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


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

Kate has written 130 articles for us.

167 Comments

  1. Thank you, Kate, for posting this. It is beautiful and true as you are beautiful and true. In moments when it feels like I’m locked in a chamber of silence (which is ok sometimes), reminders and courageous sharing like what you did opens the door from the outside and lets a stream of light in. Thank you.

    • Thank you kate for such a inspiring insight. I too have walked in those shoes. I’ve been raped twice. Thank you so much. I’ve taken my own journey.Im so glad you shared. Patty

  2. Thank you for writing this, Kate. I related a lot, as a queer survivor who has struggled with anorexia and self harm (although these pre-dated my being raped, they were just infinity worse afterwards).

    Here’s a comment though, not necessarily aimed at Kate. Selfishly, when I clicked on this link, I almost hoped it was about sexual assault/rape with both survivor and perpetrator being queer women, which is an awful thing to say, but honest at least. I was raped at eighteen, just as I was contemplating coming out to my folks. I was really scared of telling my them because they were really conservative, so I was practising by telling the new friends I was making at the college I’d started at six weeks prior. One of those friends was a slightly older woman who had also experienced mental health problems and had told me she was bi. Over the next fortnight or so she groomed me, convinced me to come to her house for a sleepover, and somehow manipulated me into going to her boyfriend’s house for a drink (just a couple, then we’ll go back to mine to sleep. I was so convinced I left all my things at her house, so couldn’t leave when I was trapped at his without my phone or money pay for a taxi in a strange town). They both raped me, and I persist in saying she raped me too even though she was lacking a penis, because her crime seemed bigger to me. Her boyfriend was a flat out monster, but I thought she was my friend. She didn’t just assault me and cause me almost unbearable physical pain, she completely betrayed my trust.

    So I’m making this all about me, which is a bit of a crappy reaction when Kate has been so brave to share her story here. But I just wonder, is my experience so uncommon, or are there more out there who have been violently assaulted by women? It made me feel like an outsider even in the survivor community, which is – understandably – often dominated by feminist narratives.

    Thank you again Kate, and sorry for writing a long ‘me me me’ comment. I just had to ask.

    • Katie – Sexual violence within the queer community is absolutely more common than we think, but it’s definitely not as talked about because of certain stigmas and misunderstandings. You are certainly not alone in your experience. I know more than a few survivors who experienced violence with their female partner, and they feel that it’s similarly difficult to deal with because it was another woman and because rape culture has convinced us that women are harmless as well as helpless, and how can they do violence to another woman when they’re always asking for it anyway? I hate rape culture. Here’s another survivor saying that I am so sorry for what you’ve been through, and that I know you are an incredible, strong, and beautiful person. You are definitely not alone.

      These are some LGBTQ-specific survivor links that can be really helpful when dealing with queer survivor issues, including in-community violence:

      Pandora’s Project is specifically LGBT survivors and has experience dealing with lesbian on lesbian violence http://www.pandys.org/lgbtsurvivors.html
      The GLMA is a national organization with links to health and support centers across the country http://www.glma.org/ that are specifically for LGBTQ folk, and they cater to issues with female/female rape, queer violence, etc.

    • Katie. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, and I hope you are finding peace.

      I have experience with sexual violence perpetrated by both men and women. You are not alone. I wrote about it. If that’s something you’d like to read, let me know and I’ll link you.

    • I was raped by a woman at an all-woman play party. It was my first sexual encounter with a woman (with all the caveats about rape != sex as Kate beautifully mentioned). It definitely made my sense of my sexuality spin for ages, especially because my gut reaction was to pursue *more* sex with women – I didn’t want my one marker of queerness to be violence and harm. And yes, trying to find relatable resources was and still is hella difficult.

      Feel free to get in touch if you want to chat. This goes for any other F/F rape/assault survivors that are reading this too (and well anyone really). me[at]creatrixtiara[dot]com.

      You are loved.

    • I was also sexually assaulted by a woman. I was 16 and she was 26; I had never been drunk and I asked her to buy me alcohol. She was a friend of my dad’s and staying the night at the house with me while he was out of town. After I drank a lot of vodka, I was falling on the ground a lot and feeling sick so I asked if she would sleep in my room with me because I was scared. She made sexual advances at me and it felt good at the time and I didn’t know what to do because I was so inebriated so I let her touch me and touched her as well. I was blacking out during the event; I was so drunk before the incident that she had to help me off the ground and into bed because I couldnt get up. Despite this, I still blamed myself considerably and felt so guilty and ashamed.

      I was openly bisexual before this and afterwards I became very detached from sex and love, especially with women. I would enjoy sex, but be completely emotionally removed from the experience.

      I often wish I could have been raped by a man instead; having a woman I trusted take advantage of me was horrifying. Many people I told made me feel that it wasn’t really sexual assault because since I was attracted to women I must have wanted it or because women cant be perpetrators. Also, I feel like I let it happen because I was too drunk to stop her.

      I didn’t feel like I belonged with the other rape survivors; I felt like my body betrayed me and I blamed myself for drinking that night. While most survivors can feel removed from the gender of their perpetrator, I felt all too close; the femininity of my own body just reminded me of hers and in some ways I feel stranger as I approach the age she was when she assaulted me and realize how old and mature I am compared to a 16 year old. It disgusts me to think that so many people made me feel like my experience wasn’t real sexual assault.

      Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

      • I’m replying in this comment but this applies to EVERYONE who replied in this thread – thank you so, so much for sharing your stories and experiences with us, and thank you for your courage. You are incredible, and I am so sorry for what you’ve been through, especially when your experiences were invalidated by your peers, something that is wrong beyond belief and should never ever be okay. Thank you for staying strong enough to share with us here. You are amazing.

      • Thank you, Sarah. My rape was by my male roommate at the time, but in many other ways, it mirrors yours. It’s been about 4.5 years but I still find it hard to know what my part in it was, given that most of it was spent in a blackout. And that’s really hard to reconcile for me. I used to do all kinds of sexual health work, and I know, intellectually, that if you’re drunk you can’t consent, but there’s still so much of me that wants to blame myself for what happened, and wonders whether I invited it. On top of that, it makes me feel like I’m not as queer as I used to be – I’d never been with a man, and I don’t think I ever will – it feels like he took that really solid part of my identity and chipped away at it. I still sometimes live it out like it happened yesterday and that really pisses me off.

