I actually wrote this post several months ago. And the explorations I began around my experience of incest, from which this piece was born, became a sort of catalyst and a turning point in my personal work around my sexual trauma.
And it was actually the writing of this piece in all of its queerness and all of its life giving honesty and release that then birthed the idea for this blog itself and the creation of this space.
When I first wrote this piece, I was desperate for it to be out in the world, desperate to share it and to be seen. And I even sent it out to a few places for publishing. And of course it was rejected. Of course. Because this is the unspeakable. This is not allowed.
And so I became determined to create a space where pieces like this one are allowed. Where complexity is welcome and the multitudes and the layers of lived experience are not forced to be sanitized, palatable and contained only within the bodies that have already carried them for so long.
And I have chosen to post this here now for a couple of reasons. One being that it is sexual assault awareness month. And I often find this month to be a difficult one to get through, and not for the reasons you’d think. Not because I am surrounded by stories of sexual assault, but because I am surrounded by very narrow, boiled down mainstream narratives spoken by a very exclusive set of people who are allowed to speak them and that never, ever seem to reflect my own. I look around in desperation – I feel hope that at least we are talking about such things and I am always disappointed and never see my own reflection among the rest. And I am reminded that I am not seen and mine is a story that is not allowed.
The other reason is that I am in a period of deeper exploration and deconstruction around around the role of sexual and relational violence in my current orientations around sex and relationships and my identity as a queer person. I have been working on some writing around those things. And so it just feels like this is the place to start. Here where the words demanded to be spoken and this part of my work began to be released into the world.
All that being said, I encourage anyone who chooses to read further to take caution. This writing is radically different from mainstream narratives around sexual violence and incest and for some it will be too much. And so while I feel my words deserve a place to be written and shared and I am unapologetic in having written and in placing them here, in a space i created for just such a thing, I very much respect the need to take care and caution in what we expose ourselves to. Please do not hesitate to choose not to read further if that is what feels best.
“Write the fucking,” she said. Write it until the shame cannot survive the exposure to the light. And I think, where does one begin? Where do I begin when there is no beginning? When there is no place in time, no age, no milestone I can locate for myself and label it with certainty, “before he fucked me?” When there are years of fucking, each one almost indistinguishable from the last? And years of feelings so twisted and mixed up and balled together. And years of stigma and taboo and shoving it down and covering it over with food and numbness and shame and secrecy and more fucking.
What happens when I write the fucking?
Who will I be then?
When I say all of the things I cannot say?
It is very difficult to explain how something that is very much sexual violence becomes also something that is so expected and so mundane, so unexceptional except maybe depending on the day or his mood or the circumstances, the degree of pain inflicted or force used. It is also incredibly hard to explain how something that is very much sexual violence also becomes something the body expects, anticipates, even craves, something the body needs. None of the books talk about how this works. About how getting wet becomes involuntary upon arrival, upon return, upon remembering. About how sex with my father becomes the foundation from which I will judge every other sexual experience with a person with a penis.
We talk more and more in this country about rape and sexual abuse and assault and it is mostly framed as a single incident or maybe several over time, but we don’t talk about this kind of sexual violence. We don’t talk about fathers who fuck. Who turn their daughters into partners and who not only forcibly insert themselves in the their daughter’s bodies, but do it over and over and over again and in so doing into their sexuality and sexual lives, forever.
And the rare occasion when we do allow for those stories to be told, there is only one way, only one version, only one part of the story we allow into the collective awareness. That of the horribly traumatized victim, disgusted by what is happening and destroyed by it, unable to move or to act or to have any sort of power because of it.
The very narrow narrative of the one time incident violent rape by a stranger somehow permeates, in some way, every story of rape that gets told. The words for what happened to me simply can’t be found within that narrative. And rape within the context of a day to day relationship with a parent simply doesn’t look that way. At least not for me.
In her book, The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch talks about the late author, Kathy Acker’s books and how they portray rape and implied ongoing sexual relationship between fathers and daughters saying:
“So if you’ve never read Kathy Acker’s books then you don’t know how often fathers rape their daughters. Without artifice or affect. Without any literary strategy to lyricise or symbolize or otherwise disguise. A father will show up on a page and rape his daughter, and the daughter will be the one narrating, and she will not be in any kind of victim position you’ve ever imagined. You’ll be reading going, mother of god, that’s some horrific shit, but the daughter won’t be. The daughter narrating the rape will be extremely articulate even if coarse, and the narration will be the jumping off point for radical adventures of a girl child or a robot woman or a she-pirate. Her rage will drive her. The transgression will write her very body.”
She speaks about how pivotal it was to her to see someone speak so plainly about what we have been conditioned to speak of with such deep disgust, such stigma and shame. And both her words here and her speaking of it and introducing me to the work of Kathy Acker has been similarly life-giving for me.
