CW - Rape
It was a hot summer day in April 2019, which I felt was going to be like any other exam day. I woke up, got ready quickly, asked Appa to drop me off at the Metro. My routine was as usual. En route, I sneakily admired my co-commuters with whom I’d sometimes imagine elaborate fantasies—walking up to them, talking, exchanging IDs or numbers, going on dates and what not. Then, freak out with my friends in class before the exam, breakdown internally and scratch my head with a pen during the exam, let out a sigh, catch up with friends and head home. Until I decided that day at the end of the exam to say, “F**k it! Let’s go for it!”
I texted my match because he had invited me over to his place a month ago, and today was going to be “D-Day”. I was going to meet him at a public spot. So, if I didn’t feel comfortable enough about him taking me to his place, I could just walk away.
He was free and ready. Perfect!
My heart was pounding so hard I needed a moment to catch my breath. We had been texting on and off for the last few months. He was sweet, appreciative of my skinny brown body and, whenever I felt unsure or anxious, assured me that we’d only be doing whatever I was comfortable with. He was only a few years older than me, and healthily skinny and definitely had many funny bones.
My first date with a cis man had been not too long ago. We had walked around MG Road, Church Street, held hands in the gaps of racks at the bookstores, took a sniff off each other’s necks just shy of a kiss. We visited the exhibits at the Rangoli Metro Art Center, sat for a while under the shade of bright dark pink bougainvillea where he made the move to kiss; a revolutionary moment. So, it was all very new and exciting.
Yet, there was some anxiety. It felt like being in Bangalore for the first time, but enjoying a very different experience altogether; reclaiming a largely Savarna, cis-het-occupied and ruled space. And, to make it my own and his for those few moments was exhilarating.
I feel he probably felt that I was getting too attached too quickly, did not reply to my texts for a while, so I let go. Then, I had met another guy—a lovely fellow with whom I’m friends now, and we kissed at a house party recently because we hadn’t kissed when we saw each other briefly. And then, there was this guy. The one I was so excited to meet that day.
It was around 1 or 2 pm, the sun was right above my head. I was in my usual grey hoodie, formal shirt and trousers trying to book an auto to the common meeting spot. Boarded one, soaked in all the excited-anxious fantasies. The backache-causing roads and honks of others that usually make me curse humanity for its impatience and haste seemed to have fallen silent. As the auto zoomed past Residency, Brigade, Trinity, Ulsoor, Banaswadi and finally our area, Ramamurthy Nagar, my mind went all over the place like a kid full of anticipation about going to the gaming area of the mall.
“What would we do? What would I do? How would he look and be like in person? What does he want? Does he like me? Does he really want me? Would we be doing this or that? This way or that way? Am I ready? Do I smell fine? How would it be? Should I get any tests done after this?”
I got off, waited at our meeting spot, and called him. He was on his way and would take a few more minutes. He arrived on a scooter, took off his helmet and his cute face smiled wide. It put an instant smile on mine. We spoke for a bit, I felt okay enough to go with him. It was a basic date on wheels, we got to know each other better then. We reached in 10 minutes. His home welcomed my nostrils with the stinging smell of paint, and then his cold pastel floors. We sat on the black leather couch, spoke for a while and he invited me to his bedroom.
I told him I needed a moment, grabbed my local anesthetic and mouthwash, and headed to the bathroom. I suffer from chronic anal fissures, so if we reached the point of anal sex, I wanted to feel as little pain and as much pleasure as I could, hence the local anesthetic. I did my thing and joined him in bed.
We faced each other and kissed for a few minutes as we felt each other’s bodies up, took off our clothes, until he said, “For how long are we going to just kiss?”. At that point I was on top of him. His eyes pointed south, his tongue licked his upper lip. “Hmmm. Sure, why not? Let’s try,” said my brain after a few seconds. I went down on him for a while, but his wiener went soft and he complained that I wasn’t doing it well enough. So, he got on top of me and got near my face to feed me. I let it in, until I was actually choking on it. Yay! Gag reflex! And then he stopped.
He asked if I wanted to try penetrative sex. I was hesitant and kept saying, “I’m not sure. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t want the pain.” He was so persistent that at one point he held me down, kissed me and said something like, “Chill. You’ll be fine. I’ve done this before with virgins.”
