Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published on the Tumblr I Believe You / It’s Not Your Fault.
There’s a story behind this story, about why and how it gets told. There always is. The stories of our lives are an internal dialogue as much as external, about which parts we think deserve to be told and who deserves to hear it.
One part of my story is this: I switched schools a lot as a kid. I liked being the new girl. I liked being mysterious and getting to reinvent myself over and over. I’m a double Gemini, it fits with the narrative. My first year of high school, my best friend and I wanted so badly to be wanted. We weren’t outgoing, we were elusive. We didn’t have boyfriends, we had undifferentiated longing. I didn’t really know that I was a lesbian yet, but I didn’t not know. This was 2002. There were no out gay kids at my high school, and I had never met a lesbian in real life, at least that I was aware of. I was learning about my own desires and how desires sometimes mask themselves in what you think will make you happy. I had never even masturbated. I didn’t know what I wanted, much less how to get it, and that made sense because even though I looked like I was 25, I was 14 through and through.
It started when these boys would grab our butts as we were walking down the hallway. The crowds were large and sometimes we didn’t even see them coming until it was too late and they were behind us reaching back. They left bruises almost every time. They were popular boys, they had girlfriends. They didn’t want to date us, they just wanted to leave a mark. There were two of them. Sometimes they would high-five afterwards. Then one day they started to spank me, in crowds, while winking. I was wearing these horrible white denim stretch pants with no pockets, and when I told my friend what happened she asked if she could borrow them.
We never said anything. I’m still not sure that they even knew my name. After a few weeks, they started to come up behind me when I was at my locker and body slam me until I crumpled to the ground. It happened maybe once a week. Sometimes, before they slammed they would press really hard against my back so I could feel their dicks on my ass. There were other kids in the hallway and nobody said or did anything, so I thought maybe I was just getting initiated into the school. I thought it was a test I had to pass. I thought I was passing.
Once, one of them came up to me in the pickup line and asked if my mom would give him a ride home. He sat in the backseat of our minivan with me, directing my mom to the house he lived in. It was behind a special gate in an already gated neighborhood. Justin Timberlake had a house next door.
The last time that I remember, it was a particularly hard slam. I hit my head on the locker and fell to the floor. When I looked back up at him he unzipped his pants and put his semi-hard dick on the place where there would be a bruise later. It only escalated from there.
I told a few friends, quietly, casually, and they all said they were jealous. I didn’t know why I wasn’t as happy as they thought I should have been at getting the wrong attention from the right people, so I told my mom I wanted to go to a different school. I didn’t tell her anything else.
For years, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell my friends or my girlfriends or my sexual partners, even when they were sharing stories of their own abuse. Even during those moments of female bonding that always seem to happen when you get a group of women together — the Yes All Women moments that had been happening long before Twitter or hashtags.
Years passed. I came out to (some of) my family, went to a women’s college, discovered feminism, volunteered at trauma centers for the sexually abused. I had several healthy and some unhealthy relationships. I tried dating men, just to be sure, and learned about myself more and more. I felt like I understood shame, then. I told myself the reason I hadn’t shared this story was because it hadn’t really affected me. That I hadn’t been raped in the conventional sense, so I didn’t want to make it seem like I was equating my story with people who had it worse. But that wasn’t the whole reason.
The truth is, I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want anyone to think this was why I was a lesbian. I didn’t want my queer friends or my straight friends or anyone I encountered to think that my experiences with men made me write them off, made me choose to be with women because it was safer. I didn’t want them to think this trauma was my root. And secretly I wasn’t ever totally sure that it wasn’t.
But here’s the thing I finally realized: It doesn’t fucking matter what my root is, or if I have one, or if that’s a thing that even exists. Not telling anyone that I was sexually assaulted doesn’t change that it happened. It’s a part of my story and my life and my sexuality in some big or small way that I will never fully understand. And that’s OK.
Not telling anyone about it can’t change that it happened. Keeping it hidden can only give it more power to affect you. I can’t write the narrative of what other people think of me. Even with purposeful omissions from the stories I tell them. Even by carefully curating my online persona. Even by lying. I have no control over what they think, and what they think shouldn’t have any control over me. But that’s a lot harder to master. So I’m starting with this one small thing.
There are lots of reasons not to tell your story. But for every reason you can think of to stay quiet, there are 10 more reasons to speak up. Even if you think no one else is, we are listening. We believe you. It’s not your fault.
Being a lesbian isn’t easier than being sexually assaulted. And it isn’t harder and it isn’t separate. It doesn’t matter if I was born this way or if I wasn’t, if I decide to call myself a Lesbian today and next year call myself Queer and in 10 years date a man. I deserve the same rights and respect and happiness and outlet to tell my story as every other person does. And so do you.