Sunday, 13 October 2013

What is Me?

It started with a throwaway comment, a comment borne out of concern & care, not one meant to lead to bitter soul-searching, tears flowing down the cheeks, collapsed onto the floor.

“Those meds aren’t you.”

What is ‘me’?  Taking meds is keeping whatever me is alive.  That much I do know.  Without any I felt like a tiny little fragile row-boat being repeatedly & continuously flung against the rocks in a rough storm.  Sometimes, the sun would shine, the waves would calm, and I would feel fine.  But I learnt never to trust that the storm wouldn’t come again, and whilst every time I survived the battering, meant that I knew I could survive a battering, the never-ending batterings were causing me to wonder more & more why I bothered trying.  If life was only ever going to be about riding the storm, and not trusting the sunshine intervals, what really was the point?  So, I started on the meds.  And whilst I still had dark days, I felt more in control, like maybe I could row away from the rocks, somehow, someday.

The first lot of meds weren’t quite right, and I’ve recently changed them.  Instead of sweating like I’m going through the menopause at the age of 40, I am suddenly feeling liberated and free, able to enjoy a walk in the sun without fearing the human shower that I was.  I’m sleeping better – not great, but better.  The dreams are psychedelic & often disturbing, but they’re not hanging over me like a black cloud the next day.  About mid-afternoon I have about an hour of floating haze, distant, disassociated from the cold reality of the day; it’s like what I imagine an opium-hit would’ve been back in the day…  And I’m not totally fatigued the whole time, wanting to just curl up in my bed, needing to force myself into the world; instead, I have energy, motivation, enthusiasm.

Yes, these meds seem to be, at different times of the day, providing me with LSD trips, e-like calm & floatiness and speed-driven hyper-mania.  Three illegal highs in one legal prescription drug.  Oh, lucky me.

Except, is this me?  My friend was referring to the manic hyper me.  That’s not the real me.  But why shouldn’t it be?  I’m happy when I’m in that place.  I’m enthusiastic, I want to share my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams.  Yes, it might be a bit exhausting to be around – if those around you are high and you’re not, it’s hard to keep up with the lightning speed cut & thrust of the conversation, the various directions, sidebars and general jabbernesses…  But, why shouldn’t that be me?

What is me? Before the meds, I was so unhappy I wanted to die.  Is that me?  Before the rape, was that me?  But even then, I know I was trying to figure out who me was – post divorce, post walking on egg-shells, post crying myself silently to sleep most nights so the person lying next to me didn’t hear.  The time when I was happily married, was that me?  Boden-wearing, ballet shoes, hair long and pulled into a ponytail, DIY & garden centres?  Was it me to be middle-aged in my 20s?  When was I me?  At university, studying so studiously I didn’t sleep around, and didn’t even learn to drink beer?  At school, friends with the other misfits, or always the third in a twosome who wanted power over me?  Or, when I didn’t speak, when I couldn’t hear, when I was just the me inside my head?  What is me, have I ever been me?

So, yes, I’m on medication that creates versions of me, but those versions are me.  I know some of the things I am.  I’m the little girl who cries when she feels unaccepted and unacceptable by the people she loves.  I’m the child who curls up in her bed and hugs her toy dog for comfort.  But I’m also a strong woman, who’s tired of being what others want her to be.  I’m experimenting, I’m exploring, I’m fiercely determined, I’m not making apologies for who I am, whatever that is. 

Another friend asked, is there a sweet-spot, between the hyper hyper and the lows…  not right now, there isn’t.  I hope there will be, one day; living with PTSD isn’t easy.  The window of normalcy is very small, tiny things can tip us into a state of hyper arousal.  Sometimes that is characterised by extreme anxiety, vigilance & jumpiness.  That’s an exhausting place to be, and the see-saw can suddenly then dip into hypo arousal, unable to leave the house, be with people, engage, do anything but sleep & disassociate from the world.  I prefer this version of hyper, where I’m not always so scared, where I’m not always panicking, where I feel positive, not defeated.

This is me.  I’m on meds that are creating versions of me but they’re keeping me alive.  I can self-medicate some of the hyper away – drink some red wine, curl up at the feet of a Dominant man, be stroked by my girlfriend, do some vigorous exercise (note to self, do that one more), but if I’m appearing manic in front of you, please don’t make me feel unaccepted.  It’ll drive me back into the foetal state, the child reasserts, the adult doesn’t dare go out into the world.  If I’m ever going to find out who me really is, I need to be less child, more adult; and to do that, I need to be allowed to be me. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Originally published in Aphrodisia Magazine, 18/9/13 in response to Tweet asking for "what’s the sexiest word in your dictionary and why? Get involved in our new column" under my Twitter handle @emilyrose_uk

Moist. Say it. Say it out loud. Say it slowly. Say it quickly. Feel it on your tongue. Let it linger there. Hear the whisper it makes, hear its echo. Just saying it, you can feel her wetness on your tongue; feel her quiver, the way the word makes your tongue quiver. It’s the word that encapsulates all the filthy, carnal, animalistic needing, wanting, desiring that you have for her. It’s the word that describes the warmth, the stickiness, the slickiness that you feel when you plunge into her, becoming one with her. It can lead to everything. And nothing.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

e[lust] #48 - Judges Picks

Icarus Photo courtesy of It Girl Rag Doll
Welcome to e[lust] - The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you're looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it'll be here at e[lust]. Want to be included in e[lust] #49? Start with the newly updated rules, come back August 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

~ This Week’s Top Three Posts ~

A Submissive's Day
An Open Letter to Modern Female Feminists
Rape Porn: Rapists by Proxy?

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Innocent Dark and the Sweet Talk of the Storm

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~
Sex Toy Stories: Fifty Shades of Pink
All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

Erotic Non-Fiction

I'm fucking you, whether you're wet or not.
Positions Filled
Second Wind
Snippets of bambi
Sir Knows Best
A Taste of Rub & Tug
Feels Like the 6th Time
Call of the Wild
Falling Violently in Lust with Suzanne
Submitting to His Will
Venus' Orgasm

You don't hit me hard enough spanking
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Swingers club, group sex & a queue of men



Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Description of my orgasm(s)
Casual Dating
Mormon Sex Symbols


The Big Ugly Self Portrait Challenge
Blogger is dumping adult bloggers; what now?

Erotic Fiction

Perfect Spring Day
Lolita Twenty-Thirteen, Part Six
Lights Out
I Am Watching
Wicked Wednesday: Karma

Sex News, Interviews, Politics & Humor

There is No Smiling in S&M - Usually
Break the boxes
Your Guide To The Perfect Sex Toy!
Age Inappropriate

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

Ass Worship: Errant Oral & a Brave Submissive
Tell Me You Want Me.
Embracing My Strap-On
Talking About Kinks & Fetishes With Vanillas
Thoughts: Age and BDSM

Writing about Writing

Flat-chested Heroines


Monday, 10 June 2013

Rape Porn: Rapists by Proxy?

I was moved to write this blog because I saw the following tweets from @ThunderAtSea on my Twitter timeline.  It gave me pause for thought.  And my own thoughts on this subject are conflicted.

Menschkin missing the point. Filmed*simulated*rape not illegal, but when it's portrayed as anything less than ABHORRENT,then it's rape porn>

<and indistinguishable when actual rape is filmed for entertainment. It carries the suggestion that rape is within normal sexual mores.>

<and this, along with the general rapey direction porn is taking, debases erotica and warps sexuality.

And if that's not frightening to you, you're not *liberated*, you're a rapist by proxy.

(Tweets re-posted with kind permission from @ThunderAtSea)

These series of tweets gave me pause for thought because I enjoy reading & watching porn that involves ‘rape’, forced sex.  I know many who also enjoy this.  To me, this particular fantasy *is* within the ‘normal sexual more’ of how I define my sexuality.  I do not agree with the statement that I am a rapist by proxy, and neither are my friends.  But, I *am* uncomfortable with the objectification of women in society, and the pornification of our culture; I believe the way women are objectified is a contributing factor to so many men seeming to not quite ‘understand’ what is rape, and what is consensual.  @CratesNRibbons wrote a piece for HuffPostUK today, which says this much better than I can.  I agree with everything she says.  Is, therefore, my desire to watch/read this kind of porn contributing to what I characterise as rape culture? 

Many of you will have come across me through my blogs about my experience of rape, being a rape survivor and a sufferer of PTSD.  You may be reading this and think I’m an oxymoron; a rape survivor who ‘gets off’ on rape fantasy.  (Some of you may be reading this and think that I therefore ‘wanted’ or ‘deserved’ what happened.  Not true.  And I will try to explain the difference later).  Many others of you will have come across me through the kink scene.  Some of you may have come across me as a feminist.  And some of you are spambots.

