Trigger, Please

Trigger Warning: Triggers. Also, Trump. Also, sexual assault, but who gives a shit about that? It’s not like we’re talking about something really bad. Like emails.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know, that thing that people get when they aren’t strong enough to “handle” the atrocities they’re unfortunate enough to live through?

I kid. Seriously, of all the awful things that simmering pile of pumpkin spice hatred has said, this was one of the most innocuous. It seems like this election season, we’re constantly focused on the wrong thing.

Like emails. Holy fucking Christ, enough with the goddamn emails already.

I’m not here to talk about emails.

I’m here to talk about sexual assault.

TRIGGER WARNING: Just assume that this is in effect from here until the end of time. Or at least, for the next four to eight years, because it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Either the US will have elected a sex offender, or a woman- and we all know what happens when a woman says something in public, and just how is a President supposed to avoid doing that?

But I’m getting ahead of myself, when I should be getting behind myself, like a stalker, or a leering old man hovering behind a woman he feels needs to be put in her place by any means necessary. Let me go back to the rosy days of the early 2000’s, when I was with my psychotic BF- no, really, he was honest-to-god psychotic. I mean, I’m not a psychiatrist, but that’s the condition he claimed to “suffer” from, and I believed him, because the evidence supported it, and anyway who would lie about something like that? One night, I was sleeping over in an old set of pajamas I’d borrowed from him- not a sexy set, and they didn’t even fit properly, so my apologies for making it harder to blame what happens next on my wardrobe. I was woken by violent kissing- holding me down, trying to strip me naked- which I just barely managed to fight off. Once I did, he told me that he was suffering a “psychotic break” and required some kind of catharsis to get through it. He was on the verge of murdering his roommate sleeping in the next room, he told me. But because I was a woman, I afforded him opportunities for dehumanization worse than death. Because I was a woman, he could be more satisfied by raping and torturing me than he could ever be with boring old murder. During the night-long ordeal, he even congratulated himself on losing his erection, thinking that it proved that he was really a nice guy deep down, since he didn’t truly enjoy what he was doing to me. See how much it hurts me to do this? I can’t even keep my dick hard. I had to fellate him to get him hard again so he could keep raping me. He really was a nice guy.

He made sure I stayed conscious, that I didn’t “check out”, by making me participate in acts of humiliation against myself. He’d force me to say things, words my young mouth had never uttered before, and certainly not in mixed company, just to make sure I was still paying attention, that I couldn’t escape, not even in my own mind. The hours flew by in eons, and sooner or later, I stopped fearing death. I accepted it. I understood that this was the last thing that would ever happen to me, the way my life would end. All of my hopes and dreams and ambitions would vanish forever with the sunrise. I accepted it. It’s not that I wanted to die. I’d just stopped caring.

Unmercifully, the sun eventually came up, and I was technically still alive, if you could call it that. I was covered in a substance- a mixture of blood, semen, and feces, I think- and he seemed finally sated. I don’t remember exactly how the fluids got all over me- I know the blood was coming from somewhere inside me, but to this day I still don’t know why. I know I was conscious, but my brain won’t let me remember.

As far as I was concerned, I was essentially dead. When you accept death as readily as I had, being still alive is nothing more than a technicality. I wanted to take my body off. It didn’t belong to me anymore. It no longer housed my soul, my identity. My personhood had been destroyed. So this is what it’s like to be a zombie. Aim for the head- the rest is taken.

So, I cleaned myself up, left without making eye contact, screamed internally to be able to rip my own skin off, and went to work like it was any other day. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about anything. Just went through the motions. No one ever asked me what was wrong.

It’s been like that ever since, with maybe a few exceptions, especially early on (abortion, attempted suicide). Just pick yourself up, clean yourself off, pantomime your way through the rest of your life, and never, ever think about it.

But he really should’ve killed me.

I mean, I was ready. I had accepted it. It’s almost cruel to force me to live after that. Because how can you really live if in your mind, you’ve already died?

