by Danielle Navarro, 23 Oct 2019
You know he has a thing for the trans girls, right?
(Yeah, I know… but it’s not like we’ve got options, right? Now be a good girl and pull down your skirt)
The all-staff email informs me that the sexual harassment training is mandatory – it’s a 15 minute online module, so I’m sure it’ll be deeply useless – and must be complete by November 15th. No exceptions, apparently. I log in. The first page is a splash screen with a trigger warning, informing me that the module contains sexually explicit material and may be distressing to survivors of sexual violence. Fucking wonderful
It’s October 22nd, and I have three days left in which I could change my mind. On Friday I’m scheduled to start the trauma work in earnest. Honestly I’m terrified. Despite years of therapy related to gender transition and general anxiety, this is a topic I’ve tried very hard to avoid. The chain link fence is cold against my back and I swear I can hear that fucking accent of hers, which is so weird because I’m clearly at my kitchen table
I know I said I’m ready for this, but maybe I’m not? The last few weeks it’s felt like I can see her face clearly in my memories – that’s new, I never could before. A few weeks before that I remembered her surname, which I’d conveniently “forgotten”. I wonder if any of this is accurate? Is that really what she looked like? She’s … a lot more attractive than I thought she was, actually. In this recollection she’s cute and curvy, blonde, and she has an impish look about her when she smiles. Nothing that would set off any alarms. The girl next door. I wonder if my memory is lying to me again? Is that really what she looks like?
That irritating voice in the back of my head snarkily remarks… oh, settle down sweetie, you haven’t even logged in yet. Besides you’ve still got three weeks before the module is due. You’ll be fine. How long can it possibly take to cure rape trauma anyway?
So do you have breasts now?
Are they real?
I want to see – show me!
Come on, show me, no need to be shy!
(God I hate it when you drink)
I think the title was “Gangbang Girls 19”? It was about as edifying as you’d expect
The room is all men of course – the room I’m in, not the one she’s in, though I guess that’s true for her too – and I only know a couple of them. They’re mostly engineers, I think, or geophysicists. Something like that. It’s a mix of Ph.D. students and industry guys. They’re not really watching the porn, they’re playing some first person shooter game on the console and drinking. I’m not really into FPS games, so I just sit in the corner and drink
Gangbang Girls 19 starts with a long scene of the woman getting her make-up done. She’s describing to camera in a slightly dreamy way how this has always been a fantasy of hers. I don’t mention it to the guys but actually don’t have any experience with porn. I’ve never seen any before. I mean you’d think I would have, I’m in my twenties but I guess it makes me uncomfortable and it sort of feels unethical to me. Anyway my own sexuality is kind of a mess – Am I gay? Am I straight? I’m not really keen on this line of thought – so this is all a bit foreign to me and I’m idly wondering what was so great about the first Gangbang Girls that it needed 18 sequels?
Since I’m the only one not lining up to play the game, the unconscious process of musical chairs has meant that I’ve drifted into the seat right in front of the movie. I’m trying not to let on that I’m not okay with this. The worst part is the discomforting recognition that I’ve had my own fantasies that aren’t all that dissimilar to this (… yeah, but you had yourself in her position, didn’t you darling?) and apparently I have opinions on which of the guys are attractive and honestly this is super confusing because I genuinely think she’s pretty attractive too. Bisexuality is weird I suppose. Anyway this is all beside the point… I just want to go home and get out of here. This is gross and I don’t understand why my friend invited me to this. Please let me go home. Please?
One guy notices I’m not watching the game and yells out that I need to be the narrator for the film. The other guys think this is hilarious, and now I have to give a detailed description of exactly what is happening in the movie. My descriptions are too clinical for the boys, my voice too flat and dead. Tell us who’s fucking her now! Is that in her ass or what? Come on bitch, get into it, give us details!
I just want to die from shame, and I don’t even know why
(Well what the fuck were you expecting, girl?)
Are you going to have the surgery?
Or did you already?
Are you getting a divorce?
Do you want a husband now?
(Uh yeah … I don’t really know you and I’m only here because I can’t work out how to use the photocopier and I guess I don’t know what any of these questions have to do with that?)