I was raped 5 years ago.  I have been on the kink ‘scene’ for about 6, but I’ve always had kink running through my veins.  I am a feminist, in the sense that I see no conflict with my agency to choose my kink (and sometimes submission) and my agency to choose the other things in my life; how I choose to make my living, who I choose to love, what I spend my money on, what I wear, what ‘hairstyle I choose to have (both ends) ;-) 

I was raped on 10th April 2008.  Less than a month later I was at the CJIB Demo on 8th May, protesting against what was to become known as the ‘Extreme Porn Act’.  On that day, a few of us were sitting outside Coffee, Cake & Kink and came up with the name of the Consenting Adult Action Network which is committed to protecting the right of all consenting adults to do what they wish with each other – and to have & to view pictures of ‘extreme porn’ which involves consenting adults.  I do not believe that people who watch porn will become rapists or murderers.  I do believe some people who want to be, or are, rapists or murderers will seek out that type of porn, but I do not believe in the causality aspect.  I may be wrong.  I am not an expert in this.

I don’t believe we should censor our fantasies.  We simply cannot.  Ever since I can remember masturbating, before I even knew what masturbating was, I have fantasised about kink.  And, being forced by a stranger in a dark alley (actually, it was usually the local park) was a common fantasy.  When I came across the kink scene later in my adult life (the internet wasn’t around in my formative years) I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one, that I wasn’t a strange fucked up deviant, but ‘normal’ (at least by the standards of kink.  I recognise that if you’re anti-kink, you’ll still think I’m a fucked up deviant).  There is a very common myth, which is part of the rape culture which permeates our society, that women do want to be raped.  And, it is a common female fantasy (see this Wikipedia entry  But, rape is not the same as the fantasy.

When I was raped, I felt that I no longer had agency to enjoy those fantasies anymore.  It was one of the things he took from me.  On the boards of Informed Consent (now, sadly, no more), I was vocal in my opposition to ‘rape play’, a term used to describe a scene in which one participant consensually cedes the right to consent to what happens, otherwise known as ‘consensual non-consent.’  I objected in most part to the term ‘play’ juxtaposed with the act of rape.  To me, rape was horrific, it had lost me my job, many friends, my family relationships (now mending), and most of all, my sanity.  How could people be seeming to enjoy this, how could they call it play?

I now practice consensual non-consent (CNC).  The very special friend who I have enjoyed (yes, enjoyed) that with has given me back my fantasies; it’s probably the biggest, most significant gift anyone has ever given me.  In some ways, it’s been therapeutic (but I’m not saying I recommend it for rape survivors, that’s just a very personal observation).  The difference between CNC and actual rape, to me, is the mutual respect.  The hugs afterwards.  The knowing that what we’re doing (what he’s doing) is for our mutual pleasure.  But, during, it is not something I want.  It is non-consent, but it isn’t rape, because it is consensual.  (I expect many of you will be thinking, oh, that makes him a rapist.  I know he is not.  When we talk (and we do talk about this), he is mortified by the idea that he could be.  He never could be, he never would, unless he was absolutely sure, beyond all doubt, that it was something I wanted, craved, needed, desired).  Now, I understand why it is often termed ‘rape play.’  It is as akin to actual rape as children playing doctors & nurses is as akin to being an actual surgeon.

So, today, Louise Mensch has done what she seems so good at doing, and created controversy.  She has written this article which defends her position (and I’m in the uncomfortable position of pretty much agreeing with her) that to ban all images of rape goes too far.

She says, ‘campaigners against rape – which I hope we all are – MUST be aware of free speech and where the line of incitement is truly drawn.’  I agree.  She also writes this:

‘Pornography of rape that is clearly dramatized, and consensually made and shot, and does not involve imagery of children or incest, is not necessarily an incitement to actual rape. This campaign would criminalise all those indulging in consensual BDSM pornography. …. Rape fantasy is an incredibly common female fantasy. It is VITAL that we distinguish this fantasy from rape apology, rape excuse, or anything to do with real rape. … In these fantasies the rapist looks like Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones and the woman finds it an enjoyable experience – it could not be more different from supporting or wishing for an actual rape in real life. Women are not stupid, and they can draw a perfectly clear distinction between fantasy and reality. …. It is important that in protecting women and children we are quite clear about what actual rape is and what incitement to hurt children is. Legislation to criminalise a community of fetishists is not right. … filmed, and consensually dramatised rape scenes …– the government should NOT ban it, … It is illiberal and wrong and tramples on sexual rights.’  [some text removed*]

Does ‘rape porn’ contribute to rape culture?  Does it de-value women?  Does it normalise violence against women?  If rape is eroticised, whither our sexuality in general? (paraphrasing @ThunderAtSea).   I do not know the answers to these questions.  I only know that *I* have been eroticising the act of rape since an early age.  But I did not enjoy rape, on any level whatsoever; it is not erotic in reality.  The fantasy, however, can be eroticised, and it is for many.

So, should our rights to access the visual (or written) depictions of our fantasies be curtailed even when the people in those videos are consenting adults?  Does the ‘greater good’ of destroying the evidence of rape culture mean that we should ban this kind of porn?  (I want to make clear that anything that records *actual* rape is abhorrent.  What was done at Steubenville was abhorrent.  That is not porn.  That is criminality.  Porn, to me, involves consenting adults only).   I do not believe we should restrict our freedoms to enjoy the visual depiction of our innermost fantasies.  The mind can be a dark place (just read any de Sade – although I should admit I actually haven’t, beyond a few paragraphs that others have quoted sometimes).  The vast majority who view, and enjoy, this kind of porn I know think that rape is abhorrent.  We enjoy ‘edge play.’  We enjoy that it is wrong, dangerous, psychological.  But we enjoy those things in full knowledge of the consent.  Personally, I prefer the porn where you have the girl (or boy) videoed at the beginning telling you, the viewer, that they consent, that they’re looking forward to it, and that afterwards you also see their perspective of what happened, how much they enjoyed it ( is very good for this).  When I’m reading porn, I like the warning upfront as to whether it will depict acts of non-consent (rape), or CNC.  I don’t always want to stumble upon something that might trigger me.  If I’m searching for it, I want to be reassured it’s consensual.  Then, when I’m watching, I can get hot watching what looks like it isn’t, but knowing, somewhere at the back of my turned-on mind, that it’s ok really.  If there is going to be legislation dictating how we view our porn (and I don’t think there should be; adults are adults), then the only thing I could get behind was the before/after shots to know it had the ‘consent’ tick, and the warning of what was to come.

[@ThunderAtSea made what I think is a very valid point in our Twitter exchange this evening – when the actors in the porn are coerced into it through the need for money.  I agree.  I believe that for some women (and men) sex work (of any kind) should be their right to choose.  It is when people don’t really have full agency (or none) to choose that I am very uncomfortable and would not support this.  @ThunderAtSea has also asked me to make clear that she also does not believe in a causal link between porn & rape.  Also that she agrees with the difference between CNC and actual rape.  If I've implied otherwise up to this point, I apologise profusely]. 

To recap.
Rape is horrific, abhorrent.  Rape is not fun, it is not enjoyable.  I am a rape survivor and it is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.
The objectification of women in our culture, and the pornification of women, is wrong, needs to be fought & challenged wherever & whenever we see it, and contributes to rape culture.
But, we can’t censor our fantasies – and should have access to visual and written depictions of those fantasies, where those depictions involve consenting adults.
Because there is not a link of causality between porn and rape – although I admit there may be causality in the objectification of women, and hence to rape culture.  And that is still the bit I’m not sure about, even after writing this….

I would like to thank @ThunderAtSea for permission to re-print some of our Twitter exchange this evening, and for the simple fact of engaging with me in debate on this subject.  I would also like to thank @CratesNRibbons for allowing me to link to her blog.

(* I removed from the Louise Mensch piece, amongst others, the excerpts relating to the Simon Walsh ‘extreme porn’ trial on which he was acquitted.  I have had the honour to meet Simon.  A nicer man you could not meet.  If this campaign, about Louise Mensch writes, were to succeed it would mean that many others (and perhaps myself?)  I am privileged to know could find themselves in a similar scenario).  

