Courage with a Pen: Fighting Rape Culture with Writing


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

As I write this, my eyes burn with fatigue.

My body is tired, but my spirit and mind are alert, yet bothered by both past and recent events.

It all started earlier this week when I hung out with a friend of mine.  While we were talking, I found out that a local radical we both dated moderated a discussion about misogyny in the Rochester radical community.

Needless to say, I was floored and somewhat sickened by this piece of information.  The guy in question not only uses a well-known community space and political events to cruise for find potential sex partners, but uses poly and labels such as Pansexual and Demisexual as an excuse to sleep with them. In fact, he is one of the reasons why I don’t attend that space.

I knew this because he and I dated for three weeks.  He approached me after an organization meeting and I thought he was genuinely interested in me. I found out over the course of time, however, that he was more comfortable being a “friend with benefits” than my long-term partner.  This was AFTER I shared with him my history with sexual trauma.

Around the same time, pictures, news articles, and think pieces about Brock Turner continuously showed up in my newsfeed. Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who was arrested and sentenced to six months in county jail for raping an unconscious young woman last year. I went through a plethora of emotions as his blank expression and blood shot eyes stared back at me time and again, burning into a mind already fogged by medication-induced insomnia.  His father’s letter and the judge’s leniency on the Turner further perplexed and angered me due to the gross lack of accountability.

In addition to all of this, a friend of mine spoke up against their rapist, a prominent Black radical in their community.  Though this young man violated them, it was my friend who was banned from Facebook for forty-eight hours for just posting a picture of their perpetrator!  What bothered me was that they were one of many who were sexually assaulted by an activist and/or pillar of the community.

So between this fact, the constant coverage of the Stanford rape case, learning of the hypocritical behavior of the so-called radical I dated last month, and the lack of adequate sleep, I broke down crying.  This recent chain of events pushed me back to Saturday, February 7, 2015 when I traveled to Peekskill, New York to visit Alec and Sharon, a poly couple I met online a year prior.  What was was supposed to be our last romantic weekend together turned out to be one of the most traumatizing.  This couple not only joked about me being dead, but crossed boundaries that involved Alec hitting my body with a crop and threatening to hit me in the face with it.  To this day, I can’t talk about that night without having panic attacks and flashbacks.

Without feeling ashamed.

The shame was one of the reasons why I remained silent about the assault in Peekskill for the most part. In fact, this was the reason why I kept quiet about how I was treated by the local activist I dated.  And I thought that just keeping quiet and going about my life, would let forget what happened.  Forget about all of them.

But I can’t.  My own PTSD won’t allow me to.  The flashbacks, panic attacks, and wave of emotions won’t let them get away with it—won’t grant me the desire to distance myself from the fact that I allowed myself to succumb to my self-blame and their gaslighting.

So as exhausted as I am, I write this passage because I’m mentally and emotionally done with seeing victims of sexual assault not believed by the media and judicial system.  Done with hearing stories about perpetrators in radical clothing lingering around within the community to somehow seek sexual gratification and then have the nerve to occupy spaces not created for them.  Done with domineering sexual perpetrators using the polyamorous lifestyle to traumatize others.

In other words, I am done with rape culture.

And I’m done shielding myself from it.  That’s why I have my pen, my laptop, and my books at my disposal—so these tools can be utilized to at least talk about what rape culture is doing to people and to our society.  I cannot and will not allow my perpetrators and ex-partners to frighten me or continue to get away with how they treated me and possibly others.  Writing is my way of holding them accountable for what they have done.  And if someone reads this and relates to it somehow, then my experiences served a purpose.

 

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Love Has Everything to Do with It


I just want to say to women, ‘Be yourself – it’s the inner beauty that counts. You are your own best friend, the key to your own happiness, and as soon as you understand that – and it takes a few heartbreaks – you can be happy.’

–Cherie Lunghi, actress

 

I’ve been trying to find love for as long as I can remember.

In fact, I’ve been searching since the first grade.  I recall a boy in my class named Jeremy blowing kisses at me and giving me pet names like “baby” while I giggle innocently.  The excitement and honor of being someone’s beloved is exhilarating for a seven-year-old kid, given the fact that my parents don’t know about my boyfriend.