The thing that got me was that, that night, it was proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the entire concept of human rights is just a fiction we tell ourselves to hide the fact that we’re just meat, we can be used and disposed of at the whim of others and there are no rules of nature or physics to prevent that, and we all die, we all go to the emptiness, the void where there is no eternity. It’s all nothing. We are nothing. We don’t matter. Or, at least, I don’t.
“Because you’re a woman.”

So, let me explain to those who are fortunate enough not to suffer from it what it’s like to have PTSD. Or at least, what it’s like for me.

It’s like a play. A theater production. There’s what is being performed on stage, and the machinations that go on behind the scenes. Only, behind the scenes, the theater is burning down and everyone is dying. But the show must go on.

When you have PTSD, it’s because the thing that occurred to cause it never ended. It isn’t over. It’s not something that happened, it’s something that IS HAPPENING. Always. 24/7. 365. Forever.

You never dealt with it. You never got over it. You never got past it. It’s happening right now. It is always happening, you just ignore it. You push it to the back of your mind. It’s backstage, and you just focus on the play. Perform, perform, pay no attention to the screams behind the curtain. You are in two realities at all times. You are fully aware of the present, the day to day activities you perform dutifully, seeing friends, talking to family, showing up to work, going through the motions. And you’re present, you really are. But there’s a part of you, behind the curtain, in the back of your mind, that is stuck in that moment, that goddamned eternal moment. And you can never escape.

So, what’s a trigger? A trigger is something that pierces the veil. Something in the front-world, the stage-and-audience world, the world of the present forces a connection to the eternal moment, the backstage, the inferno behind the curtain. That inferno spills out. The moment is no longer contained. Don’t scratch at that wall, Sam, there’s nothing good on the other side. Suddenly, the separation ceases to exist, and both realities come crashing into each other. You are now back in that moment, the Event, not just on a subconscious level, but on every level. It’s happening again. It never stopped.

Some triggers are obvious: a conversation about sexual assault could remind someone of their sexual assault. Others less so: the music of Metallica is a trigger for me, because that was his favourite band, and it will always be associated with that place. Other people have certain sounds, smells, sights… we can’t possibly protect ourselves from all of them, and we can’t possibly post warnings about all of them. But there are some that we really have no excuse for not doing something about. I’ll give you a few examples:

When someone catcalls me on the street, reminding me that I am viewed as nothing more than a piece of meat for the consumption of others, I’m back in that moment, in that place. When someone insists that I smile or tell them my name or give them my phone number when it’s clear that I’m not interested, I’m back there. When someone talks down to me, or suggests I don’t know my own mind, I’m back there. When someone touches me without my consent, I’m back there. When someone tells me I’m being “too sensitive” for not wanting to go back there, I’m back there.

And when the so-called “greatest nation on Earth” is about to elect a misogynistic admitted sex offender to the highest office in the land, you better fucking believe I am back there.

Donald Trump has been accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. Some of those accusations have led or are leading to trial. He’s even bragged about it himself. The day that he is elected over a hard-working, compassionate, experienced, qualified, lifelong public servant who just happens to be a woman is the day that I know for an indisputable fact that what I learned that day was true: I don’t matter. I will never win. I may as well be dead.

Trying to convince myself that that wasn’t true saved my life. It kept me from finally accomplishing what he couldn’t. I changed my mind about killing myself because I didn’t want to believe it was true. But if Trump is elected, I will know it’s true. I will know that this world offers no place, no safety for someone like me.

Donald Trump is a human trigger, in bright safety orange, and no one fucking warned us. Or did they, and we just didn’t listen? Are we listening now?

I can’t live in a world that would elect this man over Hillary Clinton. I won’t. I refuse. The night I was raped and tortured because I was a woman has lasted for fifteen years, and on Tuesday, I will know if it can finally end. This election will trigger either a resurgence of the social norms that put people like me in places like that, or it will trigger the final, gradual, eventual healing we so desperately need, with all the pain and pus and revolution and regrowth that goes with it.

Either way, you’ve been warned.

