After all the times I said yes, did it even matter that I said no?
I’m not even sure why I’d want to write this. I’ve tried thousands of times to find a combination of words that will draw the poison from my wounds, or make it seem more or less real in turn, or even to understand what still seems incomprehensible. But I never thought I’d show anyone. If I can’t make it make sense to me, how could it ever make sense to someone who doesn’t live in my skin? Those lucky ones who’ve never lost ownership of their bodies, who’ve never felt so completely hollowed out, those who will never fear the hands of men or the terribly sharp memories of them; how can they understand?
But one phrase won’t leave my head: did it matter that I said no, after all the times I said yes? It took me over a year in therapy to understand that it was not my fault, that my past did not make their actions acceptable. For me the nights were almost identical, except that five times out of the hundreds, I said no. It was ignored, but I said no. And that’s the greatest stumbling block for me, that I know it was nothing new. My body knew its contorted positions, their touches although more violent were nothing unfamiliar, and I was good enough at stepping out of my mind that I could almost pretend it wasn’t happening. I felt just as guilty the next morning whether I’d consented or not.
So did it matter then? Did it ever matter whether I said no or yes? I spent years of my life believing that either way my words didn’t make a difference, that either way I’d ended up fucked. That whether or not I said yes, they’d take my body for their own, and that it was my fault because I’d already handed over my innocence so willingly. For years before I’d thrown my poor body around like an old coat and had every insult under the sun leveled at me until I truly believed I was good for nothing but my body. I was notorious, the one everyone came to for a quick one night stand, the homewrecker, the whore, but at least I believed I was in control. Whether I was in or out of my mind, and I was mostly out of it, I was in control, and by saying yes I knew I had myself to blame. I was reckless.
So did it matter? For so long, it was my fault either way. But it did matter. When I said no, then I lost control of everything. I still remember in startling clarity every single invasion of my body, their eyes, the dirt beneath me, and the way I wanted to crawl through the earth and die on the spot. I still remember my kicks and screams and the way nobody came to save me, and then every moment in which I fell still, and to this day it haunts me. But now I understand that regardless of my past, regardless of my reputation, it made all the difference in the world that I said no. I was a victim, and not a slut; I was a lost girl who got taken advantage of; it was not my fault.
It mattered. It matters still. Regardless of history, of age, of actions, of gender, of race, of ethnicity, of intoxication, my voice is still a voice. I am a human being and I deserved to be heard, listened to,and treated with respect. Every single person on this planet has the right to say no and be respected, and the violation of that will never cease to terrify me. I was not just physically hurt on those nights, not just sexualised, but dehumanized. For them I became an object, a lesser being whose opinion didn’t matter, and it has taken me far too long to reclaim my own right to take up space and express my opinions.
For so long I was too afraid to say a word, too afraid to tell even those I love that I was raped because I was scared of what they might think of me. I was scared that I had deserved it, or that it had been my fault, but I am no longer scared. I am no longer even angry. I still get flashes of fear,rushes of anger when a man whistles at me in the street, and I still feel a little bit lost inside my body. But I no longer cover my skin or stay at home all night. No man on earth can tell me how to dress or how to feel and I will not be contained by fear. This is why I am writing. I am writing because this is everything I wanted to hear two years ago. I don’t need to exorcise my pain any more, or even try to understand. I suppose in the simplest way I just want to break the silent taboo I upheld for so many years and continue opening up the dialogue. There is no shame for anyone: we are safe now, we are strong, we are survivors.
Tara India is a 22-year-old student and aspiring writer/journalist. She is currently studying abroad, recovering, and refusing to grow up.