When the rape scandals began to emerge in the Alt-Lit movement, I read about them with horror, but not particularly surprise. I experienced something awful at my writing grad school, and know that the writing world, for all of our sensitive natures or what-have-you, is not a vacuum within society. What is unique about the alt-lit scandals, in my opinion, has been the rallying response. So often when I hear women talk about their rapes, they talk about the reaction to it–the accusations and blame, the doubt, the losses of friends and family. Perhaps it is just the corner of the internet I inhabit (and I am sure this is part of it, but thank goodness for this corner), but so many people have come out to support, and share their own stories in relation to sexual assault. (Yes, there have been jerks. And those who just don’t understand, and so unwittingly say jerk-ish things, but are not themselves jerks. There have been men’s rights activists, there have been friends of the accused, there have been people who don’t want to admit what a widespread societal issue this is speaking with authority on a subject about which they are ill informed, but there have been strong voices combating all of this, and for that I am grateful).
Delirious Hem issued a call for submissions of stories and poems relating to rape, following a series of their remarkable essays on the subject as it related to the Alt-lit community. I have a number of poems I could have submitted to the journal, all revolving around other people’s experiences. Instead I chose to submit one that I wrote about 2.5 years ago, regarding a relationship I was in during my late teens and early twenties. I was thinking when I submitted, if I could say anything about rape culture in a poem, what would I want to say, and so which one should I pick to submit.
What I want to say about rape, what I feel I have to say about rape with authority and experience, is that there is a great nuance to it. Rape is not solely a stranger in an alley with a knife, but as long as this is the perception of rape (and even then, how quickly people will find ways to dismantle any blame–she was out late, she was by herself, she was dressed provocatively) women will continue to blame themselves for any permutation that does not meet society’s accepted guidelines. And that is the other thing that I would say about rape. That the majority of women I know who have been raped blame themselves so hard, feel so stupid and guilty and shameful. To compound that with victim blaming is a disastrous combination. It is a wonder anyone can recover when internal and external is all combining to say “you brought this on yourself,” to find any excuse to cut the rapist a break. I think a lot of people find it easier than the truth, it’s nicer if you can pardon it away, case-by-case, as not meeting the criteria, the line drawn in the sand just an inch or two out of reach, each time.
I chose to submit a poem that reflects the nuance. It may not meet your personal criteria of rape. You may blame me as much as I blame myself in the poem. It was a hard decision to submit it, but I wanted to connect with the other women out there in the world who don’t have these textbook cases of assault. I don’t ultimately care about the label assigned to this experience, I just know that it was awful and represented some of the worst months of my life. The poem that was accepted is called, “Even Though We Were Vegetarian.” I am nervous about having it out there in the world, I am nervous to hear blame as I did so often after that experience, from my family and friends. It is a scary period of my life to revisit.
But if it brings anyone comfort in knowing they are not alone, then I will feel like it was the right thing to do to publish it.
I wish that in the poem was the story of how I left. I feel like that should be the next step, not just sharing the durings, but the afters. Sharing how we found the courage to leave. How our lives are now different, and better.
To anyone else who is struggling in a traumatic relationship, I am sorry. You are not alone. It happens to so very many of us.
For survivors and sufferers: https://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-hotline