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Turning a Page

I’ll be 40 tomorrow.  Like most people (I suppose), I used to think 40 was really quite old and I definitely thought that by the time I was 40 I would have ‘arrived’; I’d have everything I wanted from life, I’d be happy.  For me, that always meant, I’d be in the home I’d live in to beyond retirement, the home my children would grow up in; it meant, I’d have or have had a successful career, either continuing it, or having chosen to be a home-maker; it meant, I’d be able to afford the things I wanted, not necessarily a life of luxury, but not one where I needed to watch the pennies either.  I never gave any thought to what my dreams & desires might be beyond the age of 40, because life would just continue.  I didn’t imagine a future where there might be challenges, only one where my expectations for my life would have become my reality.

Ten years ago when I turned 30, I was on that track.  I was married.  Whilst we’d always had a rather tempestuous relationship, ten years ago we were doing quite well (by the standards of our marriage).  I was enjoying my career; and I was still a ‘bright young thing’.  With my husband, we had the mortgage, the house, the car.  Around that time we were starting to think about starting our family.  There was disposable income spare to go on holidays, to do the home improvements we wanted.  I was living the life I’d imagined.  And, if I gave it any thought, when I was 40, when I was old, nothing much would’ve changed.

Tomorrow, I’ll be 40.  I don’t have any of those things.  I am divorced.  I’m not single, but I do live alone.  I don’t have a mortgage, and despite being lucky enough to have a job that pays me enough that I can save each month, I’m struggling to save enough to get a deposit together and get back on the housing market.  You might notice I used the word ‘job’, not ‘career’.  The career has stalled; for me, doing what I’m doing, it isn’t going anywhere except sideways and I’m no longer enjoying it.  There’s no inspiration or passion, even though by most people’s standards what I do should be exciting (marketing strategy for a global digital brand should be exciting).  I don’t have any children, and I spent a lot of money last year trying to have children; for the time being, I have decided not to try anymore – despite, evidently, not getting any younger.  And, a lot of the time, my mind is not even my own; PTSD & its side-effects, often dictate my mood, my reality.  That reality is often one of terrifying fear. 

I am incredibly glad to be ending my 30s.  It’s been a dark & painful decade.  I know that as I get older, physical health, my own, or my loved ones, may well also take its toll, but, whilst scary, it’s a natural occurrence, and so not terrifying; it’s part of the tapestry of life.  The things that went wrong in my 30s, divorce, rape, unemployment, they are the not the things we imagine in our futures, whilst we do know that our loved ones, or ourselves may become ill.  So, just as New Year’s Day marks the turning of the page, even though it is just another day, my 40th birthday marks the end of one chapter and the possibility of another, yet to be written, but full of hope that things might get better, that the worst might now be behind me.

For a long time I didn’t know how to dream.  My dream had been the white picket fence, and I’d torn that down with the divorce.  My dream career had been being a film producer, but I tried it out and I didn’t like the industry (coming from a commercial background, working with creatives who didn’t was frustrating; Cannes shone a spotlight on the superficiality of many connections; and turning my passion into my work meant that I stopped seeing the magic in movies).  Without a dream, I returned to what I knew and then struggled with the need to spend my days working for money but with no passion for what I was doing.  My light had gone out.

And rape seemed to snuff out any hope that I could reignite that light.  My entire world-view was altered, perhaps it always will be in some ways.  I’d always been a positive person, glass half full.  I became fearful of everything, and everyone.  I became intensely aware of the suffering in the world, the many, many, many people who suffer without justice.  And without justice, there can be no peace.  I no longer trusted that things would end well; it was evident that often, or usually, things just didn’t.  Bad things happen to good people, the world isn’t a fair place, and karma is an insulting myth. 

But my 30s weren’t all bad.  In fact, my 30s have had some absolutely awesome moments, and I have done some absolutely awesome things.  And, as I turn the page on my 30s, I am hopeful again for a brighter future, for the dreams I now have to be realised, to be happy.

I thought that this list would be really hard to write, how could there be even 10 things that were wondrous & amazing that had happened to me in such a bleak decade?  But, actually, there are many, many, many more than 30.  These are the highlights, and just a taste of what, actually, has been a decade full of awesome experiences & revelations.  In no particular order:

1.       A colleague became one of my bestest friends, even holding my hand so I could do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done
2.       Another lovely big-hearted colleague became another of my bestest friends when she opened her home to me when I had nowhere else to go – twice
3.       I had the courage to leave my marriage & everything I’d thought my life should be, but wasn’t
4.       I had the privilege of buying a totally wrecked house & turning it into the home I’d always dreamed I wanted, but didn’t
5.       I kissed a girl, many girls, & I liked it
6.       I discovered that the dreams of my youth didn’t need to be my dreams forever, and that’s OK
7.       I stood up in front of hundreds of people in Trafalgar Square, and gave a speech; people cheered – and it’s on YouTube
8.       I found out that there were places & people who could make my darkest fantasies come true; that there is nothing ‘deviant’ or ‘shameful’ in the recesses of my mind, but instead a sense of liberation in embracing who I am, experiencing so many intense sensations amid the rush of adrenaline, and the sweet, floating calm of endorphins
9.       I visited Vancouver (twice), & fell in love with the city; I saw Niagara Falls in the snow, where previously, I’d only seen it in the summer; I went to Thailand, to Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Yosemite where the snow fell amongst the Red Woods
10.   I reconnected with two lovely friends from one of my most memorable teenage holidays, who made my visit to San Francisco also so wonderful, & met some awesome family of one of those friends
11.   I got daily support, love, & understanding from my awesome friends, but also a range of people who I might never meet in real life; in turn I also I brought comfort, support & understanding to many people, some of which I may never meet, but I know I changed their lives for the better, if only for a brief moment
12.   I walked barefoot on broken glass; I walked into an arrow until it split, the metal point at the base of my neck; I walked on the burning embers of hot coals – 3 times
13.   I was kitten
14.   I got my first tattoo – and 3 more
15.   I found out that jealousy & insecurity need have no place in a loving polyamorous relationship – and that my parents would accept & welcome my partner into our lives
16.   I saw Axl Rose sing live, twice.  And, so many wonderful concert/festival/gig moments, too many to recount: JBJ, the Killers, Kylie, Gaga, Jessie J, Tori…
17.   I had the nerve to chase my dream of a film career, found out it wasn’t my dream, & will never be on death-bed wishing I’d been a film producer – but you can find me on IMDB
18.   I created a safe place for women to explore their sexuality, running Tipping the Velvet with another lovely friend
19.   I was mock-strangled whilst hung in pink handcuffs from the gates outside the Houses of Parliament – and came up with the ‘Consenting Adults’ bit of CAAN
20.   I did a colonic fast for a week and decided I wanted to live
21.   I went to a house party and a lovely man became one of the most significant people in my life
22.   I got divorced without recrimination, remaining on friendly terms with the man who I had loved more than love itself
23.   I held Victoria in my arms and knew that there was purity & good everywhere in this world
24.   I dyed my hair blonde, if only for a short time
25.   I flew in a helicopter, over Vegas, landing in the Grand Canyon
26.   I decided I could be a single mother, & attempted to do it without the need for a man
27.   I learnt that openness & honesty might sometimes backfire but it is the best way to live; my feelings, my wants, my desires, are valid and life works better to express them
28.   I learnt that I am brave, I am courageous, I am resilient, I am loved, I am beautiful, I have an intelligence that is valued, I am valued, I have friends, I have family, I am a survivor, I am desirable & desired, I am sexy & sexual,  I am kind, caring, loyal, I am lucky
29.   I learnt how to dream again, but more than that, I learnt that the future can be full of love, full of light, full of adventure & new experiences, that it’s mine to shape; I learnt how to live, how to hope & how to embrace the possibilities in this world
30.   I finally believed the affirmation, I love & accept myself, exactly as I am, right now

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for being part of my life, both real & virtual.  If I can have so many awesome experiences in my 30s, I know my 40s are going to rock! J

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Five Years, My Story

This blog comes with a very strong TRIGGER WARNING.  It covers details of rape, PTSD and suicidal thoughts.  It’s also longer than the typical blog, but I’m grateful for you taking the time to read it.   Reading it may trouble you, especially if you know me.  I’m still here, and I’m planning on staying here.  This is an account of what happened, how it impacted me at its worst, and doesn’t represent all of me.  I know that I’m feeling especially low at the moment, simply because it’s the 5 year anniversary.  The nightmares have re-started.  I’m feeling very jumpy and on edge.  I know that after Wednesday, I’ll start getting better again.  I know these things.  But I wanted to write this.  It’s my truth and I wanted to get it out of me.  Getting it out of me seems to help, if only temporarily.  But, please don’t worry.  My friends, you are one of the main reasons why I’m still here, why I’ll stay here; thank you.

Wednesday, 10th April 2013 marks five years since it happened.  It was a Thursday then.

