You Are Not Alone: On Being A Queer Survivor

This piece contains content relating to rape, substance abuse and eating disorders.


I’m sharing my story for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that on the most basic level, it helps to share. Sometimes we survivors feel very alone. We might tell ourselves that no one understands, or that no one wants to hear what we have to say. I would like you to know that you are not alone. Your pain is valid and legitimate and there are so many others out there who love and support you. We don’t need you to prove anything to us. We don’t need you to fulfill an expectation, because we know how hard it is to feel like you’re going to let down the ones you love. We simply love you.

The second reason is that being a queer survivor has its own unique bundle of burdens and trials, and when looking for support, it was hard for me to find resources on how to deal with gender and sexuality as a survivor. I hope my story lends a perspective where it’s needed. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to give my testimony in their place.

The third reason is that sometimes I need help. Sometimes my days are very dark and it’s hard for me to express the ways in which I need to be treated, or talked to, or left alone. For those of us who have trouble asking for assistance, or knowing when it’s time to ask for it, maybe this testimony will help explain what’s going on. And if you’re an ally, maybe you’ll find ways to be even better for the survivors in your life.

I turned eighteen in August of 2008. There are pictures of me on my birthday: the least flattering haircut of my life, my hands thrust into my Bryn Mawr sweatshirt, giving the camera a shit-eating grin from the hood of my friend’s car. I clung to the future like an IV line, feeding off the rush of the potential, the almost-there-but-not-quite. I wanted to get out of my podunk town. I wanted to read a library’s worth of books. I wanted to talk to people who had big thoughts, and learn to have big thoughts of my own. I thought maybe, just maybe, I would no longer be the awkward girl I’d always seen in the mirror, the one who had chronic acne and a long list of fears. I would be someone worthwhile, the someone I was supposed to be.

For two months that fall, I experienced a strange and beautiful period of my life. I lived on my own for the first time. I fell hard for the girl down the hall who would later be my first girlfriend. I drank cheap liquor because I didn’t know any better, and danced at sweaty parties until my legs gave out. I went into my first real city and saw paintings and big stores and people who looked nothing like the people from my town. The entire world swirled around me at a frenetic and thrilling pace, and I forgot to call my parents, forgot that anything had ever existed before I’d stepped into this incredible new life.

And then, without warning, the world stopped spinning.

On November 1st of 2008, I walked a man into my dorm room. When I asked him to leave, he locked the door and raped me.

I didn’t use the word rape for a long time. I called it sexual assault at first. Sexual assault seemed less damning, less permanent. I told absolutely no one the exact details. If I had to tell, I told vague half-truths. I didn’t want to believe it had happened. I didn’t want it to be real, so I told myself it wasn’t. I made up a version of it that didn’t make me as terrified and miserable, and that’s the version my closest friends heard. It took me two years to use the word rape. And it took me two and a half to admit that I had been violated in a very violent and very wrong way. It’s taken me five years to believe I didn’t deserve it, and it will probably take me even more to realize that I’m a stable and totally fine person.

This is all okay. This is a natural thing that we do to deal with trauma. I understand why I did it, and why others do it, and I know now that it’s part of the healing process. I know why I could never quite tell that story, and I’m okay with that. If you aren’t ready to tell your story, that’s okay. Your story is yours to do with as you choose. If you need to live in your story for a while, to keep it close to your heart so it stays warm, that’s okay. You don’t need to share it right now, or ever, if you’d like.

I had half-truths about this, too: I had only been kissed twice before that moment, and nothing more than that, though you will hear conflicting accounts. I boasted to my high school friends about heavy petting and handjobs, but those were lies to cover for my complete and terrifying lack of attraction to the handful of boys I tripped over in my adolescence, and later lies I added in the wake of my rape. I found that lying about the body is as easy as lying to it. I also found that somewhere along that blind journey to recovery, I had internalized the messages that pamphlets and psychiatrists and therapists and social workers and cops and friends and family had been projecting: that this incident had robbed me of my “innocence.” I had come to believe that this act had left me “broken” and “ruined,” specifically because I had not been touched before.

So I began to add sexual encounters to my past, as if their phantom bodies could somehow cushion the impact of his hands on my skin, as if my bruises could be covered by layers of imagined hands, groping teenage fingers. I added tenderness to these encounters, and a sense of adolescent clumsiness. There was something comforting about this fantasy. It felt much better to believe that my body had first come to terms with sexuality not though a violent and bloody encounter, but through naive teenage tangles, even if they weren’t the right gender for me.

By social conventions, I was a virgin. I had never had a sexual encounter. By my own definition, I was a virgin. Due to the extreme trauma to the area, especially given the blood loss, it is difficult to tell if my hymen was broken during the act, or if it had already been broken by an unassuming tampon or stretch. I’ve heard feminists refer to the hymen as a “mythical membrane,” but it’s been a difficult concept to internalize when you’ve spent such a long time thinking of yourself as “broken.”

Not that rape is a sexual act. I want that message to be very clear: Rape is not sex. My rape was not a sexual encounter. Rape never is.

At the same time, I have to understand that rape and sexuality are irrevocably intertwined. And this is what I want to ultimately talk about: where does my queerness intersect with my being a survivor?

Rape is impact: there will be aftershocks, ripple upon ripple of side effects, cyclical reminders. You will see your body, or not see it at all. It may become a dry husk you struggle to fill, or something to tear down every few hours. Sometimes you will hurt your body to remind yourself that it is there. You will need to see blood to know that there is, in fact, something keeping you tethered to life. And when you add another body to this equation, things get much more complicated.

Almost exactly a month after the rape, I had sex for the first time. For better or for much worse, my entire sexual awakening took place in the very near wake of the rape. I came out to my parents a few weeks after they heard about what had happened to me, although the version they received included no details, and to this day my mother believes that it is “just sexual assault, not rape,” a distinction she made that seems to comfort her. I will never correct her. My parents also wanted to know if my sexuality was a result of what happened to me, if this was a phase or a coping mechanism or a symptom of my “wild year.” The rape made this coming out illegitimate, invalid. To this day, there is a distance between myself and my family that bears the distinct mark of my queerness. I don’t know if they have ever chosen to see it in a different light. I have chosen to never revisit this topic with them.

