I had my first intake appointment with a new therapist today. As we went through the usual questions about my medical history- “no” to emotional abuse, “yes” to a blood relative that struggled with drug/alcohol abuse- he asked, “Have you ever been sexually abused?” I confidently answered “no” …then followed with “wait, actually, I was raped when I was 17.” The therapist looked at me with a puzzled look on his face, the “how could you forget that” look. I then went on to explain that I hadn’t thought about it as rape until recently, that I didn’t realize I had been raped until I learned the definition of consent. He seemed a bit more understanding now. “I was blacked out drunk and hardly remember a man hovering on top of me” I explained. A brief flashback of the morning after occurred- as I saw a younger me frantically searching for a condom wrapper while also trying to process the fact that I had just lost my virginity the night before, kind of.
For a while I wiped this experience from my memory completely. I went on living my life as if this stranger hadn’t crossed the ultimate line of complete invasion of space. I went to college, joined a peer-education group, and found that I was interested in talking about other people’s experiences with sexual assault, while I hadn’t even acknowledged my own. Then during one class, the actual discussion came up- “What Is Consent?” We learned about what consent should look like, what it should sound like, and then I realized…. I never gave consent. How was I possibly able to give consent when I was passed out drunk in a hotel bed? I remember reflecting on this realization, and trying to hide it from my peers. I also remember them sharing their stories, and then how instantly comfortable I became with sharing mine. I shared it during several classes after, I shared it during “Take Back the Night”, during The Clothesline Project, and with my partner at the time, hell, I even shared it with my mother. And for me, that was as much as acceptance as I could get.
Yet, six years later and I still often forget that I was raped. Saying those words still feels extremely uncomfortable for me. A therapist asking if I was sexually abused still results in an after-thought. Maybe if I had learned what “consent” meant before the incident occurred, I would have felt more aware afterwards. The conversation of rape comes early, but the conversation of consent come much later, often too late. At 23 years old, the night 6 years ago when I was taken advantage of rarely crosses my mind. But when it does, it causes me to wish I knew sooner the meaning of “consent”, and that not saying “no” doesn’t mean yes by any means. No, I wasn’t held at gun-point by a man threatening to end my life if I didn’t comply with his demands. But I also never gave a stranger permission to enter my body without asking, yet he still did- and that is still rape.