I wasn’t entirely well before it happened.  I had gotten divorced a few months before, well, left him a year before, after 10 years of marriage.  I was suffering from depression, actually on anti-depressants, I’d seen a therapist and done some CBT to stop the cutting I had started in adult life, and I was using coke ‘recreationally’ – which was a bit more like habitually.  I was drinking a lot and controlling my food.  But, for the first time in years, I was skinny, and felt sexy.  Whilst, looking back, I wasn’t well, at the time, despite the evident problems, I did feel invincible.  I felt free, liberated, like my life could become anything I wanted it to be. 

But, well, I wasn’t well.  I have to remember that even before the rape, I wasn’t entirely well.  The way I am now, it’s not entirely to do with that one night.  It makes me worry that if I ever do recover from the PTSD my new psychiatrist says I have, and that she can possibly cure using the new EMDR approach, it makes me worry that I won’t be well, that there are bigger problems in my psyche.  But I need to hope I can get better, because I cannot live another five years in this abyss.  I simply won’t.

There is something about it being five years now, that seems harder to cope with than when it was four years, or three years, or two… I feel like after this length of time I should be over it, or used to it.  The fact that it still dominates my life, it makes me feel so useless, so broken.  Five years feels like a milestone that is also a millstone.

That night I did mostly everything wrong.  I have no memory of what I was wearing, but knowing me, it probably showed my best asset, which is my cleavage.  I probably wasn’t wearing heels, because I just hardly ever do, and if I was, they would only have been an inch or so, kitten heels.  I was probably wearing jeans, but maybe it was a skirt.  We met at a restaurant in Southwark, one I’d been to before and had suggested because I liked it.  We’d spoken on the phone a couple of times, flirty, getting to know each other, he seemed nice.  We had a drink first, I had a vodka based cocktail.  We both smoked and chatted in the smoking area.  We ordered.  We ordered vodka for the table, it was the way the restaurant did it, being a Polish restaurant.  I remember between the starter and the main course, at the smoking area, telling him that he seemed good company but I didn’t fancy him; we could be friends but that was all.  I don’t remember much else until I was home.  I’ve wondered if that’s when he decided to do it, because I’d rejected him.  Or maybe, he was going to do it anyway.

I suppose I drank far too much.  The police later said that according to the bill at the restaurant (which was apparently paid by cash) if I’d even consumed only a third of the vodka that was charged to our table I would have been way past the point of consent.  With that knowledge, I’ve always wondered why the CPS didn’t prosecute.  But my apparent drinking was one of the reasons they decided not to.  I won’t ever know if I drank too much, or if I was drugged, or both.  The police did take a sample of my hair when I reported it a month later, and for months I was explaining why I had a big chunk of my hair cut out, but they never actually sent it off to be analysed.  They said it wouldn’t work and was very expensive.  I wish they’d never taken it if it wasn’t going to work, would have saved so much humiliation in the months afterwards.  I know now it doesn’t matter if I was drugged or not, the vodka didn’t rape me.  But for a long time, I needed to feel that I was drugged because then it would be proof that it wasn’t my fault, that he had planned it.  Because for a long time, I blamed myself, for drinking, for dropping my guard, for trusting.  It took a long time for me to realise that what happened that night is that I went to dinner with a rapist and what happened was not my fault.

I don’t remember the end of the meal.  I don’t remember getting home.  I think I must have told him my address because I was no longer carrying my driving licence with my address on it in my handbag since I’d had my bag stolen the previous Xmas and my identity stolen along with it.  So, yes, I must have told him where I lived.  The first thing I remember is waking up to discover him fucking me.  And all I could think to say was, you’re not wearing a condom. 

Before it happened, I never thought rape could happen to me.  First of all, I naively assumed that most, if not all, rapes would be reported in the papers.  In fact, when I reported the rape later I half expected the local journo’s to come knocking for the story.  I also thought most rapes were stranger rapes, and if date rapes happened it was to drunk cheerleader types.  Not well brought up professional women like me.  I’d been drunk with men before, they hadn’t raped me.  I’d even taken a guy home with me only a couple of weeks previously, changed my mind half way through, and he’d been quite happy to sleep on the sofa. (OK, maybe not exactly happy, but he hadn’t pressured me in any way).  I thought rape was rare, and I never thought it would happen to me.

But, it was happening.  I’m very murky about the details, I was slipping in and out of consciousness, but it was happening.  When the police interviewed me they forced me to try to tell the story in a chronological way, with specific detail, who was on top, what position was I in, what position was he in.  At the time, I was still having flashbacks and remembering things through flashbacks.  Having to do that just increased the flashbacks and the detail of my memory but thankfully a lot of that has faded now, although I suppose it would make me a terrible witness now to my own rape.  I say thankfully a lot has faded, although there’s a part of me that wonders if some of my troubles about it, why it’s on my mind every day, is because I can’t remember, and maybe remembering would help.  Although my psychiatrist says not.  In fact, she’d be saying that writing this is a very silly thing to do.

It was violent.  At some point I must’ve started resisting.  Because I’m kinky, there was a cane in my bedroom.  He used it.  He used it so hard he cut me repeatedly.  When I went to the police a month later, I still had the bruises.  I can still see the broken veins on my right thigh where the cutting was worst.  He assaulted me anally.  He rifled around in my kitchen and took the handle to my krupps espresso maker and penetrated me with it.  I think he tried it in my arse as well, I remember a huge intense pain.  I stopped resisting.  I remember him blindfolding me, I remember the clicking of a camera phone, I remember being told to suck his cock and swallowing and calling him sir.  I remember ice. I remember calling him a taxi and collapsing to the floor behind the closed door, numb, and then sobbing and sobbing. 

The photographs were another reason why the CPS didn’t prosecute.  He produced them when he was interviewed to prove consensual activity.  I was never able to see them or comment on them.  I have to take the police word for it that they were erased from his phone, and hope that copies weren’t made on any of his other devices.  Most likely, he still has them, I know that.  And it makes me sick.  I probably had stopped resisting when he took them, I was all fought out, just going along with it, hoping it would end soon.  My psychiatrist, who is a PTSD specialist and deals with a lot of rape survivors, tells me that taking photographs is a sign of a professional rapist, it’s a way of creating their alibi, showing a visual that creates doubt.

He did that too with the text he sent me next day.  He called me a young lady and said he’d had a lovely time and did I want to see him again.  Or words to that effect.  I used to know it off by heart, but I’ve forgotten it now.  It really confused me, I wondered if I was mistaken, had I asked him to do all that?  What had we talked about at dinner, in the taxi?  My ex-friend C said to me several times that I must’ve been mistaken, that was I sure I hadn’t wanted it?  She’s no longer my friend, because she simply couldn’t accept that I didn’t want that.  I didn’t consent to being fucked without a condom.  I didn’t consent to anal.  I didn’t consent to penetration with other things.  I didn’t consent to any of it.

The next week I went to the STD clinic and got all the tests for everything.  They gave me the meds for gonorrhoea, just in case.  It turned out everything was ok.  But my injuries were visible, I had to tell them the story, they were kind, but it was horrible.  I didn’t want to tell it again.

I wasn’t going to go to the police.  I’d been drinking.  I was kinky.  I didn’t think I’d be believed, and I thought I’d be blamed.  But whilst his profile had been removed from I saw it on another dating site – a different user name, but it was him, same picture, similar details.  I knew I had to report him, I didn’t want to feel responsible for him doing it to someone else. 

So, a month or so later, I did eventually go to the police.  My bestest friend took some time off work and came to London so I didn’t have to go through it alone.  We arrived at the police station about 10am, we didn’t leave until after 5pm.  I went up to the desk and said I wanted to report a rape to the Sapphire unit.  They were confused, I was breaking due process, I was supposed to report it first to a police officer who would then refer me to the Sapphire unit.  I said I didn’t want to go through it more than I needed to, and they got the Sapphire unit people down.  During that day, I first talked to them about it, then I had to talk to them again, this time with them writing it down as a statement.  Then I had to go on video and do it all again, more and more details being asked each time.  It was intense.  I spent most of the day in tears, unsure of my memory, trying to tell as much as I could, apologising all the time for not knowing details which I was sure I should know.  I feel so much guilt that my friend had to listen to all of it; I couldn’t have done it without her, but it wasn’t a story that anyone should have to hear.  I owe her my life.