        And Kate, thank you for being brave enough to share your story and start this conversation. I hope that you recognize the kind of awesome contribution you’ve made, both to the people who are commenting here, and to the people aren’t, but who’ve read what you shared and related to it, or who are using it to develop empathy for the people around them who might be going through some iteration of what so many of us have had to live through.

        It’s amazing the strength that exists within this community none of us would choose to be a part of.

    • it is a sad fact that abuse, sexual assault, and rape can be perpetrated by and against queer folx. It has taken me years to realize how sexually abusive my first girlfriend was. We were both survivors of sorts, but she didn’t want to hear about my bad experiences because she said she loved me too much to know. She started picking fights over my midsex time-outs, which she used as evidence that I didn’t love her enough and eventually took to forcing me into sex as a attempt to make me “better.” She was into psychology and convinced me that she knew what was best. She was convinced that if I just worked past all my negativity that I would be fixed. This was a nonviolent, preciously sweet activist to everyone we knew, and to me until she just became this monster trying to force bad memories out of me, probably largely because they took attention from her. I went from being someone who could really enjoy sex but had to call time-outs to being unable to enjoy myself at all and being complexly scared to reveal my survivor status with potential romantic partners and even friends. The victimization Ihad faced from men many years previous were so much worse in a way, give me more nightmares, but her abuse fucked me up in a completely different way. I’ve never talked about this until right now, I really want to thank you for opening this space.

      • That is so manipulative of your ex, and I am so sorry you had to go through that. My female ex was manipulative as well, and seemed very intent on crossing all my bedroom boundaries one by one. Anon, you are not alone. And Kate, and everyone else who’s sharing their stories, you are not alone either, and your sharing your stories make it so that I – and others – don’t feel as alone, either. Thank you. Love to everyone.

    • The first time a woman touched me it was consensual and beautiful. Over the next few years I fell more and more in love with her. She was my first girlfriend. But eventually there emerged a pattern of sexual abuse. She would consistently pressure me into having sex I didn’t want to have after I had said no. These were NOT yeses in disguise as so many people seem to think exist… I am dubious about their existence after my experiences. Many people dismiss my experiences because they were with a woman and because they were by invitation and because I was enough stronger and faster than her that she could never ever have physically dominated me. One of my best friends, when I told her, said “That’s manipulative, but I don’t know about abusive” and my other best friends who were there agreed with her. Let’s get one thing straight: manipulating someone into sexual activities they don’t want is ALWAYS sexually abusive. I did things to her I didn’t want to do. I felt these activities were in some sort of grey area because of how high emotions run in bed. That grey area disappeared when I tried multiple times to talk to her about this when sex wasn’t in the offing. When I informed her she needed to stop asking me to do these things because they bothered me so much I was having chronic stomach pain I was met with statements like “that’s because you don’t understand how it makes me feel” and cajoling pressure to let her do these things to me so I would understand. The burden of understanding was on me, apparently, even though I was the one whose boundaries were being disrespected and whose psychological safety was regularly violated to the point I was experiencing physical side effects. It took me six months after our five and a half year relationship ended, after at least two years of being sexually abused (I can’t remember when it started), to label what she had done to me abuse and realize that this person who I had loved deeply and who had loved me in return has violated my trust so badly and that I could never be friends with her as a result. Seeing first hand that someone can do something like that to someone they love and having to admit it to myself as part of the healing process left me in crisis. I had not only lost my best friend when I broke up with her, my best friend had done things to me that I had been taught to think of as evil. I have come to think of what she did as wilful ignorance, but I am left the question of whether or not wilful ignorance is evil, not least because I understood her all too well and I am fairly confidant I understand the pain that lead her to mistreat me the way she did. So yes, women do sexually violate other women and I very much understand your feelings of betrayed trust.

      The second woman to touch me sexually was a friend I had gone to high school with. I was too intoxicated to say no insistently. She was intoxicated too, so I feel like maybe there was a grey line there, but again I lost a friend because I was so unimpressed with her morals.

      The third woman to touch me sexually has one of the most beautiful hearts of anyone I know. The first time we had all out sex she was conscientious every step of the way about making sure I was okay with what was going on. She showed me how sexual partners should treat each other. I cried because it was so beautiful afterwards. We never quite got the stage of calling what we had a relationship, but she will nevertheless always have a special place in my heart.

  3. Kate, this just proves the immense power of words, the transcendental nature of writing. I know this piece will make so many people feel and understand, or at least help them try to.
    You are important. You are incredible. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Oh, Kate, there are so many parallels between what you shared and my own awful history, that all I can really coherently say is: “Yeah, me too.” Thank you for your courage in sharing; that must have been a difficult decision to make.

  5. Tears. Yes. I was 36, not 18 when it happened. The few weeks amd months after were the darkest and even more confusing than the actual rape. I can’t explain to anyone why I still spent time with him afterwards, and couldn’t even explain it to myself for quite some time. You said it perfectly…by telling half-truths it becomes easier to believe than the reality. If I could spend time with him and be ‘okay’ then I must be wrong, right? I’ve made a mistake, it wasn’t rape, it was a misunderstanding. I could breathe a sigh of relief. It’s all okay. And then he did it again. There was no half truths anymore, this was real. For a year afterward I was sick all the time, and didn’t even connect the two. Panic attacks, migraine, muscle pains….work suffering, life suffering, family relationships suffering. It became too hard to keep the secret from anyone, so I stopped being around anyone. My dog won’t tell anyone, he was the only safe companion. And the guy? He was my boss and I had to talk to him or see him every day, he held my financial security in his hands and would treat me well when I was his ‘friend’ and would punish me when I tried to create distance. And then he tried it again. This time I was ready, I physically fought back. I collected all the emails and texts he had sent me over the year, expressing his love and his never ending desire for me to be his forever one. He was fired immediately. That was 2 months ago. And finally now, I get to begin my journey of healing and it is writing like Kate’s that are helping me tremendously in the process. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Kate (a fine name ;) ) – I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Thank you so much for being so brave and sharing your experience with us, and know that we’re all staying strong and healing together with you. You are not alone in this journey, not for one second.

  6. Thank you so, so so much for posting this.

    It’s so hard to talk about as a MOC dyke because so many people will automatically link your gender expression with your survivor status, in ways you don’t have control over. You can spend years, or probably your whole life, sorting through what happened in various healthy and unhealthy ways, but when you share your story with someone, often the first thing they’ll do is try to use this new info as a way to explain your queerness. And assume they’ve figured out in 10 seconds, with a neat little bow, what you’ve been dealing with for a long time.

    You’ve given me thoughts and links and feelings and camaraderie; thanks!

