Past Life

Sexual assaultby Joy Farber @ littletreefarber

The scene though far removed remains vivid in my mind.

Images pulse in front of me like morse code.

A little girl– afraid– watches mute as acts that will shape her identity, and behavior for much of her life are committed.

The blue, glossy lockers are fixed to the walls outside the classrooms behind, and to the left. A few trees are scattered, and caged– not more than overgrown household plants on the cement to her right– creating the illusion of nature on the dilapidated school campus.

Two older boys– familiar to her only through her few “popular” attractive friends come running up behind her, laughing. At first she doesn’t see their faces– but eleven years later they are clear– burned into her mind.

She had switched from the skimpy tank tops and tight pants– her dress code of the year before– to a more comfortable outfit of oversized sweatshirts, and baggy men’s pants.

Before there was time to react– the sweatshirt was being pulled over her head. He stopped it at her face so she couldn’t see her assailants– looping his arms through hers, he held her there– her flailing no match for his strength.

His partner ran to the front, and reached out his hands. She felt a clumsy, uncomfortable grabbing at her chest. There wasn’t much to hold onto, but he tried his best– as if his failure to find developed breasts encouraged him to dig deeper.

She stood there, frozen as their laughter, and footsteps faded into the distance, and the remainder of the day was spent in silent waiting. How long would it be until people were talking– and what would they say?

The attention filled her with shame, and embarrassment. There was nowhere to escape. An older friend walked her home, stopping half way to kiss her. She had never kissed a boy she liked– just the ones that wanted her– and never asked permission.

Whether or not she attended school the next few days wasn’t important. When she did return, her pants were bigger, her hair was shorter, the sunglasses she wore in the morning didn’t come off, and the people she had associated with the previous week were replaced by the two “outcasts” a grade above her. Together they built a life– it was new, unfamiliar, but it felt safe. Her response now would be a simple “sorry, I’m gay.”

False face

The words became reality for her, and with them she felt protected.

She had assumed that telling all the boys in school when they gathered the courage to make their advances that she was gay would be a deterrent.

For the first little while, she succeeded in deflecting the attention that had made her hate them all. Those stupid, evil people who were only out for themselves, with no regard for the lives they may damage. Rage welled up inside, insulating her– the hot blinding flashes of anger somehow made it all hurt a little less.

Sexual assault-2To her horror, and dismay she realized soon after, however that this new identity would not do what she wished it would. While the physical attacks had stopped– the words still cut, sharper than knives right through her.

That one who had walked her home, unwilling to admit defeat appeared on the football field. No one else was there. They locked eyes, and there was nowhere to run. “So what if you’re a lesbian. Pretend my dick is a tittie, and suck it” he whispered into her ear. She could feel the heat, and moisture on his breath so close to her face.

She had no choice after trying, and failing time and time again– but to remove herself completely. She changed names, changed schools, and dove further into the new life she made for herself.

Love would fix all her problems, would cure the feeling of self loathing that inhabited her daily, would make her whole. And for two years she proved this. She met Elena at an amusement park. The place full of other people, lost and looking for love. The black boots, and white tube socks were the first things she saw. Walking slowly, slightly drunk through the crowd– the next thing she saw were those eyes. Golden, with a small ring of green around her pupils. They spoke of the pain that she knew all too well, and of the longing for love that they shared.

They were happy in their secret life together for a while– content in knowing that all they needed was each other. When Elena died– all hope for happiness was lost completely. Drugs, booze, one night stands with both women, and men, but nothing would make her feel whole again.

She ran from the truth, and continued to live the life that she had adopted years before. Thinking somehow that it would still fix her, that men would hurt her more than women could. She clung tight to it.

One day she met a man that saw right through her. She loved him, but there was nothing to like. The harshness of his tone, and unwillingness to let her be herself was painful– but he loved her, and that was all she needed.

He saw her for who she was. She felt exposed. It was uncomfortable, and in secret she still claimed her old identity, but from him she had to hide it. He didn’t like it, so she adapted. She made herself in to what he wanted.

About sex

Sex was always the interesting part.

She had read about it, listened in on conversations with her friends, seen it on TV, but when it happened in her life– it was much different. She felt the chill of the moist grass on her lower back. She leaned up against the tree, and pulled down her stockings. They were covered, and protected by the darkness around them. Her partner looked at her, but not for too long, and neve in the eyes– she had her own reasons for that– and slid her face down between her thighs.

When it was all said and done, she didn’t feel much different. Perhaps she felt more confident, more like a woman– but these feelings didn’t last. It was more out of obligation than anything else. She was in a relationship, and when you’re in a relationship you have sex. That is that.

Years later when she had her first experience with a man it wasn’t much different. The light was dim through the brown floral pattern curtains. There were other people in the house, just outside the door, drinking rum in plastic cups in the kitchen. They all lived there, but the house didn’t belong to them. The sheets were pulled up– it was daytime, and she felt awkward, vulnerable, exposed. She was six feet tall, and way past slender. These two things combined had always made her feel she wasn’t nearly feminine enough– and the situation she had found herself in only made it worse. If he was the man– she was supposed to be the woman, but she didn’t feel like a woman at all. Maybe a scared little girl– but her body resembled that of a pre–pubescent twelve year old boy. 

