In the Absence of Accountability: A queer woman’s rape in feminist spaces

By SuperNova

Trigger warning: Sexual assault

I imagined that what tied us together was more than just friendship. I didn’t really think of the friendships we forged as what brought us together, but rather an outcome of us coming together because of our values, our strong beliefs in a radical queer and feminist ideology. An ideology that our bodies were ours, that we deserved to feel safe, that we as people who identified as women or queer or lesbian still deserved the space to live and perform who we were without having to experience violence that tries to restrict us, restrict our lived and told experiences or restrict our struggles, and our pain.

These friendships, relationships and networks grew throughout the revolution as we discovered where and when each of us positioned ourselves and our narratives against words and practices that loudly screamed at us that our bodies, our desires and affections meant less than those who inhabited and performed male and straight heteronormative bodies.

When my now ex-partner, a comrade, a respected member of one of Egypt’s feminist organizations raped me, that rape was excused and normalized, what had seemed, a solid terrain of social and political connections, crumbled from beneath me.

An imaginary geography emerged as a topography of recognizable faces and voices at protests and outside, virtually and in real life, became distinct from the topographies of faces and voices of others whose message to us was our bodies deserve to be subjected to violence, that this violence when it happens will be normalized. Our wounds and gashes from our contact with a patriarchal world didn’t matter because we had woman parts, because we dared to love and fuck other women. The pathways that linked us together became shorter and well-worn through shared experiences, through social gatherings, action, organizing and through moments of support and solidarity. Our shared stories and intimacies, in the their various degrees of separation, made me feel that my geography was navigable. I imagined that I was standing in a place, among people, groups and organizations that at the very least would reject violence enacted on our bodies.

When my now ex-partner, a comrade, a respected member of one of Egypt’s feminist organizations raped me, that rape was excused and normalized, what had seemed, a solid terrain of social and political connections, crumbled from beneath me. I felt like I lost my bearings and was no longer standing in a place where my body was mine, in fact I even lost touch on a very deep level  with the idea that my body was mine. I had always felt an loneliness as a lesbian and as a victim/survivor of sexual violence and now I feel more alone and lost than I ever had before.

My geography is hostile, I don’t feel safe and I do not know how to navigate this crumbling terrain.

I thought I was safe with her

It was two years ago, when my ex-partner raped me. We were still together then. She had been supporting me for months as I tried to heal from a previous rape that left with me with emotional and physical injuries that I would have for the rest of my life. It was her arms and chest that I buried myself to feel safe when I would drown in memories that made the present indistinguishable from the past. She held and comforted my rage and my vulnerability that someone had felt entitled to take away my ownership over my body and the choice I had. When he would invade our intimacies with his face and smell, it was her face and smell that I would wrap myself in to remember that I was safe, that I was here now, that I wasn’t on my back, my legs by my head with someone trying to shove their cock inside of my unyielding vagina. Our attempts at sexual intimacy were carefully constructed so we as a couple could find a space where our intimacy would not be haunted by the memories of my rapist. Yet, one night after I had explicitly and clearly told her my boundaries, that I did not want to be vaginally penetrated, because the flashbacks hit the hardest when things went inside me, she penetrated me while I was orgasming.

We had both reached out to trusted friends, specifically friends and colleagues that were involved in feminist organizations, initiatives or actions. We reached out because in the middle of loving each other so much, we couldn’t understand what had happened and what its implications are (or were) going to be. She specifically reached out to her immediate supervisor at the feminist organization where she worked, who was also a friend and she also reached out to the director of the organization she worked at. She recounted the story to them and both were quick to tell her that what she had done is rape and that it was wrong. They recommended a therapist and she continued to work and be credited for her outstanding work as an employee who was fighting against sexual violence in Egypt and supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Those who called it rape, who said it wasn’t okay, performed their social and professional relationships with her as if she was not the perpetrator and I the person she had violated.

For about a year and a half, I felt I was spinning, barely able to catch my breath, alternating between rage, confusion and depression. I felt lost and unsettled, I was emotionally unstable, unable to grasp tangibly that my body had been violated, but also that I was so deeply betrayed by the person that I loved. I understood why a stranger would rape me, but I could not understand why someone I loved and who loved me, who believed in the same things I did, would take away my right to define the boundaries of my body. I have spent every waking moment in these last two years, going through the everyday motions of living, feeling to with such effort I feel constantly on the verge of passing out. Every large task or action, mundane or not, felt like I am just about to lose consciousness and hit the floor.

What was most difficult was how everyone reacted to what happened. In the way everyone around us responded to this incident made it feel minimal, their responses felt they excused it, made the whole thing ‘accidental’.  Made it was forgivable. It felt that everyone around me at the time, with their words or in their actions, made it so my expressions of pain, rage and helplessness needed to be contained and interrupted so they do not grow out of control, whilst defending and excusing her actions. Even those who called it rape, who said it wasn’t okay, performed their social and professional relationships with her as if she was not the perpetrator and I the person she had violated. People around us were able to separate what she had done with who she was, whilst still maintaining that what happened to me was wrong and unacceptable. In all of this there was no room for my rage and vulnerability, even when they were supporting me emotionally. As I tried to tell my story and to find support, I was silenced by being told that ‘she didn’t mean it’, that she ‘wasn’t a bad person’, that she was ‘re enacting the violence we all experience as women in Egypt’s patriarchal culture.’ Essentially I was being asked to not feel or act upon my violation and to center the experience around her, because violence from a woman was less, and that violence to a lesbian body mattered even less. My pain was being silenced, making it harder for me understand the extent of the violation and the extent of damage it had caused me. Making it harder for me to heal.

For two years I stayed with her, trying to figure out what what happened, trying to figure out what it all meant. It was hard understanding what had happened, it was even harder calling it rape. It was difficult to find a way to heal in a space that had no room for my pain, in a geography that normalized, minimized and accepted what happened in both actions and words. Eventually, the dissonance and contradictions of what my mind and being knew I had experienced versus the reality the terrain of social and professional relationships presented to me (namely the message that what happened was acceptable and was minimal) my mind broke and gave way to a psychotic episode that I am still, 5 months later, recovering from.

This piece forms part of  the #QueeringTheCloak series which is part of a larger project exploring sexual, emotional and physical violence in queer women spaces on the continent.  The project seeks to essentially ‘pull back the cloak’ on shame and silence around this violence.

For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak click here.

Also an article on 11 Signs You Are being Gaslight in a relationship and another 10 things the author learned from someone using gaslighting as an abuse tacticFor more on supporting people here is a piece on supporting someone in abusive relationship and also a piece where the woman says At least she didn’t hit me”. There is also a piece by a woman who writes a letter to her ex abuser’s new girlfriend. 

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