by anonymous student
image by Clare Roberts ’16
cw: sexual violence
Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror in my bathroom before I take a shower. I pull the towel aside and I look at myself and I try to like what I see. I try to be okay with my body and its scars – which sometimes only I can see. And then I try the words out, I whisper them: I was sexually assaulted. I was sexually assaulted last summer, and I was sexually assaulted a few years ago, the summer after my senior year of high school.
But the words don’t feel quite right. Saying them splits the world into black and white. Saying them makes me a victim and while sometimes I am okay with saying yes, I am a victim, and no, they should have stopped when I stopped, when I pushed their hands aside other times I still blame myself. I understand that this is that word we so love here: problematic. Because I blame myself, even if I blame no other victims but myself, I feel I am a bad Grinnellian.
I should have pushed harder, should have said “all I wanted was a kiss and not your hand up my skirt,” I should have just left, I should have said “no, really, I just want to watch the movie stop touching me” I should have said “what the fuck do you think you’re doing” I should have said “let me sleep” “I’m still drunk” “this is coercion” “I did not say you could put it there” I should have I should have I should have —
I was too kind. I pushed hands aside again and again and then I thought, I started it. I am the one who kissed first. And, two years later, It’s just sex. It’ll be over soon, and then he’ll let me sleep.
This is what this writing is really about. Not my assault or coerced sex or gray-area shitty experience or whatever the hell you want to call it. It’s about those three words: It’s just sex.
The first time I was sexually assaulted, I had never encountered self-gov, or active consent. I was 18 and almost, but not quite, in college. My hometown is what I like to call pseudo-progressive. Its residents like to tell themselves that they are sex positive, that there is no “rape culture.” I was told that, as someone female, I could say no to sex, but that was my responsibility, and the lines of what was and wasn’t sex were blurry. There was no advice for the genderqueer, and I don’t think the boys were told to do anything other than wear condoms.
I kissed him first. That is all I wanted: a kiss. Not the hand he slipped up my skirt or the fingers on my breasts and between my legs. And then I didn’t want the kiss either. I pushed his hands away but they kept coming back and after a while I just thought about other things. Like, how does he not realized I’ve stopped kissing back? And, how do I get out of this when I’m the one who started it? That’s what I thought about for an hour and a half.
He asked me after if he was a good kisser. “I’ve got to get home,” I said. I felt that something was wrong but I didn’t know what. I couldn’t very well object if I was the one who had made the first move, could I?
Now, if you’re a good Grinnellian, you’re probably shaking your head at my naivete. Remember those signs around campus, “A yes for a dance is not a yes for the night?” I felt so dumb after seeing those.You’re telling me I could have said no?
But I fell into the same trap again later. I should have learned. I should have been smarter. See, unlike you, I am a bad Grinnellian.
“That was fun,” he told me when I decided to leave at five in the morning, somehow feeling both numb and like I was going to puke. “Sorry you couldn’t sleep.”
“I’ve got to get home,” I said, once again.
I blame myself, for saying nothing instead of “no.” And I blame him, for waking me up each time I nodded off until I let him fuck me. And I blame him for not asking “Is this okay?” or, “Are you sober enough?” instead of saying, “thank god, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until we do this.” But I also blame something else. I blame Grinnell and its perpetuation of our backwards hookup culture.
I blame Harris and High Street and the disappointed look on friends’ faces when someone says, “All we did was kiss.” I blame the fact that a weekend without sex here is seen as a failure. I blame our twisted notions of sex positivity which reinforce the idea that sex is always empowering and that if we want to be empowered, we should want to have sex. A yes for a dance is not a yes for the night. But oh-so-often here I feel like saying yes to a dance means I’ve got to say yes to the night. What is the point of consent if it’s not genuine? And yes, consent is sexy! But what about when I don’t want to give consent? When I’m just not feeling it, and am no longer sure I ever will again? Am I no longer sexy because I will not give my consent?
I do not want to have sex anymore, at least not the way it seems to be done here. When I first had sex, it was to get it over with, because it was just sex, something so pervasive on this campus it felt almost meaningless. It has never been something that gives me pleasure, or makes me feel empowered. At this point I’m not sure if that is because it is just who I am or if it stems from that first assault over two years ago, or the antidepressants I’ve been on ever since. That assault was my first sexual encounter.
