I Am a Survivor, and I Can Finally Talk About It

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Levi Greenacres feels anything but big and strong when he thinks about his rape, and the rapes of the people he loves.

When I was 21, I had a fight with my fiancee about our first Valentine’s Day. I wanted to celebrate it, and she didn’t. She went out with her coworkers, and I went to a party out of town with old friends. I drank until a mighty vomit began that I don’t remember the end of.

I woke up to the sound of a party ending, my face on a toilet seat. People were saying goodbye in the hallway, someone asked, “Is Levi still in the bathroom? I wonder if he’s dead. Ok, see you later.” I tried to yell, “No, I’m not dead! But I could use some help!” I couldn’t talk, something had gone wrong with my mouth. Some vomit that hadn’t yet left my mouth dribbled into the toilet bowl. I threw up again, long and hard enough to feel a muscle near my scrotum begin to tear. My long hair hung in the toilet water.

I was not able to move or speak, which was terrifying. When I pushed weakly against the toilet with my chin, the ground came up fast in free fall, my forehead banging hard. I could smell the poor urological aim of drunk boys on the floor and on the porcelain cooling my face. The bathroom door crashed open, and a lady I kind of knew came in.

She picked me up off that horrid floor. All my six foot one inches, two hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight, seemingly without effort. Over her shoulder, I watched her heels walk into the living room, where she deposited me on the floor. She straddled me, put her face close to mine. “You’re cute,” she said. She told me that she had liked me for a while, and was glad that I’d come to the party tonight. Her weight was incredible, and I couldn’t breathe. One of the house’s residents popped his head in the room. A little red plastic square appeared in his hand like the Queen Of Diamonds, and it sailed to the ground in slow motion. A condom. “Have fun,” he said, and shut the door behind him.

No, don’t go!” I tried to shout. I couldn’t remember this girl’s name. Tried to roll over and couldn’t. She pulled down my pants and started doing something to me with her hands. I got hard. Incredible, I thought. I am beyond very drunk, how is this even possible? She put the condom on me. “Get down, man!” I mind-shouted to my crotch. The hem of her dress came up. The middle of her came down on me, her hands on either side of my head. I thought of Medusa. She whispered something in my awful slime crown of hair. Then, darkness.

I came to the next morning on the floor. My everything hurt. I tasted pukemouth. My legs felt trapped. I sat up enough to see my pants around my knees, and laid back down. To my left, a torn red wrapper and a used condom were precariously close to my head. To my right was the woman who’d pulled me from the bathroom floor, smiling, her face an inch from my face. “Good morning,” she said, leaning in to kiss me. I tried to get up too fast and fell down. I ended up legs on the couch, face on the carpet. I got my pants on that way, then crawled into the bathroom. Someone had kind of cleaned up my hideous mess, but poorly. There was enough left over in there to remind me of my previous night, and I barfed again. An ugly thing looked back at me from the mirror. I washed the dried crap out of my hair a little, and cut chunks of hair off with my pocketknife.

I don’t remember leaving the house, or getting back to the Greyhound station. I remember getting off the bus back home, confused, starving, filthy. In addition to a terrible guilt, I felt that I had been unfaithful to my fiance, and that I was now unworthy of her. I did the exact wrong thing and never called her again, or talked to anyone about what happened for a long time. I pretended that I’d been a very lucky young guy at a party, who got what guys are supposed to want. And until recently, that’s how I felt about it, an unusual experience that I brought upon myself, and did my best not to think about. Though it did make me reluctant to drink, particularly around people I don’t know too well, and extremely cautious about having sex with someone for the first time. Even if I was just making out with someone, and I occasionally opted to pass on a chance to do so, I never wanted alcohol to be a questionable factor in anyone’s recollection of being intimate with me. I preferred taking the label of “old-fashioned” or “prudish” or “weird,” instead of discussing why I’d rather wait.

