*TW / rape
When I turned 16 years old, I had my first big birthday party. I had been grounded for the past three months, including on my birthday in December, so on New Year's Day my parents decided to loosen their grip and let me end my punishment with a party for my birthday. I was so scared people wouldn't come; I hid in the bathroom! Sure enough, it was a successful party with cake, presents, dancing, games, and boys. At the time I was the last of my friends to do it, it being the big taboo: S-E-X. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't understand when we had stopped riding our bikes to the corner store and started catching a ride to the boys' house, but I remember that feeling of not wanting to be left behind, and the growing curiosity of what bodies do when they bump. It didn't help that I was filling out and receiving attention in that way, finally, after being treated as a genderless being that talks too much but can make an old grump laugh for the majority of my life. I was never very interested in dating; my parents were strict and raised me from a young age that I would not date until I was 18 and that I should focus on my studies, which was fine with me as I had always been rather emotionally unavailable, I lived in a predominantly white town anyway, and was not seen within the standard of desire amongst my peers.
This changed when I turned 16.
I met a boy at my party, let's call him Z. We danced a lot, and kissed in the bathroom. My brother tried to fight him for getting too close to me; he told me to stay away from boys like him, he knows that type! I, obviously, didn't listen. I'd never want to disobey my parents; in my mind just because I couldn't date didn't mean I couldn't have sex, I was morbidly curious to try it, and I knew he would help. I lost my virginity a week later in the back of my friend's car- she was not happy with me. For 8 months I fooled around with that boy, always using condoms, always quickly in and out of each other's space, sometimes I would pull up with my girl friend and he would have his friend come over and we would all hang out, it was a ki. Then my girls came to me one day and said they'd be stalking on Instagram; they think Z has a girlfriend. I didn't understand it at the time, that pit in my stomach, the growing hole in my chest. What does it mean to be a girlfriend? I met with him one last time to confront him, I didn't have any resolve to not have sex with him, he didn't admit it, and I was left crying in my friends' car with cum sliding down my back because he left without so much as grabbing a towel. A week later, a very pretty light skinned girl came at me in my phone and I blocked and ghosted everyone- such was the beginning of a heartbreaking pattern of embarrassment and humiliation.
For the next three months of the summer, I enacted my revenge. I messed with his friend- that'll get him!- hung out with other boys, hooked up with a girl for the first time, and finally at the end of the summer, had sex with a boy even worse than the first one. He was the ex boyfriend of one of my best friends at the time. I didn't understand the world of sex and romance at the time; I thought that if someone wanted you and you wanted them then what's all the other stuff for? I didn't understand that the other stuff was what would show me the difference between a 'man' and a 'woman'; that in this society, you are expected to know your place in things, and not be surprised at poor treatment from men or women depending on how worthy they deem you of respect. The boy took a video of us having sex; I didn't know he was recording or maybe I didn't care; I had recorded some videos on my phone before and thought that's just what people do. After a dramatic sleepover with my girl friends where everyone found out who messed with who's boyfriend, I decided to tell my friend what I had done myself, even if it was her ex. I now understood how hurtful it was to be a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, I didn't want her to find out from anyone else. She said she didn't care about him, and we all knew the crust of his character, but something in me has always loved a dirty man who sheds a tear or two, I have an empathetic heart. She cursed the boy out, and our friendship took a hit; then the grand finale- he sent the video of us to everyone he could in school, and cursed me out for telling her, introducing me to the first of many times I would be dubbed a 'bitch'.
It was humiliating; he sent it to my girl friends first and none of them told me except for his ex, I cut everyone off and lost some other friends from the pressure while enduring my last bought of bullying for the remainder of my senior year. Everyone shamed me for having sex, he went on to get another, lighter skinned, girlfriend amidst my humiliation, and I told myself I wouldn't do it again.
By the time I got to college a year later, I had found my way back to seeking the big O, but I hadn't escaped the trauma of my early years. Time and time again I got into toxic situations that damaged me a little more every time; a boy gave me an STD and refused to admit he did, a boy tried dating me just to leave for a lighter skinned girlfriend, a boy tried to call me his friend while trying to reap benefits as well, and we punished each other brutally for not showing up in love. He also went on to date lighter skinned and racially ambiguous women. By 20 years old, I was well versed in what I 'liked' sexually and what my 'place' was romantically- I had still never had a boyfriend, and I took again to celibacy and looking within.
