Content warning: Discussion of rape, discussion of how bad rape must be to count, and an explicit description in the “My story” section.
I’ve been warned that if I ever speak publicly about my experience with corrective rape, people will only use my experience for politically convenient ends, or otherwise just ignore me. Therefore, I’m going against my intuitive sense of correct writing flow, and opening with my possibly unpalatable opinions related to my own experience.
I think it is often overemphasized how bad rape is. Feminists emphasize how bad it is, because they rightly want people to care about an important social issue. Anti-feminists emphasize how bad it is because they want to argue that most incidents don’t actually count, since the victim didn’t have it that bad, and the perpetrator wasn’t that evil.
It’s believed that perpetrators are so extremely evil, that they deserve to be put in jail, where, incidentally, they have a 5-20% chance of being raped themselves! Then they should be put on a sex offender registry for life, preventing them from living anywhere near other humans. If I say that I’ve been raped, it is assumed that I want the perpetrator to be punished that way. And since everyone recognizes how excessive the penalties are (despite voting in favor of the same penalties), that makes me a terrible person for making accusations without immediately supplying hard evidence.
As for victims, I think we must live in Lake Wobegon, because it sure seems like everyone’s experience with rape is above average. Nobody’s experience was bad enough to “count”.
All the same, I have many reservations about trying to convince other people that their experience “counts”. I, too, thought my experience didn’t count for many years. When I decided it did count, that made me feel worse about it, even though the entire episode was long over. This is known as the nocebo effect, and it’s a direct consequence of overemphasizing how bad rape is.1 I’m bothered that the only people who seem to care about the nocebo effect think that downplaying rape is a solution, rather than the other horn of the dilemma.
With that spiel, you might guess that my experience with rape wasn’t that bad. That’s not in fact what I’m saying. Quite simply, I’d like us to take victims’ experiences as they are, without exaggerating, and without ignoring certain types of victims. I’d like a model of understanding that is centered on victims and survivors, rather than on political causes.
Long, long ago, when asexual visibility was much lower, I was an undergrad who had just started identifying as asexual. I really needed some social support, but I wouldn’t meet another asexual for over a year. Instead, I found social support through the queer student group. I also started drinking heavily, because that was the queer culture, and because I was miserable.
Obligatory aside: It is possible for people to be so drunk that they cannot meaningfully consent to sex, and having sex with such a person is rape. People often have trouble with this idea because the word “drunk” means a wide variety of things to different people. So to characterize how drunk I was that night, here is a handy-dandy guide to my alcohol tolerance:
1 drink – I feel pretty buzzed.
2 drinks – No one could mistake me for sober.
3 drinks – Things start to blur together. Everyone who is not an undergrad starts looking askance at me, saying “Uh, maybe you’ve had enough?”
6 drinks – I pretty much pass out. Even when I was undergrad I immediately realized there was no reason to ever drink this much.
So on that night, I had five drinks. I was at a big party for the queer student group, held outside in an apartment building patio. As I was drinking, I was loudly explaining asexuality to everyone I met, just because. I remember people saying, “There’s a guy over there saying he’s asexual!” “Wow, I’ve never met one of those before!” I was enjoying the exposure.
One of the people I explained asexuality to at length was Mr. Perp. It was some time later, when I was really smashed, that he pulled me aside. He said he thought I was really attractive. He lead me around a corner, where the crowd thinned out a bit, although maybe it wasn’t entirely empty. I wasn’t really paying attention to how many people were around, because I was too drunk, and because he soon had me sucking his dick.
What I remember is an interminable length of time, during which I discovered that oral sex is kind of gross. At one point, he asked, “Are you still asexual now?” I said I was. He said, “I don’t think so.” Eventually, we stopped, and he tried to get me to anally penetrate him, which was kind of painful. I think it wasn’t very successful because he said we could stop and he jerked off into the bushes.
Here’s how I felt about it: physically sick. Penis doesn’t taste like much, so I felt like I was still tasting that same thing for the next few days, and it was disgusting. I also spent a lot of time worrying over what it all “meant”. I specifically remember declaring to my best friend, “This is the worst week ever!” I didn’t ever explain why. I mean, it was a bit embarrassing.