    • “It’s so hard to talk about as a MOC dyke because so many people will automatically link your gender expression with your survivor status, in ways you don’t have control over.” Oh goodness yes, absolutely. Part of the reason I dropped two of my therapists after the first meeting. As soon as they made that connection, I just said NOPE. You are more than welcome, comrade!

  7. Thank you for writing this!

    My sexual assault was in a medical setting: a physician who made enduring unnecessary genital exams a requirement to get treatment I needed, most likely knowing that the therapist who referred me to her would support her and not me (which is what happened even when I sought to go to a different doctor for other reasons.)

    • I am so sorry you went through that, and so sorry that you dealt with betrayal on multiple levels, especially from someone like a therapist whose most basic responsibility is to hold onto your trust! Stay strong :)

  8. Like others have said, thank you very, very much for writing this. You are an astoundingly brave individual for doing this. I don’t know whether I’m a survivor or not, though I have large chunks of my memory missing and PTSD and triggers. My last partner was a survivor of many, many instances and I know exactly what you mean by having tear-inducing raging moments. I am absolutely a non-violent person, but I wouldn’t hesitate to kill the couple that did that to them.

    I’m not at the point where I can say rape without triggering, but I’ve been able to read it. Your story and writings are definitely very cathartic to me and do help me heal.

    • I have heard so many people say that they’re not sure whether or not they can call themselves a survivor, and this is what I genuinely think (and then say to them!): Your pain is entirely your own, and there are no set qualifications for whose pain makes them a survivor and whose does not. Dealing with PTSD and triggers and things that don’t feel okay to you mean you have to get through them and be stronger, and even the very suspicion of violence that results in those kinds of things means you are daily SURVIVING and being brave and beautiful as a result. You can call yourself whatever you like – if survivor makes you feel safe and comfortable, you always, always, always have the right to be a survivor. If you don’t feel comfortable in that community, that’s also completely fine. I don’t speak for the community as a whole because I can only speak for myself, but you are always welcome in my safe spaces and welcome at my table. We all heal together. :)

  9. I am speechless, for countless reasons.

    This is the kind of beautiful, poignant, touching, strong – I can’t find the right word – that makes me want to just be quiet and let the piece just “sink in” and then want to re-read it over and over and just take in the words and the feelings more each time.

    I didn’t realize I’ve been calling it “sexual assault”, and for the same reasons it seems you did.

    Just, thank you.

  10. It’s very brave of you to see everything as it is- that is wasn’t your fault, that you didn’t deserve it, that you are very strong to pick yourself back up and understand it doesn’t define- the choices and steps forward do. Thank you for sharing, your words and advice are helpful in something I’m going through too. Stay strong :)

  11. i’ve had over fifteen years to come to terms with being a survivor, and i still doubt myself and my sexuality all the time because of it. it’s so important for me to hear stories from other queer people and i hope every queer survivor has something like this that will make them feel less alone. thanks kate <3333333333 + more 3s

  12. It’s articles like these that make autostraddle and similar websites so important. In this article, Kate gave voice and imagery to an experience many people have survived but were not yet strong enough to articulate. The depths and struggles of her journey are portrayed in such beautiful honesty. Thank you so much for sharing and know that after reading this, I’m sending you little waves of love.

  13. I don’t even know how to write right now.

    i can’t believe what I just read, i kept saying to myself ‘kate are you me?’it was like living through everything again in all the same details. but i ain’t even mad, i’m crying so much but.. now i’m saying ‘you too?’ i’m sure you understand exactly how i feel right now, i’m so relieved to know i’m not alone in my story. i can’t believe you understand. …i’m sorry you do tho..but you’re right, we are strong, we are beautiful and valid. kate i have so much to say, but im not articulate right now. thank you thank you for writing this…

  14. Kate, this was wonderful. Thoughtful and brave and smart. Thank you for writing it.

    I’m sorry so many of us were nodding our heads along as we read, but I’m so glad to feel a little less alone and confused.

  15. I’m struggling to find words right now. I just have to say thank you for writing this painful and powerful piece. I have trouble talking about what I went through to this day. Whenever I try I become somewhat inarticulate. So thank you. I think you are beautiful and amazing.

  16. Kate
    I realized being a lesbian just a few months ago and discovered Autostraddle this way. The Community is absolutely amazing and I have to admit that your posts have been my favourites. They are always very smart and funny and reading them shows that you really care about your topics.
    Now reading this post really broke my heart. I never experienced anything camparable and I just wanted to hug you and tell you how sorry I am about what happened to you. You are incredibly brave to share this story and you are right you are a beautiful person on the inside and the outside!

  17. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And thanks so much to all the survivors who commented on this piece and shared their stories, as well.

    As an ally, I know that I can’t ever understand what any survivor may think or feel. It’s not right of me to try and guess about it either, since this obviously involves a degree of projecting my personal experiences where they cannot be comparable. Reading the stories that survivors choose to share is an invaluable glimpse into experiences all too common in this world. I’m grateful beyond expression for the privilege of reading them, and I’m in awe of the strength and loveliness of all of those survivors who choose to share, all who choose not to, and those whose circumstances do not allow them to make a real choice to share or not.

  18. I can’t explain to you how much reading this meant to me.

    I didn’t acknowledge what happened to me for weeks. At first I too referred to my rape as sexual assault. It wasn’t until I told my parents the full details 8 months later and my father’s voice broke as he described it as rape that I finally admitted to myself what had transpired. My mother thinks the rape invalidates my sexuality. I was out to my friends three months before it happened, but that doesn’t matter to her.

    I spent my senior year of college in a haze. I was finally exploring my attraction to women and did not want anything to do with men who (suddenly, it seemed) were interested in me. My self-doubt was made worse by the fact that my first kiss with a woman was less than 24 hours after I was raped. The worst part of rape is that it sometimes feels he not only took my dignity, he took my ability to feel confident about my decisions.

    The last paragraph you wrote about putting one foot in front of the other is fantastic because, for the first time, I don’t feel alone in my struggle. Thank you.

    • “The worst part of rape is that it sometimes feels he not only took my dignity, he took my ability to feel confident about my decisions.”

      God, I know that feeling exactly. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Keep putting those feet one step ahead, we’re all walking with you :)

  19. Thank you so much, Kate. I feel over emotional and happy and sad and all at the same time. It`s so beautiful how you have developed from such a dark experience and brave of you to share. You´ve made a difference in the world by telling this story and you are really cute.

