Tuesday, August 10, 2010

vulnerability

This one is very personal.


I don't really know why I am writing it.


On the rec list of a blog I read regularly, a diary has been listed for the past day or so called "I was raped and it doesn't matter."  It is a political diary, and it deals with the politics behind rape.  In response to that diary, I considered titling this "I wasn't raped, but it does matter." But I am not really writing about the same subject, so this is not really a reply to that one and the title isn't quite right anyway.


I wasn't raped. What I did, I did of my own volition. But I did it because I felt trapped, felt that in my stupidity I had backed myself into a corner and lost control, had given control to a man I did not know who now had me in a vulnerable position. I was terrified and I made one stupid decision after another. And the result was...what happened.


It happened seven years ago. In Paris. I thought I was long over it. I mean it was so long ago and so stupid. And it was not rape. But with my 18-year-old daughter in Paris this week, these memories have come flooding back and I cringe involuntarily as flashes of his apartment, of his face, of my own absolutely foolish behavior slap at me and overwhelm me at odd moments.


First you must remember that I am a transsexual woman. In 2003, when this happened, I was only four years post-op, and frankly I was overwhelmingly naïve. I understood that a woman alone was easily victimized, yes: I felt that the first time I walked alone as a woman in downtown Chicago in the evening, across streets I had walked countless times in a former life, dressed as a man, with little or no thought to personal safety. That very first time as a woman, however, I became acutely aware of just how vulnerable I was, how suddenly I was viewed as potential prey by people who had not taken notice of me before. It was unnerving.


So I knew this. Still, the European trip was my vacation of a lifetime. It was a whirlwind journey through several countries, staying with old friends, culminating with three weeks in Scotland where I would be taking a class. Paris was my final stop before flying to Glasgow, and I only had a single day there; it was a transfer point and I was by myself that day.


I had had a wonderful time everywhere I'd been and had been welcomed as a woman by my old friends and their families. Still, of course, everyone along the way had known me before, had understood my past, and somehow that altered things a bit. I could not tell if they truly saw me as a woman or not. I had not yet developed that kind of self-confidence. Nor had I developed any kind of social understanding of male/female relationships, since I had not even dated as a man particularly and, as a woman, well, that was a new pond where wanted to wade but into which I had only made a few forays.


So I made it to Paris, City of Lovers, City of Lights, and I bought a guidebook and I took the metro to Notre Dame and then wandered back up the Champs-Elysees. I did not have all that much time, certainly not enough to see Paris really, but I figured I'd be back some day and wanted to get at least a kind of overview. It was not perfect, but whatever. Que sera sera and all that.


So I'm wandering up the grand boulevard, enjoying an absolutely perfect summer afternoon, trying to make sense of the map I was reading, when suddenly I hear myself addressed by a man nearby, who had been walking in the other direction. In French, he called out to me, asked if I needed help with the map. My French is not anywhere near perfect, but I definitely grasped his meaning. I smiled and tried to say I was OK, but he came over to me. He was flirting, calling me lovely, offering advice, telling me he'd be happy to walk awhile with me if I'd like. He was about my height, Arabic, nice looking, and gentle, and it was a bright sunny day, and I thought it might be nice to have company and besides, a chance to speak French to a real Frenchman? Hard to pass up considering how weak my own command of the language was. And besides, he kept saying how pretty I was, which was something I still had a hard time believing.


So we walked, and he made jokes, and he showed me things that were outside of the normal "touristy" parts of the city centre, and shortcuts to see places like L'Hotel Des Invalides and Le Tour D'Eiffel. It was interesting and fun, for the most part, but I kept thinking I should stop this, I should say thank you very much and goodbye, I should get out before I was in too deep. And I tried on several occasions, but each time I started he professed not to be able to understand me, and I thought it likely that he could not; my own French construction being so very poor.


So we came to the Eiffel Tower at dusk, and I loved the sight of it but I was starting to feel a bit leery.  We had been walking together several hours, and he had even kissed me on a couple of occasions.  He had made several highly suggestive comments that I had shrugged off, but I was unnerved and was beginning to feel ill at ease.  Yet it was his city, and I was not on solid ground on several levels: the language, at which I was at best a journeyman; the territory, at which I was unfamiliar; my gender, with which I was certainly not used to this type of interaction; my emotions, which kept liking the fact that he liked me even while I was frightened of what I was getting into.  And it grew darker.  And my hotel was out near the DeGaulle Airport.


I finally got him to take me to the Metro, but to my chagrin discovered that the whole system had closed for the night. I was stuck. It would reopen at 5 AM. I did not have enough money for taxi fare; I didn't know what to do. "Pas de problem," he said. "Venir chez moi." Come home with me. And I said no, no, I didn't think that would be a good idea. But it grew later and later and he said it would be just to sleep and I had to sleep somewhere and he'd get me to the Metro for the first train.


I told myself it was a horrible idea. I told myself I had no choice.


We walked along side streets that no tourist ever sees to a tiny apartment in some tiny section of town. And he pulled out a futon for me to sleep, and then I realized that this was also where he slept. Oh no, he assured me: he would sleep on the floor.


I tried to get to sleep. And I almost did. But an hour or so after he had turned out the lights he crawled into the bed, curling his arm around me. On such a tiny surface I could not successfully pretend to be sleeping. I tried to turn his advances away--I most definitely did not want them--but his hands were busy and he was hard and pressing against me. And I was completely terrified. He was strong. Not overly muscular, but strong. And he obviously felt we had "connected" or something, and I was not managing to communicate with him that I did not want this, even if I had not objected earlier in the night when he had taken the liberty of kissing me. But what worried me most was the thought of what might happen if he tried to force himself on me and it didn't work.


