For many men, admitting to rape is like coming out of a shameful closet. But it is the first, powerful, step towards healing.
As a communications professor, I stress to my students the value of fostering authentic communication connections via the words and actions we choose. But as I begin to write my most personal case study about this, I fully embody the fear so many of them experience during early-term presentations. What I’m about to share feels as daunting as coming out, but perhaps it may demonstrate the money-where-my-mouth-is empathy students so often appreciate. Here goes…
Last summer, two guys raped me. They chose to have their way with me during a compromised state, and it was a traumatic experience made worse by their choices not to use condoms and not to take needed HIV medication. Thus began my disconnection.
The next morning, I gathered enough wits about me to get online and seek out some options. Google searches for treatment I would eventually need — post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) — but could not name at the time brought more tears to the keyboard than insight for the situation at hand. I helplessly texted and called Burt, a gay physician I knew several time zones away, for help; thankfully he responded swiftly with kindness and knowledge. What later normally would have been a terribly humiliating experience of having to explain and re-explain PEP treatments to the perplexed ER doctor (in San Francisco of all places) instead became more of a nuisance. This was because of Burt. He was a physician, friend and lifesaver who armed me with invaluable information but not before stressing advice equally as important: “Please don’t feel judged, and get the help you need.”
That connection outweighed a potential disconnection temporarily, although judged is certainly how I felt when trying to explain the events to few closest to me. One friend suggested that I likely brought on the assault — a heart-crushing response. Wounded enough, I stayed reticent outside therapy about it for weeks until calling on my friend Paul, who built me up effortlessly in a text that read, “You’re stronger than you think you are.” There’s power in simple words of those we trust.
Despite that encouragement came a strong bout of situational depression. The few times I shared yielded the trivial suggestions: that I should throw myself into work, that I should consider seeing a therapist, or flippantly that I should “cheer the f@%k up.” While well intended, their reactions only amplified my isolation. What offered me the most solace were the few who listened patiently without offering prescriptions for solutions and asked what I needed. My life-long friend Sam provided the crowning jewel of gestures by flying across the country amidst annoying holiday travel simply to spend a weekend together and laugh; nothing could have helped me more or spoke louder to me.
I’m doing a little better now. The humanity of connections continues to save me in recovery. For students who someday may know my story, I’d offer that there’s gravity in the communication choices we make, so please let those be as informed, deliberate, and caring as they can. They help us feel more connected, especially during crisis.
If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or rape, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).