This experience also clicked something else into place in my head.
I’ve told a fair amount of people about my rape. People I trust very much, people I know very well, and people I am not so sure about. And, of course, through this blog, I’ve told just about the whole world. I have gotten experienced in the Reaction to The Rape Victim, and pretty good at reading who’s going to react how. This isn’t some awesome skill I picked up because I am so cool; it’s a life survival skill that just showed up after being burned pretty fucking bad by some solidly vile people.
I like lists, so here you go:
Reaction to The Rape Victim Types:
- I Don’t Believe You: may be accompanied by various excuses, such as “he would never,” “you’re just bitter,” “if it was really rape, you would have called the police.” Hi, Gregory! Also, fuck you, Gregory! Not a calm type, the I Don’t Believe You will tend to approach you with a disproportionate degree of self-righteous anger, though it may be couched in thinly veiled and condescending psychological help, i.e. “I’m telling you this for your own good.” Additionally, hi, Gregory! ad nauseum.
- I Don’t Believe You But Am Too Fucking Gutless To Say So Because I Know That’ll Make Me Seem Like A Bad Person and I’m Really Not I Just Don’t Think You Got Raped: AKA “I’m not going to take sides.” Early indicators of this type are: mechanical reaction of sympathy to being told about your rape, still hanging out with your rapist, saying positive things about your rapist to you, a la “he’s a good guy, at heart,” and “he’s really changed.” Frequent admonitions that you should really “calm down” or “get over it.” Can be the most obsequious of the types. “I can’t possibly understand what you’re going through, but (I don’t care and shut the fuck up about it) maybe it’s time to move on?”
- I Believe That You Were Raped But I Don’t Think It Was Really A Bad Rape, Like Not A Rape Rape Or Anything: I was going to make this a variant of Type 2. But people in Type 3 really believe this. They do believe you were raped. They cannot deny — you said no to sex and sex still happened — and that was rape. But they can’t reconcile that with everything else they want to know and believe, such as: “If only you hadn’t been wearing,” “Why didn’t you fight,” “Nobody I know could have done that,” “I don’t want to live in a world where I could be raped at any moment.” I am somewhat more sympathetic to these types, because honestly, a lot of rape victims themselves end up here, at least for a time. Doesn’t mean I am friends with this type, though — they are crazymaking with their wishy-washy minimizing enforced naivety bullshit, right when you need a goddamn ally most.
- I Believe That You Were Raped But Am Completely Unable and Unwilling to Offer You Any Support Or Understanding: Yeah, it happens. Sometimes it’s the most perplexing. You can see their real belief in their eyes, hear it in their voice. And you’re like, finally! Somebody who is going to stand by me here! And then they disappear completely, off the face of the fucking earth, like there is no room for talking about video games or chit chat now that you have TEH RAPE. Or they respond with non-responses: aggro and peacockish “I’m going to kill him,” instead of talking to you about how you feel, or even how they feel, which I would really like to hear more of. Or they live separate and conflicting lives, like a saddlebacker: as your friend, they believe you, they support you, they are there for you. When you are not around, they are chatting with your rapist because it is kind of too awkward to not chat, somehow, in their world. Most of my friends I lost, I lost this way.
- I Believe You: Rare and wonderful. And your instincts are usually pretty dead-on about who this is going to be. This is a hard type to be, because, in my opinion, you get to experience the secondary effects of being a rape victim. Denial (“this can’t have happened”) coupled with guilt (“how can I pretend it didn’t happen? I know what happened. What if I could have stopped it, though?”) coupled with anger coupled with cynicism (“how can this be the world I live in?”) coupled with impotence coupled with fear coupled with sadness. And, too, people who believe you face many of the social choices you do: when they tell somebody that their friend was raped, they will quickly start to learn the “types,” and have to make their own decisions about what friendships to keep. That’s kind of what being an ally is: being willing to experience your suffering, even though they had the option not to.
I bring up all these types because I want to tell a story about my best friend Badger, who is type 5. She was one of the last people I told, mostly because I didn’t want to tell her over the phone, and I see her very rarely. Even knowing she was my bestest friend in all the world, I was still nervous, and told her in this sort of disaffected, “oh by the way” kind of way. Her eyes widened in horror and she cut me off, saying, “Harriet! That’s horrible! That’s fucking horrible! Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”
I went on to explain it the way I explained it to everybody: the rape itself wasn’t “that bad,” but only because my entire relationship with Flint was that bad — the rape was consistent with how my husband treated me overall. And that it wasn’t like what you think of as “rape” — there was no fighting or yelling or big dramatic “no means no.” But I barely got through the spiel before she was cutting me off in her own overwhelming sense of horror. “Harriet, you got raped! Oh my god! That’s just the worst thing… I’m so sorry!”
I talked to her about how, really, it was the same sex we’d always had, except this time I said no. And the only reason I hadn’t said no in the past was because I knew it wouldn’t stop him, and then I wouldn’t be having sex anymore; I’d be getting serially raped. I know I mostly give this spiel because I feel like I have to explain to people why it’s rape, why it’s bad, and why it’s more than this one little event that took ten minutes of my life. I feel like I have to, because only 1 out of 6 people seem to get it. And I never realized how much I was excusing myself, explaining, teaching, educating, until I told Badger this and she responded with, “That’s rape, too! That was rape, all those times you were afraid to say no!”
There are people in the world who don’t get that. No matter how often I explain it, or in how many words, they don’t. They don’t because of a lot of reasons, because their definition of “sex” allows for force, pain, and misery, because they live in a culture that considers it sexually stimulating for women to be forced in pain and misery, and because women’s pain and misery is not considered to be human enough to warrant horror and justice.
But one of the people I have always loved and cared about most in all the world got it. I have made mistakes in my life, and I have to fight pretty hard to keep my regrets from turning me into someone whose pain and misery is not worthwhile. I regret that I didn’t leave sooner. I regret that I “let him.” I regret that I never stood up for myself, just left quietly and ignored him like he didn’t exist. I regret a lot of things. But I have chosen in my life as a best friend somebody who really got this, and that is a rare person, in my experience. Whatever kind of poor judgments I’ve made, I don’t think they outweigh or are responsible for the actions of others. Because my judgment has been good enough to rally good people around me, even in the midst of all the bad.
That’s not any grand summary. I just wanted to leave on a note of good stuff. I’m proud of my friend, and I’m proud I chose her as one. And I am unapologetic about my refusal to be friends with any other type — none of them bring me any of the good stuff.