It is sexual assault awareness month, which is funny because I am aware of sexual assault every month.
Even more so this past Friday when I ran into my rapist’s former roommate, one who still runs a house venue where people drink American Light and talk about how clingy their ex-girlfriends are and mention that “I know I am a cis-white male!” before every sentence as if announcing your privilege before making a disparaging comment makes ignorance acceptable.
It’s utterly humiliating to leave a bar with my tail between my legs like a dog who just got punished for taking a shit on the carpet. It is a unique kind of humiliation that continues days and months and years after being assaulted by someone I tried to fall in love with. I am a 25 year old woman with a stable job, an IRA and a home to live in, but I can’t last five minutes in a bar with anyone I associate with that part of my life. There is no confrontation. Just a lot of hiding in bathrooms and calling my friends for support in stringent panic and not really knowing how to leave without crying. It’s paralyzing. I probably won’t go back to that bar for months, even though it is one of my regulars.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me I should be stronger. I can’t behave this way for the rest of my life. I can’t “let men control my actions.” Coincidentally, these suggestions almost always come from people who have not experienced sexual assault. Running and hiding isn’t the most mature form of behavior, but the only one I can default to and still protect myself. It was only two years ago that I began to process being assaulted, even though it happened the summer after I graduated college, when I first moved to a neighborhood in Pittsburgh with no college kids, when I first started my job after being an intern, when I first learned how to experience adult life and adult relationships. All in all, not an ideal time period of life to be abused.
I understand how hard it is for people to comfort me. I think a lot of people are afraid to say the wrong thing, and as a result, definitely say the wrong thing. I get told a lot that I shouldn’t share so much, that it’s dangerous to make myself this vulnerable to prospective crushes, or new friends, or family. I should learn to pull back more, to be less vocal in related activism. But I can’t. I really just can’t. As soon as I connect with any person, romantic or platonic, I can’t stop talking. I like discussing the experiences that make us all vulnerable. I’ve never been intimidated or scared by someone opening up to me about anything, whether it’s a long-held trauma or something embarrassing from third grade. I think the most valuable thing about people is our vulnerability.
Any time I embarrass myself by clumsily darting out of a public place like a newborn deer, all I want is someone to listen to me cry for five minutes and let it be okay. I don’t expect other people to solve this for me, or to say something that will improve the experience at all. I just want you to hear it, and not tell me I am too fragile or too emotional or “too” anything. I have been lucky enough to receive that from a handful of people this weekend, and I am eternally grateful for it.
Since the rest of the population is now aware of sexual assault this month, let someone talk to you about their experience and listen without internally preparing for an appropriate response.