What Happened? Coming to terms with my assault by a woman.

By Caitlin

"I didn’t know what to think after the incident. I didn’t know what to think during it. I never thought I would freeze, but more so, I never thought a woman would do this to me."

WARNING: This article may trigger emotional distress as it describes an account of sexual and physical assault.

It’s a blurry mess in retrospect. I was continuing seeing a girl I didn’t actually want to date but for fear of conflict, fear of loneliness; and I thought her affection filled that void inside myself of never feeling deserving of love. She was adoring -- and over enthusiastic which intuitively bothered me, but I ignored that gut instinct. 

When things began to drift, I think she sensed it. I often find myself wondering still -- was she being malicious or was she just being tone-deaf to the situation. 

I didn’t know what to think after the incident. I didn’t know what to think during it. I never thought I would freeze, but more so I never thought a woman would do this to me. I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t know what to say, or how to feel. Or worse, I didn’t know how anyone else would react; I’m fixated on being able to control how I’m perceived, for better or worse. 

I didn’t think people would believe that I couldn’t push her off, or fight back or leave...or that women can sexually assault. I felt guilty for being too drunk, for panicking, for not fighting. I had prepared and executed that escape and defiance with men -- pushing them away, sometimes tricking them to escape without conflict, or being loud and feisty; able to call them out, for some weird notion that they [their actions] didn’t hold weight in my world - that I didn’t have any respect for men who acted in “that way”, and it was comical to outsmart them, belittle that behaviour, call them out. I know how wrong that sounds, but it worked, luckily for me, not so luckily for others. I didn’t think I’d be confronted with a similar position with a woman. We were getting to the end of this weird, me being a little bit lost, series of dates. She sensed it I’m sure. Her desire to see me became more desperate. Desperate because I was an idealized version of something she could show off, because I was kind, I listened, because I was vulnerable, too honest maybe? (is that a crime?). I held back trying to end it, until the last time… and I got drunk. Very drunk. I didn’t want to go to her place, but it was close, and we went. She made advances, but I brushed them off and told her, “no, not tonight, I need to sleep, please stop. No”, “please, let's just sleep” and that's what we did. I passed out hard, harder than most times, contemplating how I felt that I was prolonging the inevitable, maybe leading her on, by needing to sleep in her bed because I was sad, drunk, far from home, lost in my own thoughts, a slew of excuses I still feel the need to provide. 

When I awoke, I was being violated, in ways that even with the conversation of asking for consent, I avoided, because they made me feel emotionally fragile, exposed and vulnerable. Because I was lagged in sleep, I felt the inability to yell. I tried, but no words came. I tried to move, but her weight was too heavy. I managed to say stop a few times; maybe she didn’t hear, she probably did...and then I stared at the alarm clock, tears in my eyes, waiting for it to end...and it did eventually. I watched what might have only been a few minutes, drag by like years in that digital interface, the minutes barely moving. I pretended to sleep, but kept my eyes open, my body was in pure anxiety to flee, but I didn’t. I wanted to avoid conflict. My already heavy mind was now spinning in chaos that I could not make heads or tails of -- it was like being stuck in a bustling market, surrounded in a foreign language I didn’t know...and me backing up into a fruit stall, against produce I couldn’t name or remotely identify; no idea how I arrived there, or how, where to go next... I snuck out early in the morning, after she was asleep. Fogged and disoriented I found my way home, crawled into bed and sobbed. Maybe for thirty minutes, and then I tucked it all away. I didn’t know how else to process. I wrestled with trying to understand what she gained from it. I wrestled with almost making peace with her, I grappled with ‘how do I explain this’, was it my fault because I was distant, sometimes being careless with her emotions, and then there was the matter that I was drunk? Could I have fought back, I should have? Should I have? I don't know why I froze completely, couldn’t muster any energy inside of me to fight or flee.

