This is a guest post by Wiley R. Wiley R. uses female pronouns and masculine honorifics. She sporadically dispenses gems of wisdom on Twitter.
This is a highly subjective account of my experience with FAAB on FAAB childhood sexual abuse. Trigger warning for detailed account of abuse. In addition, I want to emphasize that this piece is explicitly about *my* process, and I will be focusing on outlining the difficulties I encountered in my recovery, and discussing what I believe could have helped me heal more quickly and fully.
When I was about fifteen my cross-country coach was accused of child molestation. The girls he was accused of molesting looked like me–blonde, blue-eyed runners. I was confused and angry about the whole situation, and I remember asking my mother why I wasn’t targeted. She responded that predators can tell when a child is properly looked after, and that they avoid those children. She said that Mr. Vespie* could tell that I had a mother who was my fierce advocate and that no one would come after me because they knew she would come after them.
That answer was bullshit. I had been experiencing sexual abuse for several years by the time the cross-country scandal came to light. My mother had done nothing. Her “protectiveness” had not prevented me from being targeted. In fact, it was her “protectiveness”that kept me from feeling like I could talk to her about what was happening to me – because it was happening at the hands of my romantic partner.
I have struggled with convincing myself that what happened to me was actually abuse. I feel like I can’t trust my own feelings. I feel like I need external validation that a 17 year old having sex with a 13 year old – and a 17-year-old having sex with a 13-year-old without talking about it first — is abuse. There is a vocal portion of society that would laugh at the idea that a 17-year-old lesbian could really rape the 13-year-old she was romantically involved with. I’ve had friends call it “surprise sex.” And it was. It was a surprise to me that I was suddenly having sex, without having agreed to it. It was not a pleasant surprise.
Another reason I have trouble believing that I was victimized is that I’m a liar. My version of the “truth” of what happens to me is occasionally incompatible with facts. I was beaten and manipulated by my parents as a child, and the result of that abuse was that I became a liar. It was a survival tactic–if I could pin mischief on my younger sister, I didn’t get beaten. But even when I didn’t get beaten, telling the truth often resulted in a disgusted reaction or the silent treatment. Or both. When Adrienne first kissed me, I excitedly told my mother, expecting her to share the joy of the moment with me. Instead, she disgustedly told me that she “didn’t think that was a good idea” and then didn’t speak to me for several days. I never willingly told her anything about my romantic relationships again. Conversely, when (at age eight) I told my mother a friend of mine kissed me with tongue and then asked me to get naked so we could have sex, she didn’t believe me.
Later on, I used lying as a coping strategy to get sympathy or help. My parents’ abuse rarely left marks. Much of it was psychological, and some of it, like forcing me to eat my own vomit, was physical but impossible to prove. In order to garner sympathy, or get authority figures to pay attention to my pain, I had to come up with believable accounts of abuse that simultaneously seemed possible and clearly demonstrated abusive behavior. No one believed me when I told them that my step-mother once punched me in the face for failing to heat up baked beans, but they did believe that my dad whipped me with a belt. So, I lie. I lie to myself, and I lie to everyone else. That makes it very difficult for me to trust that I am remembering my abuse correctly. I am not a model survivor. I am not a reliable witness, even to my own life.
The MOST confusing part of my recovery process, however, has been dealing with the fact that I was very sexual at 13. I wanted Adrienne. I liked it when she kissed me and I was interested in doing more. It has been and is so hard for me to call what we did rape, because I did want her, sometimes. It seems so strange, but I do have to remind myself that it was rape because there was no consent. You would think that I, the protagonist of the story about not consenting to sex, would be able to confidently assert that I’d been raped. But I have never written those words down before this piece, and I have never spoken them aloud. Even though I have been participating in the feminist blogosphere for years, I am still struggling with so much internalized shit about which survivors are the right kind of survivors that I failed to name my own assault.
When I do tell people about my first sexual experience, I tell two different stories. I tell most people that I lost my virginity when I was thirteen, in a trailer during school hours. I tell it like I was a badass, like I had agency. The other story is a little chillier. I had cut class and was making out with my girlfriend in an abandoned trailer behind our school when she abruptly asked me if she could “try something”. I said yes, and she went down on me. I was wearing a bathing suit, since my parents had not paid enough attention to my five brothers and sisters and I that week to realize that most of us were out of underwear. She twisted it to the side, which was uncomfortable, and what she was doing with her mouth was uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to react, so I stayed still. I have no memory of anything that happened the rest of the day except that my best friend was frantic with worry that I had missed four classes. It would be ten years before I had my first positive experience with oral sex. I mostly told my partners that I “just didn’t like it,” and, since thinking about it made me squeamish, never really delved into why I disliked it so strongly until I was in my twenties.
