With all that has been in the news lately, it should come as no surprise that I have been thinking of the many ways that we are all socialized to accept, excuse, and even enable a lot of socially aggressive behavior from guys. And also how we, as guys, are socialized to aggressively pursue what we want. So, when what a guy wants is sex, well, having been told your whole life never to take no for an answer, well, a lot of those guys are going to do some bad things to get it. And many of the rest of us will deflect, deny, or minimize the severity of what they have done, sometimes even when we witness is.
And yes, even when we are the victim.
There have been many times over the last 28 years that I have tried to write about my experience being sexually assaulted. I have stopped myself from publishing it many times. Because even now, 28 years later, I’m still ashamed. There is a part of me that still believes it was my fault. I was a grown up man, and men are supposed to be able to take care of themselves, right?
Looking at the way people talk about the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, I see that millions of people still blame the victims in these cases. They often insist that it isn’t blame, it’s disbelief. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why didn’t she report it? They are completely unaware that this refusal to disbelieve is exactly way when one is a victim of sexual assault, we don’t say anything.
So, it’s time to share my story, including why I didn’t report it. Obvious content warning: alcohol, queer men dating, and sexual assault. Don’t click on the link unless you’re prepared…
I was thirty years old, and not really out of the closet, yet. Because gay teens couldn’t be out and open about their sexuality in the 1970s, I had zero experience dating guys. I had fooled around with other guys, but it had always been furtive and steeped in absolute terror about what would happen if anyone found out about us. So they weren’t like typical teen relationships. I couldn’t tell my friends or a trusted adult when things went wrong. I couldn’t ask for advice. In many ways, even though I was thirty years old, my dating experience was more like someone much younger.
Not in every way, of course. I had also dated girls. And had even been married, but it’s different. I wasn’t a bisexual guy openly dating girls and secretly dating guys in those earlier years. I was a gay man pretending to be straight while dating a few girls. Even when such a relationship goes through to marriage, well, it doesn’t teach a person the same lessons. The stakes were different.
Anyway, so there I was, trying to actually date guys. I’d had a couple of meet-ups with guys for coffee or something similar. This was, I think, the first time a guy I’ve met somewhere else had agreed to meet for dinner, and it was a disaster.
Now, to be fair, the actual date’s only disaster is that the guy who was supposed to meet me for dinner never showed up. The real disaster was that while I was waiting (this 1990, and no one had cellphones back then) for the guy who ultimately never showed, another couple of guys who I had been only casually acquainted with chatted with me, offered sympathy as the time dragged on, and eventually talked me into joining them as they were having drinks after dinner. They were about 15-20 years older than I was, they were a couple who had been together for many years.
Anyway, I moved to their table and ordered a burger or something, and one of them ordered a drink for me, and then a second drink showed up, and the other guy claimed that he had asked the waiter to bring it for me without realizing his boyfriend had already ordered me a drink.
It seem impolite not to drink both cocktails. And I didn’t drink very often, so two cocktails with a burger was enough to get me buzzed. When I commented that it was going to be a while before I could drive home, they helpfully suggested that since their condo was only a few blocks away, I could go back to their place to sober up. We’d been having a fun conversation with lots of jokes and stories about how they met and so on. So I said, “Sure.”
They offered me a glass of cola when we got to their place, and I think I was halfway through it (because I was already drunk) before it occurred to me that there was rum in the coke. And I was sure it had been more cola-colored earlier. I realized later that one of them had been topping off the drink with more rum as I was drinking it.
Things got very, very foggy in my head. I don’t have any clear or coherent memory of anything after about the time I realized that instead of soda, I was drinking rum. And it just was alcohol. My symptoms weren’t consistent with any date rape or recreational drugs. As I said, I didn’t drink often back then, so I was always a bit of a lightweight. And my guess is that over the course of three hours (between the restaurant and the time at their condo), I had probably had the equivalent of five or six strong drinks. So I was drunk.
I have a recollection of agreeing to go to bed, but I was so out of it I can’t say with any certainty that I had enough cognition at that point to even realize that going to bed meant going to bed with them and therefore meant having sex. The sex that happened was mostly a blur, and not at all pleasant.
The next morning I was definitely hungover, sore, and I had a lot of bruises on interesting parts of my body.
I gathered my stuff while having an awkward and odd conversation with one of the guys, it was a work day, for me, and it was late enough by the time I woke up, that I had to borrow their phone to call in sick before I went to find my car and drive home.
And where we get to my point about socialization, is this. When I first woke up, I was confused and unhappy, and angry at myself for getting into such a situation on a work night. But I did not come to the realization that I had been raped, until I was home and looking over my bruises after showering, and trying to remember exactly what had happened the night before.
Even then, I didn’t think of it as rape. The r-word was far, far from my mind. “I let them take advantage of me” was how I thought of it.