I told a friend, who laughed at first. I don’t blame them for that initial reaction, either. It wasn’t intentional. The person didn’t know how to wrap their head around it, and thought it was a completely foreign and fictitious concept. They eventually apologised and we talked about why it was such a betrayal - both of us are lesbians - and it’s a betrayal mostly because it’s such an uncommon experience, at least not often talked about, in the community. Women aren’t supposed to be like this, because of a recently aging and fading idea, lesbians in our time, experienced trauma; they weren’t supposed to inflict it. So I bottled it down, and tried to avoid making sense of the experience, I knew reason nor logic would never come; trying to find support wouldn’t fit my experience, and was also, just not common enough to find a “group”. 

When ‘Me Too’ happened, I told my mom of another experience, in which an older woman cared for me when I was young and exploring my sexuality; and again drunk. I kissed her and I went home with her, but she knew I was not in a place to consent. Instead she gave me pjs, water, gatorade, advil, and told me to sleep. I woke up and threw up, and she held my hair, and then took the metro with me - a one and half hour ride, to make sure I got home safely. I was mortified by my actions that night, but eternally grateful for her kindness, her compassion, her care and her lack of judgement. She shared with me, something I thought was inherent in our community, something I had experienced before, something I had heard legend of; older women having “relationships” with young women - but in a way, almost giving them padding to figure out their way -- it’s a sad trope in the lesbian community, but one many go through - or maybe it was just at this time, went through; compassion, experience, passing knowledge, forgiving immature behaviour, but fundamentally abiding by the campsite rule (provided by Dan Savage) ‘leave them better than when you found them’ [sic] [paraphrasing].

I tried to tell my mother of the aforementioned experience, and I couldn’t find the words. I alluded to it, but I didn’t know how to express it. My sister had a traumatic experience in high school; she thought she had to carry that alone and it led to self-destructive coping mechanisms [for what she might have perceived as atonement for a vicious and fictitious lie she told herself, or worse what conditioned by our religious upbringing to believe] in her life... When she finally shared that experience, everything; her moods, pushing away, hiding, reactions... it all made sense to me, and she could finally [at least attempt to] get help/ heal from that. It was a huge event in our collective familial experience; one that really shaped how we cared for her, [and wanted to desperately] alleviate her deep and unwarranted pain. I was young and didn’t understand, but I felt her grief and I wanted to make her feel okay, to show her how to love herself as much as I loved her little sister, without understanding the full context and extent of her traumatic and senseless experience, I wanted nothing more than the ability to take all of that pain away from her, even if it was for a moment; to prove to her that it wasn’t her fault. There was nothing defective about her,  it changed nothing about everything I felt about her, looking up to her as her little sister; nor how much I wanted to be like her; strong, smart, quick and emotionally connected and expressive as she was.

My experience, I felt in my mind, was not that. Not because I was mentally stronger, I wasn't and never will be as strong as my sister was and continues to be. I think it was the fact that it was a woman -- that for some reason in my mind, gender for some stupid reason, invalidated the experience to me. I also think that by compartmentalising it, I trivialised it for myself, and refused to feel anything about it; it sometimes crept up in my thoughts and made me anxious without knowing how to articulate the reasons and feelings. It made me disgusted physically, like a deep wretch in my stomach sometimes. It made me hyper vigilant of seeing her anywhere ever again. I never did. I don’t hold those feelings now, but not for the act of healing, rather for this general idea that I continue to hold, and need to hold, that it wasn’t that important, it wasn’t that traumatic, and it wasn’t that real. I can believe that repetitive mantra, because now I can barely remember the actions, I remember the way I felt more than the event. I don't think about it often. I don’t want to, not because it hurts, but because I feel such a tangle of confusion around the event, such a lack of closure, a bit of guilt, a bit of weird ineffable emotions. It doesn’t consume me, in the way of being able to confront my abuser about it, having maybe reported her, having fucking yelled about it and taken back my feelings of being exposed and helpless. I don’t feel compelled to do those things, because I don't think it would matter. I fear she’d make excuses, and it was so long ago, I wonder if she even remembers. I wonder if it was malice or desperation. But then again, I don't wonder too deeply, or too frequently. 