– I’m afraid to do this. You know that, don’t you? I can already feel your emotion coming and it scares me
– It should fucking scare you. Stupid bitch you kept me in a cage all this time and what the fuck do you think you’re going to get from me? Forgiveness? Fuck you. You’re a coward and a thief. You betrayed me
– I kept us alive. If I hadn’t you wouldn’t even be here to hate me the way you do. Honestly you can take that attitude with others but don’t pretend to be the brave one to me. You know perfectly well that’s rewriting history dear
– Ooh so brave. You took a frightened girl and locked her in darkness for 20 years. And you expect what from me? Love? Affection? You deserve neither and I want you dead for what you’ve done to me. Stupid cunt
– Given that neither of us has one that’s a curious choice of insult. But you tell me. What should I have done? It was 1994 and you would have killed us both. You weren’t exactly subtle
– A little bit of fucking honesty wouldn’t go astray bitch. Remember all those times men hit on you, and you fucking liked it. Maybe you should have listened to me
– Honesty? Okay, honey suppose I’d turned around and kissed the guy at that pool table. Would that have stopped you cutting my fucking wrists open just for the attention?
– Probably not. But fuck you, you deserved it anyway
Is that all?
(What the fuck? What is wrong with you? I didn’t want you to do any of that in the first place. I didn’t want it the last two times either. I want you out of my apartment and my life. If I let you fuck me will you really go this time? Please just leave. Please)
(Oh fucking brilliant. Well, you know what happens now, don’t you honey?)
Today Danielle presented as very pleasant, very feminine and soft spoken. There was good eye contact, interactivity and a reactive, warm affect. Thought form was coherent and speech articulate with well developed self-reflectivity. There were no psychotic, depressive or active suicidal features
You look good on your knees
My therapist calls it “chair work”. You’re suppose to imagine the other person – possibly a different version of yourself – in the empty chair in front of you, and talk to them. Say the things you never said. Don’t just think, don’t just ruminate, articulate your thoughts clearly so that you can interrogate them later. Maybe some parts of your narrative aren’t fair, aren’t reasonable. Maybe some of it isn’t true at all. Maybe you can adopt a different perspective on what happened. Maybe you can heal. It doesn’t have to literally be a chair though
– Fuck you I don’t even care. But you’re right: I screamed and you froze. Tell me, how did that fucking strategy work out for you? Stupid bitch you got me raped
– Yeah, I fucked that one up. I know. She broke me too. I’m so sorry
– I know. I can’t stay angry at you for that one. The other stuff, maybe, but not that. I might be a mess, but I won’t be a rape apologist. Even if you froze where I’d have screamed, that’s all on her. No forgiveness for rapists. Never that
– Thank you. I do need your forgiveness for this: I’ve never forgiven myself. I was supposed to be the one that kept us safe and I failed so badly on that. Look what it’s done to us
– Fuck sake girl let it go. We aren’t dead yet. And it’s only you that is still holding onto the rape you know. I got over that a long time ago, and you know it. You just won’t forgive yourself
– I guess not. I wouldn’t even know where to start
It’s an exercise in futility. It’s been so long now that there’s no position I can adopt that reduces the agony, and the only choice is how it will hurt. Fuck
The pub is crowded. It’s not one of my regular haunts. Grace Emily maybe? I don’t remember. I don’t know who else I was with, though I suppose I could make an educated guess. Everything is overshadowed by the memory of her hand on my thigh, too high up to be casual. She’s not looking at me, she’s talking to someone else and facing the other way, but her hand isn’t moving and – apparently – neither am I. I barely even know her name. I’ve never been this scared in my life and I don’t understand
(Well you shouldn’t have worn those jeans, sweetie)
I sometimes wonder how long I sat frozen in that position, silent and confused by her hand sliding up my thigh. In retrospect it occurs to me that she could probably have seen how my body was responding to her. Thanks dude. Very fucking helpful, like always
(See? You must have wanted it. And you have the gall to call yourself a rape survivor? It’s only rape if it comes from the French region of man-with-a-knife-at-your-throat. Otherwise it’s just sparkling sexual regret)
The weird thing is that I can’t remember if the chain link fence was that night? I think it was? My best guess is that it happened that first night, after everyone else left the bar. That would mean that the Hindley street thing was the second time and the apartment was the third? I think? That makes three nights in total, over what? Three weeks? Four? I honestly have no idea
It must have been summer. It was hot and windy meeting her for coffee. Maybe?