I could see what he was working with, and I sincerely worried it simply would not fit. I'm not built to stretch the way genetic girls are. And if he figured out I was TS somehow, how would he react? Would he hurt me? Would he kill me?


I panicked. I stopped him finally by doing the only thing I could think of that I pretty much could guarantee no man would ever turn down. And as I did it, desperately trying not to gag and praying that I could hold on long enough to satisfy him, I prayed it would be enough and he'd roll over and go back on the floor.


He didn't. But he did go to sleep, which proved to be enough. In the morning, he walked me to the train and put me on it. In truth, I do not believe that he had any clue that, in my memory, he lives as a monster. His version of the evening might be that there was this American girl he picked up, showed a bit of the town to, brought home when she missed her train, and got some from. But there in my mind he lingers: soft laughter, flirtatious smile, complimenting me at a point in my life when I happened to be most vulnerable to compliments, preying on the lone American redhead with the unfolded map who only had wanted to take in as much of Paris as her single day could offer.


As it turned out, I took in far too much.

city of shattered lights


from notre dame up to champs elysees
i saw the paris all were meant to see
awestruck i walked the glorious golden way
with multitudes who wandered there with me


the tower lit with firework sparkling lights
exploded summer song into the air
and brilliantly shone out into the night
to call the souls of all who gathered there


to lift into the evening and to fly
to drift into the softly flowing breeze
and join the spirit of the city’s sky
in swirling soaring flight above the trees


and my soul, too, as if within a dream,
became ungrounded by that siren’s call
and later in the streets beyond the gleam
i wondered if it still was there at all


for in the smallest hours of the dark
too earthbound then to stay above my tears
far from the tower, nowhere near the park,
another paris, haunted by its fears


of never being part of all that breathes
the life into the place beside the seine,
pulls silence as a blanket round its eaves
not knowing when its sun will shine again


in some small dismal room in some small street
that second paris stabbed me in the heart
by morning’s light it managed to defeat
the concorde i’d imagined at the start


when dreary sunlight once more filtered down
and morning sounded its discordant song
my broken weary soul slipped from the town
i’d dreamed of being part of for so long


how fitting that i got no final taste
of daylight dappled on that golden mile
the second paris laid that dream to waste
its golden lights replaced by shadowed guile


perhaps someday i might at last forget
perhaps someday i might at last return
for now, the darkness isn’t over yet:
we only keep the memories that we earn

UPDATE:


In the comments I received after posting this on the aforementioned blog, 100% of respondents said that, yes, I had indeed been raped.


Among the comments:
He might be surprised you remember him as a monster, or he might not -- he would have known when the Metro stopped running and how expensive cab fare would be -- sounds like he may have done this before . . . 
so sorry you had this experience, but please do not blame yourself for being vulnerable 
there are men like that out there 
and


What you did was a survival mechanism in the midst of a rape.  You were most definitely vulnerable, not just to your own emotions but my guess is that he would not have responded well to learning you were TS and you could have been in more danger.  Thank you for sharing this story - it's chilling to think just how many small decisions can lead to something so frightening.  We've all done it - there but for the grace of God...
and


Regardless of how or why you got into the situation, you did what you had to do to keep yourself relatively safe.  I was raped when I was 15, and for too many years I second-guessed myself, believing I could have fought harder. But the truth is I didn't want to die, so at some point I did what I had to do to survive. Just like what you did.  
and also





After all, women are told from birth that rape prevention falls on our shoulders. Somehow, the message never gets ingrained in the same way in men to not rape, to leave us alone, to stop touching, to stop pushing our boundaries to see how far they can go, to just stop.
You were raped, sunspark. Coercion is a form of rape. You were alone in a strange city, with no transportation, with a language barrier, in a new body with a very real and valid fear of worse things happening to you if you did not "perform." That's coercion, and it's rape.
And you are not to blame for it.
I've been telling myself for years that I brought this on myself, that yes, he was a monster, but I was stupid and naïve.  I should have known better, should have done anything other than what I did.  I still think that.  It's an easy and obvious thing to think.  But there is no denying that he was a kind of monster, and maybe that ought to have more weight in assessing blame for the incident.  I don't know how to let myself off the hook.  But I know I do need to try.

2 comments:

rys said...

Sunspark, thank you so much for sharing this experience. As a man and as a human being, my heart goes out to you as a woman and as a human being. When we're young, we get into embarrassing, painful and even dangerous situations which, in hindsight, we could have avoided. I surely have. I admire you for bringing that memory to light. Please, please try not to be hard on yourself for your choices. At every moment, you were doing the best you could, with the information you perceived. Your assailant clearly understood your vulnerability, and cruelly took advantage. I'm so sorry you went through that night. And I'm grateful that you are a strong, intelligent survivor. Here's to you.

sunspark said...

Thank you for the kind words. It is so hard to forgive myself even though I know what he did and I know that, emotionally, I was little more than a teenager. I just remember telling myself over and over that I needed to stop all of this, that I should just walk or run away and yell if he tried to stop me, that it was a public place and I would be safe, but I didn't. I liked the flattery and the attention and someone thinking I was pretty. And it got later and later. And I got in deeper and deeper. And when I finally convinced him I really had to leave, the trains had stopped running, as he undoubtedly knew they would have...

sunsparks

it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
unmoving
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be


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