 

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Made For Walking

Last month, a Toronto police officer giving a lecture on rape prevention advised those gathered that the best way to avoid being raped was to stop “dressing like sluts.”

At that, all the rape victims in the world finally realized where they’d gone wrong. From Canada to Iraq to South Africa to the United States, everyone donned a parka, burqa, or Virgin Mary costume, and no one was ever raped again.

Because, that’s how it works, right?

I mean, come on, some eleven-year-old children are just totally asking for it, right? Take real good look at a Catholic altar boy some time. Goddamn begging for it. Could you resist the little tramps? When the Japanese invaded Nanking and raped thousands of people, some multiple times, some until they died, you just know it was because of all those sexy lacy thongs those saucy little minxes were wearing. And when my unstable boyfriend suffered a psychotic break in the middle of the night, woke me up with violent touching, and proceeded to torture me until I was barely aware of my surroundings, it must have been because of those damn button-down pyjamas I was wearing. Pyjamas which I’d borrowed from him.

It was a cop who’d sworn to look out for us who said this. Someone I might turn to if I’m ever attacked again. Someone I’d count on to be on my side, to see that justice is done. But justice is an easy word to throw around, whose meaning is fluid, hard to recognize and understand, just like the word “slut”. Exactly what is a slut? What constitutes slut-dom? Its meaning seems to change according to its circumstances, much like the word “rape”.

When I was a kid, I thought a “slut” was just someone who’d sleep with anyone, without being picky. But I noticed that when some people did this, they were called “studs”. This was confusing. So I looked for differences in behaviour- what marked a slut from a stud? It seemed to me that a ‘stud’ is defined by sexual conquests, getting many people to obey your sexual whims, having sexual power over those from whom you take what you want (which all sounds pretty rape-y to me). A ‘slut’, on the other hand, was someone who let herself be used for the pleasure of others. Usually suffering from poor self-esteem, she seeks the lowest form of attention and affection, becoming an empty vessel without desire or agency to be used and consumed by those who don’t really care for her. But unless you get a t-shirt that says all that, I don’t really see how you can get that across via clothing choice. Which is when I discovered that, apparently, “slut” refers to females (and only females, for some reason) who wear clothes that men traditionally find sexy. Which simply means “not much clothes at all.” Which, of course, doesn’t take into account that different men find different things sexy. Some go for lipstick and heels, some for glasses and sensible boots.

So if it isn’t the clothing itself that defines a “slut”, and it isn’t merely a submissive but invisible attitude, then what? Most definitions seem to agree that quantity of sexual partners, or a willingness to have sex, are intrinsic to the identity of a “slut”. Which sounds pretty close to the definition of “stud”, except there’s no suggestion of coercion here, no “making someone your bitch”, as it were. Females who, somehow through dress, express themselves as sexual beings.

But, aren’t we all sexual beings?

So, if a “slut” is simply any woman who doesn’t retch or freeze at the thought of having sex, then a “slut” is basically any woman with sexual agency? Or am I leaving something out? I’m so confused!

The problem is that this word that carries so hurtful a meaning doesn’t seem to actually mean anything at all. But it isn’t going to go away. Like it or not, it’s a part of our language, even if we don’t know what we’re saying when we use it.

So I guess that means that the meaning is open for a new interpretation, huh?

And there are women in this city who have decided to take it back.

If “slut” is to mean “a woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality”, then fuck it, I guess I’m a slut! And I am proud to be so. It took me a long time to get here. It was a hard climb from Victimhood Valley to see the Sexual Liberation Summit from where I stand. Maybe I haven’t quite reached it yet, but at least I have my goal in my sights. And you have no idea how hard it’s been.

When you’re raped, you stop being you. It’s like being assimilated by the Borg. Suddenly, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s being used for someone else’s purposes, without your consent. We here on Earth like to believe that human rights are absolute, inalienable facts. You have some sort of soul or mind or consciousness that is housed in a fleshy structure, and that structure is your only means of interacting with your environment. You are that structure. It is you. You have exclusive rights to it, and only you may decide what happens to it and what it’s used for.

