I share the following two stories, not because they’ve deeply traumatized me, they haven’t, but because of how the trauma came. In both cases, it wasn’t so much the action but the messages surrounding them.
When I was 17 I was hanging out with my best friend at the time. I liked him. I thought I would like to kiss him but I wasn’t sure. He was sure. As we sat together on his roof looking at the stars, he leaned in and I pulled back. He waited and tried again. Once more I pulled away before he could get close. I don’t know how many times this happened. Frustrated he pinned me down against the rough gravel, his heavier and stronger body leaving me no way to escape. When it sank in that I wouldn’t be able to get up until I stopped turning my neck back and forth away from his face, I gave in and let him kiss me. I don’t remember the actual kiss. My first kiss.
And it was just a kiss from someone I really liked. Something I would have given to him if he had been a bit more patient. Something I told everyone else was really romantic. A few years later another boy pinned me down on the trampoline we were playing on and I panicked and then felt ashamed for having flashbacks and reactions. It was just a kiss. I was far too sensitive.
This first boy apologized to me after a few years. We sat on the couch in his parent’s livingroom and watched the moon and talked. I dozed off. I woke up to some pleasant sensations. When I became fully aware of what was happening, I realized that his hands were exploring my chest under my shirt. I became horrified and ashamed and ran away. We didn’t talk about it for months and when he found out that I was sleeping most of the time, he was horrified himself.
The damage there wasn’t mostly from being touched while sleeping, but from the narratives of purity culture. Boy was the unfortunate vector, but the toxic messages about my worth and “purity” were the causes for shame.
The harm in the first scenario was mostly caused by internalized rape culture on both our parts. We both felt that he was owed a kiss. We both minimized the fact that it was assault because it was ‘just a kiss’.
I didn’t feel like I had the choice to say no. Not without calling myself a bitch.
The harm in the second was due to purity culture and the toxic narratives about a female person’s worth tied to sexual inexperience.
I didn’t feel like I had the choice to say yes. Not without calling myself a whore.