This node strikes a very personal chord with me, and I've got a lot to say here, so bear with me. Or don't, either way. But don't say I didn't warn you.
I believe that in some sense people always do pay for their actions. When they rape someone they pay with the price of their soul, and that's arguably the worst punishment there can ever be. It's comforting in some small way to think that the woman who raped me lost some part of herself that night, just the way I did, that she didn't emerge from that experience completely unscathed. Her punishment is that she is a rapist, that she has caused acute and awful pain in this world, and she will never be able to undo that.
That being said, it still makes me angry, makes me dark and bitter. That she got away with what she did. That I was ridiculed and held responsible for her actions. That I was denied the validity of my pain by people who insisted that I wasn't 'really' raped, that rape by a woman is not nearly as bad as rape by a man.
I have to prove it to people by telling them about the times I have been raped by men, my whole long sad history of that. I have to wave my traditional heterosexual violence scenarios in their face like a badge, as evidence that I understand what 'real rape' feels like and how devastating it is emotionally, before I can be taken seriously when I say that rape by a woman is every bit as horrible an experience as rape by a man is.
It tears me up that so many people don't understand this. Rape is rape is rape. It's the simple fact of the crime- that it is always a painful experience, that it hurts and humiliates, that its victims are changed forever by their experiences, unable to wash its dark fingerprints from their memories.
I know I'll never forget her.
I was fourteen and she was twenty. I was fourteen and I'd slept with two girls before, girls my age, trying out the strange motions of this game eagerly, unsteadily, playfully. I had discovered a fabulous new identity as a lesbian, a new community of women who seemed so fantastic and revolutionary to a white trash trailer park girl like me.
I discovered that I loved women, loved their smell and taste and skin and voices and laughter- there was no comparison, no substitute. I discovered that there was a whole world of women out there like me, a whole world of beautiful girls-who-love-girls, ripe for the picking. And the best thing about it was that these girls weren't afraid or ashamed to love other girls- they were confident and free and alive in their way of life. I loved it. I met this older girl, and it seemed that she was not only everything I was looking for in a woman, she was everything I wanted to be- strong, smart, cool, happy, gorgeous, artistic, charismatic, comfortable in her own skin. She had long black hair and lovely full breasts and sharp dark eyes and loud, infectious laughter. In short, she rawked my world.
I never would have expected her to ask me out. I was six years younger, awkward still in my femininity, a green sapling of a dyke, and she was- she was just something else. When she invited me over to her place for a dinner and a movie, I was positively ecstatic. I didn't sleep the night before. I worried about what to say, how to act, if I would seem sophisticated enough, if I would seem like a 'real lesbian.'
To tell you the truth, I would have slept with her that night if I hadn't been on the rag. I would have in a heartbeat. But that doesn't make me any more deserving of what she did to me, pinned down on the hard floor of her apartment, with her hands and her fists and her teeth, with her collection of sex toys and her hairbrush and the polished bone handle of her knife.
I tried to explain to her, as we sat kissing on the carpet beside the evening's discarded pizza box, why she couldn't do me that night. "I want to do this, just not tonight when I'm bleeding. Let's just wait until next week."
But she said, "I've got my red wings honey," laughing, voice husky and sexy, and I felt silly because I knew how much more inexperienced I was than her. I was intimidated by her, certain that whatever we ended up doing she'd be better at it than I would. I tried to tell her that I really didn't like to have sex during my period, that I got sore and it just didn't feel good, and I expected that to be the end of it.
She persisted. She was really laying it on thick, the pressure, the coercion. Unzipping my jeans even as I tried to pull her hands away. I felt terribly awkward. All that respecting boundaries, no means no shit didn't seem to have any bearing in this world, wild and uninhibited and deviant, of lesbianism. I wasn't sure if I had any right to refuse her advances. But I tried to anyways.
"You really are a wimpy little dyke, aren't you?" She bit at my neck and I tried to push her away and pull my jeans back up and push her hands away from my thighs. "I'm gonna teach you a few things about being a lesbian." She was bigger than I was, and stronger, and I was terrified but at the same time unsure exactly what it was I was terrified of. Lesbian rape was not a term in my lexicon. I'd never heard of woman-on-woman violence before, never imagined that this could happen. I had no word for what she was doing to me. I felt like this was all my fault, and damn me for it, for getting involved with lesbians, for coming to her apartment, for not knowing what I should have known, that sex was expected, required of me in such a situation. I wanted so badly just to go home and take a long, long shower, and forget about this whole lesbian thing, to never kiss another girl in my life. She threw her whole weight on top of me, digging her fingers under my underwear, inside of me. I was crying, begging her to let me go, telling her I didn't really want to be a dyke. I thrashed at her, trying to get away, kicking and clawing. She fell backwards as one of my hiking boots hit her squarely in the stomach, and she was immobilized for one startled instant. And then, crying out a string of expletives, she pulled her knife out of the baggy cargo pocket of her jeans and held it glittering in front of my face.
I've been told that rape can't really happen without a penis involved. But what about two fingers, three, four, a hand forcing itself into my vagina, violently, angrily, tearing into the skin and all that soft pink flesh inside of me? What about everything she did to me that night, in the hours she kept me captive, which I won't- can't- begin to describe here? What about the physical scars- the bruises, the cuts, the torn skin and the twin black eyes and the bite marks and the bloodied mouth? What about the emotional scars- the fear and the self-loathing and the hurt and the humiliation?
I went to the police after it happened. There seemed, to me, to be little ambivalence in the case- I was a minor, she used violent physical force and a deadly weapon to make me submit to her sexual whims, she violated me, she penetrated me against my will- if not with a penis, with her body and with numerous inanimate objects- she left scars and bruises and blood. If a man had done to me what she did to me, he would be behind bars right now.
