Pt I: ‘I lay on my back and gave up’: On losing control of your bodily autonomy
TW: Sexual assault, suicide
It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when I didn’t know what rape was. Like when I was 11, I didn’t know what rape was. Even when, one day, I had to lie flat on my back while a doctor pushed big pills up my vagina while both my parents watched. I don’t remember much leading up to that moment, but I do remember how it felt when the doctor put the pills inside me.
They could have been watermelons. I was embarrassed. I was scared, and I cried. No one told me what was going on. No one ever did. But up until that point, I had assumed some kind of sense of control over my body. I wore what I wanted, ate what I wanted. Until that moment I thought I had some control.
And with this one moment, at Dr.K’s practise in Karen, that feeling of control fell off my body like dead skin. Dr. K had suspected that I’d been raped, but when you’re 11, no one tells you what rape is, or what it might look or feel like. Instead, you’re taken to the doctor, who says nothing, and just like that your body is no longer yours.
I lay on my back and gave in to the inevitability of sex I didn’t want, and sex I had been saying no to, even on that day. I basically gave up.
Ten years later, I still didn’t know what rape is. Even when during my first year at university, at 21, between the morning class on Media Ethics and the afternoon class on Introduction to Psychology, I lost the fight between my many ‘nos’ and my then boyfriend’s unceasing demands for sex. He said, ad nauseum that I kept turning him on and refusing to take responsibility for his erections. I would spend time in his campus dorm room, where I enjoyed the thought of having a boyfriend. The cuddling was nice and the kissing was awkward. All I really wanted to do was make out, and hold hands and go to the movies with a boy. But post making out he would sulk and stomp around moaning about why would I kiss him and touch him if I was not willing to have sex with him. That ‘blue balls’ are really painful and I needed to be a bit more caring.
So that afternoon, I lay on my back and gave in to the inevitability of sex I didn’t want, and sex I had been saying no to, even on that day. I basically gave up. I wasn’t present, a large part of me wasn’t present and didn’t want to have sex. Even though I had been masturbating for years and I knew what sexual pleasure could feel like, I, in that moment, didn’t want to have sex with him. I had been saying no for months, but in that moment, I didn’t say no. I gave in. I hated him, and myself in that moment. It hurt. I wasn’t turned on. I’d never had sex. I bled a little and tried not to cry. I told him that he’d taken my virginity and hoped he was happy. He said there was no way I could prove this. That for all he knew, I’d had an STI before that tightened up my vagina.
So, immediately after having sex with him for the first time, I had become a slut. He said it, and I believed him. Completely. I had sex with him for another year. In the course of the ensuing year, I was coerced into having unprotected sex. It was similar to how I ended up having sex for the first time. Endless moaning and incessant accusations of infidelity. If I wasn’t a slut with a tight cunt, then why wouldn’t I have unprotected sex with him? What other diseases did I have? He knew he was clean, but what was I? I even fell for the whole if you love me you’ll have unprotected sex with me as a sign of trust.
I was already a slut so what the heck.
I had unprotected sex for many months. I cried a lot. Nearly daily. And when I tried to leave him he threatened suicide, got his friends to call me and ask why I was being a bitch to such a wonderful man. I was miserable. And until the pain outweighed all my other feelings, I left him, and all the threats of suicide just didn’t work. He’s still alive.
But at the back of my mind, it remained, was it rape, me giving in to sex that I didn’t want or was it just that, having sex that I didn’t want. But isn’t that rape? He didn’t physically force me to have sex for the first time, nor did he physically force me to have sex without a condom, but emotionally and psychologically yes.
The physical violence experienced during rape is very real. It is the most visible manifestation of rape. As well as many other kinds of violence. It becomes all about whether there is evidence that someone hurt you, but we need to remember that the manifestation of the violence does not have to be ouvert for it to be very very present.
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. Check out the entire series 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 tactic. For 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. Here is a piece about not dealing with a queer woman’s assault in an Egyptian space and another on dealing with queer women violence in feminist spaces.