This is an essay I’ve been thinking about writing for over a year. It took a while, but I think enough time has finally passed since the frenzy surrounding Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” an internet shouting match that made me avoid the internet for days at a time. That was saddening for me because while I consider myself a feminist, I felt either unable or unwelcome to participate in any of those conversations. (On that particular matter, I’ll only say that I’d rather listen to “Blurred Lines” than plenty of other songs on the radio, and I think it’s way more interesting to examine why some artists become targets and others don’t, but that’s all I have to say on that.)
However, more than anything else, I’m here to talk about language and story. In a story, the plot is what happens, but narrative is how we tell what happens.
Most of the time, I can’t really tell my story. At worst, my story has no narrative, and at best, my narrative is simply shunned in a lot of mainstream discussions about sexual violence. Maybe I was raped, maybe I wasn’t. There were a whole lot of blurred lines, and I can argue both ways.
Regardless, it was the most brutal and painful and traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t emphasize that enough. I still shudder at the memories, and my body sometimes still has desperately fierce reactions to things, but I still can’t confidently call it rape.
Sometimes language fails. Sometimes there are no words for what happened.
Feeling forced to choose between the narratives of rape and of consensual sex was probably one of the worst things possible for me in my recovery process. I analyzed everything over and over again trying to figure out what happened that night. While the first year was spent in complete self-blame and denial, which was definitely unhealthy, the second year was spent telling myself it was 100% rape. Subsequent time has been spent somewhere in the middle, though I still sway back and forth, but I prefer to accept the event as a sort of cataclysmic tragedy ala the ancient Greeks.
And in that acceptance, I eventually realized that finding a word didn’t matter. It happened, and it’s in the past, and it doesn’t need to be analyzed ever again. I don’t have to pick a side; I can make my own. For example, it was a deliberate choice to not include in this essay any details about what happened. I’d rather leave it all where it is than get back into that vicious feud. My mental health has improved in this most recent phase, but that’s likely the result of time and environment and practice as much as anything else. Regardless, I don’t want to go back there.
Interestingly, I had to decide that I was comfortable without words before I could find new ones. I had to decide that I was ok with leaving the rape-consent dichotomy before I could find words of my own. Now I simply tell people that I’ve experienced sexual violence. It works. In fact, it works quite well.
I’ve also learned that forgiving myself was as important as forgiving anyone else. Enough time has passed that it almost feels like it happened to another person, but I had to forgive my past self before I could love my current self. As Matt Smith said in his last speech as the Eleventh Doctor, “When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good. You’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” If we forget our past selves, we end up just forever running away from our problems, and that only takes us in circles.
Forgiveness is a process that I argue has to be repeated over and over again, but it’s worth it. Forgiveness isn’t the same as condonation or absolution. Instead, it’s a matter of releasing resentment and moving on.
I do want to recognize that the rape-consent dichotomy can be really important and useful for a lot of women and their stories. I don’t want to deny that. However, when we refuse to acknowledge that others have different experiences, we erase their narrative and their ability to tell their story. My point of view is valid even if you don’t agree with it. Even if I really was raped, and this is just the only way I know how to process it, let me have that. Gray areas exist, and events can be traumatic even if we don’t have clear-cut narratives for them.
I told myself that I was content being silent for a long time, but I wanted to write this because I also felt alone for a long time. I didn’t feel like anyone else had experiences like mine, but even if that were true, we’re all still human, and we all still have the same feelings.
Blurred lines do exist. There is a gray area between consensual sex and rape, and it’s messy, and I’m sorry for that. It’s horrible, and I’m sorry, but we can’t begin to heal until we allow each other to talk about it, men or women or anyone in between.
Over and out.
PS: Since a lot of people who follow this blog like music, here’s the playlist I listened to while writing this: http://www.thecoquette.net/coquette-mix-october-2014