  20. Thank you. Reading this made me cry. I came out three months after the fact happened and sometimes I have wondered the same question. I thought I was bisexual before, now I only like girls and this made me think. I stopped thinking about that and I stopped asking myself if it was because of that. I am happy with liking girls and this is the only thing I want to feel.
    You are very brave. I couldn’t tell anyone, but you sharing this really helped me to feel a little less alienated.thank you.

  21. Kate,
    Reading your story is so many things. Heartbreaking, inspiring, and very close to my own.
    When something similar happened to me, I believed it “broke” me as well. But, somehow, it also inspired me.
    Now, I’m going to school (after a 7 year absence, starting all over) to become a therapist, specializing in trauma and substance abuse in the GLBT arena. One of my upcoming papers is an analysis of personal reactions to myself or someone else’s addiction and/or trauma. Primarily, the subject will be myself, but I was wondering if I could reference your story as well?

  22. Thank you so much for writing this. I honestly didn’t know if there was anyone else out there that worried that they were primarily interested in women because of a rape. I have often felt ashamed to think, maybe, because of domestic violence and rape, I am now attracted to women because it’s the only thing left. But when I am feeling strong I realize that these are just ways I have negatively rationalized desire that is real, and valid. Like you, queer theory has helped me so much. But I still really needed to read this. Thank you.

  23. I couldn’t finish this because… it is one of those days where I like to pretend my rape never happened because it’s friday and my girlfriend is adorable and the sun is shining and my best friend got a new job.

    But thank you.

    Thank you thank you thank you. I had so many of the feelings you did, at least from what I read, and it is so validating to hear this from someone else.

  24. I want to become a therapist. Reading this will help me to understand how to interact with clients who have had experiences like yours. Sometimes the best education is not found in books.
    Thank you for sharing.

  25. Thank you, Kate. Sincerely. And thank you for your advice to allies as well. Every woman I’ve ever dated has turned out to be a survivor. As an ally, it hasn’t always been easy to understand how to act. I’m naturally very protective of my lovers and sometimes I feel helpless when my lover is weeping in my arms or tearing herself down verbally and/or physically and there’s nothing I can do but listen. I can’t protect her or help her. That kills me.

    I hear allies all the time trying to figure out how to be the best supports possible. I think the only thing I’ve ever been able to tell these allies is that, at the end of the day, it’s *not about the ally*. A survivor doesn’t hate you or mistrust you because she won’t undress during sex and won’t let you touch her right away (or ever). She’s not dismissing you when she has a dark day and doesn’t want to talk about it. She has her own set of triggers and defense mechanisms that need to be respected and never, ever pushed.

    Every time survivors speak about their rapes and especially their defense mechamisms and what they need out of their allies, I listen intently. Your advice and needs are very important and appreciated. It’s horrible that we live in a world where I can say I’ve only met a handful of women who haven’t been raped, but we do. And the more we can share with each other and help each other, the better. You are so brave for speaking out, Kate. The conversation is crucial but so incredibly personal and sensative. Thank you for doing this. For making us all feel less alone.

  26. Yes. All of this. Just, yes.

    And also, this?
    “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 didn’t even realize this is what I do. I knew that the majority (all?) of my sexual relationships have felt so simultaneously powerful and empty, and this is it, exactly. This is why. I don’t know if I’ve ever found that place of true desire. At least, not true enough to last. Do you ever find it? And what would it feel like without that aspect of obligation?

    • I’ve come into a place in the last year or so where yes, I have genuinely found true desire. I can say that you will step into it on your own terms, and for me, it came as a result of me choosing to very consciously not people please anymore. I had to turn off that instinct, and it is very much an “instinct,” so it was a difficult and mind-over-matter task that seemed to take forever. I would say that for the past twelves months or so, I feel genuine desire when I desire. I’ve felt that desire in the past but in between some serious people pleasing “oh okay i guess so because it would make you happy and i feel bad” sex. Never again.

      By the way, it feels incredible. Like leaping in your stomach just want to grab them and kiss them because your entire world would rotate on the axis of their lips kind of feeling. It’ll drive you WILD but it’s worth it.

      • It took me a very very very very long time to learn that just because someone wanted to have sex with me didn’t mean that they loved me. So determining someone’s desire for me and my desire for another was very twisted for so long, and a large part of that is because my identity was formed for me when I was 14 and molested, and then gang raped later that same year.

    • Yes! You do! It can be a long, tough process of learning to trust your body, and the places where your body knows how you feel. But little by little you build yourself back up from the inside out, on YOUR body’s terms, and you learn how to express genuine desire with yourself and with worthwhile people, and it feels out of control and magic. <3

  27. Oh, and also relevant: there’s going to be an anthology coming out soon (whatever “soon” means in the publishing world) called Queering Sexual Violence. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Queering-Sexual-Violence/145781798799190

    AND AND AND.
    I wrote this paper in college about narratives of queer survivors (that, ok, kind of almost destroyed me, but whatevs), and in my research, I came across this Ann Cvetkovich quote from An Archive Of Feelings:
    “But why can’t saying that ‘sexual abuse causes homosexuality’ just as easily be based on the assumption that there’s something right, rather than something wrong, with being lesbian or gay? As someone who would go so far as to claim lesbianism as one of the welcome effects of sexual abuse, I am happy to contemplate the therapeutic process by which sexual abuse turns girls queer.”

  28. Kate,

    I am going to read this aloud to my girlfriend later, and tell her that what I am reading is words that I didn’t have before to explain an experience that I share with a stranger.
    You and I, survivor queer DYKES, will both continue to live and excel and make all that we can beautiful, though. To balance all of the ugly that I have experienced and continue to experience, creating more beauty is really all I want to do.

  29. Kate, you have a gift for writing the unspeakable in a way that can be considered and embraced by anyone, even those who weren’t eager to listen before. Keep extending your story past yourself again and again. A good friend of mine shared the link to your story with me. I’m so grateful she did. And I’m grateful for your willingness to make yourself so vulnerable so that folks like me can know that I’m not the only one.

  30. ‘The rape made this coming out illegitimate, invalid’.

    As someone who was raped by a male schoolmate age 14, and sexually assaulted by a close male friend a year ago, this has been on my mind a lot. My parents know about both ‘incidents’, but I haven’t come out to them yet and am worried about the connections they’re likely to make.

    Thank you for your bravery in posting this, Kate.

  31. Thank you so much, Kate. I am so grateful to you and so proud of you for writing this, for sharing it, for being who you are. You made me feel so much less alone, wow…lots of tears right now. Thank you, you have really touched my life, and helped me process my own experiences with assault and coming out. Thank you.

