Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.
I have been sexually assaulted two times this year. I don’t know how to phrase it lightly because it is not light. I’m not going to apologize for or dilute the disgusting, acidic, sour lemonade I was handed. I’m not going to let you convince me that it’s not as bad as I think it is. If your response is that my sense of taste is somehow wrong, you are the problem.
I often run to the safe clarity of Google when my doubt creeps in. Are lemons sour? “Is ____ sexual assault?” Yes. I close the tab and check again. “Is ____ sexual assault?” Still the same answer. I rephrase the question: “Is it sexual assault if he ____?” Yes. Even as I sit down to write this, I check again, because I worry it has changed. Maybe I read it wrong the first hundred times. Maybe I misjudged the lemonade. But I shouldn’t need Google in the first place. I have my own knowledge of what has happened to me, and that is more valid than I have been convinced to believe.
What hurts the most — what still stings my throat and chokes my words — is how people responded to me. The first assault was done by someone who knew me through mutual friends. While initially offering sympathies, these friends told me that it was something that I would “get over eventually,” while he “felt really guilty” so I should “cut him some slack.” I immediately saw that to them, my feelings not only were less valuable than his, but they were actively paying for his feeling of security at the expense of my own. I have struggled and still struggle to respect my own judgment, because the people around me told me that I both felt too much and that it didn’t matter in the same breath. I still feel disconnected from my own body and self — unaccustomed to trust, and fearful of comfort. I feel doused in sticky lemonade, and it clings to my clothes and burns my eyes constantly. And they told me I should be fine. “Come on, it’s ___, he just does stupid things sometimes.” No one told him to apologize to me. It was my responsibility to confront him. I was left confused, hurt and betrayed because everyone was so much more concerned with protecting him than validating me. I was even told that I “made a mistake” that I will “learn from.” I came to the realization that I was either going to have to play along or lose most of my friends. I drank the lemonade and smiled, wincing only internally. I went to my ex-boyfriend, only for him to tell me it was “only a big deal if I made it one.” It felt like I had woken up and suddenly everyone I knew was some kind of assault-condoning, giant lemonhead.
The second assault came from a new friend. When I told him that what he did wasn’t okay, he told me that his roommate gave his girlfriend sour lemonade, so it’s normal. It’s just that girls don’t like this lemonade. I could already see his face turning giant and yellow, Violet from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”-style.
I understand why they had this reaction. It’s easier to pretend like everything’s okay, that it wasn’t a big deal. It’s easier not to see yourself or your friend as a perpetrator. Even I did that for a long time because I was afraid of losing the limited support I did have. I quietly walked a little faster when I passed by his door. I held my breath to avoid the cologne that smells like violated trust. Like rotten lemons. I wish I didn’t care — it inconveniences me, too. I have had such terrible nightmares that I have woken up to find my own sheets torn in half. I have woken up to my own cries. So while you may look at my lemonade, my trauma, and think that you can understand how bad it tastes, you can’t.
No amount of sugar is going to make this lemonade sweet. So please excuse me while I dump it out and choose not to accept the narrative that others want me to. If I lose friends, that’s okay. If that is the price of giving my own perspective credibility, so be it. And if you’re reading this, and you’ve had a sip of this horrible lemonade, I believe you. I’m here to tell you that your experiences are valid, and you have every right to feel the way you do. I welcome you to pour out your lemonade too, whenever you’re ready.
MiC Contributor Atiya Farooque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.