Several people knew I had a date with a new guy, so they would ask how it went. To most of them I said, “He never showed up.” To a few I even said how I had run into the other couple at the restaurant and wound up hanging out with them. I only told a couple of people the full story in the first weeks afterward. One of the people I told was sympathetic, but also told me I shouldn’t have let myself get into the situation. “What did you expect would happen when you went home with them?”
Then there was the awkwardness, because while before that night I had been only casually acquainted with them, we had a lot of mutual friends. And since a lot of those friends were out queer folks who often talked openly about sex, a bunch of those friends heard that I’d had this “wild night of passion.” So some of them were coming up to me doing the whole “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” routine. “I heard you had a lot of fun last week!” “I remember the first time I did a three-way, it was awesome! Congratulations!” “That’s one way to salvage a bad date, eh?” And so on.
There was a weekly get-together of some of the more nerdy queers that I often attended on Saturday afternoons at a particular restaurant. It had been at this get-together where I had first met the couple. I stopped attending for a while, simply because I didn’t want to run into them. I also didn’t know how I would deal with more of the congratulatory teasing, because it just made me feel like something was wrong with me. This is another aspect to the socializing that enables rape culture: sex is enjoyable, and spontaneous sex is awesome, and as the old saying notes even less-than-good sex “ain’t half bad, either.” So if you didn’t enjoy it, if it wasn’t fun, there must be something wrong with you. You’re repressed, or psychologically damaged, or something.
Just like the “let them take advantage of me” and “what did you expect would happen” reactions, all the social expectations are that any wrongdoing that happened is the fault of the person who was date-raped, not the rapists. I went home with them willingly. I was laughing and having a good time as I continued to get more and more wasted. I said “yes” to going to bed with them, even if I only barely remembered such a question and I was in no fit state to give informed consent. If I decided partway through the acts themselves that I didn’t like it, I should have said “no” then (I may have, I don’t know because I don’t remember anything clearly). I said “yes” at least once, so they did nothing wrong. That’s how we’re socialized.
There was only one friend I told who was completely sympathetic: my ex-wife. She was the one who told me to stop saying, “they took advantage of me.” She was the one who said, “it’s okay to say you were sexually assaulted.”
I couldn’t avoid the couple who had date-raped me for long, we just knew too many of the same people. It was about as awkward as I expected. But by that point I had been ignoring their emails and not returning their calls for a few weeks, so I thought they knew I wasn’t interested in getting together again.
I was wrong about that.
I finally decided to start attending the Saturday afternoon things, again. My ex-wife went along with me the first time (she was also mutual friends with several of the other people there) for moral support, as it were.
The couple who had date-raped me were there, as usual. I managed to avoid talking to them. Though one of them kept grinning and winking whenever I accidentally made eye contact from across the room. One or two other people made comments about my “adventure.” Each time I changed the topic. When my ex-wife and I decided to leave it was raining pretty badly. She stayed just inside the big glass doors, talking with a couple of friends while I went to get the car. When I pulled up, she ran out and jumped in the car. I could tell that she was seething and totally pissed off. She told me to “get us the hell out of here.”
As I drove her to her house, she explained. “B— grabbed my shoulder while I was talking to Figgums, and leaned down and whispered in my ear, ‘I don’t know if you know I’m bi. If you’d like to get pounded like I did your ex-husband, just let me know!'” She couldn’t remember what she said. We learned later that it was an extremely angry, “No thank you!”
I wish I had a nice happy ending to this. I wound up explaining what happened from my perspective to a few more of the people in that social group. Several clearly thought that I was over-reacting. One person said that I was just blaming them for the fact that I was an alcohol lightweight.
I did, eventually, tell the couple themselves that I wasn’t interested at all in getting together again. But I didn’t report it as assault. Why? Because even most of my friends didn’t believe me, so why in the world would the police? Especially believe a gay guy in 1990?
Even though I don’t believe the couple slipped me a date rape drug, what they did wasn’t seduction. When they initially asked me back to their place, they specifically said that it was to allow me to sober up, right? So why put rum in my glass of coca cola? Why keep adding more when I wasn’t looking? You can’t sober up by drinking more alcohol.
If I had confronted them, they would have denied it, and I suspect the denial would have been sincere. They would say I was laughing and having a good time. They would say I should have known what they meant when I agreed to go back to their home. There is no way, they would insist, that I didn’t realize there was rum in the coke. They would point out I agreed to go to bed. And so on, and so on.
Just as happens to any girls or women who report sexual assaults, whether the next day or years later.
I don’t have nice, clever, satisfying way to end this. There are no warm and fuzzy conclusions to draw from anyone’s sexual assault story.
All I can say is: I believe Christine Blasey Ford. I believe Julie Swetnick.
Believe survivors of sexual assault.