  32. Thank you so much for posting this, I cried several times during this article because I see so much of me in here. I had my mother accuse me of being gay as a self defense mechanism from being raped by a man who proposed to me only a few months earlier.
    I was also blamed for being sexually active and therefore I deserved it.

    As someone who also presents masculine I wonder the same thing; if I dress the way I do because I don’t want male attention. I despise my body type because I am extremely female bodied and I don’t feel I fit with the masculine presentation, along with a lot of discouragement from family members about my presentation because they can’t seem to handle that I’m queer and I was date raped.

    Thank you so much for posting this. <3

  33. Thank you also for sharing your story. I have my own story and have not shared it with many people, but I was about 14 years old and the female that had her way with me was 20 years old. She was our housekeeper. I didn’t realize what she was doing to me which I have to say, was nothing hurtful, but she was persistent to touch me. Eventually I was allowing her to touch me more as time went on. It was a feeling that I had not experienced before and I actually started to like it. She was the first female to ever touch me and part of me was thinking that it was wrong just because of the fact that she was a female. If my parents had found out about me they would have thrown me out of the house.

    My question that I’ve always had, and this occurred like 20 years ago, was, “Was this a form of abuse?” I have never been able to understand this. Then when I reached the age of 18 I realized that I did have an attraction to women. I don’t believe that it had anything to do with those encounters with her, but it may have a little. I’m still confused.

  34. Thank you, Kate. Your bravery is admirable. Your story and struggle is heartbreaking. I’m so glad that you’ve found yourself. I am a survivor of chronic rape, and I’m also queer. It’s been a hard road figuring myself out, not if I’m sexually attracted to women, because that is innate as my blue eyes, but rather wondering how I ended up with men in the first place … men who would hurt me. And then I continued to seek those types of men.

    I understand now, and it seems that you do too, that rape survivors act out in many ways, including that of allowing the heinous act to define us. And though it does change us, it does not make us less than. (I think Maya Angelou said that.)

    I have a semi-anonymous blog about my experiences and my recovery process that I regularly write about at http://rapeandrecovery.wordpress.com. I invite you to come there, if you’re looking for another survivor. If not, that’s OK, too. It’s taken me 20 years to be able to read other people’s stories of rape, molestation and sexual abuse. I just wasn’t ready. Now, I am ready to rise above it, and it’s like a demon I have to exorcise out of me in order to move on.

  35. “Sometimes it feels like all the things that make me queer are things that could be responses to what happened to me”

    My heart stopped when I read that. Know that you are not alone in this anxiety. This sentence so perfectly captures what has haunted me for years.

    You are so brave and eloquent. Thank you.

  36. This was so heartbreaking & important to read. Thank you. I too am a rape survivor (childhood & adulthood) and sometimes it feels like just learning how to love & trust others has been the hardest part of being alive. For all the pain that I still carry in my heart about my past, and the terror I still feel about making myself vulnerable in relationships… I still hope that I can learn to accept/give trusting, healthy love to others in my life.

    Much love to you on your journey.

  37. I have so much I want to say and don’t know where to start.

    Kate, thank you. Not only for sharing, so eloquently, with so much thought and care and honesty, but also for all of your heartfelt replies, and for everyone for their shares as well. I believe it is so important to share our stories. Someone early on apologized for making her reply all about her, but no, hearing each story helps us all… even as we cry, and shake with rage and grief; we learn we are not alone, and our sisters are strong, as are we.

    this: “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.” Yes. Whew. I’ve struggled so much with this feeling that there is something innately wrong with me, that’s never going to be fixed, that I’m never going to be able to have a healthy, sustainable relationship. I still struggle with this.

    And the wondering, questioning, who would I be if… I was sexually abused when I was 4-6 and I don’t even have many memories from before that time. I have no idea who I would be today if not for… How I would be. I can’t even know. Would I have the same struggles with depression and anxiety? Would I be a more open and confident person? I was raised conservative Christian with all the sex-negativity that entails and as soon as I first learned the word slut I applied it to myself. I worried when my church absolutely imploded due to a sex scandal (that was cast as an affair, but it was an adult youth worker and a young teen;it sickens me today to look back on how it was handled…) that it was somehow my fault, for not confessing my “sin” from years before. I don’t even know how I thought it was my fault, but I did, I thought I had sullied others through proximity. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened for 9 years.

    My abuser was an older boy… older, but still a kid himself, which made it very confusing for me later to come to terms with. He used to tell me he wanted to make me pregnant and around that time my mom got pregnant with my brother. I freaked out and told her she wasn’t pregnant, just fat, and said mean things that must have seemed to have come out of left field to her. I still feel awful for it.

    Who would I be if… I have not told my parents about my abuse because it would be way too easy for them to draw the line… “oooh, that’s why she’s bi.” I don’t want to give them the opportunity. It would feel too hurtful for me. When I love someone, when I share my sexuality with a woman in a fully present, joyous context, it comes from a life-affirming place, it sure as hell isn’t because someone fucked with me when I was young.

    “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.”

    And, yes, this. I was also raped, about five years ago. And that and my earlier experience… it’s this not even knowing your own desires thing, it’s so frightening. It’s not just not feeling you can express them, stand up for them, act on them, but it’s this feeling of not even knowing where to locate your own desire, of finding yourself a blank slate, absent in some way. Sometimes I feel like I am mostly reactive, reacting to what others want, and being really good at it. I came to a sort of “this must end” point with this and have done all sorts of things… decided on a year of celibacy (which I didn’t totally hold to, but was helpful just the same)… and I sit myself down once a week and write for an hour about my sex life and past experiences, just… digesting, and I read read read about sex, consent, sexuality, communication, relationship. And it has all helped.

    Real desire is amazing! The first time I was able to voice, in the moment, hey, this is what I want, this is what I’m okay with at this point, but no more than that yet…. I felt so safe, and honored, by myself and my lover. And the first times of not just feeling receptive to touch, going along with it, but really wanting and desiring to touch and explore and…. wow. Wow wow wow. During one of my first times really totally feeling so desirous for the other person as they were back to me was with my then-girlfriend and it was so amazing and this thought ran through my head “this is what normal sex is like.” Ha. What my ill-phrased thought MEANT was… this what sex is SUPPOSED to be like, this is what it feels like to really desire reciprocally and, and be fully present in the moment.

    So, now I have divulged a lot. But, I was moved to. I’ve not even posted much on autostraddle before. Again, thank you.