Then I met another boy, in February of 2020. Social media is strange; there are so many people I follow and unfollow everyday, but sometimes you can tell when you stick out to a person. He was always the first person to watch my story. He liked all my pictures. I wasn't very impressed with his instagram; but when he asked for my number I gave it to him and we texted nearly everyday. When he asked me out I drove and hour and a half from Jersey by myself for the first time, and came to see him in New York at my now favorite Prospect Park. It was my first real date as a young woman. My first time being courted. He was much cuter in person. We walked through the whole park, in stride, never missing a beat, and talked and talked and talked. I am a lover girl on the inside, it didn't take much for me to like him. I went to his house afterwards and laid my head on his lap as we listened to music, I could tell what he wanted to do. But I had learned at least a little to know the magic would end if I had sex with him so soon, let me wait, I thought, three dates. We started hanging out almost everyday, and sure enough by the third date, I simply had to know. I had a great time, I really liked it, I have yet to ever be with a man again that was as attentive and gentle with my body as he was, but of course it had to end. Maybe a week later, through the god-forsaken internet, my girl friends had come to me with news again; not of a lighter skinned girlfriend, although he would pull that on me later, no, it was much more salacious news; a girl was calling him out on Twitter, alerting the masses that this boy I fell for at first sight, is a rapist.
I don't think anyone but him saw how my world came crashing down. I felt like the walls were melting and caving in on me, like the world was crumbling from beneath my feet, I felt like I was in the backseat of that car with cum on my back, like I was walking through school knowing everyone had seen a video of me having sex- I felt exposed. I confronted him about the news and he tried to explain- to this day I believe he told me the truth about the facts of the event, he muddied the throws of consent when she had asked to have sex with the lights off, but he insisted on keeping them on, and when she voiced her discomfort the next day, his apology was more dismissive than sincere. A couple months later it had gotten back to her that he was talking shit about her moves in the bedroom which sparked a litany of finsta posts on her extreme sexual discomfort with him. When her friends caught wind, as good friends do, they rallied for her and took the battle into their own hands to wage war. He violated consent, that's abuse, that's assault, that's rape. At 20 years old, this is the very first boy I had ever really had feelings for. He was the very first boy I ever wanted to date. I get attached very easily, even to people I don't like, and especially when sex is involved. We had only had sex once. After a huge scandal online, the second-most successful online cancel I ever saw, I lost it. Paragraphs and voice messages of arguing and calling out and crying and falling out. I was an emotional wreck. My girl friend at the time tried to console me, but she had very faulty values on interpersonal relationships, something I would later find out through our struggle with rent. She told me that no one wants to be wrong, and maybe he didn't do it, and even if he did, its not my problem and I should forget about him and move on. But I have integrity. I asked him- what does he think it felt like for me to hear that I had had sex with a rapist? He didn't have an answer for me. On October 6th, 2020, after 3 months of brutal arguing, he blocked me, and I went on for 9 months trying to recollect my sanity, this included my walking out of my job, a stint in jail, an arduous trial, a homoerotic love affair gone awry, and a mysterious brand deal opening doors to a world that completely changed my life. Then we reconnected, through the same social media channels that he had stalked me on nearing a year prior, and that he continues to stalk me on to date. Thus began the on again off again push and pull dynamic, for almost 2 years, with this boy I was incredibly trauma bonded to. I would say sweet nothings, we'd have sex, I'd hear something I didn't like or see something I didn't trust, he would dismiss it, we would push each other away and say and do mean and vile things, I didn't trust him, he let me punish him, never calling me out of my name even as I hurled abuses toward his. I wanted to believe him so badly, I wanted to use him to erase the images of abuse from my childhood- to show me that black men weren't the boogeymen I kept seeing.
