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I feel gross and weird writing this. My stomach knots up. I feel anxious, and part of me wants to vomit.
When I was 15, I lost my virginity to rape as I was passed out drunk at a party while spending a summer up in Portland, Oregon, from a distant relative of the family who told my aunt he wouldn’t be driving me home that night because he might drink a beer and he wanted to be “safe.” I don’t remember much of the details.
I’ve had several therapists try to tease it out of me, and it’s always an incredibly shameful experience (“Tell me about the moment of penetration, what do you remember about that, Mandy?”) but I think I’ll probably do EMDR when I feel ready to work through when I can.
What I do remember is that he entered me as I kept passing out. No, I did not fight him off. No, I did not say “stop.” I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t speak or stand I was so drunk. I had never drunk alcohol before. I had never kissed a boy before. The next morning I woke up, terrified and ashamed, seeing his boxers scrunched down at the bottom of the bed, like a murder weapon. I was naked. My clothes were in the corner. My body was different. I was different, forever.
I still haven’t really fully dealt with it in my therapy, even though it’s absolutely affected my entire life and sexual identity and the accompanying pathology as well. One time, when I was fully sexually acting out and destructive (right before I got sober in summer 2010), I met some stranger on Craigslist Casual Encounters who was looking for a girl “to show off.” I was at a very suicidal point in the actions of my life. I didn’t realize it consciously. But my actions spoke volumes.
I smoked this total disgusting stranger’s weed and fellated him and then turned down money (he had offered 100 roses, code for dollars), then I smoked more of his weed and wiped his come off my leg. I had done it again. I kept re-creating sexual trauma, subconsciously trying to somehow claim victory or control over an experience from when I was so very young. I turned to the stranger and asked him, very high, very intense. “Have you ever heard of repetition compulsion theory?”
“What?” he said, annoyed and obviously, at this point wanting me to be gone and disappear forever.
“That’s what I’m doing right now,” I said, in a trance. “I lost my virginity at 15 to rape to a distant family member and so right now with you I’m subconsciously re-enacting the traumatic events and somehow trying to regain control of the experience. That’s what I’m doing right now. I just want you to know that I know that. I’m aware of it.”
He looked at me, horrified. “I’m the rapist in this situation? That’s who I represent?” he asked. “Jesus. You are really a buzzkill right now.”
He was right. Buzzkill could be my middle name.
When I told the aunt I was staying with that summer what had happened at the distant relative’s, she took me to the doctor, and I saw a male nurse. I was crying hysterically and was terrified I was going to get AIDS. The nurse chided me and said that I could very well have AIDS. It only takes one time, and I ought to remember that next time and to be more careful. I just sat there, sobbing. So ashamed and so incredibly scared.
When that distant family member came by the house where I was staying to see my aunt, I tried to talk to him out by the garage. I approached, shame burning crimson in my cheeks, and said to him, “I want to talk to you about what happened.”
He said, “Nothing happened. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. If you say anything, I’ll deny it.”
An interesting point that I would like to note is that I don’t actually remember this detail. This detail I have blocked out because it is too painful and humiliating and it makes my stomach hurt. But when my aunt called me at The Post a few years ago out of the blue and said, “I need to talk to you about when Distant Family Member raped you,” and I said, “Well I’m on deadline right now, maybe another time,” that connection between the two of us eventually did lead to our discussion of what happened.
She told me what she overheard and how terrible and awful the whole thing was and how very sorry she felt. How very sorry she was. I had blocked that moment out. I think it is fascinating how the human brain can work.
When I decided to get some intensive therapy right after quitting The Post earlier this year, one of the things that I did was inventory a lot of my sexual experiences. It didn’t look so good. The number wasn’t all that high necessarily (50), but more the quality and the tragedy of it all. Doing the experience was helpful, though. It definitely confirmed I am an addict/alcoholic. Every experience I was able to go through (for the most part) and check off: drunk, high, drunk, drunk, high, drunk, high, high, drunk. I didn’t need that in the mix. Sobriety was being good to me.
As part of the therapeutic intensive, I wrote what is called a “What I Got/What I Needed” letter about my childhood, including the way my parents dealt with me revealing the rape to them, which was not very good. A therapist forced me to tell them even though I did not want to and the entire thing was exquisitely terrible and, yes, further traumatizing.
So I wrote in that “What I Got/What I Needed” letter to my parents: “What I got from you was feeling shame. What I needed was for you to SHOW me that I was valuable through your actions.” The counselor stopped me and had me ask another woman in the course to represent me. He said, “Now tell yourself what you just told your parents.”
I turned to “me” and said: “I need you to show me that I’m valuable through my actions.”
It hit me like a thunderbolt.
Yes. I want you to know that I do realize this is a very complicated, very messy story. It is very gray and does not fit in a tweet. I didn’t even expect to write this when I sat down. I’m actually sitting here in San Diego at 1 in the morning, surrounded by boxes and dirty clothes and photo albums, living with my parents, with my blind father’s guide dog snoring peacefully on the couch next to me. I’m crying as I write that last part.
I’m leaving to drive to New York (back to New York, which I just left two months ago) across country this Saturday. I’ll be sharing my journey with you on the way, posting at the end of each day. This post was not supposed to be my “I’m about to leave to drive cross-country post” because that one I wanted to imbue with a very carefree, hither-and-dither sense of “I want your help planning my trip!” attitude. This post was supposed to be about how I’ve been following the Todd Akin news cycle obsessively and watching how it makes me feel.
It makes me feel really very angry.
It makes me feel anger because of what he represents. And it makes me feel so much grief and sadness for the women of the world who, like me, lose virginity through rape, instead of through positive, life-affirming experiences that demonstrate what beautiful gorgeous treasures they are, including their burgeoning sexuality. And it makes me feel so much grief and sadness for their being forced to suffer any shame further.
I told my mom tonight how it was very hurtful and hard for me when I told about the rape (because, as I said, my therapist forced me to as it involved a prosecutable crime). It was hard on me, because my mom said at the time that she felt "disappointed" that it had happened. It was the wrong word to use.
I told her again tonight why. She said she understood and felt terrible. Of course I forgive her. Of course. Honestly I think she was only reacting to the blaming-the-victim, delegitimizing, there ought to be “some” punishment, do-anything-to-avoid-talking-about-uncomfortable-topics-so-let's-just-pretend-it-doesn't-exist culture we live in. Where so much shame and misogyny and aggressive stupidity and pride in aggressive stupidity are glorified to the point of public office.
The reason the Internet is exploding over #legitimaterape right now is because every woman knows deep in her heart this feeling of shame I am writing about. I watched tonight as the donations poured in like molasses for Todd Akin’s campaign to make a measly goal of $10,000 online, and as he tweeted snippily, “A lot of negativity has been driven my way by the liberal elite. Makes me even more thankful for your support #stillstanding.” I hit refresh to see who was commenting and adding their voices to the fray. Eve Ensler. Mia Farrow. Heather B. Armstrong. Every single one of you at xoJane.
It made me so thrilled to watch as Shauna Prewitt’s post went viral yesterday as she eviscerated in her cool, gray way the reality of what it means to be a woman, and in her case a woman who got pregnant from rape. Every RT felt like a fist bump. Every share like a bear hug.
And I realized, as I observed how I felt: I am still standing, too.
We are still standing, Todd Akin.
But as you are probably realizing by now: The female body has ways of shutting you down.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.