Fast forward to my adulthood.  That giddy feeling associated with having a love interest has never gone away.  I still get swept up in the electric intensity that comes with new relationship energy.  When I’m with that person, I think about them, their feel of their hand against my skin, the exhilaration that rushes through my body when their lips touch mine as they smear my lipstick.  The way we exchange glances as if we’re the only two people in the room.

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I love every moment of these encounters, yet hate them at the same time.  As much as I enjoy the chemistry I experience when me and the potential partner are near each other, I know that it will dissipate as quickly as it has started.  Because once the brain settles and the dopamine decreases, reality sets in and I realize that the person I’ve fallen for is a mass illusion.  And I tend to keep it going by becoming some sort of chameleon, molding myself into anything my crush is into at the time—or try to anyway.  Regardless of my discomfort, I would just follow their lead in hopes of getting companionship.

An example of this is me trying my hands at “being poly.”  I would date poly people—usually someone with a primary partner—and pose as a complacent, open-minded secondary.  I’d tell my potentials that I’m willing to work around their time schedule and that of their partner’s.  That I’m ok with seeing them once or twice a week and that it’s perfectly fine with them having partners outside of the relationship even though we’re dating.

The truth, though, is that I don’t even have the patience or mindset to be a secondary partner.  If I’m going to be honest with myself, I am a very much a monogamous woman. By the end of the day, I don’t even see myself with multiple people (when in a romantic relationship with a poly person, they are the ONLY one I’m intimate with).  Despite knowing this fact, I would continue to play this role in hopes that I would get a relationship out of it.  Friends worry about me, telling me that it may not be the best idea to date poly men, but I brush it off and assure them that I’m perfectly ok with participating in this soon-to-be dysfunctional arrangement.

Alas, the typical result is my continuously falling for and chasing after the emotionally unattached poly nerdy guy who would rather dip their entire selves into the pool of poly fuckery than establish an actual relationship with me.  What’s worse is that I’ve become attached to them within moments of them telling me that I shouldn’t have expectations.  Because the feelings are intense on my end still, I do and say whatever I need to in order make them stay. When I don’t get my way, I personalize it, thinking I’ve done something wrong.  Or become envious of the person who has the same type of relationship I desire to have.  Or depressed to the point of having suicide ideations.

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Depression.  Art by Paul Vice Juhlin

This has happened a few times and the situation begins the same: I develop an instant crush on someone who spend their time with me, tell me what I want to hear, imagine myself being with them even if they’re poly. The raw intensity quickly fades on their end when I express that I will ultimately want more, but continues for me.  My stomach is tied in knots as I cry about them not wanting me until a friend acts as a voice of reason, making me snap out of it.

Repeat.

I don’t even know how any of this nonsense started.  I DO acknowledge that this behavior is one of the many reasons why I’ve been single all these years.  I would drag myself to death hanging on to failing partnerships in attempts to make it work. And it hurts because I feel that I’m a loving and very honorable human being—the type who would give my partner the world—and I don’t understand why the poly men have never wanted to take me up on my offer.

At least that’s the story I’ve told myself.

But it’s ultimately not about them but about how I view myself.  I don’t feel…I just want to be seen as a person of worth in the eyes of whomever I’m spending my time with.  Time.  That’s what this whole mess is about honestly: someone’s time and competing for it.  As a child, I would compete with my father’s partners or his need to leave or my mother’s God or her partners. I’d fight as hard as I could, but I’d ALWAYS lose and wonder what else I had to do to make my parents see me. This is no different from me getting involved with emotionally unavailable poly people and swingers.  I have often felt that I was competing for time and affection with the other sexual partners, but walking away depressed after losing yet another battle that reaffirms the false belief that I’m not worth the time, effort, and trust needed to build a successful long term relationship.  These other people are lovable and trustworthly, but I’m not.

I want to shake this feeling of not being good enough as much as I can and as quickly as possible.  Not only do I want to enter a romantic relationship without having unrealistic expectations, but because I’m so tired of this internal struggle to gain self-esteem and conformations from those who aren’t trying to establish a life with me.

