Kelly Rose Pflug-Back wrote this piece that appeared on The Feminist Wire. Then it appeared on Huffpo. Then it appeared within my social media.
Then I went crazy.
So here’s where I present my creds, right? Here’s where I state that I’m part of the estimated one out of every four women who have been sexually assaulted. And yes, it’s true. Multiple times, in multiple ways, and with multiple accompanying levels of other trauma that were inflicted at the same time.
It’s also true that that does not define me. Nor does it define my sexuality. Nor does it define my ability to have a healthy sexuality. And frankly, I’m kind of getting sick of this presumption that it does, or that it should. Or that there’s something wrong about me if it doesn’t.
The assumption that all women should be treated as victims of sexual assault, or even that all women who have been victimized by sexual assault want to be labeled as victims of sexual assault forever and ever is a pretty big assumption.
It’s not all of me, and it seems part and parcel of the kyriarchal worldview that the actions of those in oppressive power positions leave no option for those who aren’t in those power positions to be nothing else but receiving vessels of the oppression. As I said angrily after reading this article, I am more than the sculpture that was left behind after the wax and mold of the assaults have been removed. I resent the implication that it was a molding act at all for me. I don’t resent it if it was such to someone else, but for me, I resent it.
Culturally we do not expect a man who has been held up at gunpoint and robbed to feel defined by that forever. Nor do we expect them to always live in fear. Or to always need to be approached with caution. Or expect them to want to be called victims of gun violence forever. Yet we do so with women who have lived through sexual assault. We expect them to feel broken. To feel as though all sex is suspect. To have flashbacks if touched wrong, perhaps, and then we give them the title sexual assault survivor forever.
That doesn’t really work for everyone. It certainly doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to be treated with kid gloves like I am a wounded creature ready to bolt at the first sign of a trigger warning. There’s a level of condescension in the assumption that you know how I feel that is pretty intolerable for me.
I caution that I do not feel it is wrong to feel any of these large spectrum of things, from the man who was held up at gunpoint having flashbacks to the woman (or man, because hey, it happens to men too) who was sexually assaulted to feel however they feel about it.
Maybe instead of assuming that there is one right way to behave, we treat people as the individuals we all are. There definitely is a universality in the spectrum that is the human existence, and common experiences often tie us together, but our actions and reactions are so much larger than a simple narrative gives room for. Let’s start actually asking people how they feel and how they want to be treated, and give room for any answer to be acceptable, even if it doesn’t fall within what we can personally do. There’s a few billion people on this planet. We don’t need everybody to treat everybody like lovers, best friends, family, co-workers, or even acquaintances. There’s this concept of boundaries within psychology wherein we expect different levels of deference and awareness from different people. Boundaries are often some of the first things to blur when we start having any sort of trauma or tough time, mentally. This is sort of my plea to get back to some level of them.
If we are coming to a place of acceptance that beauty is a spectrum, can we also come to a place of acceptance that sexuality is a spectrum, and that also the sexuality and psyche of those who have lived through sexual assault is also a spectrum?
If the point of feminism is to open the door of possible expressions of human existence, rather than closing them, should we not also leave this door open?