TW: Sexual violence, abuse, rape.
The sad fact of my life is that I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I am also male. I’m one of those people we don’t tend to talk about as a society, and when we do, we get it wrong.
I have been sexually abused twice in my life. The first time was as a child, by an older man. I was raised in a strict Catholic family, so you can work the rest out yourself. The second time was at University, and my abuser was female, someone I was romantically involved with.
In the first case, an act of physical coercion was used, by a person in a position of authority on a younger vulnerable person. In the second case, a more emotional aspect was used. I was unable to say no to sexual acts. The first time I had a sexual experience cannot be called consensual.
To this day, I have had a problematic relationship with intimacy. I enjoy sex, but I have to suppress a strong undeniable feeling of revulsion at being a sexual being. Suppression is the key word here — in this, as with most of the other trauma in my life, I essentially use a form of mini-meditation to ward off being triggered. Only by completely emptying myself of emotional connection to the world am I able to function. I am doing this right now, as I type this. I feel nothing. I remember each incident of sexual abuse clearly, as if observing a photo-realistic painting. But, as with the distance of a painting, such images are without the original feelings. The experiences are a reproduction of the original, and I have separated my feelings of both physical and emotional pain from them. Some would call this bottling up. I don’t — bottling up implies that eventually everything will explode out, like a bottle of fizzy drink that has been shaken up and then opened. I don’t feel this at all. What I do feel is a sense of emptiness, and that is far easier to deal with.
We need to reshape and reconfigure the discourse myths about male rape. The same rape myths which say that women bring rape upon themselves because of the way they dress, because of how much they drink, and so on, reinforce a gendered narrative around sexual violence. Men are the perpetrators; women, the victims. Where we do as a society think about sexual violence where a man is the victim, we tend to do so in the institutionalised settings — the prison, the church, and so on. The deeply held patriarchal myth about rape, used to stigmatised female sexuality has the backhand effect of meaning that men like me essentially do not fit into society.
It is true to say that the majority of rape survivors are female — according to the Guardian, in 2013, 69,000 cases of rape were recorded where the victim was female. 9,000 were recorded where the victim was male. Support for male survivors of rape is nearly non-existent. I tried to explore some of the issues with a counsellor - she seemed completely caught off guard when I told her what had happened. I don’t blame her. She was not an inexperienced or bad therapist, but simply one who had never really looked at the issue from all angles.
Why talking about this? Two reasons. The first is that I do not really care to keep a secret anymore. I can’t see the point in hiding it. I suppose if I speak out, then others might feel able to do so. Secondly, I want to address something which has bothered me consistently — which is the fact that male rape is often blamed on feminism.
This ludicrous accusation is found predominantly in the darkest corners of the internet colonised by Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). The online movement is surprisingly pervasive. Groups like “A Voice for Men” have tried to adopt the disguise of caring about “male” issues, and have scapegoated feminism, women’s rights movements, etc, for the relative silence on male sexual abuse. MRAs can be thought of as the gender equivalent of UKIP — whipping up popular anger about a complex issue by blaming an caricature enemy. Where, for UKIP, this is immigrants, for MRAs, this is feminism.
I am a feminist, and as a male survivor, I don’t see anything that feminism had done to make my situation any worse. Feminism, if anything, has begun a conversation about the dynamics and prejudices which inform prevailing myths of sexual violence, and, as noted above, these have helped me on a personal level reconcile myself to what happened to me. Really, the MRAs do nothing more than use survivors like myself in an attempt to wage ideological war on a perceived misandrist movement. Mens Rights groups do not provide support for male survivors. I browsed a few MRA forums on reddit when I was contemplating writing this piece. I wouldn’t recommend it. I came across one, on a thread now deleted, in which a man did admit to being a rape survivor, only to have his masculinity and sexuality called into question. He was mocked for “being such a pussy.” The MRA movement does a gross insult to me and mine, and needs to stop. You do not speak for me.
Being a male survivor has left me isolated, and lonely. If we want to live in a society that does not ignore me and mine, we need to tackle head on shameful myths around rape, the responsibility for rape, and who can and cannot be raped. The wonderful bell hooks has a quote which comes to my mind:
“Men do oppress women. People are hurt by rigid sexist role patterns. These two realities coexist.”
Patriarchal attitudes towards sexual violence have been what has kept me silent for so long, and these need to be opposed and combated. This may or may not happen in my life, but at least I have tried to make some small contribution towards it.