But I had forgotten what sort of town I lived in, how small-minded it can be, and by arriving at the police station the next day with my claims I had committed a grave offense- I had forgotten my place. I was trailer trash and what's more, I was queer trailer trash, and as such I had no right to demand justice, respect, or rights.
At the police station I said only that I had been sexually assaulted, and was taken to see a man in his thirties with a huge, doughy face and big moist eyes that darted quickly across the walls. He was supposed to take a statement, ask me questions, find out what happened. I was left alone with him in a small room, where he sat behind a beat-up metal desk scattered with papers, and I sat on a hard plastic chair facing him, feeling tiny. He was actually very nice at first, tried to call my foster family, offered to wait until he could reach them and they could come in before questioning me. But I knew that having them there would only make things more complicated, and I asked him to just go ahead. He offered to let me speak to a woman about what happened but I understandably declined. I felt awkward and embarrassed and just wanted to get it over with. So he started, gently asked a few basic questions about what had happened to me.
I told him that I'd been attacked by an older woman who I had been on a date with, in her apartment. There was a pause and in this pause I saw his face change, everything change.
"So you like that sort of thing?" His voice was not gentle any more. It was suggestive. He was staring at my body like he owned it, my breasts, my legs clamped tightly together on the hard plastic chair, my little body that was trying to fold up into nothing to escape him and the rest of the world. My fourteen-year-old body.
"What sort of thing?" My voice was soft, my little reserve of confidence was quickly drying up. He had big moist eyes and he was staring at me and his huge face looked hungrier and hungrier.
"You like to do dirty things with other girls?" He moved out from behind his desk. My heart was beating in my throat. Dammit, dammit, dammit, I was thinking, damning him and myself and her and wanting to just disappear.
"I... I just don't like to be with guys." What could I say? What should I say? Should I have just left, forgotten about the whole thing?
"You like to see naked girls? You like to kiss them?" He was moving slowly closer to me and I was terrified. Wide-eyed doe caught in the headlights again. And I couldn't believe I kept finding myself in these situations. I was such a fucking idiot.
"I don't see what this has to do with it. I-" He was beside me now, bending down towards me. Those big eyes darker and wetter. His breath was heavy, hot on my skin. I wanted to push him away from me, but I was far too scared. I wouldn't meet his eyes, but stared instead at the gun tucked into the holster hanging from his belt.
"Look here, I'm just trying to do my job." His face was inches from mine. His breath stank of cigarettes and coffee. "I'm just trying to get the facts straight hon. I'm afraid that there hasn't been any sort of crime committed here. You say you like to do dirty things with other girls, don't you? You knew she was a queer and you went back to her apartment and you kissed her? What were you planning on doing that evening? What did you want to do with her?"
He said this while looking at the face of a girl with two black eyes, eyes wet and red with fresh tears and staring down, away from him in shame, in fear. He said this looking at a girl who was trying to make herself small enough in the hard plastic police station chair to disappear, who was struggling not to burst out crying in front of him, emitting strangled, hiccupping sobs. He said this to a girl who'd just been raped, who was only fourteen, who had come to him for help.
I couldn't speak. I just sat there.
And then that bastard tried to kiss me, holding my face between his fat sweaty hands and grinding his body up against me. I jerked away from him as hard as I could and knocked over the hard plastic chair and I bolted. I ran and ran. Out of the police station, down the street, out past the edge of town. I finally collapsed, breathless, in an empty field of tall scratchy grasses, crisscrossed by the decaying vertebrae of old railroad tracks. I sat on the tracks in the hot sun and I thought about throwing myself in front of a train.
My sanctuaries were fast dissolving. I'd long ago learned not to trust family, not to trust boys, not to trust the girls at school, not to trust the church, not to trust therapists. And now not to trust feminists, lesbians, the community of women who had made me feel so welcome, not to trust girls in general and confident, capable-seeming women in particular, not to trust the police or put faith in justice. I kicked at rocks. The world was so fucking unfair.
Since then I have discovered that legally, in my state, rape is confined to the realm of forced sexual intercourse between members of the opposite sex. Which means that a woman can be charged with rape- but only if she rapes a man. I could not have brought rape charges against the woman who attacked me, even with the full cooperation of the police. The best I could have done was 'criminal deviate conduct,' a class A felony when the use of a deadly weapon is taken into account- but god, criminal deviate conduct? Is that what she did to me? She committed criminal deviate conduct against me? I am a criminal deviate conduct survivor? No. No.
Some people who I've told this story to have argued that I wasn't raped, not really. My experience is disqualified on the grounds that it did not involve a penis. What she did to me was, they say, technically just a sexual assault. But I don't tend to think of what happened to me that night as 'sexual assault.' Rape seems to describe it much better. That strong, blunt word, heavy with emotion, with so many people's stories and strength, stained with violence and coercion, with cruelty and ignorance, with sadness, silence, and shame, with everything that rape is and entails and has come to represent to us and to conjure up in our minds. Rape remains the more powerful, universal term. And I contend that anyone who feels that they have been raped has been raped.
Rape didn't used to be considered rape when the victim was wearing revealing clothing, or had a reputation, or didn't scream for help, or was married to the assailant. Our definitions are always evolving, as we understand more about the violence that occurs in our world and the victims it leaves behind. Rape, as I have seen and experienced it, is not a gender specific term, nor does it always involve a certain juxtaposition of a penis and a vagina. It's bigger than that, more universal and much more tragic. The story of the boy at the beginning of this node broke my heart. We need to learn to reach out past these stupid stereotypes and touch real people, feel their real scars, and wipe their very real tears away.