♦◊♦

In 14 years, I’ve talked about that night to three women, who all used the same word to describe it. They said, “This is the kind of thing that we worry about all the time. It’s called rape.” The last person I shared this with told me that she had been recently sexually assaulted at the hands of a medical professional, whom she had been referred to by her insurance company. I asked her if she had ever reported her attacker. She told me that she hadn’t, because reporting sexual assault is pointless, cops don’t believe you, and if they do, the guy still doesn’t get punished. She explained that her fear of the man retaliating against her was something that I wouldn’t understand, because I’ve never had to exist as a small-framed, soft-spoken female. She made a good point, that I won’t ever live with the ever-present threat of being violated. Or fear the culture that has made what often seems like zero progress in creating a world where a woman might feel comfortable walking alone at night, or drinking at a bar without constant vigilance over her glass. And I would certainly never understand the horrible process of talking about a sexual assault.

I was unable for years to use the word rape. It isn’t supposed to be something that happens to a man, and certainly not by a woman. People don’t whistle at me from cars, try to block doorways to hit on me, or assume I am weak.

Thinking now about that Valentine’s Day years ago, I realized that as soon as I got on the bus home, I was back to being a big guy people often don’t want to sit next to or make eye contact with. Unable to understand years later how unsafe my friend mentioned feeling all day, every day, even having been so recently been violated myself. I was unable for years to use the word rape. It isn’t supposed to be something that happens to a man, and certainly not by a woman. People don’t whistle at me from cars, try to block doorways to hit on me, or assume I am weak. I am someone who has successfully ended or avoided fights just by standing suddenly up straight and looking someone in the eye. And yet, when I consider my inability to prevent harm from finding people, or to offer help when someone I care about gets hurt, I don’t feel like the large, confident meat-machine I usually am, who is capable of maintaining a large personal bubble of space with my demeanor. Whatever the opposite of that is, that’s what I feel like.

♦◊♦

For a number of years, I wondered at how many of my female friends, lovers, and coworkers had a story about being raped, molested, or otherwise abused. I wondered ignorantly if there was something weird about me that brought women with horror in their pasts to my life. I wasn’t able to understand until my friend pointed it out to me bluntly, I’m a man. I don’t get it. This is how the world is for many women. I want to understand, though I don’t know that it is possible for me to fully comprehend.

My current partner was raped just before we got together. It was her beautiful, shameless writing about it that made me want to know her. Many people never talk about their assaults for fear of another attack, or the real fear of not getting helped by police and being shamed. My partner, however, talked about it with the intelligence and strength I quickly grew to love in her. She allowed me to talk about my experience without feeling like the thing that happened to me was something no one would understand.

Among many other things, she writes online about her attack and survival, speaks patiently to those who ask in person, and as a result of her writing was interviewed by a television film crew. She reported her rape to the police, as did another brave woman who had been assaulted by the same man. Nearly two years later, we have almost gotten her rapist’s name spelled correctly on her police report, and the details of her assault described accurately. I consider this a huge triumph, in what is likely to be a very long and painful road to a justice that she may never get served. It may at least help someone else who chooses to come forward and report an assault by the same person, and have an easier time pressing charges. Progress is painful and difficult, but we keep trying.

Just as there isn’t an easy description of either rapist or rape victim, there isn’t an easy answer for what to do about rape or how to repair a culture sick with it. We can’t seem to address assaults yet without blaming the victim or dehumanizing the attacker. Shaming someone who has been raped by suggesting they invited their attack is a cruelty that makes their healing impossible. Thinking of a rapist as a monstrous aberration takes away from the truth that a rapist is a person who committed a crime—a crime perpetuated by the inaction and ignorance of other people. People who look like all of us.

I did the wrong thing by not talking about my experience when it happened, for the same reasons many people never come forward. It’s hard. It makes a victim feel worse. And many times, the law doesn’t help us in the way we expect it to. By sharing my experience now, I hope to encourage others to do what I should have done over a decade ago: talk about it. Though reporting a sexual assault may not bring immediate results, keeping quiet definitely won’t ever change anything. The silence of rape survivors, and particularly silence on the part of those with the power to recognize and prevent it, is what guarantees rape’s continued presence in our culture.

We are all part of this, and need to talk about it. Loudly, directly, right now.

 

Photo: Flickr/ legends2k

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About Levi Greenacres

Levi Greenacres is a Portland, Oregon tattooer, and author/illustrator of books for children. His words and pictures can be found at www.levigreenacres.com.

Comments

  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Thanks for this story Levi. I’m so sorry you had to experience that, but it sounds like you’re healing.

    I only wish that more people understood the impact of rape upon men, even when perpetrated by women. It’s such a serious issue and one we can’t continue to ignore. Lots more healing to you and your friends who are survivors.