It isn’t ever that a rape I experienced at the hands of my father was a jumping off point for grand adventures, really. Nothing that dramatic or triumphant. But the stigma of incest in our society implies that I should have been ruined by the rapes of my father, that I should have been destroyed, that when he was done, when he finished and climbed off of my body each and every time, I should have been even more shattered than the last, marked and declared of little use to society. And, in some ways, perhaps that is true. I am not unharmed and unaffected by what happened. But there is also another part to the story, the one that no one tells.
The part about how rape, how sex can become a part of everyday life, even for a child. How the mind, the body, the psyche create ways to accommodate those occurrences, to somehow normalize them and make them part of what happens on a day to day basis. For me, the rapes were built into the landscape of my weekends, school holidays and sick days. I knew they would happen and where. I knew approximately when. I usually knew what would take place and eventually would try to affect that in some ways to sexual activities that were more tolerable to me.
But these things being something that happened so regularly and so often, were not something that normally broke me down or made me stop all other activity. This was my reality, my life and so I rose from my father’s bed every weekend morning, cleaned myself up and went about my life. I had sex with my dad the night before I went to Sunday morning church. I fucked my dad and I went to school, gave him blow jobs before appointments or the rare school event he attended or in exchange for permission to go places and do things with friends. I looked at porn with him while he decided what we would try next. And still, to this day, have feelings of loss and longing I don’t understand related to our sexual relationship.
And while I suppose it’s helpful in some ways to label the relationship abuse and the acts themselves as rape, it has also harmed me in some ways to call it these things exclusively. Yes, it was abuse and rape and incest. Yes, he harmed me and did horrible things no father should ever do to his child. It was the deepest, most sinister kind of betrayal, so deep I am certain I will never fully recover.
And it was also sex. And it was also fucking. And my first ongoing sexual relationship. It was where I learned the mechanics of almost everything about heterosexual sex. I have spent a lot of my life feeling left out of conversations around sex because of it. Because my experiences were and are delegitimized, shamed and made separate. Because in a discussion about “first times” with girlfriends, nobody could ever really handle hearing about how I have no idea when the first time was and how the first time I can actually remember was with my dad, but the first time I had what’s considered consensual sex will never, ever, in any way, feel like my first time. Because any talk of having gotten pleasure from sex with my father is so intolerable to most people that I internalized my own depravity before I can even remember.
And so I just stayed quiet and eventually I stopped trying to belong. Because I learned masturbation and blow jobs and hand jobs and oral and anal and lubrication and orgasm and fantasies and kink and fetishes and porn and putting on condoms and pulling out and and and…. from my dad, before I had any language for any of it and before anyone I knew had any idea about any of those things. Because when I talk about my dad, I am expected to use the language of victimology and abuse to make others more comfortable. I am not supposed to use the language that surrounded me at the time, much of it the language of pornography, which became, for me, the language of what happened.
I am not under any illusions. I don’t romanticise, minimize nor excuse what my father did to me. This isn’t about me excusing a perpetrator, this is about me, a writer and a lover of words, attempting to save myself through a language so constricted by fear and puritanism, I cannot often locate myself within it. I know the names for what he did. And I call them those things. But these were also my most formative sexual experiences. Knowledge obtained in what feels like all the wrong ways, like ill gotten gains and the spoils of war, it has always felt somehow wrong to speak and to use it. As though there exists some implied ethics involved in how sexuality and sexual knowledge is obtained and then used. But the truth is that they can never be separated, sex and rape. I cannot parse them out, one from another, though I have tried. Oh how I have tried.
I simply want to have all of what is mine in all of it’s unquestionable messiness and complexity. I want to have the kind of wholeness the mental health system promised me but couldn’t deliver on when it tried to force me into boxes too small to contain me. A system that would rather I chop off the very pieces of myself I am trying to locate in the aftermath of my dismantling to somehow fit the mold, than expand itself so that I know it’s safe now, to take back, to claim and to have all of me. The very same system that accuses many of us with similar lived experiences of having dysfunctional “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking as a symptom of our trauma, of lacking the ability to sit with complexity and dissonance, forced it’s own versions of those very things on me and became a place that could not handle my complexity and my dissonance. It became a place that, rather than offering healing and hope, caused me further trauma and harm.
I can only tell my story in the words that ring true and make the most sense to me. There should be language for all of the ways in which we are harmed that isn’t limited by the inability of the masses and even “helping” professionals to sit with the discomfort of words describing the life I, and many others have had to actually live. There is more than a single story to describe the meaning of rape and sexual assault and a deeper, more competent awareness of all of the forms that sexual violence comes in. If we mean it when we say that the shame is not the victim’s to bear, then no word is off limits when it comes to the telling of truths and none of us are forced to further deconstruct ourselves in our quests for wholeness.