trauma

I can’t not talk about Aziz Ansari

[CW: this post talks about rape with varying levels of detail and specificity. Most links have the potential to be very triggering as well.]

Of all the celebrity-predator revelations this year, this is the one that’s made me feel the need to write again. I have… So. Much. I want to say here, I’m afraid I’ll make a mess of it all, but here we go.

I know exactly what every moment of that date must have felt like, because I have been in that same position. More times than I can count.

It’s a complicated thing, being assaulted by someone you’re actually kind of into, someone you actually kind of want to get it on with. Because you don’t want them to stop wanting to get it on with you, you just want them to pay attention and slow down, and actually show some sign that they are interested in your enjoyment, and not just following a script for their own pleasure. You just want them to let you catch up.

It’s even more confusing when they keep telling you they care. When their words tell you the things you want and need to be true, when you trust, or at least trusted and want to keep trusting, that this person is good and does care, that they’ll realize how uncomfortable they’re making you and stop, that any moment now they’ll stop doing these weirdly awful, uncomfortable things and maybe you’ll actually be able to both get on the same page.

But their actions? Their actions are relentless. Their actions barely even pause while they promise to give you time to relax, while they promise that they care about your comfort and enjoyment.

It’s a merry-go-round of emotions, and it’s a hard one to get off of. Grace escaped before “”real”” “”sex”” happened, I guess? But if you somehow think that makes any of it any better, I don’t think your worldview is salvageable.

I could have written this story, with another man in Ansari’s place. Except, fuck, I believed my rapist *loved* me. He believed it, too.

I also could have written this story. If you don’t quite get what was wrong with what Ansari did, read this piece, too. It’s important.

Also, read the application of the tea and consent analogy to the story.

I could have written these stories.

And, a few years ago? Reading these stories would have shattered me into a thousand pieces. Left me dissociated for weeks, quietly rolling through or fending off flashbacks while maintaining a calm exterior. Going through the motions of my routines without actually being productive in any aspect of my life.

Reading about Ansari, Sunday morning? I was upset, I can tell you that. I was angry, but productively so.

I have found myself reminded of weirdly specific moments in my relationship with my rapist, but I haven’t been overwhelmed by them.

I also didn’t immediately use the word rape when I was talking about it.

It wasn’t until I was a half a dozen comments deep, correcting some dude who was talking about awkwardness and suggesting that Ansari had ‘gotten himself into’ an ‘awful situation’. It did seem like our differences were actually semantic, and he was quick to acknowledge that yes, Ansari had absolutely repeatedly assaulted this woman, and that yes, it was clear that the only thing he cared about was getting laid, that he didn’t care about this woman at all beyond that and did not care to see her as a fully realized person with her own thoughts and feelings.

He was still framing Ansari as the only relatable character in the story, practically erasing the woman as much Ansari had himself, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Eventually, I said:

you’re using a lot of words to say ‘he clearly prioritized getting his end in above all else and doesn’t care whether he rapes people to get it.’ That is literally description of a rapist. He is a rapist. You can just say that and be done with it and not worry so much about the awful situations rapists get themselves into (the poor misguided dears)

It wasn’t until that moment I’d felt ok using the word for this situation. And I know that there are people who still aren’t comfortable with it.

Why? Because his penis never made it into her vagina? Really? After his penis had been forced into her hands over and over again, after she’d put his penis in her mouth without wanting to, after his fingers were shoved down her throat again and again, that’s the thing that’s going to tip this experience over into something violent and traumatic?

Really?

It’s particularly telling to me that people who subsequently turned up in that thread to question my use of the word ‘rapist’ never objected to my repeated use of the word ‘assault’ to describe his actions. He assaulted her sexually, repeatedly and in various ways over the course of more than an hour, and yet somehow we all still hesitate to cry ‘rape’.

That’s the power of rape culture, right there. That is how we are silenced.

And I guess that’s why I needed to write about this.

I’ve been… pretty quiet about rape for quite some time. I haven’t written anything here about #metoo, or about the cascade of outed predators in Hollywood in the ensuing months. I also haven’t said much (or anything?) about it on my personal facebook page.

It’s not that I’ve been totally silent. I’ve participated in comment threads and conversations in other places. I just… I don’t even know. With #metoo, I was unreasonably flummoxed by specificity of it being about women, and though I know many non-binary people who rightfully found spaces for themselves there, I wasn’t comfortable with doing so for myself. I also just….

