CW: description of sexual assault, internalized victim-blaming, rape culture
Today my news feed was filled with Me too. I’ve scrolled past it from countless friends and acquaintances. Post after post reminding us that almost none of us haven’t been affected by sexual harassment or assault.
It took me three years to talk about what happened to me. It then took until the second time I ever spoke about it to admit that it wasn’t just a bad joke gone too far. Still even now I don’t want to admit that it was an assault.
I still think about the events that led up to it. I think about the days after. I think about the three years that I spent trying to forget it ever happened to me. Tried to convince myself it wasn’t that bad, it could have been worse. It wasn’t rape.
It was five and a half years ago. It was the first time I attended a popular convention with a group of friends. We were all broke so we booked one hotel room for all eight of us. There were only two beds and we were cramped in. I wore a dress that day. I had met my partner through the planning process and we had only been seeing each other for a month at that point. It would be the first time we’d spend an entire weekend together. I wanted to look pretty for our first day there.
We settled into the hotel room. My partner was in the bathroom. There was only one woman in the group, apart from me. The rest of the room was filled with men I considered my friends. Most of them were at least a year older than me. I was eighteen at the time, coming out of first year.
I can’t tell you exactly how or why it started. But it was a joke. He was a friend. At one point, I had even liked him and had wanted him to like me back. He made rape jokes a lot. And so it didn’t seem strange when I was pinned down to the bed. It was funny fighting against him. It was funny as he tried to pry my legs apart. When he stuck his hand inside my underwear. It was funny when I was struggling so hard the strap on my dress broke. I was struggling so hard I even peed a little. When I stood there was a wet spot on the bed. I remember being embarrassed.
I was in a room with six other people. No one moved. No one helped. Everyone was laughing in some way. Because they thought it was funny, because they were uncomfortable and they didn’t know what to do. One of my best friends thought it was hilarious.
My partner came back into the room and it was just a joke. I was let go because my boyfriend had come to claim me. I hid in the bathroom as I changed out of my broken dress. I spent the rest of the con attached to him, never leaving his side again.
That night, the same friend who pinned me down thought it would be funny if he shared the bed with me and my partner. And so he spent the night “playfully” groping at me and my partner all night. I spent it practically hanging off the edge as my partner used his body to shield mine.
He spent the con dressed as pedobear, running around and hugging cosplaying girls around the convention.
We stayed friends with him for a while. I didn’t talk about what happened for a while. I didn’t talk to him about it ever. Eventually I couldn’t handle the rape jokes in the comments. Even as I downplayed what happened to me, every interaction was tainted by the realization I had on that bed. Maybe the men I trusted couldn’t be trusted at all.
I remember thinking to myself as I changed out of my dress that I had thought wearing it might be a bad idea as I got dressed. I knew the friends I was hanging out with. I knew there was a risk in wearing a dress and I did it anyways. And I held that to myself for years. It was so normal to think that if I gave them the chance and they took it, it was my fault.
The first time I admitted it, it was after another friend had come to me with their own story. We were talking about victim-blaming and they told me how they thought it was my fault. I had shared what happened to me and it was the first time I let myself think of it as anything other than a joke. It wasn’t until I would be several pints into an evening with another friend that I’d admit it was assault, holding back tears.
“Do you think he cares what he did to me?” I remember asking. “Do you think he’s sorry?”
“Would you want him to apologize to you if he was?”
I didn’t. I still don’t. I want to forget that he existed. I want to forget that I felt like I deserved it, that I asked for it, that I should’ve been different. I want to believe that there weren’t more people like him in the world. All that I could do was get away from all the people who made me feel like I deserved it.
I don’t have friendships with many of the people I shared that hotel room with. Only one person talked to me about it after, apologized for not knowing what to do. I knew the conversation was hard for them to have, there’s a lot of responsibility in being witness to something you know has hurt someone. But they knew it was hard for me to go through. They let me talk about it when I needed to, held space for me.
But I lost a deeper friendship. And I tried to keep it, cling onto it. I stayed friends with him for years. He was my best friend. We traveled together. He’d been there through my breakups and I had been through his. But no matter how much effort I put into keeping that friendship, I couldn’t change the fact that he never asked me if I was okay. He never acted like anything happened at all.
But it was that friendship that caused so much hurt and confusion in my life. It was that friendship where my sexuality became a joke to share at parties. I didn’t realize how unhealthy it was until I was out of it. I couldn’t connect the dots. I didn’t want to see a pattern in how he let his friends treat me just because I wasn’t a man.
He was always joking about my sex life at parties. I tried to act like I didn’t care who knew who I was having sex with and how often. But he never stopped another friend from asking for blowjobs every time we spoke. It never stopped him from creating an entire scene in an RPG campaign to get my character to have sex with another female character, not because I wanted to have a gay character, but because it was funny to him. It didn’t get him to ask his friend to stop making rape jokes after shoving his hand into my underwear. Hell, the last time I saw him, he was encouraging me to make out with his friends at a party I got too drunk at.
As long as we were friends, close friends, I blamed myself for my body being violated. I came to expect that the men around me would take advantage of me if they could and that it was my fault for giving them the opportunity. I felt like the only way to be fun was to use my sexuality as everyone’s entertainment.
And that’s why it matters. That’s why it matters to stop making rape jokes. To stand up to your friends. That’s why it matters to say that things aren’t all right. That’s why it matters to hold your friends, your acquaintances, your coworkers, your family members to higher standards. To hold them accountable.
Because I shouldn’t have had to worry about what I was wearing that day. And it shouldn’t have taken me three years to talk about it. And it shouldn’t take another two to feel like I have a right to call it violence openly.
And because I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting my friend to be there for me instead of the friend that assaulted me.