They took photographs of my injuries, the bruising was still visible.  They took the sample of my hair.  They took my mobile phone because of the exchange of texts with him.  They arranged to come to my flat a couple of days later to do their forensic thing.  It’s nothing like CSI.  They were there for most of the day, taking photographs, packaging things up.  When they left I had to go out and buy a new duvet, pillows, sheets.  I had to buy a new laptop as I was self-employed at the time and I needed it – they took it because of the exchange of email we’d had via the dating site.  They took glasses, they took the coffee machine.  They took my coat, the clothes I thought I’d worn (but wasn’t sure).  It was a whole month later, things had been washed, things had been through the dishwasher, but they took them anyway.  They kept everything for a couple of months, until after the CPS decision not to prosecute, some of it I told them to just keep. 

I always wonder about the myth of false allegations.  If I hadn’t been raped, how would I have managed to keep up the pretence during the whole day of police questioning and doing it on video?  Replacing my laptop, the duvet, coat, everything – the cost was towards £800.  I was lucky I had that money.  Of course, I’ve never been compensated.

I did try.  The police referred me to Victim Support, who gave me details of the CICA, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.  I completed all the paperwork, sent it off, chased every few months.  It wasn’t so much for the money, but I really wanted something official that said I’d been raped, that gave me some kind of closure.  Two years later, they wrote to me to tell me my claim had been unsuccessful based on the reasons why the CPS hadn’t prosecuted.  The police never told me why the CPS hadn’t prosecuted, just that there was a lack of evidence, and it would come down to ‘he said, she said’.  But the CICA did, two years later.  Reason 1 – I had waited to report.  Most rape victims do.  Reason 2 – I had been drinking.  That should have been evidence of lack of consent.  Reason 3 – the photographs he took.  Which I have never seen, been able to comment on or give evidence on, and which people like my psychiatrist who work with victims know is a method rapists use to produce doubt.  My view of the CPS is not a kind one.

At the time I didn’t really question anything the police did, trusting that they were doing everything they could.  Certainly, the fact that I had a named Sapphire liason officer to support me was really helpful, and without that I probably wouldn’t have made it through even as well as I did.  But they said they would do things that they didn’t do.  They said that they would interview the friends I had initially told and I had to give names & addresses and warn my friends that this would be the case.  They didn’t follow up with any of them.  They said they needed the hair sample to test to see if I’d been drugged, they never sent it off for analysis (and it was returned to me along with all my other things too! I mean!…. There are no words…).  I’d been foolish enough to tell a friend I didn’t want the cane in my flat anymore, and he’d thrown it in a skip – so there never was chain of evidence.  With regard to the photo that another friend took of my injuries, the police said they needed the camera to do their chain of evidence, the photo by itself wasn’t enough.  She was having her own domestic violence case go through its process at the time and didn’t want to get involved, she refused the camera and refused to make a statement.  So, no chain of evidence.  I suppose, there really wasn’t much tangible evidence and waiting a month hadn’t been the thing to do.  But I was processing, I was in shock, I didn’t want to face it as a truth. 

It took the police several weeks to track him down.  I had forgotten his last name, and although it did come back to me a few days later, the police had to wait for mobile phone companies to share his details and things like that before they could make the arrest.  They told me they arrested him first thing in the morning and made him sit in the cells all day before interviewing him.  I suppose that’s something.  But I know if he told anyone what had happened to him, I will be another ‘example’ bolstering up the myth of false allegations.  It was another few weeks until the CPS made their decision.  It really hurt.  The police had believed me, I knew that.  Whilst before I reported it, I didn’t think I’d be believed, the fact of being believed had given me hope that justice would win out.  I had a very strong value & belief system in the power of justice; to have been believed, but for there to be no justice, spun me into a very dark place.  The process of reporting, going into the details, reliving it, having hope and then getting no justice, to experience all that on top of the rape itself, was too much to bear.  My whole world order was knocked off balance.

I lost another ‘friend’ when I said that.  I said that if a friend confided in me that they had been raped, and should they go to the police, I would hesitate, and I couldn’t recommend it.  I am almost thankful that my case didn’t get prosecuted, because I do believe that I would have not coped, that I would have committed suicide during it, or after it.  This ‘friend’ of mine told me that therefore I deserved to have been raped.  We’d been good friends – I was going to be her best woman at her wedding, we were away in Las Vegas on a trip to celebrate her upcoming wedding, my gift to her.  I told her to leave the hotel and we haven’t spoken since.  Not sure what she told her family about why she no longer had a best woman, but hey… I was learning that not all ‘friends’ were supportive.

In the weeks & months that followed I felt very fragile, I did some very questionable things but I thought I would get over it, albeit slowly.  Before the rape, I’d been very controlling about my food, I’d lost about 2 stone, and I’d felt good.  Afterwards, I ate macaroni cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I put on the first 2 stone in the first month or so, and then another stone slower after that.  In the five years since, I have hated the way I look.  Every so often I hit a peak weight and I try to lose it, usually by doing some crazy controlling diet.  I’ll lose a stone or so, start feeling better about myself, and then sabotage it because I associate feeling good about the way I look to being a target for rapists. 

I started using drink and sex as a way of exerting my control over what could be very dangerous circumstances – looking back, I know I was trying to recreate the circumstances but with one different characteristic, this time I was in control and consenting (I still do it, but now, only in safety with people – well, a person – I trust implicitly.  It’s entirely different, and now about pleasure rather than self-harm).  I had an assessment counselling session with the Havens and was telling her what I’d done the previous weekend.  The look on her face was one of pure horror.  I didn’t go back. 

I did find counselling through the Women & Girls Network; they were wonderful.  Non judgemental, accepting of my lifestyle, they gave me a life-line that I absolutely needed, first with one-on-one counselling and then in group sessions.  Back then, though, I thought the way I was feeling was temporary.  The counselling was going to cure me.  The group sessions were called ‘an ending group’, I thought it was going to end.  It didn’t.  Last year I had quite a major relapse, brought on by overwhelming stress at work, and sought help again with WGN.  Their services really are amazing, again I was given individual counselling, again I went to the group sessions, but this time I knew they weren’t going to be a cure, just a way of helping me to find coping mechanisms.  (They also gave me access to aromatherapy massages, part of their holistic treatment.  I really can’t praise or thank WGN enough for their support over the years).

I decided to tell my parents what had happened; I think I wanted to feel safe in their arms, like when I was a child.  Although, I don’t really have any memories of that happening so I don’t know why I expected it to go well.  As soon as I said it, and saw my Dad’s face just crumble, I knew it had been a mistake.  How could they be expected to deal with the fact that their daughter had been raped?  After that, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be depressed.  I gravitated away from them, hardly seeing them.  Mum would sometimes say things like ‘be safe’ and I’d take it as criticism for that night.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I told my brother; he was alright about it, but again I felt uncomfortable.  Recently, I told my parents about the PTSD diagnosis, I think things are going to get better with them; they’re trying, and so am I. 

About six months after the rape, I went back to full-time employment.  It felt strange, being around people, them not knowing the intense chasm of pain that I had inside.  My therapy sessions were happening at the same time, so I had to confide in my boss what had happened to get time off work.  She seemed to be supportive at the time, but soon got frustrated with the time off I was having, especially when I found the day after therapy to be really hard as well; I took those days as holiday rather than sick, but it didn’t go down well at all.  Eventually, I lost my job – she said it was due to my performance, but that was on the day the work we’d been doing had had some really positive feedback.  When I asked her what she meant about my performance, she said I was no longer resilient, and she couldn’t rely on me.  I was essentially being fired because I had been raped.  In the end, I negotiated some fairly decent monetary terms and resigned instead, but I will never forgive her.  I’d been at that company about 5 years, with just a short break where I was trying to follow my film producing dream.  My boss had been a friend or mine; I’d taken her to Ikea once.  I felt betrayed.

That betrayal resulted in me deciding I could no longer cope with the world.  It had been proved that I couldn’t hold down a job.  I was fat and hated myself.  I was often scared to leave the house.  I was often scared in the house (although I had moved – in fact, whilst I’ve been in my current flat for two years now, in the first three years I moved house 6 times).  I packed up my flat, put everything into storage and took a flight to Thailand.  When I was there, I wrote very amusing blogs about my travels.  But I’d planned never to come back.  Part of me was in thrall of the idea of just swimming out to sea, and never coming back.

Instead, I came back early.  I had some kind of epiphany in which I decided that I needed to live, and if I was going to rebuild my life, I should start straight away.  That was harder than I’d imagined, as I came back to 8 months of unemployment and the joys of signing on.  My savings had almost entirely run out by the time I got a job at the firm which 3 years later, I am still at.  I was probably about 2 months from living off friends’ sofas.  I threw myself into my work, determined not to screw it up just because my head was sometimes in dark places, and then last year, being so immersed in my work caused an extreme breakdown.

