Recently I published the intimate details of a sexual assault I experienced as part of a broader healing process.
On January 13 I read yet another story about a man, a comedic actor I was familiar with, who had crossed the line on a date into sexual misconduct. That night I slept terribly, woke up frequently due to nightmares, my stomach’s acidity increased, and all the standard signs of anxiety and panic began to manifest themselves.
Then came the flashbacks.
They started in the shower the morning after I read the story and then continued throughout the day until I fell asleep where they turned to nightmares. It was as though there was a tape of my assault and it played on repeat. While I went about my daily life, moments were interrupted by his face and his actions, my dreams were hijacked by the memories.
Though the assault took place four years ago, I never took time to process it at the time nor in the intervening years. I was traumatized by the event and I knew that shortly after it happened but I didn’t deal with the feelings I had at the time.
Partly it’s because I didn’t know that it had been sexual assault. I thought it was just a shit date with a guy who crossed a line, for two years I thought that. Then in 2015, there was a blitz of media articles on the topic of ‘stealthing.’ The general consensus was that philosophically speaking, stealthing was sexual assault and in an increasing number of legal cases, it was too.
That revelation rocked my world but I still didn’t actually process what had happened.
That processing started a week ago when I read the news stories about the actor and sexual misconduct. I didn’t choose to begin processing at that time. Something about the story, something about the reaction of some commentators, caused me to begin to relive the assault from four years earlier.
Three days after reading the story I wasn’t doing so well. I was barely getting four hours of sleep in a night, it was disjointed sleep, and I was constantly anxious.
So I sat down with a glass of wine and Microsoft Word one evening and I typed out the long form of my story. The first half, a missive claiming that a lack of respect for consent is the root of toxic masculinity, was published that night. The second half, a very detailed account of the assault and the thoughts around it, was cut. Initially, I had no intention of publishing it.
Less than 24 hours later I changed my mind and published the second half too.
Writing what happened was a cathartic, therapeutic, and painful experience but it lacked a conclusion. In this case, a conclusion involved telling someone else what had happened to me. I needed to hear that I wasn’t crazy, I needed to hear it was a fucked up thing and it was fine to feel fucked up about it but whom should I tell and how do you start that conversation? I didn’t know the right answer but I did know I didn’t want to tell that story over and over again. A blog post seemed like an appropriate medium to say it once, make it thorough and accessible.
I certainly got the validation I was seeking, which was encouraging, through conversations and comments from a collection of family and friends. Like a lot of sexual assault survivors I felt ashamed and embarrassed after things had happened and so I was silent for years. In that silence, I was unable to process what had happened.
I don’t feel the shame or embarrassment anymore, I’m angry about what happened and I’m angry about the broader issues of toxic masculinity and sexual assault. Anger is actionable, shame is not.
This brings me back to the broader purpose of healing and the existence of this blog.
Most trans people have trauma. It comes from surviving in a world that contests your existence at every turn. It’s more than exhausting it is traumatizing and that requires healing.
Part of that healing process for me involves digesting the traumatic experience, regurgitating it, and then publishing it. Occasionally to the tune of validation from others. Posts about accessing trans-related healthcare, the dehumanizing debates of Bill C16, Bill 24, and others, the name change process, and a collection of other personal struggles, are a way to deal with the traumatic things they stem from.
Typically these posts are about trans-specific traumas and issues but the past week they’ve been broader.
Four days after publishing the account of what happened, I do feel better. I feel angry but I’ve been sleeping better than I did before, the acidity in my stomach is returning to normal. Most important of all there have been no flashbacks for two days, which is wonderful because I was sick of seeing his face.
Healing is an ongoing process, for me, it includes writing down and sharing my experiences. Critically examining a traumatic event is not easy but it is easier than hiding from it, or pretending that you haven’t been deeply influenced by it. Writing it out, publishing it requires me to leave my body, detach myself from the event, and focus on the spelling, grammar, sentence structure, paragraph and story form.
The person on the other side of all of this is a stronger and wiser Autumn.