To avoid further embarrassment, I instead cried on the shoulder of the only person who already knew about the incident: Mr. Perp. Looking back now, that’s really the most embarrassing part of my story. The fact that my first sexual experience was outside, in public, near a bunch of people I had just come out to as asexual? I could live that down. But why would I ever reach out to Mr. Perp for support, and do it while sober too?
Who was Mr. Perp? He was about my age, closeted, and had recently left a religious cult. I could never reach him by phone because his answering machine was filled with messages that he was ignoring from his mother. In short, he was some random guy who had his own array of problems. We dated a bit (nonsexually).2 He dumped me over the phone. I spent the rest of the year hoping I’d never run into him again, and I didn’t.
In retrospect, Mr. Perp probably found it rather bewildering for me to come crying to him. He spent a lot of our time dating trying to avoid me (although at the time I wrote it off as flakiness). So I think there was a little justice after all.
Whether it “counts”
Initially, I did not even ask whether my experience counted as rape. I consented. I didn’t experience trauma, I just cried for two weeks, that’s all. I met Mr. Perp afterwards, and he was an okay person.
Instead, I blamed myself. Underneath it all, I was really unhappy about being asexual and aromantic. I was unhappy about being cut off from the heteronormative model of success. I drank heavily because I was hoping something would happen. So when something actually happened, it was clearly my fault. And when I subsequently tried dating him, and it was pretty terrible, that was my fault too.
I did, after all, start identifying as gray-A after we broke up. There was no way to refer to sex-favorable aces back then, but I would have identified as that too had I the opportunity. Although by that point I felt like sex and relationships were pretty terrible, and that maybe settling on aromantic asexual wouldn’t have been so bad after all.
A certain relative suggested that I started identifying as gray-A because I finally tried sex and liked it. That sure made me trip over a mountain of irony. I stopped talking to them for a while.
It was many years later, over many stages, that I finally recognized it as corrective rape. To go into details of the process would make it sound more momentous than it really was. To me, this happened a long time ago, and it doesn’t really matter what I call it. But just for the record…
Yeah, this was a pretty clear instance of corrective rape. He forced me to have sex with him because he thought it would fix me. The fact that I didn’t resist was not indicative of consent; rather, people who are that drunk simply don’t resist much. If I didn’t experience long-term trauma, that’s just the way it was for me.
The only tricky thing is that he was probably drinking heavily too. Nobody really knows what to do in situations where both parties are drunk; such situations are only brought up when they can be used as ammunition, or else they’re glossed over. My question: can perpetrators excuse themselves simply by drinking a lot first? I don’t have an answer, but just once I’d like people to gaze into that particular abyss. It’s not pretty but it’s the lived experience of myself and others.3
At this point, many readers might like to express their deep sympathies for my experience. It is true that many survivors appreciate that sort of social support, even long after the incident. However, in my case I don’t really need it, or want it. Instead, I’d rather we talk about ways to address rape culture, and ways to help other victims/survivors.
Just to spell it out, there are differences between the following:
(a) Providing emotional support for survivors
(b) Talking about how to support survivors
(c) Talking about opposing rapists or rape culture
Sometimes people respond to survivors with (b) or (c) unasked, not realizing how emotionally trying the topics can be. But here I am asking for (b) and (c), so it’s fine.
I wrote this not for emotional support, but because I am a Well-Known Blogger, and people might have a hard time ignoring me. Here’s the main thing I learned looking back: Ace survivors are already here, and have been since the beginning, whether they talk about it or not. Listen to what they have to say, if they want to say it, and recognize that there are many experiences, including ones very different from my own. Support Resources for Ace Survivors. That is all.
1. I haven’t seen any direct evidence that the nocebo effect operates on trauma or rape, but if you read about the nocebo effect, it seems a reasonable guess. I found that study through a Reddit thread where people were using it to argue that SJWs are terrible. I didn’t get the sense that these Redditors actually cared about the effects on victims.
3. Situations involving alcohol or other drugs are extremely common. In one study of convicted rapists, three quarters acknowledged using drugs at the time. Another study of college students who self-reported actions that qualify as rape found that 80% of their victims were incapacitated by drugs. Thanks to HJ Hornbeck (warning: autoplay video) for finding these citations. He also argues based on literature that alcohol, not GHB, is the number one date rape drug.