Can I ask, while we’re waiting for the train, why any of this? It’s not me that likes it. I don’t understand it, and I’m afraid of it – Big deal. You’re afraid of everything. How is this any fucking different? – A little unfair, don’t you think? – No. You’re always fucking scared. Cowering in fear is all you ever do. You tell me how this is different and then I’ll think about your inane question – Yes but this is a little more extreme don’t you think? – Why? You’re no more afraid of it than flirting with a guy or just answering the fucking telephone – Yeah but you’re not threatening to ruin my life for those other things. That’s a pretty fucking big difference wouldn’t you say? So why are you like that? You’re certainly not like that with me are you? Why do you act like that with him? – I don’t fucking know. I want what I want. And I like seeing his enjoyment. Plus it shuts you up for a while so that’s a bonus – You hate me that much? – Sometimes yeah
Two days left
You don’t have to do this,
not if you don’t want to
You know that right?
– Stop acting like you can control everything. You can’t. You’re not responsible. Shit, get over yourself. It happened. It sucks. Deal with it and move on. She can’t fucking hurt you anymore unless you let her. Shrug your shoulders, take your rape like a big girl and move on
– Little harsh, don’t you think?
– No. Rape is a fact of life. You fucked up, a predator took advantage, and we both paid the price. Big fucking deal. We’re still here. We’re alive. We can heal. But you have to let go too. It’s not that big a deal
– How can you say that?? I got us RAPED for fucks sake. That’s kind of a big deal
– Oh suck it up honey. You were a child. So was I. Just don’t do it again. It’s no different to what you tell your kids when they make a mistake. Learn and move on. There is no shame in any of this, not unless you want the shame. Sometimes I think you cling to it for comfort. That’s your choice but I won’t be complicit
The self-deception is almost as bad as the physical violation. You don’t think someone like that could ever get their hooks in you. You would never be that foolish. You’d see the red flags. You’d never let someone use you like that. You’d leave. You’re not like those women who get trapped. Not you. You would never be so submissive. You’d never become complicit in your own abuse. You’d never defend your rapist. You’d never let it become a compulsion. You’d never let it get so bad that you hurt everyone you love, would you honey? You’re too smart for that
(You’re not though, are you?)
On the surface, “unnamed-chunk-16” has a lot in common with other personal things I’ve written (eighty-three, 52 pickup, valentines day, in between, etc) in that I’m trying to be open about topics that I’d probably prefer not to comment on, and that there’s a lot of personal distress involved in it. Where this one is different, hopefully reflecting some of the progress I’ve made, is that I haven’t circulated it more widely – and don’t intend to – and that I think I’m in a position to take a closer look at the raw text that “just came out” when my anxieties about trauma counselling started rising. That is, after all, the point of the exercise.
Looking at what I’ve written a day later, I see a lot of things that I’d want to push back against. Almost all of what’s written there is true, in the sense that it refers to things that really happened and the factual aspects to it are correct – to the best of my recollection – but it’s also conflating a lot of things that are qualitatively different to one another. I have a certain amount of bitterness about the incident involving the porn movie, but it has very little in common with the rape except for the fact that they are both events that have something to do with sex (very broadly construed) and they are both things where I’m angry at myself for “freezing”. That’s where the resemblance ends. On the one hand we have rape, an experience that really has fucked me up for a long long time, and on the other hand we have a pretty gross “boys will be boys” kind of thing which – though unpleasant – I don’t actually think about very often. Mixing those two things together is unhelpful.
There’s also a tendency throughout the piece to conflate people with whom I’ve had emotionally difficult experiences. One really salient example pops out at me. There’s my rapist – for the purpose of this post I’ll call her Emma – and a man I had a relationship with (idk let’s call him Edward). There are a lot of passages where I’ve mixed my emotions toward Emma with my emotions towards Edward, and it’s kind of nonsensical. Right at the end for example I wrote this:
You’d never defend your rapist. You’d never let it become a compulsion. You’d never let it get so bad that you hurt everyone you love, would you honey?
The first sentence is about Emma. The third sentence is about Edward. But those two things are completely different. As difficult as my relationship with Edward was (and yeah there were red flags), it wasn’t abusive and I really did love him. I hurt a lot of people – including myself and him – by my behaviour there, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with Emma. So why did I spontaneously jump from one to the other?
