Shahida Muhammad’s recent piece about dating a man who had been the victim of sexual abuse got me thinking about the inverse. What is it like for the men who lie with and/or love sisters like myself: those of us who belong to a sisterhood no woman would ever pursue. Victims, survivors, or whatever title you deem most appropriate (and by “you,” I only mean other women who have experienced this. I genuinely don’t care about what others think the term should be). And why do we here so little from women when it comes to their “life after?”
**Couple things: the relationship of the male victim of abuse/rape to society and community is very different than that of the female. This is why I am discussing women separately. Furthermore, when I put out the call for lovers of female survivors of sexual maltreatment, I only heard from men. This was not a deliberate attempt at being heteronormative. However, I’d imagine that there are some varying feelings between male lovers of female victim and female lovers of female victim, right? Okay. But we are all here to talk. All voices and ears are needed.**
This is the first in a series of a few pieces about love and sex after abuse. I have spoken to a few people about their experiences with this side of the road, and will present them sans judgment. Let me start with mine. I was sexually assaulted in Maryland on July 6, 2007. I think I would have forgotten the exact date, except that my homegirl was born on the 7th and I remember calling her up like “Hey! Happy birthday! So, um . . . bad news, though . . . ” No need to get into all of the details, but a brief overview would go something like this: it was dark, it was late, I was in car by myself. He had a gun. He got all my money and I had to perform a sex act. I was just happy he didn’t shoot me.
After: I do recall wanting to put something physical in between myself and my assailant as soon as I could. As I wasn’t dating anyone at the time (I had been cutting people off in preparation for my move), that left me with a guy with whom I had a casual acquaintanceship. We hooked up a couple of weeks later when I came back to DC for my belongings. I thought about being assaulted while I was with him. This was the case with the next few lovers. I couldn’t help it, it was still there. It’s still there now, but it doesn’t usually come up in the heat of passion.
There’s no lucky side of sexual assault, nor is there “diet” rape. But I can say that the nature of my experience allowed me to have a much easier trajectory towards healing than those who may have endured prolonged abuse, a more physically violent attack, an assault at the hands of someone they trusted, etc. However, it’s still a part of who I am and a part of the Jamilah narrative that I can’t dismiss. Thus, it is part of the information with which I have to present the men I date once I have determined that we are going to have a certain level of connectedness. I recognize that this is a part of my life—one that does correspond with my sexual identity—that they should know about.
I discovered rather quickly that I had both uneasiness about telling men what I had been through and a strong desire to do so. It’s hard for me to tell my story to platonic friends and women as well. This may sound silly, but it makes people sad and it is really hard for me to make people feel sad. Ain’t that ridiculous? I gotta live with being assaulted my whole life, but I’m worried about someone feeling sad for hearing it? LOL! (Go on, laugh. We need a LOL moment up in here.)
As this particular matter goes, I have made wise choices in picking suitors; every guy to whom I told my story has been either infuriated that it happened, deeply compassionate about my experience, and/or supportive in some other way. This was the case with my platonic brothers as well; while the women around me were saddened, there is this feeling we girls seem to have . . . this understanding that rape is just all too possible. It’s bad to hear that it happens to someone, but never surprising. The men, however, seemed to go into protector mode. An ex informed me that he felt protective of me upon hearing this, that he wanted to take care of me and keep me safe. Aww. It’s not feasible in a rape culture, but “aww” nonetheless.
Life and love and sex . . . good, hot and SAFE sex . . . continue for me post-rape, and my daily existence is not centered on what I’ve been through. It’s a piece of my story, but it’s hardly the climax. My life (love, professional, otherwise) will be colored and shaped far more by the beauty in my hands than by the ugliness of my past.