I got into bed with my first girlfriend because I’d had flashbacks every single night, and couldn’t sleep without sobbing. I needed someone to hold me because I was too afraid to sleep alone. Trusting someone else with my body was something I did not know if I could do, but I tried anyway. And that led to losing my virginity, and entering into a sexual relationship.

Sex is complicated no matter the circumstances. It is beautiful, but it is still complicated. I have never known sex as anyone but a survivor. That burden has always been on my shoulders as a sexual being, and those scars have always marked how I approach every single sexual encounter. I used to envy those people who entered sex with trust, with excitement, without fear or pain or dread. I’ve since learned that sex is strange and new for everyone, no matter what they’ve been through. We’re all a little bit scared the first time we undress someone else, even if it’s the good kind of scared that makes your chest flutter.

Sex became my way of understanding what happened to me. I had other methods, but they were not as successful. I journaled, and took a lot of self-portraits with the camera I’d been given for Christmas. I filled notebooks with drawings and smearings of my own blood – I had a lot of nosebleeds during that time for various reasons, and I figured out a way to induce them. But mostly, I was having a lot of sex. Sex that involved different kinds of sensations, sex that involved a lot of trust. I wanted to test the ways in which I could feel my aliveness. I wanted to understand how to feel pain and pleasure when I was in direct control of those elements. My body had become a stranger that spoke to me in a strange language, so sex became my translator. Having sex, specifically queer sex, was helping me to see all the small and glorious beauties of humanity that one person had made me forget.

I learned that I felt the most comfortable with my body when it was giving pleasure to other bodies. I learned to flirt, and flirted a lot. I eventually cut off my hair, and wore the clothes that made me feel better. I had girlfriends, and then I didn’t have girlfriends, but mostly I had one night stands and fuckbuddies who came and went. I loved each and every one of them in their own way, for a few minutes or a few days or months at a time. It was through their bodies that I learned about my own. I’d never had the chance to find my way through sexuality without the weight of these scars, and their skin was smooth and warm. Their arms were inviting and never reminded me of the past. They weren’t like my body, and I cried sometimes knowing that they still wanted me, that they desired my most broken pieces, even for a few hours.

At the same time, I was playing a dangerous game. I am an anxious person by nature, and a people pleaser. I trusted absolutely no one. Sex, to me, was a different kind of trust than the kind it took to let someone else even halfway into my heart. Sex didn’t require talking about my feelings, or my dreams, or the little things I turned over in my head before I fell asleep. My body dysphoria was (and still sometimes is) consuming, and I didn’t always want to be touched during sex, or take off my clothes. Sometimes this was not understood or well-received. Sometimes this made me question if my dysphoria came from a gender issue, or a survivor issue, or from a little bit of both. In the meantime, I was treading the line between helping myself heal and giving people something they wanted regardless of my needs. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if I truly desired the person, or if their desire for me had made me feel that I was obligated to give myself to them.

I found myself in a place where my vulnerabilities had transformed into ways for me to be abused. And they were frequently abused, and I felt even more broken than before, and it hurt. Every time I felt like I was crawling out of the hole, there was a day when I was back at the bottom again.

I saw a few therapists during this time. Half were competent, the other half made me feel even worse about what had happened. Our conversations only made me question and hate myself more, especially when we talked about my sexuality. I was put on a multitude of medications, most of them to treat anxiety and depression. I had a hypnotherapist, and underwent memory replacement therapy. What I couldn’t find in therapy, I sought in self-medication. When I felt really bad, I didn’t want to bring someone else into it. I had convinced myself that I was a toxic person who would poison others with this side of me, so I pushed others away in those instances. Instead, I found substances that could heal those particular moments. I kept using them, even when they affected my health, even when I stopped going to class, even when I locked myself in my room and spent hours with a pair of scissors. I didn’t eat for a very long time. If I did eat, I ate from a jar of peanuts I kept by my bed, and counted them out. I am someone who naturally carries their weight around 135-140 lbs. I weighed 112 by December of 2009. When I look at pictures of myself from that time, I can’t believe my body was ever like that. I can’t believe what I was capable of doing to myself, that I could cause as much damage as he did with my own two hands.

We queers are a navel-gazing bunch, but with good measure. We form our identities outside of the mainstream; we recognize ourselves as different and therefore we have to work extra hard to understand these differences, to know the boundaries between us and the rest. We often look back at the narrative of our lives to better understand how these identities form, and as a result, we spend a lot of time in self-examination. Going through something like this means you naturally doubt yourself. You question your life, your choices, the reason you do what you do. Coming to terms with my sexual identity while navigating the very slow process of recovery made this questioning particularly awful.

I am a masculine-presenting person. I feel good when I’m wearing menswear, or all my bright cut-off shirts, or my studded flannel vest. I like my expression to be something I can play with, something that reflects the way I feel and fuck and see the world. Androgyny feels right on me. I’m not quite female and not quite male. My gender is fluid, something I like to shrug off when it feels too tight, or wrap around me when I need the comfort. I don’t like the label “lesbian” because I don’t feel like a woman who loves other women. I do use “dyke” because it feels like a fist in my mouth. It feels like spitting glass and wiping the blood from your lips. I identify first and foremost as “queer” because I fell in love with queer theory, because it feels exactly the way I feel my gender and desire. I’ve spent years coming to terms with all of these statements that I can now rattle off when needed. Yes, I am this. Yes, I like to wear these things. Yes, I am attracted to these bodies. On the days when it’s hard to know if I’m up, down, or deserving of a place in the world, I take solace in the fact that I can say a few things about myself and know that they are true, or that their ability to change and morph is totally okay.

Most of the time I’m about 30% okay with my body, but when I am confident in my boiness, I can feel attractive and desirable for a while. I can get up to a 60%, or maybe an 85% on a super good day. I like the way girls look at me. I like the way I make them feel. I like that I can feel as if people want to be with my body, that my body is not an awful and toxic thing that should be rejected. I like feeling desired, wanted, attractive, beautiful. Everyone likes to feel this way. I especially like feeling this way because most of the time I’m telling myself that I am none of those things, since that violent act tipped an already anxious and self-deprecating personality over the edge of self-loathing.