I replied something on the lines of, “Umm sure, but if it hurts, stop please.” He smiled, “Finally!” and nodded. I was at once excited and anxious, but more anxious this time. He put on his condom, lubed himself and me up, and tried pushing himself inside me. I resisted because as his glans was fully in, it hurt like hell. I asked him to not continue anymore, he told me to hold on a bit longer, that it was almost in. “One more push”, “breathe”. Then I’ll be okay. I continued trying to get my arms free, get up, but at one point, I just gave up, gave in, and he was in and out of me in two minutes. Local anesthesia clearly wasn’t strong enough, nor was I. He dropped me off at a street I claimed to be mine.
Fast forward nearly two years. I have no idea why this memory decided to strike back in a whole new way. Oh wait, I do have an idea.
My idea of consent, assertiveness, feminism was way more evolved and stronger, at least strong enough to declare what and how I want, need. I don’t know what brought the memory back out of nowhere, but I sat with the memory, reflected, processed, analysed it.
At one point, my mind said, “Isn’t this sexual assault, rape?” This was being processed in the back of my head as I went on as usual, until one cozy Bangalore winter morning I asked a friend to offer their view on it. They agreed that this was sexual assault and rape. They shared their experience of facing several similar moments with their partner when he’d just impose himself on them, not ask, just assume and do what he wanted with their body; which they resisted, of course.
The conversation broke me, but even today I am glad I had it and that my friend opened up to me about their experience of violence by another cis man whom they trusted. And, when they shared this, it took me a few moments to register, for their partner was a guy whom I had met and spent some quality time with. And, this is a close friend who, if not for this conversation, may not have shared this with me or anyone else anytime soon.
In one class we were learning about the Gestalt theory on humans. A whole/complete gestalt experience is one in which you not only are able to acknowledge and process it cognitively, logically, and share it with others, but also accept it emotionally, feel it completely. I shared my experience with as little detail in that class and asked my professor, “Have I had or am I having a gestalt experience now?” She pondered for a minute and replied, “No. I don’t think so because I am not entirely sure that you’ve processed it emotionally completely. Maybe sit with it longer, see how your body feels when you think of that moment of violation, assault, and see what comes up.”
I don’t know if I’m ever going to have that experience or maybe writing about it is my version of experiencing a complete gestalt.
As I write this, a tear rolls down my cheek, my chest feels empty, my breath relieved. For a few months after I asked myself constantly, “How did I let this happen?”
The question was a two-fold one. One, how could I as a feminist, aware of consent, let this happen to me, not acknowledge the violent act for what it was? Two, how could I as a feminist, even more aware of consent after that, forget about it (because whenever people asked me about my first, the details had always been blurry), not see it and accept it for what it was, and even when the memory was back in one clear piece, why was it hard for me to accept it?
Why indeed did all my learnings leave me? Because I am human.
Recently, in a different context, a friend told me that “it’s okay not to label everything in terms of psychopathology”. Different context but it makes sense to me even for this one. I am human, why beat myself up and guilt trip and resent myself for not having done the right thing at that moment?
Yes, I was sexually assaulted, but well, perhaps that’s how my body and mind decided to deal with it, protect me, and that’s fine by me. I explored it with a therapist. He asked if I wanted to file a complaint. I replied, “Nah. One, it’s too much red tape. Two, I am a male Dalit queer person who was raped by another cis man. In a world where Sarvarna cis women’s cases of violence in any form aren’t taken as seriously as they should be, where am I going to fit in? What hopes of justice do I have? What is the assessment or the process for a male body that was assaulted to prove that it was indeed assaulted? Now, it’s nearly two years. So, no. I just want to share it, deal with it now, and be done with it. Let go for myself, for I am more than that moment of vulnerability.”
I have realised that saying no and ensuring that your partner respects it, or learning to deal with moments and people who refuse to take our ‘no’s is complicated and challenging, and needs to be taught. And, even with practise, we may not be successful and always safe in all contexts, spaces. Shame-free, open, comprehensive, inclusive sex-education along with assertiveness communication training and how to be there for someone following such violent moments need to be taught not just to kids, but everyone because violence by another, by oneself or both—hey it’s the unfortunate reality one can face at any point in life in any form. Hence, we are better off preparing ourselves and others to face it as best as we can at that moment.
Time to rip apart this violent system that doesn’t easily let anyone learn to respect, feel safe, at ease, thrive in their own and others’ bodies, minds and spaces, and build one that is for all. Maybe I will carry a pepper spray, learn to hold my ground as much as I can and pick myself up with support from others in my own time. And I am gonna continue to let myself experience pleasure the way me and my partner/s need/want. That’s how I feel as I go, as I grow.
Vijay is a Dalit queer person and a trainee psychologist who reads, writes and tries to live life their way as much as possible, and hopes the same for all.