I had been working 12-14 hour days, 6-7 days a week for about 3 months which coincided with last year’s anniversary.  The lack of control I felt over the amount of work that needed doing triggered panic & anxiety attacks, nightmares and insomnia which I hadn’t had in quite a while.  I’d always been looking over my shoulder, wondering if the nightmares & insomnia would come back, and sometimes they did, but usually only for a few nights.  This time, it was constant and I was exhausted.  I’d also always had the odd anxiety attack, walking down the street, feeling like someone was there, running up the stairs to my flat and putting the chain on, sinking to the floor in a sweat.  But this time last year, it was all the time, and I couldn’t work properly.

I ended up telling my boss what had happened.  He’s been supportive, in a way that the other organisation never was, but I feel like I’m coming to the end of that support now.  After I spoke at SlutWalk in September, I had another breakdown, this time triggered by my own actions, getting so focused on doing the speech, I wasn’t prepared for the come-down afterwards.  I took too many pills, a combination of lorazepam and sleeping tablets.  It wasn’t intentional, the pills themselves made me woozy about what I’d already taken.  But, it was too many, and not many more and I probably wouldn’t be here to be telling this story. 

I’m worried about my job.  I don’t feel like I’m doing it well at the moment.  I feel like my boss’s patience is going to run out.  I have dreams of what kind of career I want, a portfolio career with a different life-balance.  But I have so much doubt as to whether it’s something I can achieve, I used to have gumption, I used to be fearless, now all I have is self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

I have hope though.  I was diagnosed with PTSD, so now I know it’s not just me being weak and failing.  33% of rape victims develop PTSD.  31% contemplate suicide.  But my current psychiatrist says that the new therapy approach called EMDR (google it) might help, could be a cure.  She says I’m still too ill to start that, I have to be less depressed, more able to cope with the bad stuff, but soon we’ll start it.  It’ll re-wire my brain, so I don’t get triggered so much.  The idea that there really is a cure, that’s amazing to me.  And, there really better had be, because I won’t live another 5 years like this.

Even on the days that have been good, even when I’ve felt on top of the world, there’s always a nagging fear that it will all go away.  I’m always checking for danger.  I’m suspicious of everyone, even my friends, even my really good friends; I’ve been betrayed by too many.  I have no trust.  I choose relationships with people who cannot commit to me because I don’t think I’m worth committing to.  I’m lonely.  I won’t go on online dating sites, and I’m tired of making up excuses when people who don’t know ask me why not.  I’m tired all the time, but at night it takes me ages to go to sleep, I’m frightened of the nightmares that could be coming.  I think of that night every day, it is always with me.

Over the years I think I’ve used every method of self-harm there is in order to cope; cutting, starving myself, stuffing myself, drinking, mis-using the prescription drugs, taking the legal & not-so legal highs, sex and even my kink, using my masochism to hurt myself for pain not for pleasure.   I’ve hibernated, cut myself off from friends and family.  I’ve run away (to Thailand).  I’ve got angry, campaigned, blogged.  I know none of this works.  It’s going to be long hard struggle, but I hope I get better and find the strength to carry on trying to get better. 

After rape and mental illness, suicide is another of those taboos that no-one wants to hear about.  People say suicide is selfish, what about the people who are left behind?  But, what about the person who is so tired of life, in so much pain through life, has so much self-hatred that they don’t believe anyone would care afterwards, what about them?  Well, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past 5 years.  My plan is very specific, would take energy and time to sort through; an accidental over-dose is not the plan.  I’ve always had a plan B.  I guess, suicide is just a version of that.  I hope not to need it, not for very many years, but I need life to be getting better, because this has been 5 years of hell, 5 years that I didn’t think I would survive, and I think it is a miracle I’m still here, but here I am, somehow.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Dear Caitlin, part 2

Edited to add: TRIGGER WARNING!  This article is about rape.

Caitlin, I’m sorry but you’ve disappointed me again.  Please don’t misunderstand me, in this age of Twitterstorms with some of us Twitterers criticising our feminist icons for what they say in their columns, I am not attempting to attack you.  I do still think your writing is great, I still have great respect for you.  I don’t expect everyone to get it right all the time, and I recognise that all of us humans are fallible.  It is wrong for me to put you on a pedestal and expect you to be perfect.  No-one can live up to that expectation.  I am truly thankful that you’ve attempted to grasp the nettle that is rape, and have started to try to make sense of the chasm in society where rapists get away with rape, and victims are blamed.  You’re not making a joke out of rape, you’ve moved away from the position you (appeared to) have when you were interviewed by Mia Freedman and talked about women clattering down the road in their heels which was the subject of my last blog to you ( ).  But, I don’t think you understand, not really.  Please, let me explain.  Please, listen.

I agree with you, and I applaud you, when you say, “The idea of “asking for it” – whether said by a lawyer in Delhi, a drunkard in a NYC bar or a careless woman gossiping in an office in Slough – is the single, toxic pathogen from which all our problems with rape blossom. Culpability. Blame.”  I agree with you, when you say, “Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more” because it isn’t a sexual crime.  Rape is about power, exerting power and control over a body.  It is not sex.  I personally get very angry with the newspapers when they use the terms ‘sexual assault’ or ‘sexual violence’ to minimise the crime.  To describe the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in Mali, or Syria, as ‘sexual violence’ as Metro did this week, is absolutely wrong.  Euphemisms water down the impact, and they are unhelpful.  Let’s call a spade, a spade.  Rape is rape.

I agree with you, rape is a very hard word.  I was in group therapy this week, a group with 5 other women who have been raped.  Some by members of their family, some as children.  Some were in relationships with men who raped them regularly.  In the scheme of things, I guess I was ‘lucky’.  I was on a date.  It was a ‘one off’, one night.  And, I didn’t do everything right, I was drinking.  I wasn’t wearing heels (because I rarely do) but I was dressed to impress, I was wearing jeans, but I was also showing cleavage.  For a long time afterwards, I did struggle with my culpability, had I given the wrong signals (despite saying very clearly that I didn’t fancy him so this really was going to be just a one-time dinner)?  Had I been incredibly irresponsible in putting myself at risk by drinking?  When I started to understand that my drinking and my clothing were not responsible for my rape, my rapist was responsible for my rape, I was able to start the healing process (which I am coming to think will be a process that lasts a life-time). 

But, I digress.  Rape is a very hard word.  At group therapy we are all asked to check-in at the start, to talk about our week.  The previous day I’d got into a conversation with a colleague about dating, would I go online to find someone.  And, rather than just say ‘no’, or that it ‘wasn’t for me’, I decided to be honest.  I said, no, I don’t do online dating, because I was raped when I did.  I am very frustrated by the silence that surrounds rape.  It happens to so many (you quote 1 in 20; there are some studies which claim that as many as 1 in 4 will suffer it in their lifetime), and the silence surrounding it means that survivors feel as though they are alone (when they’re not), the silence contributes to the internal feelings of shame & blame, and the silence means that many go blithely through life thinking that ‘it can’t happen to them.’  So, I decided not to be silent.  My colleague was shocked, I could see her pain for me in her face.  But, she also opened up to me about a vicious relationship she’d been in years earlier and how it still made her question her relationships, how trust is so hard to find, to feel. 

I shared this anecdote at group therapy.  It was the 5th week of group.  In all that time, it was the first time one of us had actually used the word rape, named it for what it was.  Another girl shared later.  She said that my use of the word, the fact that I could say the word, had taken her breath away.  She couldn’t use the word, it had too much power.  You are right, it is a word with “baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin. A word so hard for an injured woman – or a man, or a child – to say”  but I entirely disagree with you when you argue for it not to be used.  Yes, it has been used to often to mean things that aren’t rape.  We mustn’t use it when we don’t mean rape.  To say our facebook account has been ‘fraped’, trivialises the word.  We mustn’t do that.  But, you are wrong to argue for the word to not be used at all.  Those of us who can say the word, must say it, to honour those that cannot.

The problem with rape is not the sex, as you say.  Sex has nothing to do with rape.  Sex is irrelevant to rape.  I agree with what you say about sex, it’s a confusing thing, with confusing emotions.  But, please don’t get mixed up and think that rape has anything to do with sex.  It really doesn’t. 

And then, your article became very hard to me to read.  Let me try to explain.  Rape is not an internalised violence, akin to a punch in the face.  There absolutely is a difference “ if it’s a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh?”  When I read those words, I felt as though I was being strangled, there was a pain constricting my chest, I felt like you’d winded me.  The external body heals from an external wound.  Nearly 5 years later, the bruises have faded (I can still ‘just’ see where one of the biggest external injury was to my thigh, although no-one else would).  But, I am not healed.  I suffer from anxiety attacks, from bouts of severe depression.  My therapists have told me I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Your article makes absolutely no mention of the mental impact of internal trauma, it implicitly seems to suggest that because the body will heal after rape, we can call it assault, simplify the crime, make it easier for others to understand.  To call rape ‘assault’ is just another euphemism, minimising the impact on the survivor, telling the survivor that they have no right to be traumatised, that the pain they feel every day isn’t there.