I question so many things in my life. I question my presentation. I enjoy rejecting male attention with my masculine presentation, but I wonder if I do so because I associate male attention with the rape. I wonder if I sometimes bind because I enjoy fucking with gender, or if I’m trying to hide away parts of me that he touched. I wonder if this is the same reason I don’t always take off all my clothes during sex. On my worst days, I question my sexuality. I spend hours ruminating over things that shouldn’t ever cross my mind. Am I only attracted to women because of what happened to me? Do I seek out the partners that are the opposite of him? Do I sleep with the people I wish I was, the stable and beautiful ones who haven’t known this kind of pain? Is anything I do legitimate?

But I know none of this is really true. Sometimes this is the hardest thing to remember and understand. Sometimes it feels like all the things that make me queer are things that could be responses to what happened to me. And sometimes I really need to know that I am legitimate and valid and everything I do is okay, no matter their source. I have to remember that I was attracted to girls before this happened to me. I have to remember that as long as the way I conduct my life makes me happy, it is okay. I have to remember that all bodies are legitimate, and valid, and I should be very good to myself because I deserve to be very good to myself. As you should be so very good to yourself, because you deserve all of that and more.

Some days, the bravest thing we do is get out of bed. Sometimes it takes all the courage in our tiny beating hearts to button up the shirt that makes us feel good, to meet our own eyes in the mirror. Sometimes we forget to congratulate ourselves for the incredible victories we achieve every single day, like walking to work, or cleaning our rooms, or choosing to stay under the covers and watch our favorite show. We are survivors. That means that we got through the very worst, that we are still alive and we will go on being alive. That means that the very fact we are living our lives is a beautiful and precious thing. We should celebrate every single minute that we keep putting one glorious foot in front of the other. And we’re queer, so we’ve got this other beautiful and precious thing that makes us extra celebratory.

There are moments when I am filled with tear-inducing rage because this happened to me, because it has happened to so many of us, because I know too many queers whose trust and control was wrenched from them with fists and kicks and hands that wouldn’t let go. Too many who blamed themselves, who wondered if they should have said no, if they should have screamed, if it still counted because this person was their partner or their friend. When your body is different, when your body does different things, it’s your body they’ll come after. Our queer bodies are the most beautiful things in the world. We have made entire universes inside of our skin. We have had to battle time and time again to make our bodies and the things our bodies do legitimate by the standards of a society that doesn’t hug back. We have been repaid in lost blood and lost lives. Being queer means we are already fighting to love, and to love ourselves. Being a queer survivor means we must do the impossible over and over again.

If you’re not a survivor, there are still so many ways to be a helpful ally. You don’t need to know a survivor, but I bet you do. Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Think about how many survivors that is since you started reading this article. The most important thing an ally can do is actively listen without judgment. Become the best listener in the world, as well as a supportive shoulder, a hand to hold, or someone who will leave when they’re asked to leave. Listen when you are told that a space is survivor-only, and needs to be respected. Listen for rape jokes, and call them out. The second most important thing you can do is believe survivors. So many people will shut their story down, or not understand. Please, please believe us. Even if we doubt ourselves, even if we cannot tell you the details and even if the story changes, please believe us. The worst thing you can do is contribute to our fear that we are not valid in our experience. The third most important thing is to accept us. We will be going through many difficult changes that may have an effect on our relationship. Accept that there will be differences now. Accept that we will have bad days and good days, and that sometimes after a long period of good days, a trigger might set us back to the bad. Accept that you cannot always help us, and that we need space, and that you should not take this personally. Accept that this is normal and okay. Accept that we are strong and beautiful beings, and help reassure us when we forget.

Every single day I put one foot in front of the other. I will keep going. Because I deserve each step. Because I have found life to be stunning. Because it is the only thing I can do. You will keep going, too. Every single day, you are getting a little bit better. Maybe you can’t tell just yet, but this healing is like getting taller. One day you’ll look at those pictures and wonder how you were ever so small. One day, this sadness will be a memory. Your scars will be harder to see, and even if you never forget that they’re there, you’ll know they don’t define you. You’ll understand how all that pain ended up making you stronger. You will meet your own glance in the mirror and you’ll see an incredibly beautiful person staring back. You will never be prouder.

IMPORTANT LINKS

For you, for people who care about you, for help needed now or in the future.

1-800-656-HOPE – 24/7 support hotline

RAINN – national support network

LGBTQ Survivors – resources for queer survivors

Survivor Resources by Location – find support groups and local resources in your immediate area

How To Report Rape / Sexual Violence – if you decide to pursue legal action, all the information you need

Ally Resources – how to be the best possible ally to survivors


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider.

Kate has written 130 articles for us.

167 Comments

  1. Kate, thank you so much for writing this. I have been wondering if I was alone in this experience for years. I have been questioning also the validity of my sexuality and gender expression ever since I was attacked at the age of 14. I have just spent the past couple hours crying, partially because of the pain of remembering, but mostly because finally i know that I am not alone, and I am not less of a person for what I’ve been going through. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart. I am moved by your bravery, and because of this I have finally built the courage to be honest my best friend about what happened to me. You have given me so much comfort in what is still a hard time. Thank you again, really. Much love and light <3

  2. It makes me sad to see so many of you have such awful stories to share. It’s just unfathomable. At the same time, I feel a sense of pride when I see the sense of community here. It’s just amazing. I am also a survivor, I was abused for years by my adoptive grandfather and it really did damage to my sense of sexuality and my sense of self. And I assumed, naturally, that my issues with boys and men was due the abuse I endured. It’s not until now, when I feel in love with this amazing girl, that I begin to realize that maybe that was not all there was to it. Thirteen years post-abuse and I am still in the healing process. It takes time. It takes love. It takes forgiven. But ever so slowly, I’m getting there. You’re all brave, all wonderful. Keep going and remember that you’ll never walk alone.