In the past year and a half of sexual activity I have had sex because I wanted to please the other party. Sex is something I give, just like consent, just like a present. I like giving presents. They make other people happy. I am good at giving presents, and sex seems like such an easy thing to give. After all, it’s just sex. I get so little pleasure from it but I do not feel physical pain so why not?, I think. I have had straight sex, I have had queer sex. One of my friends once asked me if I prefer penises or vaginas and I told her that I don’t really care for either. I like men, I like women, I like genderqueer people. So I have sex, and oftentimes without attachments. This is what I am supposed to do. I talk with my friends about hookups because as a Grinnellian, that is what I am supposed to do.
Sex is good, sex isn’t a big deal, sex is natural it’s just sex it’s just sex it’s just sex — but if I don’t do it, if I don’t like it, am I unnatural? Am I a bad Grinnellian?
Not wanting sex does not make me or anyone else a bad person. But here, it feels like a secret I have to keep, like another scar I have to hide. I am probably demisexual – I only enjoy sex with someone with whom I have a strong personal connection. At Grinnell, we say that we support the ACE community, whose members are on the broad spectrum of asexuality, but it was not until I realized how I likely identify that I realized why I do not feel supported. And I do love people. I love kissing them and holding them and being close to them and giving to them, but since this summer I have not had sex. I feel like this makes me selfish because I am not giving to others, and a bad Grinnellian because I won’t participate in something that feels so strangely integral to our culture, and because I still blame myself for my own scars. When I wrote the first draft of this, it had been months since I’d even masturbated. I’m healing now, but it’s a long road. I still have to remind myself that I am not at fault, and that it is okay for me to feel the way I do, to want the things I want and not want some things I am told I should.
When my dad read my rough draft he told me, “You sound really depressed.”
Yes, I thought, That’s because I fucking am.
“I know you have a message that’s important to you,” he said, “but all I can think about is how depressed you sound. You might want to change that.”
I love my dad, and I know that he loves me, and only wants to help. So when I say this, I say this as gently as I can: Fuck that. I was depressed when I first penned this and now, part of what has helped me fight my way out of that thick, clinging cloud of depression has been my anger. So just as I am allowed to be angry and depressed, I am also allowed to sound angry and depressed. I will not change that because it is my truth, and I refuse to sugarcoat it. A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down but I am not Mary Fucking Poppins, and I don’t think this world needs any more cavities in its ideological teeth. And the truth is that our obsession with sex-positivity isn’t always so positive. Instead of sex-positivity, I want sexuality-positivity and I want communication and I want honesty. I want to not be terrified to tell someone I care about that I will need time.
When I look at myself in the mirror I don’t want to see a girl with secrets, who hides the truth to please others. I want to see someone who is comfortable with her body, who is able to love herself again in all senses of the word. Whose scars have begun to fade. I want to see someone whose body can offer her pleasure, and who knows how to take it, how to give it, how to say yes and how to say no and who is not ashamed. I want to see someone who has been told,
It is okay. Take your time. We can go slow, don’t worry about not pleasing me. This is your dance too, and not just mine. Your trauma is okay. Your anger is okay. I can wait. It will work out. Is this okay? Are you okay? Don’t do this for me; do this for you.
Title IX resources
Safety and Security Resources
Grinnell Police (24 hrs), 911 or 641-623-5679
Campus Safety and Security (1432 East St.)(24 hrs), 641-269-4600
On-Campus Confidential Resources
Grinnell Advocates (student advocates) 641-260-1615
Student Health and Counseling Services 641-269-3230
Grinnell College Ombuds 641-269-9399
Campus Chaplain/Rabbi (CRSSJ) Deanna Shorb/Rob Cabelli, 641-269-4981
Title IX Coordinator (Nollen House) Angela Voos, 641-269-4999
Dean of Students (JRC) Sarah Moschenross, 641-269-3714
Grinnell College Sexual Respect Website, www.grinnell.edu/sexualrespect
Other Confidential Resources
Grinnell Regional Medical Center (210 4th Ave.)(confidential: 24 hrs) 641-236-2380
Crisis Intervention Services (confidential: 24 hrs) 800-270-1620
Crisis Center for Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse and Stalking (confidential: 24 hrs) 800-464-8340
National Sexual Assault Helpline 800-656-HOPE
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence Hotline (confidential) 800-799-SAFE
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault 515-244-7424, http://www.iowacasa.org/
Iowa Public Defender 515-242-6158, https://spd.iowa.gov/about-us/office-locations