Please note, Readers, that I’ve nothing against the poly lifestyle itself, as I’m just speaking from my angle.  I know poly couples personally and it works for them because they are wired to live that way.  I, on the other hand, have never felt authentic every time I’ve attempted it and find that my experiences with poly have been completely shitty because I’ve settled for less than what I deserved in order to feel loved.  But the lifestyle is not the issue, but what it represents for me:  the decade long competition to be deemed worthy.

One that I have to walk away and heal from in order to become truly happy.

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Walking Away.  Art by  Vampire-Zombie

 

It’s Not Worth It: Not Caring About What Others Think


Not caring about what other people think is the best choice you will ever make.

–unknown

 

For years, I’ve carried the burden of caring what others thought of me.

Caring causes me to compare myself and my very existence to my more successful friends, reading their statuses on Facebook and wonder why I seriously haven’t gotten it together enough to obtain stability.  I even suspect that people whom I have known since my earlier days in Rochester are now giving me the side eye because I’ve decided not to work and focus on me and my mental health issues.

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In terms of intelligence, I know that certain people I have friended during my graduate studies no longer talk to me on the regular—possibly because they feel I cannot hold a conversation. I find this to be unfortunate because I don’t have any other people of color to talk to about the issues of racism that affect me daily.

I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells around others because I don’t want to have that conversation about my career goals or personal feelings, fearing judgement if I share my true thoughts (If I seem standoffish and quiet, that’s one of the reasons why).  This fear of judgement also plays into my fears of failure and being forgotten, which is another blog entry altogether.

After receiving a rejection letter from a prominent publishing house, I have reached out to my friend, Pam.  I have met her two years ago when I was writing Star Trek fan fiction and she and I have been friends ever since.  After sending her private messages about how I am not the person I imagine myself to be, she calls me later on in the evening to see how I am doing.

“Pam, I feel that people are judging me because I decided not to work in order to work on my mental health issues.  I even had a friend unfriend me on Facebook for whatever rea—“

She stops me midsentence.  “Who are these people you keep talking about?  Man, fuck these people.  You have to do what’s right for you.  You can’t give a fuck about what other people think and if they are going to unfriend you because of your mental illness, then they were never your friend to begin with.”

After hearing those words, I sit quietly on my bed and wonder why I care so much about what others think of me to begin with.  The truth is that I hate losing friends as it’s actually hard for me to keep them for whatever reason.  In fact, the fear of losing someone bothers me more than anything else—especially if I cherish them dearly. But would feel even worse about myself when they stop rocking with me if they deem me a damn failure. This is the reason why I would often bust my ass in school, at home, at work hoping for a positive outcome.

But in terms of failure, by who standards am I measuring my success?  My overall significance?  The more I think about these questions, the more I come to the conclusion that I’ve been listening to people—family and professionals alike—who either haven’t recognized my efforts or haven’t been aware of the issues I have been pushing aside.  Either way, I am hurting myself trying to impress them so they will be proud of me because I’m fighting for their love and approval.

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To gain the admiration of many, I have placed my mental health on the back burner in order to function in school and life.  I have placed my own trauma on hold to get involved in radical politics. Concerned friends have advised me to care for myself, but I have not listened because—in my mind—I still need to prove that I’m not the lost cause “most people” have written me off to be.  But I realize that actively ignoring my struggles (even though I experienced flashbacks and panic attacks on the low) has caused me more harm than good.  Caring about what other people think and attempting to mold myself into their image not only contributed to my depression, anxiety and PTSD but my suicidal ideations.  Wanting unconditional love and approval is one of the reasons why I would stay in toxic relationships to the point of being sexually and physically assaulted.

It has taken talking to my friend Pam and reflecting on my negative thinking logically to finally see people’s opinions of me for what they are—their fucking problem.  I don’t have to have the fancy job, the man, car, house or the big name in the political scene. What’s more important to ME is my overall sanity and happiness.  I deserve that.  I desire that and there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the workforce or volunteer work to become healthy.  If people don’t understand that, that’s on them—not me.  And don’t you know that by not giving a fuck for the time being has actually alleviated my depressive episodes?  For the past few hours, I’ve felt like a beast, y’all!

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By the end of the day, this life—my life—is about giving myself the opportunity to heal from all that’s happened to me so I can be a whole.  Granted, I still want to be successful and even memorable. But I’m no longer willing to break my own spirit to gain the world’s approval.

It’s not worth it.