  3. Kade–Has anyone ever told you that besides being overall awesome, you are also an amazing writer? This article is so powerful and profound. It helped me, as an ally, to better understand concepts I don’t think I understood before. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Kade, Bringing our pain into the light is important. I’m so sorry that you were hurt like that. You’re a survivor, and a warrior, and you have some serious gumption. Not to mention you are an admirable, clever writer!
    I was raped on New Years Eve when I was 18, my friends left me passed out at a house and I was too drunk to fight him off, he ignored my hollering “NO”. Totally pretended it didn’t happen for about four months afterwards, when I was having a pap test, the doctor asked if I was sexually active (I wasn’t) and when the last time I’d been was, and I recalled that something happened on New Years Eve – at her probing I admitted to both of us that it was not consensual. I’ve spent the last thirteen years purposefully not giving it a whole lot of thought. Until last year I saw on facebook a girlfriend of mine had actually started dating that guy – I quickly sent her a message and just as quickly she broke it off. However suppressing the memories of being raped has been the best coping mechanism I have employed. Until I am alone with a man… and I’m terrified.

    Thank you again for posting this. <3

  5. Thank you for this. So much.

    My own story is something I’ve always had trouble understanding for myself and certain parts of this piece seem to have shone a light into the dark corners of my experience.

    Being that my experience occurred 7 years ago, back when I was but a confused baby queer who didn’t know who I was or what any of it meant, I’ve always questioned how much of my identity was shaped by this first negative experience. And beyond that, the perpetrator was my friend, my roommate and the only companion I had in a new city for the months that stretched between first and second year university.

    I knew he was infatuated with me even as he knew I wasn’t interested in return. And after the first non-consensual encounter, I spent much of the summer drinking excessively to numb myself and self-harming and strangely enough, pursuing him. Always very detached, always drunk and always loudly insisting to him that this was all a symptom of my self-hatred and not at all to be interpreted as genuine romantic or sexual interest on my part. I spent a lot of time since then thinking that this was my way of punishing him for what he had started. and I still think that is partly true. But your article seems to have finally put into words what I couldn’t quite grasp before – I was re-writing the experience. I was trying to take some semblance of control over what had happened, even if the way in which I did that was terribly self-destructive. And in doing so, I invalidated my experience and shifted the blame onto myself. It is still something I am incapable of calling ‘rape’. In fact I’ve only been able to conceptualize it as sexual assault in the last few years. I’ve hated him, but mostly I’ve hated myself. But knowing that I am not alone in this complicated and confusing reaction seems to have provided me with a sense of peace about it all that I couldn’t even acknowledge I still needed.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. Kade,

    Despite the story you shared, I think the thing that struck me most was the reminder that they don’t HAVE to be told to be valid and necessary parts of our self narrative.

    I always need to remind myself that the best kind of listener shouldn’t expect anything from the person that they’re listening to, and this certainly applies in reliving trauma. Just because you want to hear something to explain WHY or HOW to give you piece of mind does not mean that person should need to supply it to you in any situation.

    As always, being a sensitive and open ally is hard, especially with people you love. Your personal strength and support to others is inspiring, and I can only hope that I can put forth such a positive energy to people in need.

    Love,
    James

  7. Thank you Kate.

    A girl I’ve been seeing mentioned this to me while I was having a panic attack, I guess in an attempt to tell me she wasn’t judging.

    I’m currently in a public place… weeping. Your story brings out so many of my own struggles, and I’m so honored to have been able to read this, and grateful for your strength and vulnerability sharing this on the internet.

    I guess for the same reasons you posted this, I would also like to say I also experienced traumatic events (… I’m even still far away from sexual assault) when I was still in High-School, and I feel like me not legitimately accepting it as part of my identity has illegitimized every decision I’ve made since then. Every sexual partner or life choice, especially my sexual orientation, has been marred by my bitterness, cowardice, and pain.

    Thank you so much for that last paragraph. It’s been seven years, a hospitalization for being suicidal, a decade of alcoholism, and a recent trip to Residential care for my ed that had me so sick I was placed on bedrest, and, well, I often feel like I’m still stuck in the same place, too afraid to cross certain streets in the city because of the memories I associate with them.

    Well… also thank you for giving me the opportunity to say what I just said… keeping with the theme of legitimacy I’m hoping to accept that those things are what they are, and my body is my body to be fed and pleased, and not just carted through every bedroom in the nation until it finally falls apart from neglect.

    Anyways, thank you. Thank you and although I don’t know you I admire your courage and am proud of your growth.

    <3

  8. Thank you, Kate. Hard to find to words to describe my response to this piece.

    I am awed by the courage, honesty, and beauty of what you wrote. Speaking as a woman who has not endured this type of trauma, I would like you to know that you have given me a window of understanding. Thank you for helping me to help my many friends who struggle, and thank you for your testimony.

  9. So, I was wondering if any other fellow survivors have ever pressed charges. I am nearing this decision because I think it is the only way for me to gain closure. But the thing is that my abuser was an immediate family member and I feel like I might lose a substantial portion of my family if I go through with this. And when a friend and I were discussing this, she said “Well, if your family can forgive him for what he did, they can forgive you for pressing charges.” I hate the pressing charges is seen as something that needs to be forgiven, or asked permission for. *Sigh*

    • I’m in the same situation. Instead of pressing charges, I cut them all out of my life, which only works because they leave me alone. It’s not a great solution because I am afraid to run into any of them when I go back to my hometown, but I wanted to protect my grandmother from finding out about my abuser, since she is elderly and frail. Unfortunately, now I can only send grandma letters instead of seeing her in person, which is horrible because I can’t explain to her why I don’t visit anymore, but she seems to accept that I have my reasons for staying away without it upsetting her too much. Anyway, just wanted to say you’re not alone, and I admire you for making that person take legal responsibility for their actions, even if your own family won’t. Just wanted to give you my support; you’re a brave tough lady.

  10. Thank you for sharing Kate! I tend to share a lot similar thoughts with you.
    For one, I am not exclusively butch, and if anything, I am probably far from it seeing that I am not always feminine.
    But I started to question my gender expression a while ago and as always it’s really difficult to think through it so I always just tend to let it go until the next time I find myself triggered.