    Oh, ps- one thing I worry and fret and stew over a lot is how to navigate disclosing your past to someone you are first getting involved with?? I find it really hard, really stressful, I tend to hide and pretend I’m all gravy, and then feel like I’m being deceitful, but when things are first going all swimmingly and you’re enjoying those first moments/weeks/months of giddy appreciation of each other… how do you break open that topic??

  38. Robin
    Thank you for sharing your story. I sympathizes with you and your struggles. As I read more and more, especially when you mentioned feeling toxic, I wanted to be there to hold your hand, hold you close, to listen. I have an odd knack having a vivid imagination where I can visually experience a person’s memory when described to me.
    I am male in physical gender but genderfluid mental. While I have never been raped, I know two people who were. One is my former fiancé and the other is my current girlfriend. I identify with your story because of her experience and I do the same for her that I said I would do for you. And that visual mind experiencing that I described earlier-I have relived stoke of her memories of her rape.
    Thank you for sharing. Peace and Love with you. Always

  39. Thank you so, so much for sharing. All of you.
    I can’t imagine, even for a second, the feelings that come from being violated in that way. For all of you strong beautiful people, I hope you can at least take comfort in the fact that every step you take in every day of your life is a big and brave one.

  40. Thank you Kate and thank you everyone.

    I still have trouble with men. The aggressive alpha male still scares me to my core. But what I hate most isn’t his bravado, his take-what-I-want attitude, it’s the fact that the moment he turns on me… I absolutely freeze. I hate him for what I become in his wake. As if someone just hit the off button, I’m helpless to respond.

    It was like that for me. I don’t know why the NO could never make it to my lips. I don’t know why I just clenched my eyes tighter, pretending it wasn’t happening, pretending I was somewhere else… scared to even breathe, just waiting for it to be over. I don’t know why.

    I had just been dumped by my girlfriend and he was supposed to be a friend. He brought alcohol, offered drugs. Somewhere through the haze he finally woke up to what he had just done.

    “I know you’re a lesbian, I just thought it might feel good…”

    Shock. Numb. Terror. “It’s okay,” I said. I actually said that. I think I was still in denial.

    “I’m sorry,” he said. “Don’t tell my wife.”

    He left me money on the table and I had never felt more terrible about myself in all of my 19 years. Not even when I was praying for God to make me straight during my years of self-loathing.

    I think about this memory a lot. I relive it even more. Several months ago, I was being sexually harassed at my job by a coworker. He would say horrible things to me. Things I cannot even repeat because of the shame. They were so wrong. No normal self respecting woman would deal with that. But I just couldn’t… I can’t… find my voice. All I can do is close my eyes and hope it goes away. In a group, it’s easy to be brave. But alone… the helpless terror that takes over my body is indescribable. I hate it and I hate myself for it.

    I feel like my voice was stolen from me. I hope someday to find it again… I just don’t know how.

  41. “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. 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”

    as a fellow survivor who still finds her story largely inarticulable, the power of you telling yours cannot be overstated. thank you.

  42. Thank you so much, Kate, for writing this. You seem like such an awesome person. I hope you are really proud of yourself for being so brave and so insightful. I hope you know that what you’re writing really does make a difference. Just keep writing about the stuff that’s important.

    Also, this is super powerful and how I feel:

    “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.”

    For me, it’s about not living up to other peoples expectations. I might as well not be a woman because if I am one, it’s only in the way that people treat me like one because of how my body looks.

    I hope you will write something about gender and queer theory.

  43. Kate,
    An immense amount of gratitude to you for sharing your story, and being so brave.

    My experiences were over a decade ago now, and I was in high school not college, but I understand how painful and inexplicable and horrific life becomes after such violence is perpetrated against you. And I went through a very long recovery process, one in which I believed my only value as a person was to be found in sex…

    The important part of all of this is: I want to congratulate you on your last paragraph, and encourage you to keep going.
    For me, it has never stopped hurting to talk about what happened, and I don’t think it ever will. But that experience does not define me any more. I have regained the power over my own life and body that he stole from me.
    I am a survivor, but I am other things as well. I have learned to integrate that experience with so many others, both wonderful and painful, to form a tapestry of who I am.
    And you’re well on your way by writing this amazing piece and all the other work you’ve done. You do deserve to keep taking steps forward and life really is amazing and incredible and can truly be wonderful.
    You deserve all that good, and it might take some work to get there, but it so worth it, I promise.

  44. Kate, thank you for writing this story.

    Thanks also to all who have shared their stories. I, too, have survived rape. I was 25 at the time, and was in a relationship with the woman who raped me. It took me a long time to call it rape, but no means no.
    The first time it happened, she and I had an argument. She was mad because someone had tried to flirt with me. I hadn’t flirted back, but that didn’t matter to her. She was furious, yelled at me, and hit me. At this point in the relationship, this was not uncommon. (I was scared to leave because she had already held a knife to my throat saying she’d kill me if I left her.)
    After she hit me, she grabbed my pants…and then she raped me. I was yelling “no” and “stop” but she didn’t.
    It took me a few more months before I left her–I had gotten to the point where I figured she’d either kill me because I left or because I stayed, if she was going to do so at all. She stalked me for a few years after that, but obviously no longer physically harmed me.
    It took a long time to share my story with others. I admire those who speak up, especially in an article, about their stories. Thank you again.

  45. Kate, thank you so much for sharing your story. I have never been able to put into words how enraged it made me feel every time one of my “friends” tried to link my sexuality to my rape. Being on the very feminine side of the spectrum, my gender presentation seemed to just validate that I would have liked men, had it not been for assault.

    It didn’t matter that I had been with women before I was raped, because I had been closeted at the time. It would have felt like another sexual violation to have to describe every sexual encounter with a woman I had ever had in order to justify my queerness to the people around me. That’s what they wanted – already violated and broken, what they needed from me was for me to divulge my whole sexual history, to present facts that would change their mind. Because THEY wanted to be the judge of who I was. Like it even mattered what my preferences were before or after my sexual assault – correlation does NOT equal causation.

    I lost all my friends because I wasn’t willing to see myself the way that they saw me. I have found better friends and have a better state of mind these days, but there are still days when I look at myself in the mirror and question my whole identity. Would I be this way if I hadn’t have been drugged and raped by those boys at 14? Does one day that occurred nearly 10 years ago completely invalidate who I am?

    I carry my story of survival very close to me, and some days it fills me with strength, and other days it fills my mind with self-hate and fear. One morning, I hope to wake up and find that the memories of that day have gone somewhere else, to a place that can’t swayed by fear and self-loathing. I feel like I get closer and closer to it every single day.