And that is a lie.

Your body is nothing more than a walking meat pile, as public a commodity as trees or water or dead animals. Nothing stops others from doing what they want with it. If someone else decides that you have one arm, you have one arm. If someone else decides that you’re not a virgin, you lose your virginity. If someone else decides that you are a vessel for their pleasure, then that is the case. If someone decides that you die, then that’s the end of you. You do not own your body. That’s the truth. And yes- it is possible to prove it to you.

People often talk about psychologically surviving rape by “leaving your body”- mentally checking out so you don’t have to acknowledge the horrifying, empty truth being proven to you using your own body, your spiritual home as evidence. But what no one ever mentions is that, after you leave your body, you can’t get back in. That’s it. The locks have been changed, and someone’s repainted the interior an awful colour. Your mail is marked “return to sender”. You’re not there anymore.

Meet the rape-victim zombie.

Floating through her life with the understanding that the only purpose of her fleshy substance is to provide pleasure for others. Her own doesn’t matter. She is not a person. She is only an empty shell.

God. If only she’d worn the flats. Clearly, she was asking for it.

Let’s be clear: it is impossible to “ask for” rape. That is contradictory to the very definition of rape. But here we go with definitions again. What is rape?

Rape is the act of separating a person’s soul from her body. Rape is the act of seizing absolute power over another. Rape is the act of demonstrating to a person that their basic human rights are a fiction, they are not entitled to a mind or soul, that they are nothing more than walking meat piles existing solely to be consumed by others. Quite simply, rape is the worst thing in the world.

Despite ridiculous legal gray areas, there is no difference between “date rape” and any other kind of rape. From “incest” to “pedophilia”, we keep trying to tell ourselves that there are types of rape that are somehow worse than others. We forget that people are equal, and everyone has a right to their own body.

So why the victim-blaming? Why do we perpetrate the myth that rape victims are women who walk the streets at night dressed provocatively, instead of acknowledging the reality that they are people like you and me, who are probably raped in their own home, by someone they know? Some say it’s some deep-seated cultural misogyny, some say it comes down to a fear of female sexuality. And some just desperately need to believe that such a thing can only happen to “someone else”. Someone who made herself a target somehow. Someone who was asking for it.

In fact, you probably know someone whom it has happened to. Your friend. Your co-worker. Your wife. Your mother. Your daughter. Your son.

The truth is, it can happen to you. Yes, even if you’re a guy.

But that doesn’t mean it will.

You cannot live in fear. The streets of your city belong to you, and you have every right to walk down them wearing whatever you want. Your body is not a commodity, and no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or threatened, or to take your rights away from you. You own yourself, and no one can take that away.

The fact that we live in a world where rape is even possible is existential-crisis inducing indeed. I won’t tell you how to prevent rape, because that isn’t your responsibility. It is your responsibility, however, to NOT rape. It is every person’s responsibility to not be a rapist. We live in a society where we accept sexual assault as inevitable, the status quo. We live in a rape culture. But that can change, if we take control. Don’t be a rapist, and don’t be a victim. And when I say “don’t be a victim”, I don’t mean that it’s your fault if, god forbid, the worst happens. It isn’t. But victimhood easily becomes an identity, even to those who have never been attacked. If you have been there, remember, you don’t have to see a victim when you look in the mirror. You don’t have to see that red raw meat that you no longer recognize. You don’t have to live in fear. Be a survivor. Be free.

Tomorrow, we take back the streets. We take back the word that has so often been used against us. We stand up for our rights. We march.

Join me and countless others as we march the Slut Walk down Toronto’s streets. Meet on Sunday April 3rd at 1:30 on the south lawn at Queen’s park. Together, we will wear what we want, and proudly carry our sexuality, whatever form that takes, down the streets that are rightfully ours. And we will not be afraid.

Note: Read also my other blog, that I write with another fabulous lady, where I’ve posted a complementary piece on this same all-important subject.