When I was 19, 20, 21 I was okay with rape jokes. I told them frequently. I laughed when others told them. And I often used the word rape to refer to anything but.
I had been raped, at this point. I was a victim, survivor, whatever terminology is appropriate. I knew I had been raped. It happened when I was 10 years old, at the hands of my stepbrother. But still, I was okay with rape jokes. In fact, I frequently engaged in one with my then-boyfriend and his friends: “A [random object] full of RAPE.” We would say, all the time, “It was like a mango tree full of RAPE” to refer to, well, anything at all. We thought it was hilarious.
I also thought that those who couldn’t handle what was all in good fun were weak, and stupid, and I would frequently respond to their complaints of “Hey, you stepped on my toes” with a heartfelt “FUCK YOU FOR HAVING TOES.”
I thought I was soooooo cool, that I was a rape victim but I could handle rape jokes. I was “hot shit.” I thought I was a cool rape victim, one you wanted to be friends with, and I couldn’t imagine being a shivering husk, a pile of tears, at the mere mention of rape — because obviously that’s what all rape victims were. But not me. Oh no.
(During this time I also hated feminists, and thought I was one of the cool girls who loved to give my boyfriend blowjobs during WoW and jeez, ladies, shut up already, sexism isn’t really that bad anyway, what’s so bad about getting better tips because of your tits? Fucking bunch of whiners. These two attitudes were, most likely, very related.)
And then my boyfriend dumped me, and I moved away, and I started finding pieces of myself back — pieces that had been dropped in my torrid relationship, pieces that had been subsumed by his dominance of me.
And I suddenly realized, I wasn’t okay with rape jokes. Since discovering that I had, indeed, been raped, I had suppressed all my feelings about it. I had never gone through therapy (I still haven’t), I had never processed the feelings. I was numb to it because when I realized what had happened, it was already a decade past. So surely I must be okay with it, on some level, surely I should be able to handle rape jokes.
But I wasn’t able to. The belief that I was able to was part of the elaborate web of lies and self-delusion that was my 2-year first relationship.
And I slowly started to realize that maybe, not everyone could handle rape jokes, descriptions of rape, or even the word rape. Maybe I couldn’t. If I couldn’t, then others might be sensitive to it.
And then I got raped again, and it became very fucking clear that what I had been doing was wrong, and that rape jokes and cavalier use of the word needed to stop.
Do you know what I did?
I stopped using the word rape for anything but what it means. I stopped telling rape jokes.
In public, at least.
In private, I will occasionally make jokes that make fun of rape and rape culture, and even laugh at ones others make. And that’s my personal way of dealing with it. Doesn’t mean that things that discuss rape shouldn’t have a trigger warning (they should), and doesn’t mean that the public sphere should be filled with cavalier use of the word rape or rape jokes (it shouldn’t).
Now, I am on the receiving end. I hear or see my friends use the word rape casually. I hear or see them make rape jokes. And when I, or others, say “You’ve stepped on my toes, please don’t use that word that way,” we do not get an apology and a promise to not use that word in public anymore.
We get first “Well, sorry that your toes were there but you should move them next time,” and then, when that is not enough, we get a “Also FUCK YOU FOR HAVING TOES.”
Perhaps this is my…I don’t wish to use the word karma, for it’s incorrect in this context. Penance? Punishment? Just desserts? A repeat of the cycle. This is where the cycle repeats for me. After years of being the one hurting others with my cavalier use of the word rape, I now get to suffer it from people who are supposed to be my friends.
So, I am sorry — truly and deeply sorry — to anyone I have ever hurt with my cavalier use of the word rape. I was never a “cool” rape victim; I was just a stupid teenager who, no matter what she felt she needed to do to get over her own rape, continued to make the world less safe for other victims.
I realize that now. I see that my actions — whatever they may have done to myself — made the world less safe for other victims of rape. How many friends did I notify, through my careless actions, that I was not a safe person to come to? That I thought they were weak for not laughing at rape jokes like I did?
I’m very sorry for that. I know that perhaps none of you will read this blog, but if you ever do…please know that I am really, truly sorry.
There is no standard model of behavior for rape victims. You can deal with it however you like. If that means you make rape jokes and laugh about rape and use the word rape cavalierly, then you may do that. In private.
But when you get called out by other victims for using language that hurts and triggers us in public spaces, fucking come correct.
It took me six years to come correct. Don’t make my mistakes.