The first time I was raped, I was 15. I was a quiet girl, a straight-A student who preferred old movies and books to the company of other people. A nerd who was doing college algebra in 8th grade. A dork who played clarinet in her high school orchestra. I was raised by incredibly strict parents—an abusive dad who only parented through yelling and physical punishment, and an incredibly religious mother who did not believe in sex education, popular American culture (she & my father are immigrants), or speaking up against my father.
The rape happened at a high school house party that I wasn’t even supposed to be at. I wasn’t dressed in a particularly “slutty" fashion. My mother’s Catholicism and conservative values generally meant that I dressed with no awareness of fashion or my own body. I was frumpy. I wore glasses. I never wore makeup. I never tried to look “cute.” I was a child.
I went with a boy two years older than me whom I was dating in secret because my mom didn’t want me to date. He left me to talk to his friends. I was approached by two white boys who were older than my date and significantly older than me. They handed me drinks. I’d never had alcohol before. Most of what happened after is a blur. After more asinine conversation, during which it became VERY clear that they did NOT approach me to TALK to me, they led me to an upstairs bedroom.
The things that I remember the most are things that I can still feel to this day. The weight of one of the boys on top of me. The feeling of his body shifting as he tried to get his belt and pants off. I still hear the sound of his zipper. I still hear his friend laughing nervously. And I remember the feeling of confusion and pain and hatred as he shoved himself inside of me. I wasn’t wet. I had a headache. I felt sick. Everything fucking hurt.
After staring at a face I didn’t know for what seemed like forever. I blacked out. I came to when I heard men arguing. My date had found me. I heard him screaming at the other boys. He took me home in silence. We stopping seeing each other shortly after.
I wasn’t able to relate to people my age after that. I hated my friends. I hated people at my school. I hated men, and I hated myself.
I changed the way I dressed. I hated my body but I also hated the conservative household that had raised me to be so ignorant about sexuality and human behavior, so I started to shop at places like Frederick’s of Hollywood and I tarted myself the fuck up.
I couldn’t concentrate in class. My grades slipped. Being around any boy from school, even during class, made me sad and angry. I spent a lot of time in the counselor’s office. I eventually just started to call in sick. I got migraines. Everything hurt all the time.
Awakened sexually, but hating, loathing my peers for not being able to understand me, for still having their fucking childhoods and happy, oblivious lives in tact, I started to date older men. Men in their 30s, 40s, 50s. These weren’t what you would call healthy relationships. Most had a very DDLG dynamic, most were centered around BDSM, shibari, and pain play.
I began to accrue experiences that were increasingly worse.
Not being able to handle San Francisco and what had happened to me here, I used the only bit of my academic strength that I could preserve—my writing—and I got into the Cinema Studies program of the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. There were only 15 people in my incoming class. To say I was lucky is an understatement.
While I was grateful to have been accepted, and relieved at the prospect of moving to the other side of the country, far from the men who had hurt me, and parents who blamed me for my rape, I brought my trauma with me. I couldn’t shake it.
I still got triggered in the presence of certain types of men. I got migraines. I felt pain in parts of my body on which men had touched or hit me in ways I had not consented to. I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t sleep in beds. I couldn’t be in classes that were primarily populated by men.
And whenever the anniversary of the first time I was raped came around, my ability to concentrate disappeared, and my grades fell. I became scared of people in general. My frosh year boyfriend who adored me and who helped me feel safe eventually couldn’t handle me. I was getting flashbacks; my brain and body would skip in time and I would be in the spaces of these traumatic events, even when I was with him. That relationship ended, my academic career at NYU ended.
I came back to San Francisco defeated and broken, but again, as it was too painful for me to stay here, I went back to NYC.
I got into sex work. I met clients who treated me far worse than I have ever been treated since. I had clients who left scars on my body that are still visible, almost 15 years later. I had clients who left me tied up and abandoned for days, who would beat me and fuck me when I was passed out.
I eventually had clients who harassed me at my normal job (I was a barista) in the hopes that if I lost my straight/legal source of income, I would become completely financially dependent on them. Their personal fuck toy.
Some of these clients were in the entertainment industry. Some of these clients were in other industries. ALL of these clients were wealthy white men with some but apparently not enough power in their jobs. All of these clients had incredible amounts of frustration that they enjoyed taking out on me.
After a string of abusive clients, I found what I thought was a normal boy my age. We dated in a very normal, safe, boring, vanilla, hetero fashion. It was initially a relief. This boy helped me get out of sex work, out of NY, and back to SF, to finish my college degree with the little money I had left.
But I couldn’t shake my past or those memories. And I grew to hate my partner. I never wanted him to touch me. I never wanted him to breathe on me, look at me, even be in the same room as me. With that frigidity and anger, I maintained a toxic relationship with him that lasted for a decade. Until he grew up to be the type of man I hated, until he grew up to be a privileged white man, successful in his field but resentful towards women, the LGBTQ community, POC, and me (and I identify as a member of all of those communities, so his hostility made sense to me because I've faced it daily since childhood; also, I acknowledge that my behavior was the source of some of his resentment so please don’t @ me about this).
I was so used to dating multiple partners that our bland hetero domestic partnership irritated me. I didn’t want him near me, but I sought out the company of others. Events just seemed to repeat. And then, naturally, this faux “stable" engagement arrangement fell apart.
I met my current partner Caleb towards the end of this last relationship. I noticed in him right away traits that I possessed myself—a weariness around other people, haunted eyes, scars all over his body, an uncomfortable way of inhabiting clothes and space, an uncanny ability to disappear even when right in front of others.
We became friends and I learned what I’d suspected—he was raped when he was a child. He was molested repeatedly. He was bullied for being queer in high school and that bullying was so bad he dropped out of school and was never able to return. He became a hermit. He was terrified of people. In his late teens, he ran off to Europe to try to escape everything that happened in the states. He tried to kill himself repeatedly. He accrued the deep cuts that run along his arms, his chest, everywhere along his body. He developed a drinking problem. And the inability to move forward professionally, to maintain stable relationships with other people, to stay in one city any longer than a period of a few years, to stay in one job any more than a few years, etc. The only constant thing in his life became his alcoholism.
This damaged, troubled drifter became everything to me. In the three years we’ve been together and the five years we’ve known each other, we’ve built a stable framework, a house from two broken halves, shelter in each other. We’ve fixed each other’s problems. We’ve conquered our phobias. We are stronger as people because we found the only other person who could help us see the disorderly parts of our own selves, in a non-judgmental way, in a supportive way. It isn’t this way for everyone who has survived traumatic events. But I do hope that everyone who has been hurt out there finds their own peace, and their own strength.
That being said, it isn’t always easy. The outpourings of accounts of assault and harassment these last few weeks have been overwhelmingly triggering. They affect my partner and I differently. For a while we were angry, then incredibly depressed. I briefly became scared to leave the house by myself. He briefly became paranoid and afraid of random people. We’re in our 30s. Most of the abuse that happened to us happened a decade or two ago but we still fucking feel it.
We’ve been told that healing takes time. As survivors, we’re still dealing with our shit. Nothing ever goes away. The pain doesn’t even get any older, it just lingers.
-danica (and caleb)