Recently, I listened to the mini-season, “No”, of the podcast The Heart. It brought up a lot of emotions but as the focus is consent, I immediately started considering my own experiences. Had I ever been coercive when it came to sex? And on the other hand, had I ever been in a situation where I felt my boundaries were violated? As a masculine presenting person, I immediately found it difficult to consider myself in a compromising situation. Society teaches that masculinity is about power and control so by internalizing this message, even though I don’t agree with it, I had an adverse reaction to the thought of myself ever being taken advantage of. Therefore, it was difficult for me to admit that actually I had been a victim of sexual assault. It wasn’t traumatizing to me and my experience is so minimal in comparison to what others have endured, I have never thought of myself as a survivor or a victim. Perhaps that has to do with not wanting to admit that I was not in control, that I didn’t take on a “masculine” (as society defines) role in that situation. Also, the term victim has a negative connotation in society, which it shouldn’t, people should be able to be empowered by the term rather than shamed by it. In any case, I’d like to share my story and then pose some questions that have been floating around in my mind, I would love to hear other’s thoughts.
Back when I was 18, I decided to visit a friend at their university. I had never been drunk before and if memory serves, neither had my friend. We decided to buy a 12-pack of beer and we would each drink 6 beers because that seemed like an appropriate amount to get drunk. We went to a party with our beer, I probably drank 3 or 4 and then my memory starts to get patchy. However, I remember a guy pulled me into a side room, it was dark, he started kissing me and sat me down on a chair or something. He proceeded to stick his hand down my pants for what felt like a while before I was able to pull his hand out and get out of the dark room and return to the party. I remember it feeling rough and that I didn’t like it but I don’t remember saying “no” (though if you are too drunk to say no, you are also too drunk to consent) and I did have correspondence with him after the incident. I never felt like a victim and I have no emotion tied to this event except the shame I have of losing power over my own self in that moment and feeling as though my masculinity is somehow compromised. I realize that this incident does not define my masculinity nor should it subtract from it but that internalized voice of society’s definition of gender roles and the binary still influences my emotions even though rationally I can see it is a nonsensical definition.
So here are my questions, how do I properly explore my emotions around what happened without accidentally traumatizing myself or giving the incident more weight than it deserves? Or should I reframe the question and say, how can I find empowerment in being a victim that isn’t afraid to talk about their experience?
I wonder why it took me so long to realize that this incident was a violation, perhaps it is because only now, as an adult do I have the vocabulary and framework of experience to see it for what it was. How can we teach young adults all along the gender spectrum about consent and appropriate behavior in a way that reduces the amount of these situations?