Written By: Alexa Goins ◆ Illustration Courtesy of @gucora.andu
I don’t know why I dreamed about R the first week of quarantine. But I did. I woke up in the early hours of the morning filled with rage. Apparently many of us were and are having vivid dreams right now as we live in collective fear and anxiety and ask, “What’s next?”
R was the man who sexually assaulted me late last summer, a situation I hadn’t actively or fully acknowledged. But my body seemed to want me to wake up and do something. It screamed at me to protect us.
I’d been in Paris, France for 48 hours when R and I met up on one of the city’s many bridges for our date. I was there on a month-long work trip. He was Scottish and had been living there for a few months. I got off the bus and spotted him, approaching with a grin. This would be my first date in the city of love. R had milky pale skin, a quiff of dark hair, and light brown eyes.
We built an instant rapport and bonded over our shared religious background and the fact we were both middle children and English speakers navigating French language and culture. Our attraction to each other was palpable as we sidled up to a Canada-themed bar (yes, this is a thing) near the Seine River. We spent the next few hours flirting and drinking white wine and then gin and tonics. He loved those. I’d never tried one before. I told him I wasn’t a heavy drinker and he regaled me with tales of drinking culture in Scotland and encouraged me to have a bit more. I did.
He layered on the compliments all night, telling me how gorgeous my skin was and asking me questions about my experiences being black in the U.S. I’d later come to realize he was fetishizing me (and would continue to do so all night) but my inexperience with dating made me eager to receive any and all compliments from men like R.
I stumbled out of the bar with his arm around my shoulder. He took my bag and supported me as I walked. Suddenly, his hand reached for my breast. I took it and held it in my hand instead. We kissed in front of Notre Dame and he suggested we ride Lime scooters around the city.
“Which way do you want to go?” R asked, pointing to either side of the bridge. I pointed back and he said, “Perfect, that’s the way to mine.”
I asked him then if he just wanted to hook up with me because if so, I wasn’t interested. He kept saying no each time I asked but continued to grab at my breasts and my butt as we went in search of our scooter.
I was ovulating and trying to hide my fear of what could happen if he grew angry at my continued resistance.
When we got to his room, he threw me on the bed. I’d already told him on our elevator ride up I didn’t want to do anything beyond making out. He seemed to have other plans, playfully taking off my clothes and sticking his hands in places I didn’t want them. I put my clothes back on and tried to get off the bed. This cycle went on for what felt like hours. Until finally I asked if he had a condom. I was ovulating and trying to hide my fear of what could happen if he grew angry at my continued resistance.
We cuddled. He asked for more sex. I asked him to order me an Uber. I left. I don’t remember what happened during, just before and after, which makes me think if I was asked to testify in a court, I’d be seen as unreliable, a liar. Some days, I still believe I am those things because I don’t remember, and because I went to see him again.
He called me the next day to say he was smitten with me and wanted to see me again for a movie and a sleepover at his apartment. I agreed. I thought maybe he’d be my first boyfriend.
Our sleepover turned out to be far from what I’d imagined. He’d been out partying the night before and was hungover from taking half an ecstasy pill. He fetishized me and distanced himself emotionally. He gave me a yellow t-shirt to wear and sang the Wiz Khalifa song “Black and Yellow” as I put it on. I fell asleep next to him, shivering as he hogged the whole blanket and a bedside fan blew on me. I left in the morning feeling anxious and used. Most of all, I felt disappointed I didn’t get the control back I’d unknowingly been grasping for.
I wasn’t looking for a response when I confronted him, but I got one. It was everything I’d feared it would be.
I sat up in bed and let the words flow in a fit of concentrated rage into the WhatsApp text box. I told him coercion is not consent, that he fetishized my blackness and sexually assaulted me. I told him how he used our shared religious beliefs to gain my trust and manipulate me. I told him how he made me feel like a whore, like I was nothing. I told him I went to see him again because I liked him and wanted to believe he was a good person — it was easier than believing something bad had happened to me. I told him he better not treat another woman this way again. And I closed with a very satisfying “good fucking riddance.”
I wasn’t looking for a response when I confronted him, but I got one. It was everything I’d feared it would be — some variation of “I’m sorry you feel that way” said without taking any responsibility for what he’d done to me. Gaslighting.
My boyfriend at the time asked me if I’d reported it, said no, tried to leave, or fight him off. No. Yes. Yes. No. You can’t report something you’re in denial about. I know now the answers to these questions don’t matter. In the aftermath, I learned about the concept of “tend and befriend” from Julie Peters’ book “Want: 8 Steps to Recovering Desire, Passion, and Pleasure After Sexual Assault.” It’s a stress response common in female mammals.
“Overwhelmingly, sexualized violence happens with someone the survivor already knows and trusts — someone they already see as an ally,” Julie said in an interview with Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley. “So when they are being attacked, rather than fight or flee, they might try to calm down their perpetrator, placate him, and give him whatever he wants so the violence doesn’t escalate… Tend and befriend helps us understand that because we stopped struggling, participated, and/or checked out so that we could get it over with, we survived. Whatever we did to get through it, we survived. That’s not shameful, it’s powerful.”
Looking at my story through this lens, I’ve managed to move out of shame and into self-love and compassion. I did what I needed to do in the moment to survive and I dissociated from and numbed the experience in the months following until my mind was ready to process it. Like Julie says, that’s pretty powerful.
Dr. Nicole LePera shared an Instagram post recently which stated, “Anger is a calling to honor the needs that have gone ignored, unmet and unseen.”
Working with an embodiment coach has taught me we store our trauma in the body and when we repress memories or refuse to process things, the trauma is still there and will keep resurfacing until we face it. I’m thankful to be at a place in my journey where I can recognize the pain and anger sitting in my body and, instead of ignoring it, I know how to honor and release it. It is no longer my burden to carry. That belongs to him now.
We were fetishized and abused by white men in racist societies which told them they have a right to black bodies.
My great-great-grandmother was also raped by a white man in the early years of the 20th century. She was ovulating. She got pregnant. Her family disowned her. Her husband left her. She was alone until she gave birth to my great-grandma. I’ve been thinking of her often over the last few weeks as our country begins to process the white supremacy that has ravaged us for centuries.
Though I don’t know the details of her rape, I can’t help but see the similarities in our attacks. We were both ovulating. We were fetishized and abused by white men in racist societies that told them they have a right to black bodies. I can’t help but think she must’ve been in his room with me, protecting my body in a way she wasn’t able to her own as I asked for a condom. I can’t help but think she was with me during the months I dissociated from the pain with alcohol, clubbing, and a new boyfriend. And she was there with me the morning I woke up in a fit of rage and stood up for myself to the man who thought it was OK to violate me.
I feel her with me as I write this. She is proud.