"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, January 09, 2016

I am not a virgin.

Now Playing: Wild by Troye Sivan (leave this blue neighbourhood, I never knew loving could hurt this good, and it drives me wild)

Sexual assault is a really, really difficult thing to process.

I don't have an extremely negative reaction to it. There was some mutual attraction involved. There was, unfortunately, also a lot of alcohol involved, and not a lot of talking about things like consent, or boundaries. I was in over my head; he was only the second person I'd kissed, I'd been involuntarily celibate throughout high school, and it didn't even occur to me that my peers were going home with each other; things like 'hook up' and 'one night stand' were just abstract notions.

Had I been sober, had I been older, had I been physically and emotionally prepared for sex in a way that I just wasn't back then, had we had conversations, it would have been okay. Had I felt like I could call the shots on my own body and call time when I'd had enough, I would have been willing and eager to spend the night with a boy I had a huge crush on. Instead, I just remember it being very...pushy; like he was following a script that I hadn't yet got my hands on, the script of aggressively heteronormative hook up culture. I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know what he was planning, and I was too afraid to ask. It was a selfish, vapid, deeply confusing encounter and whilst I realized afterwards he had too much respect for the notion of 'virginity' to do it, I remember being afraid; too afraid to say no. I don't think he meant to hurt me but I can't describe how it feels to lie very still and hope nothing happens.

Fortunately, I was an educated girl; I studied gender and sexuality, and some older girlfriends used to chat to wide-eyed innocent me about the birds and the bees. I tried to wrap my head around what had happened, but it didn't fit the stereotype of sexual assault, so I didn't consider it to be that. I wasn't traumatized in the way that other things in life leave lasting scars; in a way, it opened the door to a new world of sexuality that I had previously been barred entry from - in my ignorance I considered his blatant disregard for my feelings to be desire. Even though I didn't consider it assault, I knew enough and respected myself enough to know he was a selfish, inconsiderate partner; and I determined that the power play and pleasure exchange next time would be on more equal terms.

The first time I went home with someone for real was like a dream. Sparks flew and he was very sweet; but, most importantly, I was not blind drunk, I was in a space where I would have felt safe turning him down, and I was thrilled when he asked me to go home with him. We walked home hand in hand and I realized that feeling safe and feeling wanted can keep company. I was still young, but I was an adult, and I felt like I was taking control of my body and acting on things freely and that was indescribable.

But that euphoric emancipation melted away when I tried, and completely failed, to have sex. He was very sweet and understanding, but I was humiliated. I had made a personal, adult decision and I couldn't follow through. After not consenting to so much but going along with it anyway, I can't describe how it feels to want something, to be in a place where you feel happy and safe and curious, and you just...can't.

Had I had an extreme negative emotional response, or a flashback, I would have understood. But I didn't process my assault that way. The rational, logical, emotional part of me had fully processed, accepted, and moved on; but somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I was still hurting, and my body was reacting to this reaction that I couldn't access or control or even really feel. There were so many other barriers to sex and human interaction - depression, anxiety, body hang ups and insecurities from my eating disorder days - but I hadn't really factored in this as such a huge obstacle.

Living with vaginismus as a sexually mature woman is difficult. My partners have all been incredibly sweet and understanding, but you can't help but feel like a fraud, you can't help but be afraid that they will be frustrated or angry or take it personally; sometimes I feel like less of a woman. There's a huge conflict in not wanting to do it, because it hurts and because it has never worked, and really, truly wanting to have these experiences with the amazing and wonderful people I have had the privilege to know.

Vaginismus is a rare and poorly understood condition, and people don't really understand how the things they say hurt me, and disrespects survivors of sexual assault in general. For me, reclaiming my sexuality, owning my body and pleasure, has been huge in overcoming the intense emotions that come with being sexually assaulted. Sex is not a dirty thing for me; I love it. I feel beautiful and powerful and when I am slut shamed, or when people invalidate my experiences with sexual violence with my experiences with sexual pleasure; that can cut deep. And when people invalidate my sexuality, say that I haven't really had sex, that I'm not really being sexual, that I am not giving as good as I get - disrespects me as both a queer woman and as a survivor of assault.

My sex is real. My sexuality is valid. I am capable of giving and receiving pleasure, and no-one can discredit the immense love and affection of my private life. I have not let some boy in my past take away that from me; I have so much to give, as a person, as a woman, as a partner. There is a deep trauma in feeling like you don't fully own and control your body, and people add to that trauma when they belittle and invalidate the ways in which I do take control. I am a sexual being, and I am a survivor of sexual assault. My relationship with sexual violence is a part of what I am, but it does not define me. I am on the road to recovery, because my body is an empire and I am its dictator. I call the shots.

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