You are right, rape is “one human ripping another human being to pieces,” and you are right, we shouldn’t call it sexual assault, but we shouldn’t call it assault either.  It is rape.  Rape is not, “Just a violence, like any other.”  Rape is not ‘just’ anything.  There is no other crime like it; even murder, because with a murder, you are dead, you are no longer suffering.  I agree with you, let’s not confuse the crime by equating it with sex, let’s ensure people everywhere understand that rape has nothing to do with sex.  But, let’s not confuse the crime by calling it assault either.  Let’s honour those survivors who still get up everyday and face this world knowing what they know about it, and honour those that couldn’t do that and ended their life because of it, by ensuring that people everywhere know how absolutely debilitating the crime of rape can be, is.  Let’s ensure people everywhere know the horror of rape. 

Caitlin, I am so happy & thankful that this is a topic that you’re trying to make sense of.  Too many women, men and children are forced to try to make sense of it for themselves.  I said before, you have a voice, a very loud voice.  You have a platform.  You can do so much to help change perceptions, to help change society.  Please, I hope you’ve understood what it was about your article that I felt insulted by.  I hope you understand that I am not trying to attack you personally.  I hope you understand that this is a dialogue.  I know you said last night in your reply to my tweet that no-one else had complained, that you had received only good feedback, including from rape counsellors.  I have spoken to other rape survivors about the article.  I am not the only one.  Caitlin, we need someone like you, who has a loud voice, to help fight our battles in society, to change things.  We hope you hear us. 

Below is the transcript of Caitlin Moran’s article that I quote, which appeared in the Times on Saturday 19th January.

‘Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more – with its baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin’
That broken, ex post facto bastard’s curse – “She was asking for it” – reached its spiteful apogee last week, in the wake of the Delhi gang rape.

The lawyer representing three of the men charged with her murder, Manohar Lal Sharma, gave an interview you will want to hide from your children – but whether more urgently from your sons or your daughters, I cannot say. Both become more doomed if they read it and believe it.

“Until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady,” Sharma said – insisting the partner of the dead woman was “wholly responsible” for her death. The unmarried couple should not have been out so late at night, using public transport.

This woman, now dead, had brought this upon herself. She left the house, intending to have sex on a bus. She had essentially walked through the streets, looking for six men to help her commit suicide via an iron bar. She was searching for the quiet sound of a fly-zip, as ruinous as the sound of a bullet being thumbed into a gun. This is something women do.

The idea of “asking for it” – whether said by a lawyer in Delhi, a drunkard in a NYC bar or a careless woman gossiping in an office in Slough – is the single, toxic pathogen from which all our problems with rape blossom. Culpability. Blame.

It’s so hard to insist that rape can happen wholly unprompted, with the lights on, to a cheerful woman who has done everything “right”. Surely she had a token of ill luck somewhere on her body? Some evil glamour left in a pocket; a glance that had been better off left at home? Even though a new report shows one in 20 British women have suffered sexual assault – someone you have been in a room with, today – we think black lightning cannot fall on a sunny day, although we know it can with all the other crimes: on the bonnet of the drunk driver; in the nursery, with a shotgun.

The awful issue of blaming the injured is what makes rape so iniquitous – like telling children in care they should simply have picked better parents in the first place. Why does this happen?

Well, the problem with rape is the sex. As a species, we are still confused, overwhelmed, afraid of and intoxicated by sex. It is a cocktail, mixed in with religion, politics, suffrage, power, love, magic, fear, self-loathing and things left widely unspoken. It makes us drunk. It makes us dumb. It confuses us in manifold. Look here, at this pile, in merely its non-fatal complications: Fifty Shades of Grey, with its duct tape. Happy marriages, with their rape fantasies. Count the sex counsellors and agony aunts. Rape couldn’t happen on a bigger moral and philosophical fault-line. Rape couldn’t strike in a worse place.
That’s why I sometimes think we should do away with the word “rape” altogether. Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more – with its baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin. A word so hard for an injured woman – or a man, or a child – to say, now that we’ve used it in too many places, for too many disparate things, for it to be functionally descriptive of a crime.

Let’s call this crime something simpler, and less confusing, instead: internal assault. Intramural attack. Regard it just as we would an assailant violently forcing a hammer handle into a mouth, or puncturing an eardrum with a knife. Does it make any real difference if it’s a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh? This is punching, but inside. This is the repeated piercing of someone’s body. When you put it like that, suddenly the issue of rape becomes very clear: how many women would ask for that?

The phrase “sexual assault” confuses a million men, and women, like Manohar Lal Sharma, right across the world – that troubled word, “sexual”, casting a shadow so deep that it hides the “assault” part altogether. It makes people think of rape merely as some sex that just “went wrong”.

The police report of the Delhi gang rape alleges that the victim was so badly broken, one assailant “pulled her intestines from her body with his hands”, before throwing her from a moving bus.

And yet, still, everything we debate about this incident is framed around it being a sexual assault. That they attacked her below, before they attacked her above, has defined it. It’s become another argument about men and women and desire and politics and culture. Rather than what it is – what all rapes are: one human ripping another human being to pieces.

Not sexual assault. Just – assault. Not a sexual crime. Just – crime. Not rape – with all the confusions we can’t afford, can’t bear, another generation to painfully sift through, as we have had to.

Just a violence, like any other.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Unity. Not Fragmentation

I woke up today to see Julie Burchill’s very angry defence of her friend Suzanne Moore all over my Twitter timeline.  I guess, because I sometimes write about rape, I follow, and am followed by, a number of wonderful people who also write about, or care about, rape and women’s issues.  Overwhelmingly, people have been greatly offended by that article.  And rightly.  But, it gives me a big dose of the sads.  Because, however wrong much of the sentiment was, it’s so frustrating to see so many powerful, loud women (and men) take the knives out to each other, when the real enemy is the culture we live in which enables us all to be oppressed.  The culture which means that of c. 95,000 rapes per year (one every 5 and a half minutes!), only 1,070 rapists are convicted.  The culture which means that a site like needs to exist to cast a light on the everyday oppression of women.  The culture which pays lip service to the idea that women should be paid equally for work, but in which the austerity cuts hurt women most – because they are more likely to be in part time work, to need benefits to supplement their incomes, which are being cut. 

On Privilege.

Let’s get this out of the way first.  Before the internet, and various Twitterstorms (debates, conversations?), I blithely assumed that privilege was something rich people had, primarily rich, white, men.  I’m aware now that I have privilege in bucketloads.  Sometimes I read an angry polemic by someone and actually feel marginalised because of my privilege.  I am (by most people’s standards) rich – I earn a very decent living.  I went to university.  I am white.  Because of this privilege, I often feel silenced.  I mustn’t complain because others have it worse.  I have to always be aware of when I am speaking if it’s my privilege speaking.  Catilin Moran said recently in an interview that rich women don’t get raped because they can afford a taxi home.  I took a taxi home, but I was still raped.  (I wonder if the rapist would have bothered with the hour+ journey on London transport it would have taken – perhaps penury would have saved me?  Or, did he pay?).  Nice, white, middle-class girls are apparently believed and have a greater chance of getting the case to go to court, and getting a conviction.  The problem with rape justice, is apparently (if you believe so many articles and blogs) a problem for the working class, for minorities, it’s not supposed to be a problem faced by people with privilege like mine.  Except it is.  My case didn’t go to court.  Apart from the fact that financially my life is slightly more comfortable than for others I am not sure what my privilege gives me.  And, I’ve been unemployed, I’ve signed on.  I know how that feels, how you’re made to feel worthless, how it feels to try to survive on JSA only.  One day, when I was unemployed, I found myself in the City, amongst the suits and briefcases.  I felt invisible, I felt like I was trespassing where I shouldn’t be. 

And that’s the thing.  I was about 2 months’ savings away from needing to stay on friends’ sofas.  My privilege doesn’t protect me from the economy, it doesn’t protect me from being raped, and it doesn’t guarantee me justice. 

Privilege is a red herring.  What matters in these discussions and debates is empathy.  Empathy, understanding, compassion.  Privilege can give someone a different perspective, different life experiences, but it doesn’t preclude the human ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to try to understand their life experiences, their perspectives.

On Feminism.

