Rape happens in one stagnant moment, but its backwash seems infinite. Survivors are shunted between deniers, apologists, police, vilifiers, and lawyers for as long as they’re in pain. It creates a kind of psychic homelessness, leaving no foundation from which to scramble towards healing. Those who need sanctuary most are shoved out in the dark by the side of a road that nobody ever uses. If trauma isn’t enough, society is only too willing to revictimise them.
Many recover and create a tolerable life, but apologists and deniers are always ready to deport them back to ‘trauma country’. They’re spat back into isolation in a constantly moving cycle of communal abuse and homelessness.
Sexual assault is not merely a rapist’s crime, but one society perpetuates years afterwards. Instead of offering compassion to victims, we assign blame. On the rare occasion that we hold the rapist culpable, we make the survivor defend their own rapists by threatening to attack and destroy them.
I’m not the world’s worst judge of character, but I’m no good at trusting my intuition about people. I’m always stepping onto human landmines having known all along that they were going to throw up shrapnel eventually. I doubt my own interpretations no matter how much evidence there is that someone is dangerous.
I ignore red flags because I think that acknowledging red flags is paranoid.
I ignore my fear because I don’t trust my instincts.
I ignore my good sense because I think it’s irrational to think someone will harm me without a motive.
Most of all, I ignore red flags because I think I have to be nice.
Like most of my generation, I was brought up to be polite, but I was never taught that manners could get me hurt. I grew up thinking that protecting my safety was less important than protecting predators’ sense of comfort. My mother wouldn’t have put it in those words, of course, but she never said a word about treating myself compassionately. Some lessons are learned in absentia. Lessons about ignoring your gut, for instance, because there’s only one thing more important than making sure all the world’s assholes feel comfortable: ignoring your crazy-ass instincts.
Yesterday was Women’s Day in my country. The holiday is a cheap salute because we are the global rape capital. There are more sexual assaults per capita here than in any country in the world. To put it into perspective, seven years back the USA had 27 rapes per capita. SA had 132. The only country that scored over 40 that year was Botswana. Little wonder: it’s right on our doorstep.
When I was raped an age ago, I told myself the odds of it happening to me twice were low, so I was safe. Then I realised I was as likely to be raped a second time as I was the first. That’s just how the numbers fall. The universe doesn’t dole out trauma on a one-for-one basis, and many of the women here have been raped three times—by three different people.
The patriarchy doesn’t stop punishing us there. We voted a rapist into the presidency, for a start. I guess the USA likes them apples, because they just did something similar. The attitudes that make rape acceptable in voters’ eyes leak into every aspect of a woman’s life. You must brace yourself for gropings, flashings, sexual harassment, and general disrespect at every turn because there’s no knowing when you’ll get unlucky.
Romance and writing have a few things in common. F’rinstance, if you start on a crap note, you’re almost guaranteed a crap end. I thus have few hopes for this internet post.
Some days, sentences flow like water from a tap. In mere minutes, I have a bunch of words that resonate. On other days, I have to wrestle every word to the ground like a heifer, and you know I struggled with the writing even if you don’t know you know because you don’t respond. I am met with silence and left with a bunch of dead words that touch nobody.
My relationship with Derek flowed like water from a tap. Every hour came easily regardless of how we spent it. We had so much magic and hardly any mayhem. Few endings are without their tears, but Derek and I even managed to break up peacefully.
I recently met a superhero. Miss Y spends her days driving around the city looking for cold people, hungry people, any people in need. She sits in hospital queues all day waiting for medication for those who are too ill to do it themselves and sources blankets for those who live under bridges. She spends six out of every seven days doing this work, and not one of the charities she helps contributes to her expenses. Her pensioner’s income takes care of that.
Miss Y is 70 years old.
Her heart condition frequently leaves her exhausted, but it rarely keeps her home because she’s a superhero.
It puts all my online ranting and railing about social justice into perspective. As a writer, I’m the last person to call words useless, but Miss Y is a living example of how lazy I am about my causes. If I spend three hours a week on them in cyberspace, I consider myself productive, and if anything I do actually helps someone, it’s the exception, not the norm.
Ever had an ugly year? I’ve had many. I grew up in the damned Eighties, for crying out loud. I wore yoga pants with cerise leg warmers and jelly shoes. If you’re too young to know what jelly shoes are, they look as they sound: like jelly. That’s one of a trillion reasons nobody escaped that decade with their dignity intact. The second is Rick Astley. I’ll spare you the rest.
Until recently, my ugly years could only go in one direction: towards better things. When Father Time is your bitch, all you need to do is buy a treadmill and find a new hair stylist. Father Time isn’t my bitch anymore. Apparently, at this age, you’re supposed to start wearing purple with a red hat that doesn’t go, but I doubt even Jenny Joseph followed that rule.
My hair stylist found grey in my hair. I don’t think finding a new stylist will fix this one. Nor will ignoring my wrinkles in the mirror.
Speaking of lines, I didn’t get those sexy crow’s feet everyone else has. Nope. I got wrinkles on my left eyelid. My right eyelid says, “Fuck you, Father Time. I’m not done being 20.” I got a raw deal: lopsided ageing, as though Benjamin Button got lost in a black hole during an acid trip. Not to worry. I’ll just spend the rest of my life facing sideways. I can totally pull that off sexily.
Wrinkles aren’t the worst of ageing when you have a vagina. Mother Nature decided it was an excellent idea to make women ugly at the precise second we hit our sexual peaks. Men enjoy their sluttiest years when they’re in good shape. Us? As soon as it’s harder to get laid, we want to get laid the most. That’s why I’m an atheist–I don’t worship assholes.
S had the harshest luck with romance that I’d ever come across. When I first met him, he told me enough relationship war stories to turn me into a cynic, and that’s quite an ask. This man had been cheated on, lied to, and abused five million ways from Sunday, so of course, I understood his suspicions of me.
I never considered that his trust issues caused his failed relationships rather than the other way around. I found out soon enough, though.
He began accusing me of cheating on him within three months. Then he stopped accusing and started telling me what I was up to when he wasn’t looking. He was so sure of my lying ways that I began questioning my own motives for my friendships. Maybe S was right and my coffees with C were sexual. Maybe I had a blind spot about the platonic nature of my interactions with M. Maybe S knew me better than I knew myself. Maybe.
Even when I became The World’s Blindest Cheater, I didn’t see the full picture of S. That only happened after we broke up. When we were together, I was so caught up in questioning my own integrity that I didn’t realise S’s history was fabricated out of his own toxic insecurity. I found out soon enough that his previous ex had had precisely the same experience I had: She’d never cheated either. He had just redefined her reality as much as he had mine. I imagine most of his exes would tell the same tale.
The twist in that story was as unexpected as the end of an M Night Shyamalan movie. I’d never once wondered whether S’s history with infidelity had been a lie. When we go into relationships, we take our pasts with us, and the last time I was cheated on, I was barely 20. My exes have taught me that trust is usually warranted, so that’s what I drag into my romances.
Eventually, you meet someone who disproves all your beliefs about love. Well, that applies with most of us, anyway. This will probably never happen to S because all his future lovers will cheat on him. Just like I didn’t.