    I for one really dislike the word rape, but only because it makes shit more real in the sense that before, I always just saw my experience to be a sexual assault. and i didn’t think much of it then because i just thought of it as another sexual assault to add to my list in high school, when i was just 16.
    personally, i don’t think any of those experiences have caused me to question my sexuality because i knew that even before this experience, I was always attracted to the same sex. i never had the vision of me being with a guy ever so when i tried to be straight, it was the worse year of my life, especially after this incident that i tried to look over as just sexual assault from a guy i happened to date.

    it wasn’t until after a second rape attempt and threat that i realized how harmful and dangerous this guy was and when i started getting all protective of myself. not in the sense where i am always watching my back while walking late at night but instead, i would embrace my masculine side more and use it as a protective shield. i liked being masculine at times before this incident, but even more now as i am not seen vulnerable when i do look more this way. and whenever there is a chance to walk late at night, i am more than willing to do it just to prove myself that i’m not vulnerable at all and if someone dared to touch me, i knew how to defend myself (physically with some taekwondo skill).

    so sometimes i wonder if that’s what attracts me to my more masculine presentation. don’t get me wrong, i like to be feminine as well but when it comes to moments where i feel triggered, it’s like i change personality and appearance.
    at least i feel it goes that way. could it have been different if this event never happened? i’ll never know.

  11. Hi Kate,
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I find it so hard to tell people that I was raped as a teenager. It happened at a new years party when I was almost 17. I, along with all of my friends, was completely wasted. There are so many reasons I’ve felt my story was not valid- I couldn’t remember most of what happened in that room/ I had been drinking and taking pills that night/ I obviously didn’t fight hard enough or say no loud enough. This was the horrible spiral of dark thoughts I took with me, on my own. I allowed people that knew me, that were at the party to make stupid teenage jokes about me hooking up with that guy(they saw him leave the bedroom they found me passed out in), and what a skanky thing that was to do. I allowed that,was almost relieved by that lie.
    It was so much easier in that moment for me to lie, to be seen as a slut rather than a victim by my judgmental teenage peers.

    I’ve always found it so hard to share any part of my story with people, even as I got older, because it makes me feel completely vulnerable. It has taken me years to grasp the idea that people don’t see “victim” but “survivor” when you open up to them and its not about weakness, the fact that you and I, and all the awesome brave individuals on this page are still here is nothing but strength. I have to keep reinforcing these things all the time.

    It wasn’t until my early twenties that I started to have feelings for women and at 25, I’m at a point where I identify as queer/lesbian and I’ve been out to most of the people in my personal, professional and family life for a couple of years. The idea that people would get to form judgments on the validity of that identity based on what I’ve been through in the past kills me. Harder still are the times when you feel low and question it yourself.

    I’ve never read anything before where someone talks about those intersections between queer and survivor and it has meant so much to me to have you give voice to that.
    Thanks.

  12. Can those with experience talk more about therapy? Kate’s comment that half of her therapists were incompetent sounds accurate. I want a good therapist for dealing with past sexual abuse, but I don’t have much money and I assume affordable good therapists are even more difficult to find than expensive ones. I am doing well mentally and emotionally (it’s been 10 years, and I had access to therapeutic reading material to help me stop blaming myself) but there’s work I need to do with a therapist that I’ve put on hold because I’m afraid they’ll do more harm than good. Thanks for any suggestions on how to find good therapists / avoid bad ones. You’re all beautiful.

    • I had a great therapist and went through weekly therapy for a little over a year to deal with the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse I’ve gone through. I found one that clicked with me. It’s like finding a good physician. I went to a child psychologist (even though I was 17-18) who’d dealt with some pretty horrible types of abuse, though. I’m sure I seemed like a walk in the park to her, especially since I was willing to talk and wanted to change. She was also from San Francisco, and had no problems with my sexuality vs. sexual abuse. :) I couldn’t have healed as much as I have without her.

      She did an initial consult where we talked about a lot of things. I’m not sure if everyone does that, but at the initial appointment I would say see if you like them. Do you feel comfortable opening up to them? Do you like them? Are they someone you would want to talk to, even if you were happy? If the answer to those questions is no, there are plenty more therapists out there.

  13. “What I couldn’t find in therapy, I sought in self-medication. When I felt really bad, I didn’t want to bring someone else into it. I had convinced myself that I was a toxic person who would poison others with this side of me, so I pushed others away in those instances. Instead, I found substances that could heal those particular moments. I kept using them, even when they affected my health, even when I stopped going to class, even when I locked myself in my room and spent hours with a pair of scissors.”

    ^^ This, almost entirely to a T. Suddenly I don’t feel like I’m the only one who suffered like this…

  14. I have spoken to othersurvivors, but never any who captured everything I felt so eloquently. Thank you so much.
    At 19 I had sex for the first time. It was with my male best friend and it was consensual. I didn’t enjoy it and I assumed it would never happen again. He convinced me if I kept trying I would like it. That I owed it to him. Then because we kept having sex (or I suppose, he kept on ccoercing me into it) he made me feel like I had to be his girlfriend. And if I was his girlfriend we had to have sex. He kept me too isolated to realize what was happening. He coerced me when I didn’t want it, he did things I didn’t want without asking, getting upset when I said stop. A year in he stopped trying to convince me and just started doing what he wanted. I’m 23 now and have just now accepted that I was raped repeatedly, even though it wasn’t violent. I always said I was abused and assaulted twice because I felt like that word was reserved for people who had a more violent experience.
    I told my mom right before I came out. (On accident) she asked if I was raped and I said I didn’t know. All she could say was how I lied when I told her I was a virgin and that she could see how I would be afraid of men.
    My partner felt offended when I got triggered during sex, always telling me, “I’m not him!”
    I felt like my experience didn’t matter, that I needed to stop being a baby because it “wasn’t that bad” I always felt like if I had more of a backbone I could have told him no and left instead of being there that whole time. I felt at fault until my best friend set me straight. But it’s still difficult.
    I know it’s been a bit since the article has been out but I wanted to say Thank you thank you THANK YOU for writing this. I cried.