When I talk about my abuse, I often highlight losing my virginity non-consensually because it seems like the most obvious act. It seems like the one that is most clearly abusive and not just a slightly weird relationship dynamic. But the abuse continued for years. I dated her for two years and slept with her into my freshman year of college. She was a weird person all-around. She did things like pretend she was dying of cancer when I said I wanted to see other people. But the sexual abuse, I think, has had the greatest lasting effect on me.
Once when we were making out in her car (I was fourteen, she was eighteen), she climbed on my lap and started grinding on me, which scared me because it was so overtly sexual. I didn’t have the desire, yet, to handle her desire. She was using me to get off and I felt no corresponding level of arousal. I was embarrassed and I didn’t know what to do. And I didn’t feel like I could ask her to stop, partly because I didn’t want to discourage her. I didn’t want her to think that she was bad at sex or that I didn’t like or want her.
Later in high school we started smoking pot and taking pills together. That, naturally, complicated things. I developed a sense that I owed her for the drugs she’d get me, so I’d sleep with her. Once, Adrienne came to visit me at college, for my eighteenth birthday. She brought me some amphetamines, about $100 worth, which was a lot of money to me. She didn’t ask me to fuck her in return, but I felt like I had to. So I initiated, and she very roughly fucked me, despite my turning my head away when she went to kiss me, and despite my whimpers of pain. I bled all over my sheets, and couldn’t fall asleep. So I put the sheets in the wash and put Adrienne to bed in my twin bed with clean sheets, and went for a run, still high. And then I took her to the dining hall to get breakfast and introduced her to my friends.
As a result of my environment, both my home life and my abuse, I developed a sense of self that completely depended upon being sexual available and sexually skilled. I still struggle with this. I truly, deeply believe I do not have merit beyond my ability to fuck. I feel a great deal of bitterness towards my mother, who created a home environment in which the only thing that mattered was my performance in school. If she read this she would accuse me of exaggerating, but she gave me the silent treatment when I didn’t do as she expected me to do in school, and punished me by removing me from activities I really loved and needed (like sports and music) when my grades fell. Unfortunately, traditional education has never been an environment in which I excelled, so I was left to find another source of worth. Adrienne gave me an easy answer: my body. And specifically, how often and how well I could have sex. After a while it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was only worthwhile as a sex object because I was stupid and lazy and had no other talents, and I didn’t develop other talents because I was stupid and lazy and only good for sex. To this day I have trouble developing close relationships with people without sleeping with them. And I frequently feel compelled to sleep with people I like or admire as a “reward” for being nice to me, or smart and funny, or just paying attention to me.
This is the story of my rape. I want to share it because we don’t talk enough about FAAB on FAAB rape. We don’t talk enough about rape within relationships. We don’t talk enough about child-on-child rape. We don’t talk enough about what happens when a child is sexual, and what it feels like to want and love the person who is raping you. We don’t talk about what it feels like to solicit the act that turns into rape. I want to share this story because my mother did not protect me by being “a fierce advocate.” I want to share it because the facts of my rape are not cut and dried. I am not a perfect victim. I am a lying, promiscuous, queer drug user. But nothing about my background, or my age, or my consenting to other sexual activities with the woman who raped me make it any less rape.
I’m not interested in identifying the conditions that “caused” my rape. I am at peace with my rapist, whose behaviour, I’m sure, was influenced by her abusive home life. But I am very angry about a few things. I am angry that as a thirteen year old who was already a sexual being, I had no access to information about intimate partner violence. I am angry that I was made to feel ashamed for my sexuality to the extent that I *still* have not told my parents that I was abused, because I’ve never actually told them that I am sexually active. I am angry that I believed for years that it was my fault that I was raped, and that nobody explained to me that children are not responsible for their abuse. I am angry that I had no one to guide me through exploring my sexuality in a healthy way. I am angry that I’m an adult who experiences intense depression and rage when I’m sexually rejected, because sex is still a power game for me.
I want to change the cultural narrative. I want children to be recognized as sexual beings. I was denied information that could have helped me handle an unsafe relationship because my parents didn’t want to deal with my sexuality. It seems so cliche to say that I’ve been failed by the system, but I have. As I was beginning high school, starting the process of figuring out what path I wanted to take in life, I was sucked into an unhealthy relationship that struck such an enormous blow to my self esteem that I struggle with overwhelming feelings of worthlessness ten years later. Not a single adult in my life helped me, not my parents, not my teachers, not a coach or babysitter or mentor. Adults, especially those who work with children, need to wake up and prepare children for the process of navigating their sexualities. Because young children *are* having sex, and denying that only hurts kids.