Discover more from bren's voice
TW: Sexual assault; some graphic details related to sexual assault
Bren Linto Morrigan 9-16-22
10 months out
My partner and I were talking this morning, I can’t remember what about because it’s early and the coffee hasn’t kicked open all the doors of my mind, risen the blinds on all the windows, but anyway. We were talking.
And he said that he’d been telling a couple of friends about how the COVID pandemic has really impacted and changed him.
And he then told me what his friends said, which is that they don’t think the pandemic has truly changed people, but rather that the pandemic has revealed how people really are.
My body and mind responded as one unit to this idea, instantly, it didn’t matter that the coffee was only half-empty in my souvenir mug.
My body and mind went cold, numb, hot, silent, yelling, angry, brows furrowed, my eyes closed slowly, ever so slowly while my nostrils flared and released dragon smoke, as if my face were the face of one thousand patient, old crones trying to make it through one of Ricky’s second grade tantrums.
I breathed in, shoulders rising close to my ears, fire in my chest and belly.
The premise of statements like this is as familiar as the crack in my hip when I stand up.
Here is the underbelly of the new agey pseudo-spiritual idea that you create your own reality - that things don’t happen to you or change you or oppress you, they simply reveal your existing character. This was one of the primary manipulation and coercion tactics used against me and others in Stein’s group therapy cult.
People don’t do things TO YOU, they do things NEAR YOU, and how you respond to that is 100% your responsibility.
In fact, you might not have been hit at all. A palm exists in the universe. Your face exists in the universe. Who can say what pain even really is. It’s all so subjective.
Someone else who was hit in just the same way in another context would call that kinky, it would be exciting, sexy, exhilarating, not violent. Just change your perspective, your interpretation, your context - take control of the narrative.
How you react to being hit tells me more about you than the person who hit you. In fact, the more we talk, the more I’m realizing there’s a part of you that wanted to be hit - it’s clear that there’s a part of you that thinks you deserve to be hit.
Can we really blame the person who hit you for the part of you that thinks you deserve to be hit? Don’t you think you really should focus on healing your own insecurities before you go pointing your fingers at other people who are just doing to you what you obviously do to yourself?
You should be grateful you were hit - look at all this recovery gold coming from this! Your reaction is so telling. About you, what you think of yourself, how you are so quick to blame other people, so quick to point fingers.
But without having been hit, we would not know about all these reactions inside of you. We would not know there’s a part of you that thinks you deserve to be hit, because you grew up being hit. We would not know you have no ability to reinterpret this hit as sexy or loving or neutral. This has been revealed to us.
Where is your gratitude?
When I told the group, fairly early on, that I’d been raped, by coercion, on my 27th birthday, I’d already done my work around this. I’d spent almost the entire first year after the sexual assault assuming it was my fault, assuming I’d done something wrong, feeling an intense amount of shame for not kicking the motherfucker out of my apartment the MINUTE he obviously was not taking my clear and repeated NO for an answer, but also feeling like I was a “bad lay.”
In fact, when he asked to sleep at my place after a wedding wherein he was in the wedding party and I was the officiant, I said to him very clearly and multiple times, sure, but I really only wanted to make out, no sex, and I wanted to go to sleep. Since he was one of the bride’s closest friends, and I’d never been raped before, at least as I could remember, I had no reason to assume this person was going to disrespect my very clear, verbal boundaries.
When he tried to take all my clothes off and have penetrative sex with me almost instantly, I pushed him off of me and said “No, I do not want to have sex with you, remember? I actually would prefer to keep my clothes on. Can we just, like, make out and go to sleep please?”
He continued to try to take my clothes off. I kept my underwear and bra on. He kept trying to push inside my vagina. I was not remotely wet. This was not hot. I had no interest in this.
“Hey, buddy, slow down. I said no sex.” I was trying to laugh. To keep it light.
I was thinking about our group of friends - at the time, my only group of friends - and that he was from out of town, had nowhere else to go that night, that he was the bride’s best friend. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know what he would do to me if I kept pushing him off of me. I was barely yet aware of how scared I was. How quickly my studio apartment was becoming my cage.
I was thinking about the person I was actually in love with and pining over. Not this guy. This guy was just supposed to be a make-out buddy for a night. I was thinking about all my make-out buddies. Women and men who just liked making out sometimes. Friends with innocent benefits.
He kept pressing into me. Gross, I thought. I laughed again, forcing it. I said “Hey quit it.”
I thought, maybe I can just get him off by going down on him and that will get him to stop.
I suggested we take a shower so that I could do that. Being the age I am now, of course, I look back with so much sadness that so many people socialized as femmes and females don’t feel safe to just tell a motherfucker to get the fuck out of their apartment. I didn’t feel physically safe, I didn’t feel socially safe. All I could think was - just get him off, get this over with, get to the end.
The second I stepped in the shower, he immediately penetrated me again, and I immediately pushed him out of me, saying “I really don’t want to have sex with you. I will go down on you, ok?”
I kneeled. He held my head, forcing me. I gagged and tried to move his hands off my head. He didn’t move his hands. I felt scared I was going to choke or that my throat would be damaged. I tried to bat away his hands. He didn’t move his hands. No one had ever done that to me before. I did not like it.
Normally, I am a fellatio pro. You can ask anybody. This is one of the reasons I had suggested this act. I was sure that I could get him off this way, because I am a cocky fucking genius, and then I could just go to sleep for fuck’s sake. But this time I could not be the one in charge, doing my thing. I felt terrified.
I backed away. I said, “Hey, don’t hold my head.”
He was very drunk. I was stone cold sober. But I was under a different kind of influence.