I’m one of those women who never identified as a feminist.  Whilst I wear comfortable shoes, and I used to own a pair of dungaree shorts in my early twenties, I’ve never wanted to be identified with the hairy armpits and the mad harrigan stereotype of a feminist.  I’ve never wanted to burn my bra, or felt the need to get angry for it being a man’s world.  Life was just life, with its associated inequalities – women are sometimes discriminated against, but so are other minorities.

And then I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’.  She asked, did I have a pussy, and did I care what happened to it.  If so, I was a feminist.  And, I liked that definition.  I’m a woman, and I care what happens to me as a woman, or because I’m a woman, so I can identify with that.  But then, came the attacks from the feminists.  How dare Caitlin Moran presume to write for all women (the title of the book) when she is white and privileged?  How dare she say she doesn’t care that she doesn’t write for black women or other minorities?  People are writing about feminism Before Caitlin, and after, and calling women like me who came to feminism through ‘How to be a Woman’ ‘baby feminists’.  Well, I ain’t no baby.

I haven’t read the feminist doctrines, I haven’t ‘studied’ it as a movement.  Many of the discussions I read (via Twitter, blogs, newspapers) use an intellectual language which, despite my education, I don’t understand and isn’t familiar to me.  It’s apparently not the patriarchy at fault, it’s a kyriarchy* (which I’m informed is pronounced like biryani, ky-ri-archy, which frankly just makes me smirk a little – and not because biryani is an Indian curry, but because it’s a food stuff) but whilst I now know that’s because there are groups of men who are also oppressed (e.g. gays), and it is apparently a much more ‘helpful’ word, I don’t see it that way.  It’s a word which isn’t in common parlance, and therefore isn’t helpful in making ordinary women understand that feminism is about them.  (* from Wikipedia: It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, economic injustice, and other forms of dominating hierarchy in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalised and institutionalised.  Yep, even with that definition, it doesn’t make much sense).

I don’t identify with the word CIS to define my gender.  Julie Birchall made this point in her contentious, ugly, angry polemic.  But this, I did agree with, although certainly not the way she made it.  Julie Birchall struck a chord with me when she said the label CIS made her think of “cyph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff”.  She went into ugly, hurtful, bigoted language when she then said what she did about trans people, but she had a point about CIS.  I’m a woman, and so is a woman who was born of the male gender but has transitioned.  Your label is not mine.  But, I understand that in an intellectual debate, labels can be useful.  (For me, it’s like in kink.  I don’t really identify as submissive, or even masochist.  But, they are useful shorthand to describe the ‘bucket’ of kink that I do identify with.  But, as in the kink world, I prefer to just identify as kinky, in the actual world, I prefer to identify as a woman, and not as CIS-gendered). 

I liked @londonfeminist's first blog of 2013, a feminism 101. She boiled feminism down to “one very simple ideology: that women and men are equal.  Accept that, and whether you accept the label or not, you are a feminist.”  

The Big Feminist Issues.

Feminism has many fronts on which to fight.  Our decisions to let our lady-parts grow, trim, or wax are not the important ones (which Caitlin Moran seems to spend a lot of time on).  Whether we wear heels, or don’t is also rather irrelevant in the scheme of things.  We have to fight against a rape culture in which 1% of rapists are convicted, where institutions like the BBC, or the SWP, turn a blind eye, or sweep accusations under the carpet, where men in positions of power are excused because of the other good they do (Assange).  We have to fight so that women aren’t marginalised in party politics (local or national), on company boards, or management positions anywhere in the organisation, so that women earn equal pay for equal work, and have the option of gaining access to equal work.  We have to fight so that women aren’t forced to stay in violent relationships because the alternative is the street, to prevent the closure of refuges.  We have to fight so that women don’t have to skip food just so they can afford to feed their children.  When it comes to feminism, the big fights we have to fight are in the basics.  If feminism were put into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs* (and forgive the intellectualising here, it’s my privilege rearing it’s ugly head), we would be in the foundation layer of need – safety, security, food and shelter.  These arguments about intersectionality, these debates about language, are in the self-actualisation part of the hierarchy, at the top of the pyramid. 

Women are our own worst enemy.   I once tried to run a kink club for women, a safe space for women to play together without men.  We got it wrong with initially excluding MtF transgendered women, but the politics of it was a shitstorm.  Let me say it again, we were wrong to exclude MtF women.  We were wrong because MtF women are women.  We said we were wrong, we apologised for the hurt and upset.  But, the gender politics remained a shitstorm.  And not because of the trans issue.  Because, lesbians didn’t want to go to a place with bi women.  And then, we needed to include FtM too because the sisterhood was still supporting those who’d become men.  I will never try to run anything that is for women only again (yes, you can quote me).

In 2012 I saw two anti-rape demonstrations quagmire in politics – SlutWalk London for associating with Women Against Rape and their support for Assange (which was wrong, wrong, wrong, but it doesn’t mean you can’t support the underlying point of the march, which is against rape culture); Reclaim the Night for excluding men, and in Glasgow for apparently excluding sex workers too.  Rather than focus on the underlying message of the marches – rape is bad, don’t blame the victim, change societal norms – women are all too happy to attack the mistakes that the organisers make, and undermine the message.

Here’s a controversial thought.  Feminists are wasting their time (and anger) attacking the symptoms of inequality.  Whilst women are paid less than men for the same job, whilst the cuts hurt women most, whilst 99% of rapists go free and 1 in 3 women suffers from domestic violence in their lifetime, feminists seem to waste a hell of a lot of time worrying about pink toys for girls in shop windows.  Pink toys for girls are there because people buy them – it’s called a free market.  Pink toys for girls don’t cause discrimination against women.  Most men don’t cause discrimination against women.  I think ALL of the men I know would agree that women deserve equal pay and that rape & violence against women is wrong.  I don’t know what the answer is, but it isn’t to be found in campaigning against pink toys, and it isn’t to be found in attacking the women who try to raise awareness of the bigger issues through demonstrations & marches, but might get their ‘inclusivity’ agenda wrong. 

Somewhere, hidden beneath the bigoted language in Julie Birchall’s defence of Suzanne Moore, and in Suzanne Moore’s original two articles, is a plea to not get caught up in arguments about language.  When Suzanne Moore says “So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little ... irrelevant”, she is not saying that transgender issues are irrelevant to the debate.  I believe she is saying that there are bigger wars to be fought – we have to fight the system that marginalises us all, not by focusing on our genitals, but by focusing on the causes of the things that oppress us. 

I loved reading Jane Fae’s balanced, bile-free, response to the whole thing this morning.  A piece written from a place of great personal hurt, but without recrimination or hate.   We do, as people, not just as feminists, have to be aware of “the insensitivity to how an audience may feel about an argument and the language used, the idea that it’s all about content and nothing to do with feelings” and yet we also need “to ask everyone spewing forth anger and bile in this context to stop and think about what, exactly you are doing”. Jane quotes Bidisha* who “observed a couple of years back that she did her best to avoid this sort of argument with other feminists, because women as a whole had far greater issues to deal with and didn’t need to be wasting time and energy fighting with one another.”  And we do.  There are a bunch of status-quo misogynistic men rubbing their hands with glee at this latest example of in-fighting, knowing that they are safe, their institutions, their culture, is safe, whilst we demonstrate that we don’t have solidarity, that we aren’t united against them.   

The loud feminists have a bigger responsibility than the rest of us.  They have a platform.  Newspapers and magazines give them a voice.  Their voices are influential.  They do need to be more circumspect in what they are saying, not exclude the already excluded, not marginalise the already marginalised.  They have a privilege which they shouldn’t abuse, which is dangerous when they do abuse.  We’ve seen it with Moran (victim blaming), and now we see it with Burchill too.  What the ‘loud feminists’ need to do is apologise, admit their fallibilities, learn from criticism (even when that criticism feels like cyber-bullying) and turn the anger towards the patriarchy (kyriarchy?) and not against the smaller voices trying to be heard.  We need to demonstrate that we are united, not fragmented.  Because when we are united, when our anger is directed outwards towards the cultures & institutions which oppress us, then we will be invincible and we will make great changes.  Whilst our anger is directed inwards, whilst we are fragmented and divided, we are not changing anything. 

Links to Articles.

Suzanne Moore’s defence of her original mis-placed remark about Brazilian Transsexuals.

Julie Birchall’s defence of Suzanne Moore (which should have a trigger warning for pure hate).

Jane Fae’s personal view of the events.

My plea to Caitlin Moran, who fell off her pedestal with her victim blaming comments late last year: (yes, another plug, still so saddened that she hasn’t acknowledged it, even if by blocking me…).