    I feel so full of love for everyone in this community who have been brave enough to share their stories, and full of even more love for the people who just aren’t ready to share their stories yet. We are such an amazing bunch!

  46. Queer and a survivor. I’m not much older than you- I’m 24. But my attack was half my life ago, and after starving myself for years, self harming, for being angry and sad and confused and later on, queer, I wake up every morning with ice in my veins and a clear head and a solid sense of the world. I’m stronger, but not angrier. I can love the breath in my lungs, even if it was once crushed from me. Thank you.

  47. Thank you for writing this. My girlfriend is a survivor, she was molested for a period of time, when she was 5-6. I’m the second person she tells and the first person she talks about it with, and I’ve been educating myself tremendously so I can offer the best support I can.

    I’ve found that the best thing I can do is listen. I can listen with every fibre of my being and I can hold her, I can hold her while she weeps and I can can bring her back to the safe reality when she’s triggered, or when she has panic attacks, or nightmares. My heart breaks every time she goes to that dark place, every time she looks at me with fear in hear eyes and asks me if there’s anything she could of done to avoid it, or every time she tells me “I really didn’t want that, baby.” I’m normally a pacific person, but I know that if I ever saw the fuckers that did that to her, I would kill them.

    Anyway. Thanks for writing this. You are really, really brave. If anyone (survivor or not) wants to give me any advice on… Helping her heal, really, it’s always welcome.

  48. I relate to a lot of this. I’m a trans woman, and I was raped repeatedly in my early adolescence, so now of course my parents think that made me a tranny. Nevermind the fact that by 6 I was praying every night for God to make me a girl.

  49. I just reread this, and I think I was too emotionally shell shocked the first time to truly read the last paragraph. But now that I have, I am a huge ball of tears. Because I want all of those things so very much. To not be small anymore, and especially to be able to see myself as that beautiful person staring back at me, and not as this shell of a human I see now.

    “Every single day I put one foot in front of the other. I will keep going. Because I deserve each step.” Because. I. Deserve. Each. Step.

  50. Thank you so, so much for this.

    It wasn’t up until very recently that I admitted to myself that what my (now ex) girlfriend did to me was rape. I haven’t told anyone, partially because I haven’t completely sorted out my feelings, and partially because I’m afraid of being told I was asking for it, or I’m making it up. I’m afraid of telling someone and then being asked for details, because it’s all kind of a blur. I blocked so much of the memory of what she did to me out of my head because I’d rather not deal with the reality of it all. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to trust anyone enough, but this gave me hope.

  51. As this is confession time…

    I was repeatedly molested by two of my older brothers friends between the ages of 6 and 11. They were a couple of years older than me. My brother knew all about it and did nothing.

    When I told my mother she simply told me to stop doing.

    I believed that I as responsible. Although the memories of the events are very blurred in my mind, I don’t ever remember saying ‘no’. I did not physically fight back either.

    For the longest time I wasn’t even sure if these things had happened. Because I was so young it is easier to try and forget. I wondered if I just had an over active imagination or whether these memories were just some bad dreams I had had. Then I remember odd little details like who the first boy ‘taught me to kiss’ and how he tasted. How he gave me a gold compact as a present. How when I was 10 (during the height of the abuse) I broke down in tears suddenly during a maths lesson because I couldn’t do a basic arithmetic sum.

    I realise that I had not imagined these things.

    I am just now (at 23 – and still a virgin) dealing with the effect this has had on me. I know I am not ugly and my relative femininity means guys have come on to me, but I know I am gay and have always dismissed the guys very quickly before they could ever get the notion that I liked them.

    I have just started to realise that much of my depression and aniexty has been caused by something that happened so many years ago and of which the memories are very blurry.

    I worry that as my abuse happened before puberty that my attraction to girls/women that began at around 11/12 is in someway related to it.

    I don’t like being touched. I even struggle with hugging friends and I don’t like getting my haircut as it feels very intimate to me.

    What I worry about most of all is that girls will be disgusted by me. As I have said previously I don’t think I’m ugly, but I am convinced that if I ever show physical/sexual attraction to a girl (even if she is gay) she will naturally find me/my desire disgusting. And once again these are things that I have only just realised are probably linked to my abuse as a child.

    Thank you for the article. I am very sorry about what happened to you. Thank you, and everyone else, for sharing your story/ies. It has made me feel less alone and crazy. Hopefully I will be able to get over my trauma one day. Despite everything, I am quite optimistic. Thank you, again.

    • I can relate to so many of the traumas and feelings expressed so beautifully by Kate and the other strong beautiful voices on this page that I’m too overwhelmed to write all of the many thoughts that are whirling through my brain.

      But, to you who wrote the following, I especially want to send love and support:

      “What I worry about most of all is that girls will be disgusted by me. As I have said previously I don’t think I’m ugly, but I am convinced that if I ever show physical/sexual attraction to a girl (even if she is gay) she will naturally find me/my desire disgusting. And once again these are things that I have only just realised are probably linked to my abuse as a child.”

      I have struggled with this conviction almost my entire life. And it’s led me to sacrifice myself in a sequence of unhealthy and abusive relationships. Having grown up in a world of daily physical and emotional abuse, being told I was ugly and that everything about me was wrong. I am adopted as well, and it’s common among adopted people to feel that they must earn the love/tolerance of their adopters. I still feel that the only way to negotiate the personal world is to work at being as perfect as possible in order to gain others’ tolerance of my existence.

      I know this thinking is wrong. And it has fucked up many a great relationship because I can’t go on being perfect forever. And no one who is healthy expects that of me at all. But it’s a long struggle to overcome a conviction so deeply held.

      So I send you my love and support and wishes for an end to your struggle with this negative and distorted thinking. You are beautiful and intelligent and unique and people will cherish your company.

      I created a method of therapy I practice on my better days called “Patronus Thoughts.” The idea was inspired by “Harry Potter”, but for those who haven’t read the books, The Patronus Charm is a method of summoning one’s best fighting spirit, the strongest , most beautiful essence of one’s soul (that’s my interpretation anyway). And in order to perform the charm, the wizard or witch must concentrate on the happiest of their memories. Naturally, Harry (and Neville even more so) has a very difficult time doing so, but with compassionate coaching, he succeeds in conjuring his Patronus.

      As I was negotiating a very dark day of suicidal thinking, I realized that I would be incapable of conjuring a Patronus since I could bring no happy memories to mind. Rather, what I came up with was only dreadful, shame-fulled, guilt-inducing horrors.

