This was a year of survival.
On the side of the positive, I survived a year and then some without my engineering job. When I took the path less traveled, it was not as perilous as I first believed. Although it has been a challenging year, there have been many highlights. Together, with many amazing backers, we made it possible to print volume three of LeyLines. Cory and I met many of you at conventions both near and far. I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone creatively and professionally, giving presentations and running creative writing classes. It has been a year of hard-won growth, and many of you have been a part of that journey. The path that my new, creative career will take is still unclear, and I have my doubts and fears that the fog will ever lift, but step by step I am moving forward. Even when it seems impossible to do so.
And this year, things have often felt impossible. It has been a very frightening year, in that respect.
The worst of what I have survived, I have kept secret, because I was not ready to be public with it. At best, I have made vague references to something in March. The event was too traumatic and too triggering. I didn’t feel I could talk about it. With the year coming to an end, I want to bring it out of secrecy and let it become part of my history instead. I want to own it, without fear of what might be said or who is watching. It is not a pleasant thing, but it is an important thing. And you and I and every LeyLian here have tackled unpleasant and important things on this site in the past, and we’ve survived. We will again.
That said, having experienced first-hand the importance of trigger warnings, I will let you know right now that this may be a difficult post for many of you to read. It was very difficult for me to experience. And if you do not wish for something so heavy on your New Years, stop reading now with my blessing. Perhaps return to this post later, when it is a better time. Some parents may want to preview this too, although I think the problems that contributed to my experience start happening at a very young age. It is worth discussing.
So let’s discuss.
In late March, I was sexually assaulted by a person I would have once considered a close friend.
The experience was…shattering.
It forever changed my view on the world, on myself, on what I thought was true.
I learned that there is no truly safe place in the world. I learned that I had internalized misogyny and victim blaming. I learned that I was weaker than I had believed myself to be.
With it, I also learned that if there is no safe place, then fear of the world almost becomes pointless. If you are equally unsafe on the street as you are in a trusted home, you may as well live your life as fully as you can, because there will not be opportunity elsewhere where that becomes an easier option.
I learned that I was not above other women, not somehow stronger or smarter or less careless than “one of those girls,” but that I am, and always have been, in the same boat as all women. All girls. Living in a culture that does not understand consent, or respect, especially for the female half of its population. I became part of a community that previously I had thought myself somehow apart from, because I had been taught that only the stupid and the weak “put themselves” in a position to get hurt. I learned differently, this year.
1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. That’s something we talk about all the time, and beyond avoiding certain carcinogens, there’s very little we as a species can do about it.
1 in 4 women in the USA will be raped. 1 in 3 will be sexually abused. That’s something we rarely talk about, something that’s under-reported, and it is entirely caused by human action. Human decision. Human choice, to give someone else no choice.
When I was growing up, my sex education classes taught us 12 year old girls that if we were ever raped, “Not to fight it, because then at least you’d be less likely to be murdered too.” I even had a teacher suggest that maybe we should, “try to enjoy it.”
I try to imagine saying that to some of the amazing little girls I work with every day, and I am appalled.
When I was young, I was equally disgusted with the idea, and I swore I would never be a person that gave up on themselves. I swore I would fight, tooth and nail, against the looming stranger my imagination created.
I learned that it is much different when you are facing not a looming stranger, but a trusted friend.
I was not attacked. It was not a violent assault. The legal definition, I have since learned, is “sexual battery.”
It is an easier thing, in the imagination, to oppose a stranger. In my mind, when I faced down crisis moments, I was loud and fierce and capable. In reality, I was exhausted, having been on my feet and working for over ten hours that day. I was sick, on several medications. And, most importantly, I thought I was safe. And suddenly, when I abruptly wasn’t, I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I was confused and afraid. I didn’t know how to express my boundary, to say “No,” and my brain began to rationalize. It told me if I spoke up, I’d ruin the other person’s marriage. That the other person deserved to do whatever they wanted, because they’d given me a shoulder rub. That my body didn’t matter, because it was just a body, not really important in the grand scheme of things.
My mind shut down, and in the end the most I could do was crawl, hands and knees, away. I crawled to the bathroom, curled up in a ball in the shower, and was already so deeply into my denial and rationalizations that I did not know why I was crying. I did not come out of that shock for days, going about my business as usual and unable to identify what was wrong.
When I finally did realize what had happened, I felt I’d let myself down. It was my fault, because I didn’t say “No.”
Consent, I learned this year, doesn’t work that way. It is not the absence of a no. It is not the burden of the recipient to lay down a boundary after it has been breached. It is the burden of each human being to observe and inquire after the boundaries of others. Mistakes will happen, but we can help avoid those mistakes by practicing consent everywhere and every day. Ask before doing anything that involves the other person’s body and boundaries, and make it clear in asking that refusing is completely fine and safe to do. Teach children to ask permission for things like giving a hug, taking a toy, or holding a hand. Ask them in return. Teach them that they are worth respecting, worth asking, that their choices regarding their body and possessions matter.
Our culture, as a whole, does not understand consent. Perhaps does not even value consent. So much of our world operates by the credo of, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”
What they don’t mention is that, when you are asking for forgiveness, it means someone else has already suffered. Suffering that you could have avoided, had you thought to ask. Is getting or having or doing what you wanted really so grand, if others came to great, and needless, harm? The individual may gain, but the community as a whole loses.
I lost. I lost a friend, I lost my sense of self, I lost my view of the world.
And I survived. I gained a better understanding of what a true friend is, of what my my actual strengths were, of the wider world I live in and its problems. It was not a pretty set of lessons. I wish I could have learned them without the pain I have endured this past year. I wish I lived in a world where nobody ever had to learn these things.
I hope that each of us, in 2015, can work to make this a world where nobody has to learn these things again.
It has been my constant fear that I have been too depressing, too dour, on this site in 2014. Yet, that has been my experience this year. I have always felt that dark things breed in silence. I have tried to be open with my depression, in the hopes that it may help someone else see they are not alone. Now, I am hopeful that by being open with being a survivor of sexual assault, it will also help someone else understand that the trauma they have endured was not their fault, and they can and will survive. They can thrive. And they deserve to do so. We are, together, one of three. And we are all “one of those girls.”
I have found that people often feel they need to say something when they learn this, but they do not know what to say. It is okay. I don’t have any expectations for anybody to know the right thing to say in response to such news. I’m not even sure there SHOULD be a “right thing to say” in such a situation. For my own part, I wish only to express my thanks to all of you. Thank you for sticking with me this difficult year. For your patience, your kindness, your understanding, and your support. Let us all endeavor to do more in 2015 than survive. Let us embrace the lessons of our past and thrive.