As someone who has experienced sexual assault and abuse in my formative years, and for anyone who has experienced some form of abuse, rape, or molestation, I've come to have a lot of compassion for my being attracted to who and what I am attracted to, and to judge others less for their experiences in dating. I now know that part of me hoped to change my past through him, I had to find out his character, his background, his person, beyond what he said or she said, I had to know for myself if he was a rapist. It is very important to me, and to women like me, that we use that word correctly, as it is so incredibly, deeply, damagingly triggering. I, to this day, am of the opinion, that I could not in good conscience call him a rapist over a light switch- an asshole, a dumb slut, emotionally abusive sure- but something that fed the darkest part of that dynamic was the discrepancy over that word, my desperation for him to be anything other than that, my embarrassment that yet again, people in my circle had been given a reason to talk about me. Now I know people who love me would never keep me ashamed enough to remain enmeshed in a dynamic like that, but at the time, this was all I knew. I investigated not only him, but everyone involved. I asked the victim's friend about why she called him out, I asked another big name involved why he was speaking on the situation, I got to know his best friend from college, intimately; I was obsessed to know this truth, and I didn't mind using my body to find it. The overarching truth that I gleaned is that the facts remain as told; he did not ever force a girl to have sex with him, he rather violated her boundaries during sex and she did not at the time have the confidence to voice that her consent had been revoked the moment he showed he didn't care about her comfort. To this day, I don't think he understands that he does not see women as people, but rather objects to use toward his goals.
In the midst of this I got wrapped into the drama of his friend group through one of his friends pursuing me relentlessly, even after I had voiced my history with the boy before. He did all the right things- expensive dates, sweet nothings, emotional space- he tried to show up as a most perfect contrast to a man he insisted wasn't even his friend for real, just someone he was familiar with because of proximity and time. Something in me knew it was wrong- why are you trying to use me to prove that you're better than this other man? It peaked my interest to know that I could find out a little more about my obsession, even if it was through dating his friend. Thus began my dance, a couple months with one, then a couple months with the other, on again, off again, back, and forth, for two years, with some dates and trips in between. What I discovered solidified my understanding of why I found that boy in such a gray area- all the relationships surrounding him were gray. Any time you ask one of these boys if they were his friends, the immediate answer would be a strong, resounding 'no', even though these are the only people I saw him with. It made me question the ways in which his boundaries had been bent in the past, to be so close with people who maybe love him for the experiences made together, but tolerated him at best and resented him at the base of it all. What is a normal relationship to someone who is used to being tolerated instead of liked? It made me have a greater understanding of why he set up our relationship to fail, why he introduced me to his life at a time where he had no space for someone new. Why he hoped or maybe expected me to never find out or tolerate it when I did.
At the end of last year, our drama peaked when his girlfriend of three years found out about me. I can't say I hadn't learned to stalk by now, I had asked about her before, but he said they weren't anything serious and that he was still single, and I thought immaturely that messing with his friend somehow balanced out the pain I felt from knowing I would never be chosen. We could all be ambiguous together. It turned out that he was, in fact, in a monogamous relationship for as long as we were on and off, families knowing families and all, and again, I spiraled out. My immediate reaction was to blame myself. Why am I so, so stupid? Why do I keep humiliating myself? Why does no one love me? Why am I always the side bitch? Why is it always the light skinned girl that gets dated while I just get fucked? This time I didn't curse at him or argue- we ghosted each other, and blocked each other on everything down to Spotify, sometimes haunting each other with a glance at an Instagram page. I took up with his friend again who ended up violating my boundaries in a similar fashion, unsurprisingly. I am still not ready for the relationship I want, and he took advantage, flagrantly taking up with other women even as he insisted he wasn't. He came inside of me without my consent and I experienced my first pregnancy scare, and he eventually ended up giving me my second STD in my life, which he of course insists he somehow magically didn't do. His attitude remained dismissive through it all, and I ended up cursing him out and imploring my running list of icks I never admitted to because I was desperate enough to settle.
