A contemplation on how to move forward
CW: rape, sexual assault
Some things are easier to look at by not looking at them directly both literally and metaphorically. That is how I feel about you. I don’t want to think about you. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to see your work. I don’t want to hear other people talking about you.
It’s not so much this thing that happened, this thing that you did to me, made me feel dirty or tainted. You did not traumatize me. I did not become depressed. I am not haunted by memories or frightened of other people because of you. For that, I am thankful. But you did something to me beyond the obvious and it has taken almost a year for me to be able to even think about it long enough to begin considering the ramifications of what happened.
For a long time I was just angry. Angry at you yes, but more angry at myself. Formless anger. The kind of anger that has no outlet, no place to go. The kind of anger that just sits and consumes and infects everything about this life I know to be mine and this person I know to be myself. With the anger also came confusion. How could I be so stupid? How could I have let this happen, not once but twice? Why didn’t I say anything? I knew better. I, of all people; I, who never backs down from a fight to defend women’s rights; I, who defines myself proudly and unapologetically as a radical feminist, should have known better.
Why didn’t I say no? It’s not like it’s difficult. Why was I so naïve? I knew better. I should have known better. Why did I go back? Why am I blaming myself? I know it’s not my fault. It’s never the girls fault. But it was my fault. I did this to myself. No, I didn’t. Yes, I did. No. Yes. No. But also kind of yes. Yes.
The thoughts come and so does the guilt and embarrassment and the self-blame. They come unbidden and unwanted and without real conclusion.
I used to think I had the answer, or at least an answer. A question of rape (a word it has taken me months to own and one I still don’t entirely feel entitled to) has a simple answer. It is not the economy, where there are multiple solutions and no one really quite knows the best way to fix it. Rape is simple right? There is the rapist and the person who has been raped. The person who has been raped is not, under any circumstances, responsible for what happened to them. The rapist is entirely at fault and, in a just world (of which I have no delusions we are currently living) will get outed and tried and punished with a sentence that matches their crime (not any of this three months nonsense, looking at you Brock Turner). This is what is right. Make men accountable for their behavior. Make rapists afraid forever. How simple it all is in the abstract. How simple it should all be in practice.
There is nothing like real experiences to make one question one’s beliefs, and you sure made me question mine. There is something very invigorating about being able to stand up with sweeping statements of moral fervor and declare right from wrong. There is something equally crippling about having those ideas internally challenged. Maybe that is part of “growing up”; one learns the world is more complicated than one thought. Maybe that is “truncated emotional/ moral development”; one has great discrepancies between what one believes and what one does. Either way, it is a challenge to one’s worldview without recourse to a better alternative.
Because what does one do when one of the central pillars around which one has created one’s identity is the kind of radical feminism that believes in challenging misogyny and patriarchal oppression at all costs without concern for the comfortable and security of male egos, and yet one cannot bring oneself to out one’s own rapist?
I know all the reasons I should. In not outing you, I am allowing you to do this again to other people. I am being complicit with you preying on other girls. I am letting you think your behavior is okay, or at least letting you know there are no consequences for what you do.
I know all of that. It hurts me. And I still can’t.
Maybe not ever.
Hopefully not, not ever.
The problem is you scare me. Not physically. But the idea of you scares me. I could make up some rationalization as to why this is but I’m not sure there is a reason. Like the anger, the fear is formless.
Fear of not being believed. Fear of what this means for my own future. Fear of what it would mean in terms of publicity to out an internationally published photographer. Fear of nothing but also of everything.
That too feels so incongruous with the person I thought I knew myself to be that I don’t know who I am. I cannot be this person, but I also cannot be anyone else.
This destruction of self-identity and self-trust more than anything is the true damage you inflicted on me. I feel ripped between the person who stands up against rapists and the person who has been raped. And I don’t know how to reconcile these two halves of myself anymore. I don’t know how to move forward from here.
You did this. You did this to me. I don’t even know if you know how big of an impact you had on my life. I wonder if you ever think of me and what you did. I hope you do. I hope it haunts you. I hope it eats you up inside. But it is unlikely. Most likely I am just a blip in your life. Your life of photographing dancers and models, safe behind their praise and, judging by Instagram captions, admiration of you. I hate that. I hate you. I hate myself for being so stuck here; thoroughly unable to leave you behind either by letting it go or by letting everyone know what you did.
So what now? Where do I go from here? I’m out of simple solutions. I guess all I can do is fight for the things I believe in and trust that my own inability to follow through does not diminish the message of equality and demands for male accountability that I espouse. What else can I do except treat kindly and compassionately my sisters who have been harmed by social misogyny, work towards creating a world where this does not happen, and hope that one day I will have enough fortitude to come forth myself?
Editor’s note: If you need to speak to someone anonymously, you can reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 You can also send a message to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741