  2. bravo, levi. it sucks, what happened to you. i appreciate your decision to share and further the conversation.

  3. Thank you. Thank you so much. A long term boyfriend of mine was raped during our relationship. He had told the girl repeatedly that they were never going to have sex, so stop trying; he spent the night at her house one night, got drunk, and when she tried to have sex with him, “he didn’t object THAT TIME so [she] thought he consented.” (HER words to me.) He was never able to use the word rape because “men don’t get raped by women;” he was able to admit that if the sexes were reversed that he would call it rape. He simply can’t apply that word to himself because he’s male; maybe someday, he will. He lucked out because while he couldn’t use the word, some part of him knew that his survivor girlfriend would understand. I can’t tell his story and neither can he, so thank you for speaking for him.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Jen, thanks for sharing this story. Hugs to your boyfriend and lots of healing for both of you.

    • trey1963 says:

      It happens much more often than anyone seems ready to admit, Among my peers 40-50 yr old guys, it’s fairly common to have the story about the woman that refused to take no for an answer. It may be laughed off but there is pain underneath it all. One buddy tells of how he was “Adopted” at 13 by a neighbor who clothed and fed him,when his addicted mom could/would not. Nice story till you get to where she kept him as her “Man” till he was too old at 16.

  4. John Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing, Levi.

  5. Alyssa Royse says:

    THANK YOU.

  6. QuantumInc says:

    There isn’t enough discussion, research, or people telling their stories around men who are raped, let alone men raped by women. Most feminists would probably agree that men can be raped (at least the ones I’ve met) but 99% of their discussions are about female victims. I’m not sure about the MRAs, but at least some of them seem to embrace the idea that sex is always good for men. Obviously manboobz.com is not representative, it showcases only the worst of the worst, but this is so incredibly offensive that I doubt the rest of the current Men’s Rights Movement can be counted upon at the moment. You would think they would jump on the idea that men get raped too, that women are rapists too, but sometimes they seem to embrace the sort of traditional ideas about sex they claim to oppose.
    http://manboobz.com/2012/10/09/spearheader-the-real-victims-of-predatory-female-teachers-are-the-guys-hot-teachers-arent-having-sex-with/

    The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the CDC included a category for men who were “forced to penetrate” It’s possible for this to describe some other scenario (male-male rape, or male friends who forced you to penetrate a 3rd party) but I suspect that the men who answered yes to those questions experienced something similar to Greenacres chilling tale. However, technically the CDC doesn’t define that as rape, apparently rape only counts when you are the one being penetrated according to official government agencies. The survey says that 4.8% of men were forced to penetrate, a small but still significant portion of the population. Greater than the 1.4% who were penetrated by another man, but substantially smaller that the over 18% of women who were raped by men. However even if women face massively greater sexual violence than men (which they certainly do) the violence that men face needs to be acknowledged, discussed, researched and dealt with. Right now it seems the good men project is the only place where it even gets acknowledged.

    • On page 24 the NISVS 2010 report that 79.2% of the men who reported “being made to penetrate” reported a single female perpetrator.

      According to lifetime figures from CDC every 5th rape victim is a man raped by a woman (if we classify “being made to penetrate” as rape. Every 4th rape victim is a man.

      CDC’s disinclination may very well be related to Mary P Koss 1993 paper where she argued that it’s inappropriate to call it rape if a man has unwanted intercourse with a woman (unless she penetrates him). Mary P Koss has and does serve as an advisor and consultant in multiple roles for the CDC according to her CV.

      Last year I wrote CDC an email asking them if they would classify “being made penetrate” as rape in future reports considering the new FBI definition of rape. The reply boiled down to: No, being made to penetrate is not rape because it’s not rape.

      Genderratic, AVFM, FeministCritics and Toysoldiers have articles and discussions on how the survey designs used by CDC (NISVS 2010) and the Home Office in the UK (CSEW) are certain to undercount male rape victims.

    • It seems like the old fallacy of thinking well the fantasy is good, so the reality must be even better. This only seems to be a confusion where sex is concerned; we’re aware that the reality of war is nasty, however exciting it may look in films, we’re aware that the fantasy of archeology is Indiana Jones but the reality is Tony Robinson! But as soon as it is sex people seem to get confused. There is no pain or shame in fantasy only escapism. The reality of finding you’re not in control of a situation and something is happening that you don’t want to is horrible.

