I Am Learning to Heal, I Am Discovering Intimacy, and I Know I Am Not Alone
For what seemed like hours that morning, I sat in my college dorm room and stared at my pillow. My underwear, which sat right next to where my head had been last night, let me know that I didn’t have to look down to know what was missing. The first thing I saw that day confirmed that my flashbacks of last night were real — I had been raped.
I had been raped.
Where could I go from there?
For many queer survivors of sexual assault and trauma, there are very few or no resources that not only speak to us, but with us. For many survivors, especially those without a support network, we end up healing ourselves, on our own. We also do this while experiencing traumas that are deeply informed by our intersectional identities; as a nonbinary, bisexual Japanese Greek American, I was affected by this during my healing process — or what I could make of it.
How could I tell someone what had happened to me? How could I begin to ask about resources, help, recovery, when I didn’t even know — or understand — what I was in for, or even the entirety of what had happened to me? I eventually had this conversation, first with myself; but then, at my own, painful pace, I finally let others in.
For me, the process first started with halting, sobbed confessions. Every part of my body burned with fear, impulsivity, anger, and grief. Any touch at the time, no matter how tender, sent me into hysterics. I did not know how I could be touched, where, or even why. I felt that I deserved nothing. Why anyone would want to approach a traumatized, broken, and hurting person escaped me.
On my journey, I eventually found others who had been in similar corners. One of those people is a close friend of mine—Dominique Norman, a Black/Creole fashion writer now based in Brooklyn. As college students, Dominique was one of the first people with whom I had in-depth conversations about trauma-informed intimacy. Over the course of our friendship, we discussed our pasts multiple times—frequently discussing not only what happened, but how we rebuilt ourselves after. When I began opening up to Dominique, and saw her vulnerability, too, our perspectives turned towards a new direction of healing.
“It [the sexual trauma] was my first introduction to 'intimacy,' if I can even describe it as such. It warped my understanding of bodies, of who could touch them, of how to touch them, when, and where,” Dominique stated over email. Like me, she had also believed that any type of sex would involve coercion — and it would instill a direct sense of shame over our own bodies, even while pleasuring ourselves. This shame also carried over into our understanding of our intersectional identities.
“Being Black and femme, I think there is a level of submission involved in my experience. I'm expected to submit in all areas of my life,” Dominique continued, “if I resist, the consequences range from being labeled 'angry' to acts of violence… it was very difficult to work through my emotions, who I was more angry at, if I could even be angry, if I could even speak out at all.”
What really helped both Dominique and I, we discovered, was taking consent workshops, working with sexual health educators, and proactively not only putting ourselves “out there” in a very vulnerable way; but this also involved unlearning many of the fears that had been taught to us around sex and especially sexual assault. “[It was] very healing to know that there was life and even pleasure after trauma,” said Dominique.
For folks in the process of recovering from sexual trauma: there is no obligation to heal faster, or slower, or at any pace that is at odds with what you are comfortable with. There is a lot of healing to do, but you don’t have to always know exactly where you are going or how to get there.
“I did not realize how numb I have forced myself to become out of self preservation,” Dominique wrote. “There's still so much healing left to do, and maybe we're never really done.”
I do not consider myself healed from my rapes — if anything, I have learned and rebuilt in ways informed, but not overwhelmed by, my traumas. I have long accepted that I might never entirely be free from the revisiting pain, fear, or anxiety. However, I have discovered greater intimacy, deeper love, and more vulnerable connections with people who embrace me entirely — trauma and all — without being forced to hide my past.
I may never be done healing, but I am not alone...and neither are you.
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