  15. Hello everyone

    not sure how to begin – I haven’treally shared this with anyone yet, but here we go..

    When I was eighteen I broke up with my first boyfriend (we’d been dating for 3+ years) and quickly got together with a guy at my new school (boarding school).
    the first time we slept together came as a total surprise for me as we were just laying there, getting to know each others bodies when he suddenly rolled on top of me and started fucking me.

    I never felt comfortabel with him, and he always chose to ignore when I tried to tell him that I wasn’t in the mood or just tried to send clear signals (at some point I didn’t verbalize what I wanted/ didn’t want anymore)

    then, after about a month we went to a party. I drank way too much. I woke up feeling more than sick. He woke up as well, told my friends he would help me. He carried me into the bathroom, told me I needed to take a shower. He undressed me and placed me into the bathtub. I couldn’t stand by myself. I wasn’t really conscious.
    he turned on the water. He pulled me up and pressed me against the wall while he spread my legs and started.
    I lost consciousness a few times. I fell over a few times.
    He finished. I threw up in the toilet and he told me that I’d still look cute.

    I was sick for a few days.
    I didn’t know what to make out of all that – I felt sad and scared and cried a lot but couldn’t really say why.
    I mean… this couldn’t have been rape. it just couldn’t. I knew him. He was my boyfriend. He didn’t physically hurt me .. but I couldn’t help but feeling more and more depressed.
    I actually stayed with him for a few weeks longer, where more than once I slept with him again until I couldn’t look at his face without feeling disgusted and angry and scared and confused.

    I hate hate hate this.

    In the years after this I started to hate my body. I ate and ate and ate until I figured people wouldn’t look at me as a sexual being anymore (which was one of the stupidest thoughts.. like ever..) only to then refused to eat up to the point where I got so sick that I almost died..
    and still I started all over again with the eating tons/not eating at all .. a few times.

    I still feel wrong to claim, that I have been ‘raped’ .. there are so much worse things that women and girls had to go through.
    But I don’t really know how to cope..
    I just don’t.

    My girlfriend is awesome.. but since I don’t even know how to call what happened there it is kind of hard for me to explain, and therefor for her to understand, how I feel.

    you guys..
    my hart goes out to all of you. all of you who have gone through something like this. all of you who still are. all of you, who have to see their loved ones going through this.
    this sucks.

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  17. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It means so much to me, especially to hear about the aftermath, because I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

    I don’t want to make this about me, but I would like to share my story.

    Everything when I was a kid sort of blurs together, so I’m not sure how old I was. I could have been as young as 6 or as old as 8. I would be left home sometimes, except for my babysitters. I vaguely remember names, but they were brothers very close in age and definitely older than me at the time.

    My favorite game was to play doctor. The older one would be my assistant, the younger my patient, and I would be the surgeon. We used to have a lot of fun together, and they were my favorite babysitters for some time. One day, I remember the younger one acting really strangely. He and his brother shared a look, before the younger took me into the bathroom and shut the door.

    He told me that he would die while we were “performing surgery” unless I put my mouth on his penis. I remember resisting, but feeling weirdly anxious about him dying. He sat down on the toilet and pulled his pants down. I did it, but then my memory cuts off until we’re out of the bathroom a little while later. I remember the older brother looking absolutely devastated, though.

    I’m not sure what else happened in there. It’s a very crystal-clear moment until it blanks out. I might not ever know, and sometimes that’s more frustrating than anything. I’ll always wonder why I react so strongly to things, why I get nauseous and shaky. I’ve always felt like I should be stronger. It happened so long ago, right? I struggle with that feeling.

    Still want to be a surgeon, though, damn it. :)

  18. I keep coming back to you Kade, and to this article especially. I have no idea if you read these comments still, but I feel like I need to say something here.

    When I was 13, I was raped in the bathroom at a middle school dance. I had never even been kissed before.

    That night a boy asked me to dance with him and I did, excited to be receiving attention, even if it was only from a boy I had never met who went to a different school, and who I would never see again. We danced for a few songs and I told him I had to use the restroom. I didn’t notice him follow me until door of the single stall opened, closed, and locked behind him.

    In a single night my world crashed around me and I was dust on the floor. I developed anorexia, I self harmed, I became a husk of a person and I was too afraid to let anyone touch me because I didn’t want them to get dirty too. I didn’t tell a soul. Not my parents, not my friends, not the police. I was shy, ashamed of my sexuality and sex in general, and I didn’t really believe, or maybe I didn’t want to believe, that what happened to me could be classified as rape.

    More than a year ago I saw the title of this piece on the front page of this website, right clicked the link, selected ‘open in new tab’ and stared at the rectangular shape protruding from my browser with fear and apprehension and anxiety and a plethora of other emotions for almost a month.

    When I finally found the courage to read this piece I cried. I too was queer. I too did not feel entirely like a woman. I too struggled with an eating disorder. I too wondered if these thing were present before my rape. I had finally found a story that reflected mine. I found someone to look up to, someone whose mere existence told me that there was hope for me yet.

    I bookmarked your story and poured over it time and time again. whether it was through this or not, I found the strength to accept what happened to me, and a month after reading this, I said the word ‘rape’ out loud for the first time since it happened to me, and a little later, I told someone I was a survivor for the first time.

    I still have so, so far to go and I am still very far from OK, but I think, thanks to you, I started that journey.

    Thank you so much Kade, for sharing your story. I cannot put into words how important this piece has been to me. I think people sometimes underestimate the power that the stories of survivors hold. The same 26 letters rearranged over and over again somehow helped me regain consciousness after years of comatose denial, pain, and fear. Even though I am many months late with this reply, I still want to thank you for being brave and for being beautiful and for inspiring me.

