My Rape Doesn’t Define Me

Alyssa Royse’s experience with rape helped her find strength and individuality, and a message of hope.
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November 18, 2014
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The Good Men Project

I’ve spoken and written about my rape so many times that it’s downright passé to me at this point. It is one of many things that happened in my life that made me who I am. I give it, really, no more weight than all the other things. It was horrible, but…

And when I say things like that, OTHER people get mad at me for “minimizing” it.

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It’s like they want me to make it central to who I am. They want me to live in fear and regret as a result of it. They want it to be a central catastrophe around which they can write a script of victimhood and injustice. (In which, I suspect, they can be the hero who saves me, poor damsel in distress.)

They want it to define me.

No thank you. I’m all good here.

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Just in case it needs to be said, It was HORRIBLE. Every single thing about it was horrible–and my recovery from it was long and painful and ugly. (You can, for sure, make a movie of the week about it, no problem.)

But it is in my past. It is one of the things that made me who I am, it is not, in and of itself, who I am.

I am Alyssa Royse, wife, mother, friend, writer, trainer, cook, crafter, goofball, probably in jammies because I like to be comfortable. I am funny, contemplative, creative, kind, athletic, occasionally pissy and a very sexual being.

When asked to describe myself, I never throw in “rape victim.”

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It was tough when I was dating. “Rape Victim,” means so much to a lot of people. I was often afraid that after I told someone, they’d stop wanting to have sex with me. Because I was damaged. (After all, that is the most common narrative when we talk about rape, isn’t it. “He ruined her life.”) Or that they’d be afraid to be anything other than super-gentle with me, which really, REALLY, is not going to work for me.

I’d mostly wait until it came up in conversation naturally, usually when discussing some media account of someone else’s rape. I’d be all like, “Oh, yeah, that happened to me. Do you want another beer?” Then I’d turn to look at the expression on their face. I’d try to read it, looking for signs of fear, disgust, shame, panic or White Knight stoicism.

I’d hope for, “What, you what? And yeah, another beer’d be great, babe.”

I would long for the partner who could discuss my rape with the indifference of a weather report, but the scientific curiosity to grok weather patterns. Who wouldn’t say, “oh, you poor thing,” or, heaven forbid, “I’ll never hold you down when we have sex again,” or even worse, “FULL STOP.”

But every time the media talks about rape, they say some version of “he ruined her life.” As if, from now on, her whole life, “she” is just going to be “Suzie Jane, Rape Victim.”

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I am NOT, Alyssa Royse, RV.

Here is a small list of things that have happened to me that made me who I am: My parents divorced, my dad is gay, my step-dad fought depression all his life, I went to 3 elementary schools and 2 junior highs and 3 high-schools, I had an abortion, I was raped, I got married and divorced, I gave birth to a daughter, I climbed Mount Adams and slid down it on my butt, I played on the Flying Trapeze with the Wallenda Family, I had tea with the Crown Prince of Japan, oh, and Margaret Thatcher, I was in a car accident that nearly killed me…….. The list goes on. (I was run off a Greek Island by the mafia, I spent Bloomsday on the roof of Nora Barnacle’s childhood home with the only living relative of James Joyce.)

I am not, simply, Alyssa Royse, RV.

I’d really appreciate it if the media–and society in general–would stop catastrophizing rape to the point that it defines the victim more than the rapist.

It is horrible, and we need to stop rape. By stopping rapists. Not by defining victims as ruined, and damaged, and telling them they are scarred for life.

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Let’s tell them that it’s not their fault, and they will be victorious. That there is life after rape. That they will NOT be defined by it. They will overcome it and we will help them. Their future is full of love and sex and freedom–and that together–we will create the world that is worthy of such dynamic souls. That as humans, we contain multitudes of experiences, woven together like a dream-coat that would make Joseph jealous.

I am the amazing soul that I am not despite my pain and suffering, but because of it.

I am angry that I was raped. And that my rapist was never caught. I am sick to my stomach that rape is thought of as no big deal, that people can find ways to excuse it. It makes me so angry that people conflate rape with sex, when it is a violent crime that has nothing to do with sex. That people can’t seem to understand that ANY sexualized action without consent is RAPE.

The individual is the only person who gets to decide what they do with their bodies, and anyone who takes that right away from them is committing an act of violence against them. That rape happens all the time, to boys and girls, men and women. I generally froth at the mouth when I talk about these things, because it is so important, as a society.

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But as an individual, the fact that someone raped me does not define me. It defines them. I am willing to define the rapists by their acts. I am not willing to define victims by the acts that are done to them.

I am willing to define those of us who survive it by our own acts, not the acts of our rapists. If you must define me by my rape, let it be with words like survivor, firey will, optimist, alchemist, passionate lover of the silver lining.

Let it be words like “wise.” Even “a heart of hard-fought wisdom.”

But don’t you dare use the word “rape” to define me.

Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project.