TW // sexual violence and rape
I’m fairly sure I was born this way. I first knew that there was something fundamentally different, something wrong with me at about thirteen. I wasn’t a late bloomer, because I did have a “crush” or two on a boy. It was my attitude to sex and relationships that was odd. Weird. My friends used to call me “penis phobic”. I was in two minds about the whole concept of a boyfriend – what with the patriarchy and my low self-esteem, it felt really important to have one. On the other hand, did you really have to see them every single day? And did you have to do all that public holding hands and kissing everyone else seemed to do? What if the boyfriend wanted my attention and I just wanted to watch TV and eat chips? This was a likely scenario.
My friends, equal parts kind and delusional, would tell me random boys had a crush on me. Often popular, sporty, cool ones. I’m sure these boys were perfectly nice, but even as a 34-year-old veteran of a great deal of therapy, and now kind to myself – they were not boys who were interested in fifteen-year-old me. I made it my business to be small and unassuming. I was a well-known nerd and loser. I had eczema on my face so severe my eyebrows fell out!
When the eczema got better, and I learned some confidence, a younger boy definitely did have a real crush on me. I was utterly horrified and disgusted by it and was as rude as I could bring myself to be (note: not very rude), hoping he would lose interest. I had a violent, visceral horror of a boy actually being romantically interested in me.
I tried to hide my discomfort about romance and sex but I didn’t always manage it. There was a cool, popular girl who was nice to me. She asked me how long I waited before having sex with a guy I dated. How sweet to even envision that as possibility for me! I laughed and said I’d never had a boyfriend and tried to be self-deprecating about it in a chill, casual way, like maybe I was just too cool for boys. This could not possibly have been convincing. She was nice about that, and posed the question again hypothetically.
I had no frame of reference – absolutely none. I had no idea what was normal and what wasn’t. I knew what TV and media told me was appropriate for adult women (no sex on the first date!). But for a teen, for the first time? “Maybe two years?” I guessed, with a panicked hesitation.
She thought I was joking. She didn’t mean to hurt me but when she laughed at the absurdity of two years, I died of shame on the inside.
When I first told a counsellor about what happened to me, she told me that when trauma starts as something less distressing and builds over time to become more and more serious, that can often be a part of how we forget. Trauma is easier to bury when it’s part of an escalating saga than when it’s a single dramatic incident.
This is one reason I am vague on many of the details. It started out with the name calling. A lot of them were words I’d already internalised and many still live inside my heart – and at the bottom of my stomach. Weird, silly, childish, mental.
Then there was the subtle peer pressure, the questions, the comments. Why didn’t I have a boyfriend? Do I have a crush on anyone? Who? There must be someone.
Was it bullying? It certainly wasn’t a crime. Yet.
I’d go to a party and there’d be people I didn’t know. The boys would hit on me a lot. My friends would be nearby, laughing when I squirmed with the discomfort of being approached by a boy with openly sexual intent. They’d put these boys up to it: “Our friend Kate is coming and she’s scared of guys and sex. Dare you to hit on her.”
It was good for me, they decided. It was good for me. There’s something wrong with a girl of sixteen who’s never dated and never done anything sexual. It will be good for her if someone touches her between her knees… her thigh… inside her shorts… higher.
It was good for me to be dragged into a bathroom by a strange boy and forcibly kissed. To be shown porn against my will. To have my bra removed in my sleep. To be locked in a room until I let someone kiss me.
It was “good for me” when the thing happened that was worse than any of those things. And possibly, for all I know, worse happened than that. I can’t remember everything and perhaps that’s a good thing, because what I can remember occupies a lot of space in my soul. I can’t always recall exactly who and where, and I don’t care to. What does it matter?
I did not know that I was asexual. The people who sexually assaulted me did not know that I was asexual. The concept had never entered our consciousness, let alone the actual word. But my identity, and the language around it weren’t relevant. What matters is the two central thought processes of these kids: “What I’m doing is OK because she is different” and “Forcing these experiences she doesn’t want onto her will fix what is wrong with her.”
By definition, asexuality has nothing to do with desire for sex, or how much sex you’re having. It’s important to always separate ACTION from ATTRACTION. Asexual people experience no (or very little) sexual attraction. Not all are like me and that distressed in sexual contexts – and it won’t surprise any reasonable person to know that my distress only kept getting worse and worse.
Corrective rape. It’s important we give a name and shape to this creature. I am not alone in my experience – and my research work has gathered many stories that make me feel like mine is nothing. Whether a person has begun to identify as asexual or not, whether the perceived “wrongness” in them is their lack of sexual attraction, lack of libido, or lack of sexual activity, the victim-survivor has been Othered by a society that sees these things as essential and normal elements of human behaviour, and when ordinary people reach for their toolkit to fix that “broken” human, they find bullying, violence and rape inside.
There are a large number of people in my story – bystanders, enablers and those who assaulted me. I have made my own choices to forgive, to forget, to hold a furious grudge. It’s a case-by-case system and it’s worked for me to reconcile that some of these people are still in my life; friends and acquaintances who have no memory of events that are at the core of who I am as a person. It’s not entirely their fault. I cannot hate someone for thinking I could be bullied into normality when I thought maybe they were right. I blame a woefully poor sex education curriculum that taught us about how to have sex safely but which was fundamentally based on the preconception that every one of us would be having sex as much as possible. We were treated like animals who needed to be held back and kept apart from one another due to our ravenous sexual appetites. If I didn’t fit that mould, something surely was wrong with me.
I honestly don’t believe the time to prevent any of my unknown number of sexual assaults was immediately before it occurred. They should all have been prevented at the very beginning – by acknowledging asexuality as a genuine sexual orientation, supporting me as a young asexual person struggling with being different from her peers, and both bullying and sexual violence prevention programs that made clear to those peers that no one should be ridiculed for their differences. That’s what would have been “good for me.”
That kind of support, general programs, as well as specific reference to asexuality would have helped in two ways – by teaching others that who I am is normal, and part of the diversity of human experiences, and by teaching me that I was normal and that attempts to fix me were a form of violence that I didn’t have to bottle away for seventeen years until it spewed out of me in my early thirties – causing me not just emotional distress but actual physical illness.
No one should suffer like that – and that’s why I work with organisations like ACT Aces and Australian Asexuals to collect, research and raise awareness of the experiences of asexual people all over the world who have survived bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual violence and other forms of oppression because of their asexuality. I’m working for a world where no one will ever go through what I did. And it’s also been good for me.
 I want to note that it’s important to name this crime, but for me, I prefer “sexual assault” as I’m in a definitional grey area and it’s my right to choose how to frame my own experience.
For more information/support, please visit the Australian Asexuals FB page here. You can also call 1800 Respect (National sexual assault, domestic family violence counseling service) or visit their website here.