James Landrith has spent five years speaking out as a male rape survivor. Here is what he has learned.
I have taken it on the chin several times for speaking out and publicly telling my story. I’ve had to remind myself that there are a lot of silent survivors who feel validated and less alone when they see another survivor speak out loudly. I’ve heard from men who’ve been raped. I’ve heard from their wives, girlfriends, mothers and friends. I’ve heard from women raped by other women. I’ve listened to their stories, shared their traumas and appreciated their compassion. I’ve made many new friends and lost a few along the way.
I’ve been called a liar, told “men can’t be raped”, “women would never rape”, been lectured that “erections can’t be forced”, that “I should have fought back” and outright harassed and targeted by rape apologists and victim-blamers of all gender identification and ideological leaning. Please don’t bother to tell me that “so and so is not a true X” and such. Too many of their peers are quite willing to look the other way when they act atrociously. I’m done with excuses, apologia and disavowals. Purge your scumbags and distance yourself from them profoundly or you own them. I don’t give a fuck anymore. I’m done with all of that. I know the landscape too well at this point. No ideology is free of victim-blaming, shaming and minimizations toward rape survivors. Even rape survivors gang up on other rape survivors on the basis of gender, type of rape, whether they reported or not, ideology or whatever arbitrary thing happens to be what they wish to use at a given moment.
I’ve outlasted the scumbags. They tend to give up when I refuse to slink away in shame. I’ve been attacked harder in 2012 than in recent years, but I am still here. They are nowhere to be found with regard to actually helping survivors. Those who talk big on the internet are never at a Take Back the Night march, they aren’t on Capitol Hill, they don’t get late night texts from survivors in crisis, they’ve never listened patiently while someone screamed and cried and sobbed inconsolably. I have never noticed them in a policy planning meeting on sexual violence issues. They talk big on the internet. That’s it. They aren’t even useful idiots.
I am not attached to any ideological or political movement. No one owns me and I work with anyone who is doing something to help. I have allowed a wide variety of people, publications and organizations to share my story with their constituencies as a public service. I will continue to do that so long as I believe it can be of assistance to other survivors. Whatever label you think you can apply to me speaks far more about you than it does me.
This month (June 2013), it will be five years since I decided to face up to what happened to me and say the words: “I was raped.” My world was turned upside down and I could not have expected the emotional and media storm that going public would heap upon my head. My story has been published in multiple publications and mentioned in dozens of blogs. I’ve been interviewed for print, internet and live media. The Empowerment Theatre adapted my story for use in a stage production on sexual violence, a video interview has become part of the awesome Precious Porter stage presentation “Love Should Not Hurt” and modern romance author Susan Mac Nicol used my story as research for the rape of her protagonist in the novel “Cassandra By Starlight.” I’ve been a moderator at one of the largest survivor forums on the internet, became a member of RAINN’s Speakers Bureau and got involved in policy through the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. I am now working with fellow survivors on Military Sexual Trauma policy and advocacy. There is always more to do. There are never enough hands.
I’ve had HORRIBLE days when I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear forever. I’ve wanted to put my fist through a wall on other days. I’ve cried. I’ve been angry. I’ve been inconsolable. I’ve lost my cool. I’ve dissociated and shut down.
I’ve had WONDERFUL days when I heard from a survivor who felt less alone. I’ve seen them flourish and begin to heal. I’ve made incredible friendships. I’ve been privileged to hear many people’s stories for the first time.
I’ve learned a great deal along the way. I’ve paid a huge price for speaking out and I caution that it is NOT for everyone. If you do feel you are ready, I’ve prepared a few observations and tips below.
I would suggest before speaking out that you make sure you’ve set aside some time to deal with your emotions. Often, you will feel horrible. Give yourself permission to feel that way and understand that other survivors who speak out have often felt the same. You are telling your story to new people. You are exposing yourself to a much larger group of “insiders.” People will know you have been raped. They may even know how it happened. That is hard to shoulder. My story has been in print, on the internet and covered by podcast and video for MILLIONS to have read or seen over five years. I still get a panic attack after I disclose to a new audience. I’ve just accepted that as part of the process. It is much easier that way.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever read the comments on stories about your rape. EVER. Got it? It will be triggering, humiliating and demoralizing. There are monsters in the comments. They are nameless, faceless, cowardly monsters who take sport in hurting people far braver than they could ever be on their best day. Don’t validate them by giving them even a second of your life. You are not talking to them. They aren’t listening to you. You are talking to the silent survivor fighting back tears on the other end of the monitor. You are teaching a parent, educator, family member, secondary survivor and bystander about yet another facet of the survivor experience. You are speaking to those who are listening and ready to hear your truth. It is not your responsibility to engage with the dregs of the internet. They don’t actually care about you. They have nothing of worth to offer.
Understand why you want to speak, before you start booking events. If you don’t know what you intend to get out of speaking, you should spend some time figuring that out first. Your experience will not be healing for you and could be detrimental if you go into it lightly.
Pick your subject matter carefully and stay on topic. Don’t try to cover everything in one presentation. I change my content to fit the organization, event and audience. Try not to read your presentation like a script. Learn your content in advance and practice. It will sound more natural and your audience will notice.
Expect that many people will want to speak with you after the event or in between speakers. They may honor you by sharing their own story for the first time with anyone. Someone may tell you that your remarks gave them the strength to break the silence. Be prepared for that. You WILL change someone’s life for the better. You may hear from a person months or even YEARS after an interview or speech. For that person, what you said is new and vital and life-saving. Recognize how much courage it took that person to contact you. You don’t owe them anything, but you just might save their life.
Whether you choose to tell your story publicly or keep your story private is entirely your choice. If you are gonna do it, then go into it with your eyes wide open. Understand that the world is will not always welcome you with loving arms. Many people don’t want to know you even exist, let alone even listen to you respectfully. This is a hard responsibility to take on as a survivor.
You may want or need to say To Hell With This on occasion when it gets to be too much. Do that. Take care of yourself. You own this process. Don’t feel ashamed of getting overwhelmed. Rape is overwhelming. PTSD is overwhelming. Victim-blaming and shaming are overwhelming. Speaking out opens up a lot of emotions and exposes your wounds to strangers. That is unbelievably brave and such important work. You need to take care of yourself first though. You won’t help anyone else if you are in crisis yourself.
It has been a strange and intense five year journey for me. For those of you who were with me along the way, I thank you. Many people were incredibly supportive and continue to show me that humanity is not dominated by the monsters and the heartless cynics. There are more good people than I could have ever imagined. Thank you all.
I don’t know what the next five years will bring, but I am no longer afraid. I own this process. I own my future. Anyone who doesn’t like it should feel free to proceed to the nearest exit.
Originally published on JamesLandrith.com on June 13, 2013
Photo: floeschie / flickr