Nothing felt different afterwards, the nervousness she felt before they had sex hadn’t faded at all. She felt strange to lay in bed looking at a man. It was new. It was uncomfortable. But she didn’t say anything. She kept seeing him– but when she was out with her friends, and the liquor had taken hold of her, she would sneak upstairs with attractive women– always the one in power. She was the one in control. Still seeking this life that no longer made sense. Neither of them did, really. Neither one felt authentic, but what else was there to do? Life had become about drinking, and sex. There were worse lives to live, she figured.

It was years before she had her first satisfying sexual experience. Laying in bed afterward, held in his large arms she heard herself say (as if she was watching from outside her body) how anyone could think that sex with a woman measured up to that was insane. She didn’t have to test it anymore– she felt real for the first time. She felt like herself– though to be honest she had never quite known herself. She continued to keep the old part, the false face alive. It had been with her so long, she was afraid to let it go. But with each relationship after that– it faded into the distance and became a shadow, a ghost of the past, as if it were never there at all.

Here’s where it all connects

She sat in class– a class she had never imagined taking. If there was one thing she had learned in her life, it was that she didn’t like women. They were all the same. She was bored with their cattiness, their petty jealousies, their cruel behavior– but here she sat.

It may have been reading, it may have been listening, it may have just been a day dream– but she was hit in the gut all of a sudden with a memory so old, and so painful she could barely breathe.

This is where it all made sense. All the running, all the fighting, all the labels, all the language, this way of living she had been going in and out of for years. She thought of the two boys in the hallway at school, when she was much younger. She clenched her jaw when she heard those words in her head, the ones she had fought so hard to forget. She looked at the women in her class– and she thought of the man she had been spending time with the past few weeks. It was all so clear to her then. However necessary she felt it was, this had all been a lie. A lie so intricate that she herself had believed it for years.

There is beauty, and freedom in the pain of breaking down, and being exposed.

The words have changed. “I’m straight.”

These four pieces were originally posted by Joy Farber @ littletreefarber. This is a re-run.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 24, 2015, in feminism, rape and sexual assault, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. powerful. There were so many universalities in the specifics that I could relate to and I’m sure I’m not alone. A beautiful job of tracking how one incident can reverberate for years to come.

  2. A powerful write-up….really it needs courage to write in this way..so candidly…

  3. I like this post because it’s real. However, there are quite a lot of people (I hope) who don’t believe in sex as a requisite in relationships.

  4. Alexis Gulcher

    This article hit home in many ways. As someone who is queer, but also asexual and also has experienced sexual assault/abuse, it was difficult to read. However, a very powerful read that leaves you facing the reality of women living with life ruining pasts and their struggle to move forward and function. It’s so hard, and so sad to think about women living with the weight that their rapists left on them. It honestly, truly, breaks my heart. Because like the author showed, it honestly ruins the rest of your life and the rest of your relationships with other human beings. It’s hard to have sex when all you can remember is the way your rapist forced themselves onto you. And the one thing that really struck me was the whole “relationship = sex” thing. Because I’ve had too many relationships where I was forced into doing something that made me feel uncomfortable purely for the sake of “now that I’m in a relationship this is what is expected of me.” Just because you’re in a relationship does NOT ever ever ever mean that you have to do anything! Platonic relationships exist, having a platonic girlfriend/boyfriend/datefriend is a completely valid relationship.

    Something that I truly want to emphasize on for every woman is that your comfort always becomes first before anyone else. If you don’t want to have sex, especially if it reminds you of a traumatic past event, you are under no obligation to participate. And if your partner cannot respect that then they don’t deserver you.

    • I’m so sorry for what you have had to go through in the past.

      But thank you so much for highlighting the fact that you are under no obligation to have sex, Or to have sex in a way to make sure uncomfortable.

  5. Very powerful pieces, the words really hit and the mind just wants to run away thinking things like this cannot and do not happen – but they do and recognizing and doing something about it is the only way to move forward. Nice re-run.

  6. Wow. What an amazing and courageous piece of writing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This writing really shows the lasting effect that rape/sexual assault has on one’s life. It changes the person, the personality, their experience. It takes away the feeling of security they had before having their body violated. It is a death in a way, in that you lose the person you would have been if your worldview was not altered by the realization that your safety is not guaranteed. For some women, their safety is in constant jeopardy. Imagine having to be acutely aware of that every moment.

    It also shows what extreme harm we do to women when we blame them for rape, insist they get over it, or otherwise contribute to a culture where a woman feels she cannot talk to others about it, or even report it to police for fear of the repercussions. This woman was left to figure it out on her own; a painful process which took many years. I wonder what could have been for her if she would have lived her life with trust and security. I wonder what it would be like for all women.

    It also makes me think about sexual fluidity in women, and how some women will identify with being lesbian for safety issues. Maybe without patriarchy dictating that masculinity is superior to femininity, men would have more sexual fluidity as well, without the threat to their “manhood” that being gay poses. One thing patriarchy does guarantee- the straight man will never turn to other men because of violence inflicted on him repeatedly by women.

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