      So the one line in the Manboobs article I slightly take issue with is “I’m pretty sure that most men – or even most teenage boys — don’t spend their days wondering why their lives aren’t exactly like Penthouse Letters.” – I’m sorry, but a lot of us did just that. And that’s not purely a male thing, women do that too – look at the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey.

      So we’re stuck on this “lucky guy” myth; but I remember when I was quite young my aunt (who was in her late teens) being chastised by my grandmother for walking home on her own, “What if you’d been attacked?” she said. My aunt’s reply was “I should be so lucky!” – I was aware even at that young age that this was a joke one shouldn’t be making; this was treating lightly a topic that shouldn’t be treated lightly. Blaming the victim is one thing, envying the victim is a whole other world of deluded. But it used to happen in female circles and we got past it; culturally we got past it. For a while we pretended that there was no such fantasy (which was another lie, possibly a less dangerous lie, replacing an old one) and now I think we accept that the fantasy exists but the reality bears no resemblance to it. And we need to come to the same understanding regarding sexual abuse by females to males. The safeties are always on in fantasy – no one gets hurt, no one is in actual danger, ultimately the fantisiser is in control, even if the fantasy is about not having control. The fantasiser can stop it whenever he or she likes and there are no lasting consequences. There are no safeties in reality – there are consequences – lasting psycological consequences, and you have no control.

  7. Levi, from one survivor to another, I acknowledge and honor your courage and strength for sharing your story. You courage will help others come forward. You have helped break the silence on this subject. Many men and women think it’s impossible for a man to be raped by a woman, sadly that includes many many people who are considered “professionals” in the field of sexual abuse prevention and outreach. Your story powerfully illustrates that rape is about power and consent, not the act of sex itself, and that anyone can be a victim.

    I also want you to know that hope, healing, and support are possible for every single survivor of sexual abuse. There are resources for you, and every other male survivor, on our website http://www.malesurvivor.org. In addition, please feel free to email me if you would like any information, or if I can be any help and support for you at all.

  8. Wow, thanks for having the courage to share this. The more we talk about it, the closer we can come to changing things. As hard as it is for a women to talk about rape, society has a whole other set of judgements reserved for men, and they know it. It takes some serious balls to take the risk and do it anyway.

  9. If no one talks about it, no one knows about it. Even just mentioning my interests in men’s issues and the disparity of services/awareness of IPV with men gets men to open up and tell me about things they’ve suffered. Few would tell me these things if I didn’t open up a piece of myself first to let them know that I’m understanding of the subject matter they’ve been subjected to.

    Silence begets silence.

  10. Mike L says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

    If you feel up for discussion, I do have two questions.

    Before speaking with anyone, did you feel like you had been raped?

    I struggle with this a lot. Many of my male friends (I can think of three off-hand) have stories identical to yours, and yet when asked, they will say they have never been raped. In truth, I’m not sure that they see themselves as victims. When talking with other men, I find that the same man will give very different answers to the two questions:
    “Have you ever been raped?”
    and
    “Did you ever have sex with a woman you did not want to have sex with when you were too drunk to stop it?”

    The same man will often answer “no” to the first question, and then “yes” to the second.

    This is also a long-winded way of getting to second question: If men don’t see themselves as victims, does it help to tell them they are?

    I know that some out there rush to say “Yes, there are male victims!” in order to score points in the “gender war,” but I’m not talking about that. For a man, as an individual, who has gone through this, does it help to hear that you are a victim? Do you try to fight that label? What impact does it have on you?

  11. First, thank you to everyone who read and commented on this piece. I wasn’t sure what the feedback might be, but I am grateful for your support and encouragement.

    Mike L, to answer your questions:

    It took me a long time to use the word “rape” in talking about my assault, or to talk about it at all. I mostly just tried to prevent a similar situation from happening, and made a policy of avoiding being physical with others when intoxication was involved.