    <3

    • When you’re an actor, you learn to hide your feelings. When you’re queer, you learn the same thing. I’m both, and I’ve still cried twice: once when I read Kade’s story, once when I read yours, Jett.
      Jett? You have the same name as someone I met at a camp (not AS camp) recently, and whom I admired very much for her strength and individuality. You’d know me by a different name, but we collaborated on my haircut, so that might strike a bell. If not, pardon me, and please excuse the mistake… The chances of that coincidence are small, but I had to try. When I read through the comments, there were so many heart wrenching stories, but I was touched and brokenhearted most of all by your post… I’ve been sobbing over it, really ugly tears, trying to work up the courage to reply.
      I hate him—the boy who hurt you. I hate that he took advantage of you, and the way he did it was sick. You, as a human being, deserve positive attention from other humans; it’s a natural right. What he did was inhuman.
      In my case, I don’t have one person to blame. I came out as bi in eighth grade, in public middle school, as the only LGBTQ person I knew. My classmates and friends, they interpreted bisexual as “prostitute.” I, too, had never even been kissed. A month after I came out, six boys followed me home and took advantage of me. Three times they caught up to me; and three times they forced me to do things I can’t even talk about.
      I wasn’t raped, but I was severely sexually assaulted. They wanted to straighten me out, to prove their dominance, to punish me for what I was. Once they were done with me, they started telling people that I had solicited sexual favors. ‘She charged seventy five dollars,’ they said. No one ever heard my version of the story. Before I could find my voice, I was expelled from my middle school, and on trial for prostitution, being prosecuted by the local police. I became catatonic, because when the emotions began to sink in, it was almost too much to feel at once. I used to stay up nights, screaming into my pillow.
      At first, it just feels numb. You don’t know what to feel, so you blame yourself, you’re ashamed and depressed and there’s a terrible emptiness, until you don’t feel like a person anymore. What they do; it may make them no longer human, but it almost robs of your identity too.
      I had been recovering from serious anorexia, even before I was assaulted. After it happened, I was no longer emancipated, but I stopped recovering—body dysmorphia and disordered eating plague me, even now that I don’t have the option of restricting food. Mirrors are everywhere, and they hurt.
      It’s a hard to believe that anyone will ever want you, when you first come out as gay, and it’s ten thousand times harder if you’re gay and suffering from sexual trauma. Of course, that means I act like a complete idiot around pretty girls, and I’ve still never been kissed. Being (still) the only out LGBTQ kid in my high school, I’m never going to really fit in, but this site has been my window into gay culture. Autostraddle, you’re doing great things <3
      To the girl who I made awkward attempts to dance with on New Year’s Eve: Jett, I really, really, really hope it didn’t make you uncomfortable… like I said, I can’t interact normally with pretty girls. I’ve never really been able to talk about what happened, but you inspire me towards recovery. You had the most beautiful energy of anyone I’ve ever met. I know having Ana distorts self-image, but I hope you love the girl you see in the mirror, because even from a distance, you gave me hope, which is what I needed more than anything else.
      Jett, Kade, and every person who’s ever been attacked sexually or because of their sexuality or gender and survived: your bravery keeps me alive.
      Thank you, thank you, thank you for surviving.

      • *person who I made awkward attempts to dance with
        *I can’t interact normally with pretty humans
        *the person you see in the mirror

        As someone who dabbles in androgyny, I really should have caught that before I posted, my apologies. Darn it, I’ve probably ruined the warm fuzzies… I’ll hush before I make any more faux pas. -__-

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  21. (please let the anon work, I’m not ready to “admit” what I’m writing under a username, even that makes it more real, means it happened for real and I can’t deny it anymore…)

    First of all, a heartfelt echoing of everyone else’s comments: thank you so very much for writing this, even if it’s been this long since then.

    Just, when one person steps forth and tells their story, others will follow, and that’s good, because it’s like sneezing in a classroom, one person’s courage to sneeze means it’s safe for others to do so too, you don’t have to hold it in.


    I stumbled upon this piece this morning, and it’s taken me all day to read through both it and everyone’s comments, and well into the next.

    It’s been hard, but reading others’ denial it made me realise just how deep-rooted mine had been.

    My first (only) boyfriend raped me. I think. It wasn’t consensual, I didn’t want it, he ignored my protests, he was horny and I had a hole (or that’s what it felt like to me at least). I wasn’t ready for him touching me, let alone touching me like that.

    It was long-distance, I’d met him before, but this was the first time I went to his place. Spent the night at his place. I was too shocked to move afterwards, and the thought of walking alone back to the hotel, insecure and lost in an unfamiliar country, in the middle of the night, was too mortifying.
    And then it happened again the morning after.

    I tried to reason that this was my place as the girlfriend, I was supposed to do this, it was supposed to feel like this, that it would get better, maybe even feel good…

    I guess my reasoning “worked”, and through the years that relationship lasted I’d let him do what he wanted with my body, I learnt to become numb.

    But he was an abusive prick who shattered my self-esteem and destroyed every shred of confidence I had, and threatened to find and kill me if I ran away, which I did after half a year of escalating abuse and living together (if at first you don’t succeed, phone mum to fly over to your rescue. It’s okay to do if your mother can do it. Or a friend. Or just someone you trust with your life, your potted plant’s life, and your pet’s life. And your favourite CD collection.).

    I got back home, and things were okay for a while. And then I went clubbing. That was a big mistake. Four guys, drunk guys, guys I knew from University, approached and tried to rape me.

    Again, I felt like I was a convenient hole, as I was sitting a bit away from the crowd watching my friends (but mostly the other girls) on the dance floor. I shut down mentally, couldn’t believe this was happening AGAIN, there were hands trying to get inside my tights, hands on my chest, hands everywhere, unwanted contact.

    This time, I could have reported what happened. I was aware of what happened, I didn’t want to deal with it, so I locked myself inside a figurative panic room with monitors that showed what was going on outside.
    But there was the issue of letting it progress to the point where it would be reportable… I was not so keen on that.

    Instead I spent the rest of the night faking that nothing happened, and then broke down and cried big ugly tears on my friend’s lap on the way home.

    As others have said, it was what came after that was worse, bleaker, a horrible pit you don’t see a way out of.

    I didn’t shower for days, I locked myself up in my room, I flunked out of school, I hated myself for having had them approach me in the first place, but I hated them more for it.