Even as a dark skinned woman, I am aware of my privileges. I am thin. I am considered very beautiful. I am petite, I have a 'proper' accent i.e. not 'ghetto'. I am middle-class, and I am first generation so I have ties to a particular culture and nation-state. But I am still darker skinned, and I am reminded of it everyday in the ways I am coveted sexually, consumed erotically, ogled at and undressed by public eyes, but never protected, never consoled, never considered, never uplifted, and never claimed. It's difficult because on one hand I have a huge amount of confidence and pride- I am so intelligent. I have started a career off of my art. I am validated by waking up everyday in my own story- I have a huge capacity for myself. I am comfortable with who I am and what I've been through. On the other hand, it is so incredibly lonely to be a woman who is seen simultaneously as the whore and the madonna. I intimidate people with my confidence and beauty, but I am not supposed to be able to do that, I'm darker skinned. My confidence is attractive and impactful, but I shouldn't be so self important- I am darker skinned. There is no darker skinned woman who is a stranger to that eerie feeling of letting someone of similar complexion know you, and seeing of them how much they project their hate for it onto your person, boys and girls alike. It is almost as if there is a program our people are taught when we are younger on how to disempower ourselves by convincing ourselves that our counterparts are worthy of less regard than those who hold some proximity to whiteness, even as everyone involved is being disempowered by dishonesties. It's not to say many lighter skinned women are better for their thinking; his girlfriend decided to take to the streets on my reputation, commenting that I'm 'dirty' and 'fuck everybody raw', even though her boyfriend could attest to the fact that my only boundaries were don't get me pregnant and don't give me an STD (condoms were a religious part of our sexual practice). In my 23rd year, I have decided I don't care to date anymore, even as the strength of my libido grows worse with age, even as my body beckons me to do something that is natural for me to desire, even as I consume the same romance novels nearly every night that enraptured me as a girl. I won't date, I only want to focus on myself these days.
I have decided to look within, to find what way works best for me in a world that has shown me since childhood that I am not worthy of basic respect, to find out what insecurities have been laid into my person that led me to accept what I did, to find out what love really looks like when abuse is all I have ever known. It starts with having enough compassion for myself to say "No, I didn't deserve that. No, I need not be ashamed. No, it was not my fault that these things happened to me. No." It starts with having the strength to hold to the boundaries I know will protect and console me, consider and uplift me, it starts with me claiming to love myself and really meaning it this time. I still believe in love and good men and women. The male friends I have made in the course of this have been a hugely empowering reason for why I was able to pull myself out- there are good men in the world and we as women still need them, we should protect them, and cherish them, and leave the ones who have decided they and everyone else are less than that to themselves. But in doing that we create a cycle where a 20 year old girl who's never had a boyfriend can be exposed to such cruel and unnecessary trauma while searching for the love she never got when she needed it. My older brothers and father tried their best, but misogyny teaches with a strict whip, and over time I absorbed some of that misogyny into a hatred of myself and of my own desires as a woman, projected outward into the misogynists I later found to take into my bed. As a society we say she should have known the man she was with, but we don't take into account the trauma she must bare and go through to learn the man she's with; that not everyone is who they say they are, or who you hope for them to be.
I've come to the conclusion that whoever I end up with must be extremely kind, gracious, generous, and patient with me, even if that person for the rest of my life is me. I could wallow in my past and hold onto resentment, part of me feels it would be easier to adopt the thinking that people cannot be good and barely decent; to learn the toxic throws of teetering on the edge of imbalance and insanity to keep whoever I can get attached to me. However, I've decided to let it go. I am a good person. I am deserving of the utmost grace, the deepest respect, the most intentional regard. I am so full of love and empathy, I am most deserving of kindness and equality. I am cherished. Even though the world at large has tried everything it could to tell me otherwise, I've decided to take this experience to change and prove to myself that I am worthy, so much more worthy than I knew. This experience has taught me to have more compassion for myself, rather than over-giving it to everyone else. I'm grateful that I can now see myself more clearly, that I was inspired to therapy, that I learned to speak up for myself regardless of what anyone else thinks, especially my intimate partner. This experience taught me to explore my values on honesty and integrity by experiencing men who couldn't spell those words even if it was laid out for them in clear text. In the end all I can say is, thank you. Medhane, you're mistakes were like a splash of cold water to the face; it helped lead me back to myself, it helped me call on my inner strength, it taught me my intrinsic value and worth that could never be stripped from me regardless of how the world sees me, it taught me that I will always stand up for what I believe is right, and that I cannot ever absolve myself of doing what I believe is wrong, that I can forgive myself for when I make mistakes, and that while I can forgive others too, it doesn't mean I need to forget. For that, I am forever grateful.