    About the word “victim,” I cannot speak about how other people might feel about it, or other terms like “survivor.” I think it is important to address the situation and the person in a way that validates the fact that something traumatic happened, and should be dealt with accordingly– first and foremost by our willingness as friends, partners, and a culture to listen to a person who reports their assault. And, as a society to take steps to dutifully address assailants and take steps to prevent assaults. As the word “victim” applies to me personally, I don’t fight the label as much as try to make sense of my experience, and encourage others to speak up about theirs.

    • Evelyn MacPhee says:

      Thank you so much!

      Good luck on your healing.

      Blessings from wherever you would accept blessings from.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I was twelve at the time, and don’t really want to talk about it here except to say that you have my heartfelt sympathy. One thing bothers me, though, and that’s the reaction of the female friends you told. Who responds to something like that with sneering comparisons like “now you know how we feel” and “you’ve never had to exist as a small-framed woman?” If a man was diagnosed with breast cancer, would the reaction be an eye-rolling “welcome to our world” and “at least you’re not judged by them?” I lucked out in that the two female friends I finally, years after the fact, talked to about it were very sympathetic and understanding, and didn’t turn it around into gender politics or imply that I deserved it as some kind of karmic payback for men’s actions as a whole. Even talking about it, admitting that it had affected my life since, was bad enough; that sort of flippant reaction would have been devastating. Human suffering isn’t a contest, and neither side should dismiss the other one’s experiences simply because they’re not “winning” it.

    • Christy says:

      That bothered me enormously, too. It’s a horrible way to talk to someone who’s been raped–you just _don’t_ go around telling another survivor that your own experience is worse than theirs. There’s a lot of very heavy baggage that goes with being a male victim that we women don’t have to experience, too. The abandonment by the guy who probably knew how drunk the author was while being raped in a rather public location is not something I can imagine any of my friends doing to me, for instance. Not even knowing that it qualifies as rape. Knowing that many other men won’t consider it rape. One-upsmanship about whose experience is worse overall doesn’t do any gender any favors. It makes me incredibly sad that the author felt he had to qualify his experience by implying that women have it worse overall than men do in that arena. There are significant and pervasive gender-based issues with this for all.

      • Thank you for acknowledging that.

        Here is another harrowing story from a man who’s female friend tried to violently rape him: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/no-means-no-no-matter-who-says-it/

        One of the highest rated comments was by w187 where s/he stated:
        “The sad part is, no one will ever ask you what you were wearing and how much you had to drink.”

        Think about that for a minute. This person thinks that is the sad part of that story.

  13. One major obstacle of the conversation, much less confrontation, on rape is that the word has quite literally been shaped to mean, “It’s something men do to women.” This twisting comes from various factors but they will all need to be dealt with in time.

    I’ve been sexually harassed/assaulted myself last year (maybe one of these days I’ll get around to telling the story) and part of the reason it too me so long to actually be able to make that sentence for this very reason.

    Thanks for speaking up.

  14. Eagle35 says:

    While this is a good article, I have to take issue with this opinion:

    ” She made a good point, that I won’t ever live with the ever-present threat of being violated. Or fear the culture that has made what often seems like zero progress in creating a world where a woman might feel comfortable walking alone at night, or drinking at a bar without constant vigilance over her glass. And I would certainly never understand the horrible process of talking about a sexual assault.”

    OP, why did you include this? What possible intention do you have with this quantification? You’re essentially saying that women have it worse when it comes to rape.

    Firstly, that’s debatable as more information about male victims such as yourself is coming to light. But I don’t want to get into semantics.

    Even if it were true, why spend so much time basically beholden to what your female friends believe you should think and feel about being raped? This is YOUR story about YOUR trauma and many male survivors need your voice. The last thing they want to hear is a male survivor like you minimizing your trauma. It’s disrespectful to them and to your own experience as a survivor.

    I tell you this because I’m survivor myself but not of sexual abuse. Rather emotional and mental abuse by female in addition to males. I just wanted to let you know.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] These are comments by Christopher Anderson, Scott Mauer, and trey1963 on the post “I Am a Survivor, and I Can Finally Talk About It“. [...]

  2. [...] by men. That’s why we’ve been so grateful to writers like  James Landrith and Levi Greenacres, who have shared their stories with The Good Men Project community in the past. A year ago, Mike [...]

  3. […] and it’s important that guys and girls stand up for the men in their lives too. There are a lot of stories of guys who’ve been drunk or otherwise incapacitated being raped by women or men, and those guys […]

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