Can I touch you?
Trigger warning: light references to sexual assault
I’m going to glaze over this with you, just like I do the mental health professionals that I pay to keep my head on straight: I was molested and it has fucked things up.
I struggle with intimacy. It’s a major bummer because I’d only had one legitimate partner before the above mentioned-not-mentioned happened, so I only got to experience the bliss of fully expressing your sexuality once, and I wasn’t even good at it yet! The next time I had a steady partner, everything was different.
And I mean everything. Once I was assaulted, my sexuality entwined itself into my other abusive traumas and I was left with a new, delicate love, and no ability to display my affection. Every touch was a threat, and each helpful comment was an angry criticism. My fear of being scorned and harmed had bled over into my sexual interests and I couldn’t accept feedback, or push boundaries. If I wasn’t sure, the answer was just no.
To be clear, the answer was to myself, because god forbid, I include another human in my thought process, that is not a skill in my wheelhouse. Inviting others into your “mind palace,” to borrow a phrase from Sherlock, is just asking for angry criticism. Honestly, I didn’t realize at first what was happening. I was still dating my first partner when the assault happened, and nothing changed in our relationship. But the first time I had a new partner, I felt trapped. My brain couldn’t differentiate between love and violence, both being passionate and only one familiar.
I blamed everything I could. I work too much. I’m tired. He’s rude. Wrong time of day. Too cold, too hot. You name it, I tried it. Except headaches, everyone knows that’s a lie. Finally, as the inevitable breakdown of our relationship progressed, I sought out professional assistance. In my history, I have only ever sought out mental health aide when my partners were dissatisfied with my life. I wish I had seen then how sad and unhealthy that was.
Originally, I was tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder — because I kept having breakdowns in the middle of Publix. Very childish and dramatic fits, I couldn’t stop them. It was as if someone had disconnected my car battery and when I got in my car it was blasting a non-existent AM station on full volume. I would suddenly get agitated, then I would lash out leading my partner to do something to express disapproval, and then I would leave the store, or cry. I can’t do bright overheads. I don’t do loud noises. I don’t cope well with sudden transitions, of plans, auditory environment, or otherwise; I need a warning, for life.
The questionnaires and exams were comprehensive in my testing. We did every test I’d ever learned about in my Psychology program. I paid thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to finally get an answer. I paid thousands of dollars to finally get my partner to stop blaming me.
When the results came in, I was given one diagnosis that didn’t exist, and another I’d never heard of. To begin with, he told me that “if this diagnosis existed,” I would have “Generalized Personality Disorder,” implying that I don’t qualify for any of the pre-existing personality disorders such as Borderline, or Narcissistic, but something somewhere in there was fucked up. The second diagnosis he gave me was Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Even knowing my own past, I feigned confusion. He listed off things from my questionnaires to solidify his decision. “You’ve been assaulted, does that affect your relationship with your Domestic Partner?” Not even subtitles could have prepared me for the words coming out of his mouth, and man, are subtitles a good way to avoid surprises on streaming television. It did, it did affect my relationship and I had never put it together. Two days after I was molested, my rapist was out of my life, my partner had determined it was my fault, and it was done. I’d “never” thought about it again.
That was six years ago, give or take a few months, and I’m still working on it. It still affects everything about the way I view sexuality. The damage is done. I haven’t laid eyes on my rapist since the day, and it still lingers behind each sexual thought, “what if this leads to pain.”
But there is hope. There is hope in men who aren’t assuming. There is hope in partners who don’t feel owed anything. There is hope in sexual partners who know that women have been abused for millennia. Be the person who is accepting of the fact that not everyone’s sexual past is prom nights and one-night-stands. Be kind, be considerate, be noncommittal. Know that even if you’re within a pitch of Home plate, things can still be too much, and be accepting of that.
Be the guy who brings the woman home from the bar and just sleeps next to her.
Be the partner that shakes it off.