I had trouble writing this, even now I still feel it’s not that traumatic of an event for me, but in a lot of ways, I have to admit it was so undeniably confusing for me. It shouldn’t matter that I felt betrayed, mostly because in my projection of anger, I think I’m most angry that she was a woman; and that's not a real answer, that’s not the real issue. The issue was that I was violated, confused, made to feel vulnerable not by choice, but my force. But I can’t accept that, because I hold too much responsibility (warranted or not) in the course of events of that night. Women can assault, they can violate, they can manipulate, control and seek power over others, too. I’ve tried to rationalise if that’s a product of patriarchy, if it’s in the abuser's nature. Is it in some men’s nature? Is it actually a human instinct? I wonder that more often than what her intentions were...but I often arrive at the idea that she was performing ‘masculinity’ or worse, failed ‘masculinity’ as a means to reclaim power or position, and all in all, that disappoints me greatly.

That hypothesis, always makes me feel pessimistic about humanity in general -- that people are so lost and disconnected that they operate with malice; and often with the desire to claim dominance, validation, superiority; because they never learned how to take responsibility in interactions, or worse they never faced the consequences for their choices: choices made hastily in an attempt to feel vindicated, affirmed, seen, but depressingly to fill a void of powerlessness; did they learn how to process their emotions properly? No. So, many people act violently, selfishly and carelessly. Like small children [who get the pass on this behaviour, because their emotions are brand new]. Is it the case that we instinctually, primarily, default to hurting others as a means to communicate deeply the nature of being hurt/uncomfortable? Do we steal joy to excuse our own discontent? People feel the need to prove they are overwhelmed, confused, prove their physical discomfort. Adults should have to face the humiliation and consequences of acting/reacting in that emotionally volatile and destructive way. We’re not taught to; we’re  never confronted with the responsibility of all that antithesis of kindness and care;  we’re equally rarely confronted with the pain (or general effect) we (intentionally or not) cause others.

I don’t search for pity, even writing this was difficult enough to have to face what I’m trying to understand about that night. I don’t seek her defacement or punishment, because I truly believe that what caused her to do those things, will be the very reasons why she’ll always avoid the truth about herself. Subsequently she will never admit or own her cruel, selfish and hurtful behaviour. 

I was and I wasn’t a target - deeply, it wasn’t about me, just my availability at that time and moment to be her outlet of anger. It’s reductionist to say, maybe even apologist, to say, it was about her -- everything she lacked, everything she built me up to be and as all people, when you have (any) expectations on them, they will let you down. She took out that disappointment on me physically. She interrupted my course through this life; she wanted me to feel the despair she felt- but it wasn’t an equal pain, nor was it consensual (therefore it must have felt cheap). She took my sense of security, my openness and desire to be trusting in others, and exploited it. She didn’t even see the way that her desire to level me to her insecurities, her fears, her hurt, truly and so thoroughly, did. 

She took my sense of security, my openness and desire to be trusting in others, and exploited it.

All this to say that’s what I learned from this experience - and it’s not nihilistic - I learned (from many places and experiences during that time) to not have expectations for people. Expectations placed on others will always let you down, because expectations are not a conversation - they’re a hypothetical and false solo exchange. What she didn’t do, that I do in retrospect: I communicate, move through this life with compassion, empathy, learn to listen, don’t get angry when my advice isn’t heeded, and accept that my friends make mistakes (sometimes repeatedly). To err is human. Be kind with people, be patient; but above all else, never steal someone else’s joy -- never ever inflict your darkness on another, especially as a means to trap them into the responsibility of fixing your hurt; they’re not your scapegoat, the blame for the work you don’t do. Maybe even that is giving her too much of an excuse, but if I search for a reason - that’s the one I see. It’s not fair. It’s not right. But all that I can do is use my swirling in the dark about this event, is to do better, call others to do better - to share it for others who might be as confused and alone as I was, and in some small way, reduce it to what I can define, empathise with, and ultimately forgive...move on. 

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