      Since I’m not new to CBT and changing my thinking and fighting my demons, I sat down to write out as many positive memories as I could. I failed on the first day. But on the second day, I remembered the day I finished a 13-hour hike with the fording of a shallow, flooded creek bed by jumping from stone to log to stone etc. until I’d covered about 40 yards without losing my balance and falling in the water. I had been raised to think of myself as ugly and graceless and this physical achievement gave me joy. I felt like I was flying as I balanced momentarily on one shaky rock after another, to bounce off to the next foothold.

      That memory broke the mental dam of negativity I had erected and I remembered getting my dog, who is my one soulmate in this world and has given me more love than anyone.

      I made a practice of sitting down and working hard at remembering positive moments and, as with any difficult discipline one practices, I got better at it. I now have many positive memories in a text file on my computer. I have been self-destructive lately and haven’t been re-visiting that list. This article and the power of the comments on it have given me the boost to return to my Patronus Files and keep fighting.

      Perhaps a similar exercise might work for you? I hope so. Again, I send you much love and love to all the survivors and allies in this thread. We all deserve it. And we deserve joy in our lives and freedom from the sufferings that were dumped on us by assholes.

      I’ll end by quoting Chandra, who expressed all I felt with a pithy and elegant quote: “Words like these – eloquent, unfettered and acutely honest – are what shatter silences and change people’s lives. Thank you.”

  52. The other night I read this post and cried for a very long time.
    It was exactly what I needed. Through all of my on-campus activism about Sexual Assault and LGBTQ issues have I met another queer survivor. I felt so alone. Like Kate, when I came out, people, especially my parents, asked me if this was because of “what happened to me” when I was 14. They kept saying this to the point where I started to think that maybe it was true. Maybe being queer was just another way that I was broken.

    Because broken was a word that I used for myself for a very long time. I was raped by a friend, someone I really trusted. I was raped in one of the only places I’d ever felt safe. I almost gave up on my life.

    There are some wonderful men in my life and even some wonderful men that I tried to fall in love with. I tried for a very long time to be bi, so I wouldn’t have to give up the fantasy vision for my life that I’d been raised on since birth. But then, after a few months, I kissed my first girl. And then I decided to say fuck you, you’re so wrong to the people who want to see me as a man-hating lesbian because I was raped. Since I came out and decided to be the person that makes me happiest, everything got better. Does it hurt when people still says things about my queerness being related to my rape? Of course it does. I still have some days when I need to cry myself to sleep because it all just hurts so much. It sometimes feels like a war. I loved Kate’s quote:

    “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.”

    And you know what? Even after the nights when I need to cry, I wake up the next day and the sun is shining and I’m going to be okay. Today I’ll get up, make pancakes, go on a bike ride with my best friend, start packing for A-camp, and then like every day, I’ll look in a mirror at some point. And just like Kate says, I’ll never be prouder. Because I know how dark it was where I’ve been, and I’m never going back to that place ever again.

    Thank you Kate. You are so incredibly brave.

    Autostraddle, thank you once again for letting me know I’m not alone.

  53. It’s good to be reminded that this kind of thing is a reality, even when it happens to wonderful people that we love and that nothing bad should ever happen to. I have a friend who told me, not long ago, that she was molested as a child, by someone close to her. She has never given many details, but reading this gave me some insight into what she has been through and continues to go through, even though I will never really know. This article also seems relevant to her because she was molested by a woman, and to this day she says she struggles with her sexuality, not knowing if she’s queer or not; if the brief attraction she sometimes feels towards women is born of her trauma and therefore “illegitimate”. Otherwise she kind of considers herself asexual, and also wonders if this is because of what happened to her as a child. So it’s good for me, as her friend, to read an article like this talking about survivors and queerness, even though we never really talk about it.

    Thank you, Kate.

  54. My friends and I have coordinated a “Take back the night” event to show support to survivors. It certainly was a profound experience. Thanks for being strong and speaking up.

    here is an article…

    The brain science of the vagina heralds a new sexual revolution

    Finally, women have the neuroscientific knowledge to liberate their bodies from patriarchy’s social control and culture of shame

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/08/brain-science-vagina-heralds-sexual-revolution

  55. Thank you so much for posting this. It was a refreshing read, because for the first time since I was raped when I was 19, almost five years ago, I felt like I was not alone. So much of your story mirrors mine, and that is truly comforting ni a very odd way. So, thank you for sharing.

  56. I’m trying really hard to hold back the tears. I think its because I still don’t know if I was “raped” (I hate that word) or not.

    Most days I just convince myself that because I didn’t say no and took off my own clothing that it wasn’t rape. But at the same time, how dirty I felt afterwards and how quiet I was on the car ride home make me think that there was something not-so-consenual about our activity.

    I think my struggle with defining what I went through is because society often depicts rape as being forced. I wasn’t forced. I was persuaded, and because of that, I often feel that it isn’t rape. I don’t know whether to consider him a rapist or if I was just young and impressionable. I’ve even wished that I was “actually” raped, because then defining my experience wouldn’t be as hard.

    All I know that is that because of him, I have had problems with intimacy. I often get scared that I always need to pleasure my partners, and feel bad when I reject their advances and offer to get them off instead. Either way, raped or not, thank you for your article. Even though I have a lot of gray space to fight through and sort out, it helped to know that there are people who have sorted it out. I hope I get there eventually.

    Sincerely,
    (another) Kate

  57. Kate,

    I hope I’ve come up as anon because my girlfriend is a survivor, twice, and that’s her story to share not mine.

    I just felt compelled to write something, I don’t know if other friends/partners etc of survivors have posted, I haven’t read all the comments. I think this is an amazingly brave article, you’re a brave brave person. All of you are brave. I think it’s amazing that there is a community where survivors can share, it’s so important. I know it will have reached out to my girlfriend and given her more than any shrink or doctor has ever tried to.

    It comforts me that I could recognise a lot of what you wrote in what I know of my girlfriend and what she has told me of her everyday struggles, but equally I know I have learnt so much from your sharing. Just thank you, because it’s hard to know sometimes if i’m helping her at all, but that’s ok. That’s allowed. I have to accept sometimes I can’t. She is the love of my life, and even though she tells me daily, I truly hope I have brought some happiness, love and genuine desire to her life because she deserves it all. She is the most beautiful, brave and strong person I have ever known, and I hope to be with her every step of the way to realising that for herself and that what happened does not define her nor was it her fault.

    Thank you again.

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