Breaking the Silence: A Gay Man’s Tale of Surviving Sexual Assault
It happened so quickly. A trick I had driven home from the bar. A perfect stranger. I met him because we both agreed to share a table at the crowded club. He wasn’t attractive; in fact, he had no discernible features at all. I remember he seemed nice, but most people were after six or seven martinis. He was even friends with a cute lesbian couple who kept proclaiming they thought I was ‘magical’. I was drunk, and he was persistent, so I took him home.
When we arrived at my house, I became concerned with my decision. Self-doubt began to wash through the sea of alcohol in my bloodstream. I began asking myself questions. Who was this person? What was his name? Do I even find him attractive? I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, and yet we were naked. The only thing I did know was why I was so keen on getting drunk in order to be with men. A few years ago I had been with a guy, 20 years my senior, who was HIV+ and lied to me about it. It had devastated me and had caused me to abstain from sex for one torturous year before I learned I was negative. Once I found that out, I realized I was terrified of sex. So I gravitated to alcohol.
So in a moment of resolution, shame, and self-loathing, I suggested we stop, get dressed, and go to the bar.
Then it happened.
I suppose he thought he could overpower me. He couldn’t. It happened so quickly that the whole thing seemed like a blur. I was screaming, my fists beating him in any place they could contact. I remember screaming and kicking him out of the house. I immediately broke-down the situation in my mind. It had barely lasted more than a few seconds. This wasn’t anything big. It was a mistake. I wasn’t a victim and if I acted like nothing happened, then nothing happened.
So that’s what I did. I showered, changed clothes, and drove back out to the bar. Friends welcomed me back, curious as to where I had gone. I explained that I had spilled a drink on my shirt and needed to go home to change, and that was the story I told myself for three years.
I didn’t know it then, but I was using a text book coping mechanism for victims of rape. I was in denial. Denial is a crazy feeling. It shape-shifts and tailors itself to whoever needs to use it. In my case, I used ‘queer culture’ as denial. Being a man, especially a gay man, meant that I was supposed to be fine with any type of sex. You can’t rape the willing and men were always willing. So in a way, I thought, I had kind of asked for it. One thing I knew for certain: nobody needed to know about this.
I kept my silence for three years. Depression and drug abuse led to seeing a psychiatrist, who put me on anti-depressants after I told her I had thoughts of suicidal ideation. I never mentioned the rape, as my denial had turned into repression, and as far as I was concerned, I had never been raped at all.
It wasn’t until I began volunteering for RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) that things really began to change. Being an ardent fan of Tori Amos I had always known about RAINN. I had many friends (including my first boyfriend who had been raped by his mother’s boyfriend as a child) whose lives had been damaged by sexual assault. It was because of them (or so I thought) that I joined the RAINN Speaker’s Bureau and I was met with a warm embrace. Other volunteers were especially excited that I was a man, as it is harder to find male sexual survivors that are willing to talk about their experiences.
One night I got an email from the lead organizer, whose job was to assign press engagements for advocates when the opportunity presented itself. She asked me, point blank, if I had ever been sexually assaulted. The email filled me with indignant rage. How dare she ask me such a personal question? Did I need to be a rape victim to be a rape victim advocate? What bothered me more was that I was becoming inappropriately angry at an entirely appropriate question. After days of stewing and bitterness, it slowly dawned on me why I had reacted so strongly to the question. Nobody in my life had ever known about the rape, so nobody had ever asked me about it. Now I was confronted with the truth, I had no choice but to admit to myself about why I hadn’t even so much as been on a date for three years, why I connected shame with sexuality, and the real reason why I had volunteered with RAINN. I was not only a sexual assault advocate; I was also a survivor.
Working with RAINN has been an incredible experience for me. I have been able to openly deal with my own experiences in a way that has relieved so much emotional cancer that I kept tucked in my heart for all those years. It has allowed me to say to other people, especially men (gay or straight) that sexual assault is not exclusive to the female sex. I can also attest that being silent about sexual assault is something that will eventually destroy you. I was lucky that I made it through my own self-imposed silence, but if I had had the foresight to use RAINN when my assault happened, I know I would have been spared years of intense and private pain. Silence is the enemy. Unlock the silence with your voice. I promise you, in the end, you’ll be set free.
RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.HOPE(4673). RAINN also has an online chat hotline, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, at RAINN.org.
Aaron Alper is a writer, photographer, and musician. His work has been published in various places and he was the youngest member of 2010 St. Pete Time Festival of Reading. Aaron is currently writing a zomedy novel and recording his debut EP Occupy Elm Street, in which all proceeds will go to RAINN.