    When I finally went outside again, I made an effort to be as disgusting as possible, the logic that “if nobody wants to touch me, that’s a positive thing. It means I’m safe.”
    But I don’t like smelling bad, and I don’t like my clothes smelling bad because I smell bad, and then I shower a bit but still smell bad because my clothes smell bad and that smell sticks to my body, repeat ad literal nauseam …you know the thing.

    I wanted to castrate them all, cure the cut off bits in ammonia like you do with the shark, I’d ask grandma to teach me how, I’d bury the whole thing for a few weeks and then serve it to them on a silver platter, stab that fork down their throats and make them choke on their own balls like the way I’d felt I was choking when their hands touched my body, wanted the acidic smell to fill their senses. I wanted them to suffer.

    A few weeks ago, I heard that one of my best friends’ friend had punched one of the guys. And then punched him again. And again. Because he touched her.
    I want to meet that woman. I want to thank her.

    I don’t feel angry anymore.

    Some days I want to take a potato peeler and peel off all the skin that’s ever been touched by a man.

    Today was one until I found this article, and read and realised that no matter what, it’s okay to feel, and it’s okay to not feel, and it’s never your fault, but you’re still allowed to feel bad.


    I’m very sorry this got so long-winded, but again a huge thank you to Kate for writing this essay over two years ago, and to all the commenters.
    It’s given me more hope for the world, at least hope that others have been through so many hard things and survived, and that you, or I, or the random person in the crowd walking across the street yesterday, will survive too.

    I’ve never admitted that the Ex did what he did, but you all, and your stories, gave me the strength to start.
    I love you.
    Thank you.

  22. Saying thank you sounds like it is not enough. Everything I am feeling seems somehow locked outside of language, like I can’t access the right grammar or construct a series of letters capable of expressing how grateful I am to have found this essay, and how much I appreciate you for bravely articulating what has always been so hard to express for me and so many others. I have always felt a resistance to confronting how being a survivor of rape coexisted with my identity as queer, too often-especially from my family- I was told that my queerness was a transiet and unhealthy response to trauma, that I would somehow transform after “dealing with my rape.” I felt helpless to resist this narrative and felt the need to lie about and deny the impact sexual violence has had on me, as I felt it was the only way to validate my queerness to others, felt like the only way to keep my identity from being understood as pathological, as sublimated pain, as a defense system. This denial happened in both queer circles and survivor circles: in either one I was excluding aspects of my self and my history as a way to maintain some semblance of control over my narrative, of how people understood me. I told myself that denying the ways in which this trauma shaped me made me stronger, thought that admitting my hurt gave my rapist more power over me- allowed him to reach from the past and do it all over again. I lived in a black and white world unable to reconcile these two parts of myself, unable to understand myself as both survivor and queer, as having both agency and authentic desire while also wading through all the ways my life changed the night he made his way into me, the night he took my sense of self and autonomy away. I realize now that to deny these aspects of my personhood, to live believing that they could not be reconciled and exist together, I kept myself in a cycle of trauma, kept myself from understanding I am the only one that can define myself, my history, my desire. That I don’t need to ask myself questions about what came first (violence or desire) nor let others deny my right to exist on my own terms, however tenuous, however outside of normative recognition. This isn’t even close to the way my heart feels right now, so many of your words felt like a home I have always longed for, felt like a mirror I could finally begin to aprehend my shape in. Thank you thank you thank you. I am sending you all my love and light.

  23. My Dear Beloved Friends, God Loves You! Why? A New Revelation with the Spirit of Truth is here Today to Help All of us know the Truth about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, ( The Urantia Book, Revelation 2:17,Free, Online, in all international Languages, and Guided by Archangel Michael, His Trusted Angels, and the Holy Spirit ).A prayer and Blessing for all Good Loving Believers who Wish to share the Truth about Jesus, The Son of God and the Holy Spirit:

    For all the Children who are Ruined by shame

    Mirror child

    The image of a precious dove
    Dancing barefoot on the beach
    Drinking in love and sunshine
    full of smiles
    never having to die.

    Mere child

    Dreaming awhile on a school title
    Learning to carry books for miles.

    Crayons, pencils, stencils
    Nothing you need to do but
    Sing and carry the wind on
    Your wings.

    Mirror child

    Like daddy or mommy
    Carrying so many burdens for
    A little person
    All the time

    Not able
    To catch the spies and
    Spiders.

    Go back to the skies,
    Little dove

    And play with the eagles who tamed this land
    Until you are a spirit so good and pure
    That you will truly guide the directions of our
    Bloodied hands.

  24. Thank you! I’m just recently in the past 1-2 years working through my Ed issues, complex ptsd and anxiety/ depression and my sexuality and gender both got very confusing and painful for all in involved. I just want to say thank you for expressing many of my own struggles and experiences. It’s hard to acknowledge your own inner voice and feelings when on has spent most of their lives trying to convince themselves it wasn’t real, or its my doing and I’ll fix it so everything is perfect. Thank you again and I’m actually a little more hopeful and excited to keep moving on and live life more. <3

  25. “I question so many things in my life. I question my presentation. I enjoy rejecting male attention with my masculine presentation, but I wonder if I do so because I associate male attention with the rape. I wonder if I sometimes bind because I enjoy fucking with gender, or if I’m trying to hide away parts of me that he touched. I wonder if this is the same reason I don’t always take off all my clothes during sex. On my worst days, I question my sexuality. I spend hours ruminating over things that shouldn’t ever cross my mind. Am I only attracted to women because of what happened to me? Do I seek out the partners that are the opposite of him? Do I sleep with the people I wish I was, the stable and beautiful ones who haven’t known this kind of pain? Is anything I do legitimate?”

    I know I’m coming late to this article, but this has me open mouthed. Never has anyone understood, articulated and lived something so similar to me. I can’t quite believe the parallel, it saddens me, sickens me but also uplifts me as I read your wonderful words and realise that we can all try for a brighter and better tomorrow.
    Thankyou thankyou thankyou

  26. Thank you thank you thank you for this. After 10 years, I’m finally confronting being a survivor at the same time reconciling my queerness and the fact that it’s beautiful and so important and part of me. You put all of the emotions into all the right words and I appreciate it so much.

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