Look, I have done this. There are post on this blog that were incredibly painful for me to write. There are details and stories about my own experiences that I have shared even when doing so made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. When every word coming out of fingertips felt like it cost me dearly, but I knew that not getting them out would cost me more.

I’ve cut myself open and shown you all my insides. I guess I did so a few years too early? But I’ve also healed from it. Because of it. And I don’t want to keep reopening those wounds.

I don’t mean I want to forget or stop talking or caring about these things. I guess I don’t really know what I mean. I’ll keep writing about this stuff when I have the energy to, I guess. And I won’t sweat it when I don’t.

But if you come away from this post with anything, please let it be an understanding that this story about Aziz Ansari is the story of a rape. And that anyone who does those things is a rapist.

What I’m talking about when I talk about being triggered

For the entire time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve avoided explicitly referencing my own personal experiences of triggers. I do this because I don’t have any diagnoses pertaining to the things I experience as triggers, which means I don’t have a name for what is being triggered. I can’t say that my PTSD was triggered, because I don’t think I have PTSD, for instance. And to some extent, I think it is rhetorically important to be able to what is being triggered when we talk about triggers, so that people stop hearing “I felt uncomfortable” when someone says “this triggered me”.

When I say I was triggered by something, I don’t mean I felt uncomfortable. I don’t mean it made me unhappy. I mean it caused a psychological and bodily reaction that made it impossible for me to function in the ways I normally do, to be effective in my life, and to experience positive emotions for hours or days afterward. And I want to take a minute today to talk about exactly what it feels like to be in my head and my body when something happens that triggers me around my own trauma.

So, here are some of the phrases I have been writing down to describe my experience to myself at times I have been triggered:
– In the moment, (when I first read or hear a triggering phrase – it is usually words with me), it feels like an electric shock running through my entire body. Everything freezes, and the rest of the world kind of just goes away. My body responds as if I am being attacked, as if I am under threat, and I freeze. Because that is what I do.
– Then I just shut down. The world stops seeming real. I am no longer inhabiting most of my body; I’ve just sort of taken up shop somewhere behind my eyes where I can keep an eye on things without having to actually feel any of it. I am watching the world through a window, on a screen.
– When things are particularly bad, my disconnection from my body can extend to the point where I feel like the parts of my body aren’t even connected to each other any more. I can’t integrate them into a whole, and it seems like a kind of miracle that I can coordinate all of these foreign parts to do something as complicated as walk across a room. It feels like at any moment the whole thing could just fall apart.
– It can be very hard to talk. I can’t find words at all some of the time, unless I am following a routine script. I can handle simple work conversations that I have every day. I can talk about the weather or whatever. But my voice sounds like a robot inside my head, and I can’t shake the feeling that it is only by sheer luck that the sounds coming out of the mouth that I am monitoring but don’t really feel in control of are approximately what I wanted them to be.
– Often, I feel mild vertigo, or like I am about to faint. I know that I’m not going to faint, but the ways in which I feel not-quite-in-control of my body, and the way that thoughts start coming through my head slowly (One. Word. At. A. Time.) feels a lot like the moment before passing out. Except it just goes on, and on.
– I feel like I might forget to breathe. Or forget how to breathe. Or simply that all of the sensory data that is inundating me will suffocate me.
– Throughout all of this, I find it very hard to actually keep paying attention to the world around me. Literally everything in the whole world seems like too much. Too much light, too much sound, too many people, too many demands. If I am lucky enough to be at home, I just won’t bother. A huge proportion of my mental energy during this entire process is trying to force me to look at the memories that have been brought up by the trigger, and I will have to do it eventually. What this looks like from the outside is me completely zoning out, staring into the middle distance, and not moving at all for an indeterminate period of time. It could be minutes, or it could be hours. I can’t even tell you what my brain is doing when this happens, and I am always surprised by how much time has passed when I snap out of it.

I have gotten better, over the years, at making these episodes shorter than they used to be. I know what things help to get me out of the loops I get caught in, and I have ways of getting myself to re-inhabit my own body. But I still get triggered on a reasonably regular basis. And I am more vulnerable to being re-triggered in the days following a recent trigger episode. And even when I am not re-triggered, the experience of having been triggered creates extra vigilance around the people, spaces, and communities where I have been triggered before.|

Also, I am very, *very* good at hiding most of this from the people around me. They will notice that I am not quite myself, maybe, if they are people I generally feel safe with.

It is so fucking exhausting. And it is absolutely real. And it is not about my fucking ‘discomfort’.