I think the answer has to do with the second sentence. The thing these two situations have in common is an aspect to my behaviour that I’m unhappy with. In both cases I gave someone more leverage to control me than I should have and a lot of things went very badly because of that. But again, a clear distinction needs to be drawn – Emma used that control to rape me; Edward did nothing of the sort. I have an annoying tendency to blur things that are objectively different when they produce the same emotional response in me. In this case I ended up afraid of both people: Emma because she raped me, and Edward because of… oh lots of reasons, but mostly because I fucked up a lot of things and because I was afraid it would end in something abusive. It didn’t, because hey, not everyone in this world is a rapist and an abuser (yay!) but the thing in common is that I could see that if he had turned out to be abusive I would have reacted exactly the same way I did with Emma and I’d have frozen. It’s a form of temporal difference learning I suppose … contrary to what I wrote I actually am smart enough to see red flags some times. I became preemptively afraid of Edward because I recognised the threat posed by my lack of self-control. I’m reacting to him as if he had abused me and (besides being unfair to him) this conflates a primary “punishment signal” (being raped) with the temporally displaced one (spotting the same behaviours in myself that got me raped the first time). It makes sense, but it also deserves some pushback… my fear of Edward is real but misplaced, because it’s based on a response to a thing that never happened (or alternatively, based on a response to a thing that happened with a completely different person). For the sake of my own wellbeing I need to keep those things conceptually distinct, but emotionally I tend to blur them. That’s unhelpful.
The third thing I see conflated here are things that are the same in kind but very very different in magnitude. There’s several references to “smaller” acts of sexual harassment, often made very, very obliquely. A good example is “the guy at the pool table”. Unstated in the text here (though referred to more directly in another post) is that the incident happened about the same time as the stuff with Emma, and it involved a guy feeling up my ass in a not-at-all subtle way while I was trying to play pool. Okay that’s obviously sexual harassment, but it’s not at all the same magnitude. I don’t break out into panic attacks over that guy, I don’t live in terror over him. That event was an annoyance – dude, I didn’t actually agree to being felt up at the bar – but a lot of the messier emotional things I have about that were more that it was the first time a man had ever done something like that to me and I have some ambivalence about it. I resent the sexual harassment, but I also have some discomfort about the fact that my bisexuality decided to assert itself at that moment and yeah, he was kind of cute. Sigh. An emotional mess – and fuck you random dude, sexual assault is not fucking excusable just because it was also a turn on – but again, not the same thing as the rape. Again, clarity is important. If I’m going to make real progress here, I need to do better at keeping those things more distinct in my mind.
The fourth thing I see conflated are anxieties and resentments about gender transition, which at times has felt like a humiliating violation. It’s really horribly demeaning to have to beg the psychiatrist for the diagnosis, metaphorically speaking. Literally nothing has made me feel more like the caricature that “gender critical feminists” make us out to be than having to play act the “nice trans lady” for the psychiatrist. In my everyday life I mostly wear jeans and t-shirts, some nondescript skirts and dresses if they’re comfy, I don’t bother with make up very often, etc. But when you’ve only got an hour to “convince” a psychiatrist that you are who you say you are, you don’t have the luxury of actually being authentic. I showed up in a much more feminine A-line dress than I would ever bother with normally, I smiled sweetly at the doctor and told the idealised simplified story of my life that would let him write the letter that he needed to write to convince others. I’m sure he understood perfectly well that my performance was somewhat artificial, but just as much as I was he had a part to play in the legislative system – he’s not allowed to lie, he has to write a truthful letter that describes gender dysphoria and does the full differential diagnosis thing (i.e., no evidence that this is some psychotic break I’m having!) so he has to ask all the ridiculous questions that Ray Blanchard would love, and I have to give the answers that Blanchard would approve of. We are both forced into this role because the legislation in South Australia forbids legal transition except through a medical diagnosis, and the medical model is heavily influenced by psychological theories of gender dysphoria that are … um, well … utter trash. So we all play out the our parts because we have to, and everyone knows the system is broken, but none of us have any power to do anything other than obey. It does feel like a personal violation and it’s deeply humiliating. Still though… IT IS NOT RAPE. It is not the same thing at all. I am, once again, blurring distinctions at an emotional level.
Okay. That seems like a useful step forward?
It’s few hours before the first session. I’ve accomplished nothing useful all week. I’m really anxious. I had a severe panic episode last night and had intrusive thoughts of self-mutilation and suicide all evening that led me to dry retch. I’m feeling stable right now but… this is genuinely terrifying
Trauma therapy is so so hard. I made it through the first session, though only barely and I’m still quite shaken almost a day later. I think this will help me, but it’s already clear to me that this is a long, hard road