons trauma, however, is in and of itself a second hand injury for us, a truth I find more and more prominent in my life as I evolve as an activist.
It is incredibly difficult for us to show up for others honestly, to offer our empathy and support, if we ourselves are starving for empathy and support; But it is impossible to do so if we ourselves are also incapable of resolving our own accumulated grief.
Without grief recovery skills, our listening and our caring turns corrosive, becoming another barrier to our own healing. Often that lack shows itself as victim blaming, exercising our privilege to turn the conversation from the experience of the victim to our intellectualizations, or to our own suffering, instead.
I still struggle with this sometimes, but I was a stone cold master of it for a very long time. I was the person who responded to the pain of others with sobbing and one-upmanship ranting of my own. I especially did it when confronted with the pain of having hurt someone I cared about with my behaviors. It was automatic, urgent, and the only thing I knew how to do for my own suffering.
My flavors of avoidance were dramatic and obvious and easy to spot, but it’s not all like that, just like not all rape is dramatic and obvious and easy to spot. Sometimes, avoiding our unchecked grief looks like the violence of the Gamergate doxxing, and other times it looks like my boyfriend with a pained look on his face claiming he knows what happened to me was rape, “but…”.
To quote Part 1 in this series:
true goodness is its own kind of heroic. It takes attentive, solemn, unending work to be a good person. It requires skilled humility and having learned a firm, yet supportive self accountability. It requires self love and the honoring of ebb and flow; to be a good person is to recognize when oneself is not doing so and have the wherewithal to return to balance. True goodness can not survive unexamined shame, or the avoidance of facing growth of ones own ethic or self identity. True goodness is action, not of simply performing external deeds and favors, but of profound personal integrity, and quality apology when having drifted astray of it. True goodness requires giving up, over and over again, the compulsive circular chase for superficial proof of ones goodness. To be a good person means to be under your own constant examination, and to have the willingness and ability to question your ideals, entitlements, and beliefs. True goodness is pure courage.
I continued to take these 3 steps to deeper levels:
One thing you may notice about these steps, aside from having a lack of sexual component to them, is that they were experienced by me with others baring witness. All three steps I’ve talked about here, when going a bit deeper, will have the following added to them:
…and included the presence of other human beings.
Human witness is an absolute key avenue for our psychic and emotional healing, which is a process of transformation, and it doesn’t end with the healing from rape culture — the witness of others is a fundamental requirement for the transformation, rather than simply the management or the coping of, trauma, of any kind. WE CAN NOT HEAL THESE THINGS ALONE.
Like many/most of us, I sought human witness first through intellect. I started in 1995 by writing online about my deep dark flaws, which helped me clarify and berate myself for my problems but did not serve to go any farther than that.
Eventually, about 10 years later, I moved forward by seeing a psychiatrist. Before I ever in a million years would have exposed myself to the indignity of fumbling through a group dance class, I was, finally, addressing the cognitive barriers that were keeping me from even considering doing so.
And before I could do THAT, I had to get over myself enough to go see a shrink, even though I still suspected I was way too smart and clever, even though I distrusted the system of western mental health, and already knew too much for them to contribute anything to me. (HA!)
I also needed to take steps in my life to get to where I could participate in healing with my whole person, not just my thoughts and ability to examine them. I took in my naked body in the mirror, I took self photographs in absolute solitude and made art, I explored my reproductive system by myself with my fingers and with tools, both sexually and without hunting for an orgasm. I started small with including others, by sleeping naked, and then by wandering around the house naked, and then when my partner was actually home.
Gradually, I became more comfortable with myself, less judgmental of my body, and less afraid of the warning signs it gives me. I began experimenting with my diet, my sleep cycles, tracking my menstrual cycles — I still forget sometimes, get disconnected and frayed, but what was once foreign and horrifying is now a form of intense wisdom.
Eventually, that confidence grew into human witness as an athletic performance career, which for me was instrumental to my healing work, as well as other forms of art I’ve practiced.
What I have learned is that growth takes time, that it takes the bravery of being willing to fess up to the shit you pulled before you knew better, that human connection is absolutely imperative to healing..
..and profound growth requires that I be willing to be very lonely for a while.
Part of enabling ourselves to do our work is having an extreme reverence for the power of influence in our lives, developing our sense of what is safe for us, and what simply is not.
Before I could truly begin to heal from rape culture, I had to understand that I couldn’t do it by staying engaged with the people around me who were still where I knew I didn’t want to be. More painfully, I had to accept that most of those people would not have an interest in coming “with” me.
While I am grateful to those in my life who encouraged and enabled me for who I was, who accepted me, that person is someone I can no longer be. I had to honor that above all else; to honor myself, to break my cycles, which include physical abuse, alcohol, drugs, and now, rape.
I’ve had to, and will likely continue to have to, turn my back again and again on a twisted flavor of unconditional acceptance that we are commonly taught is love, but which directly encouraged my inhumane behaviors.
If you ever figure out a way for that not to fuckin sting, let me know.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli
As we learn to honor ourselves in our own lives, as we grow and endure and connect with who we really are, as we shed our learned awful and stand in our own integrity, as we learn that our faults are not life sentences, we soften to the faults of others, we draw like-minded people to us who love authentically and do not allow us to mistreat them, and the sting of the losses that we must endure in order to transform ourselves becomes more bearable.
Recap and final comments:
- Recognize there is a problem (and own that while it was inherited to you, the problem is yours)
- Get in touch with your body (through felt sense experiences unrelated to sex or procuring sex)
- Resolve your grief (in the presence and support of another human being)
These steps are goals. They’re spirals I’ve come to again and again, from all sorts of different angles, as a way of approaching life that has enabled me to heal and to deepen that healing with every consecutive pass.
The thing about goals is that you don’t need to know how to accomplish them before committing. And the thing about healing is that you don’t know what healing is going to look like until it’s already happening. Will it be a big jagged scar? Will I even be able to tell a wound was there? Will my healed wound be able to tell me when a storm is coming? Will it make me immune to a whole host of related diseases? Will it give me spidey senses and let me climb walls?
I had no fucking idea what I was doing while I was clawing my way to this place I’m writing from. I recognized a problem and put attention toward figuring it out and here I am. It is in hindsight that I am able share this wisdom with you, and it is wisdom I earned by doing the best I could not knowing what the fuck was going on. I was fumbling toward Shavasana if ever anyone had fumbled toward anything, and it took a village. A village you are now a part of.
It is now your goal, should you choose: brave that jungle. Slash away a path for yourself, for as long as there is jungle to slash a path through.
And then, if you’re anything like me, one day you will find yourself there, at the edge of a tremendous clearing, dumbfounded and finding yourself slashing at air.
You will be there, in your body, in your senses, with supportive humans you’ve managed to learn how to trust, with a sense of yourself that is more secure and more supportive, and it will dawn on you what that unfamiliar complex feeling is: healing.
If you’re anything like me, the tears you cry then will be the weirdest most awkwardly human cry-chuckle tears of relief and gratitude and wt actual f ever cried in the history of ever — and they will have been worth every insufferable fucking fuckass moment that went into being capable of crying them.
If my emotional labor in writing this shit down has helped you, please consider paying me for it.
Take care of you,