He said, “Let’s go to bed.” I was relieved, maybe this meant sleep.
No. He immediately tried to penetrate me again, even though I’d just put underwear on.
I started crying, though it was interrupted, staccato, tearless, at first. I asked him if he had a condom. He said no.
I thought - he’s really just not going to stop. I’d lost count of how many times he’d penetrated me despite how many times I said no, stop, I don’t want to have sex with you. I pushed him away again. My mind was racing. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was so tired.
I thought, well, if there’s nothing I can do about this, I had better put in my diaphragm.
So that’s what I did. I fumbled in the dark, tears streaming down my face, and found my diaphragm and spermicide in my tiny studio bathroom. I squeezed the cup into my body and made sure it was in the right place.
I went back into my bed and he looked like he was asleep. I was so relieved.
But as soon as I laid down, he turned towards me and immediately tried to penetrate me again. I was not lubricated at all. I was crying fully now. This time, I just gave up. He did not appear to notice I was crying.
After I don’t know how long of him having sex with my virtually still body, I was fully sobbing. He seemed to eventually take notice. His face looked like it softened. He said something like “Are you in pain? Are you ok?” I said, “I don’t want to be having sex with you.” I covered my face, tears streaming onto the pillow, onto my long, matted hair.
I was thinking about the man I desperately loved and that I hated that I was having sex with someone else, even though yeah I wasn’t in a committed relationship with the man I desperately loved. I was thinking I was a bad lay (no, I’m really not). I was thinking I was “just” broken because my mom died 4 months ago and so I couldn’t “just” have fun anymore. I was thinking about our friend group and what he was going to say to them in the morning about what a freak I am.
He said, “Oh ok.” Like this was new information. He stopped, flopped over and fell immediately to sleep. I kept crying. I did not sleep that night. I fell asleep briefly some time in the morning. I never turned the lights off.
I had no idea that this was sexual coercion or assault. I thought I was fucking things up for him, for his experience. I definitely thought I made a mistake bringing him home with me. Mind you, I’d brought many people home with me in my adult life and had set clear, verbal boundaries with many many people, and I’d never had an experience like this before. But, I was still keen on blaming myself.
In the morning, I woke up to him penetrating me, and this just made me cry again, but he didn’t notice. I tried to pretend I was into it.
Afterwards, I offered him some clean clothes to wear and pretended like this had been a great sleepover but that I’d just been emotional. I apologized to him for being emotional, explaining, my mom died recently and I’m a bit of a mess.
I apologized to him. .
In some desperate attempt to make the night not a violent one, I even went so far as to try to keep in touch with him afterwards, in total denial that I had been violated in my own home. He never responded. He told our friend group that I was trying to keep in touch with him and that I was weird. Most of them believed him. For awhile, I did too.
It would take me almost a year to understand what happened to me. It would take until flashbacks started, almost a year later. And hearing his voice waking me up in the middle of the night, almost a year later. It would take becoming disgusted by men. Thinking I’m better than men - all of them. It would take having actual contempt towards men - not the pretend kind of contempt I had always had on stage, for a character or a poem or to get a crowd going, part of my schtick, part of my comedic feminist impact, but actual, total contempt for men.
It would take realizing that the man I had been desperately in love with, but not actually in a committed relationship with, was now just frozen in time as My Love, because he was From Before, and even though things didn’t work out for us, my heart would never kick him out because no matter how bad our timing was or how poorly the stars were aligned for us, he wasn’t that. He didn’t do… that. He remained an unfinished sentence in my heart, interrupted, I seemed to tell myself, by two tragedies so upending, so absolutely erasing in my life, my eyes would keep darting back to the beginning of a sentence neither one of us was speaking anymore and that he’d never been willing to write the end of anyhow. He’d been gone from my life nearly a year, and I just kept repeating that old phrase of us on my lips. The Before. As if, perhaps, now, he was the only man I could trust. So at least there was one. I could remember that. So I repeated that memory. A fantasy. A dream. An unwillingness to grieve because of all there was to grieve. And so actually all I did was grieve, in that way that we speak to the dead of the time that we shared, and we cry, feeling as if we are not alone and yet it is this precise moment that we are most reminded that they are utterly irremovably gone.
It would take being afraid to bring men home to be make-out buddies anymore. Even former dudes always in rotation as friends with benefits - now when they came over, I started crying or went completely emotionally and psychologically numb - blank. Said “I think we’ll just need to cuddle and watch TV.” Or I’d have to be slightly drunk. Not drunk drunk - that was my mom’s expertise. But slightly drunk, another version of being blank, just to tolerate the stench of men, the mere fact of them, the way they flirted with me, complimented me, the way banter was always sexual, the way my power in performance spaces was always sexualized, the way I had to lean into that, the way I had to trump that up, because there’s strength in that.
It would take starting to hang out in lesbian bars and clubs and going to lesbian dance nights and hooking up more and more with women. Look, women rape too. I just hadn’t been raped by one.
It would take looking up Rape Trauma Syndrome exactly a year later - after my psychiatrist had prescribed me a baby dose anti-psychotic called Seroquel to help me sleep and stop hearing his voice waking me up at night - on a little factoid page published by Rape Victim Advocates (an organization now aplty called Resilience), and my jaw dropping softly and sadly, a tear of understanding falling for every symptom I didn’t realize had a name.
What happened to me, by the way, is so fucking common, it makes me want to scream.
When I told the group and Stein about this incident, about 4 years later, after I’d already done significant healing work around it, had accepted that it was not my fault, that I’d done what I needed to do to protect myself in a situation in which I felt scared and out of options – Stein said I was “ambivalent” about having sex with him to begin with.
He said, “You don’t bring a guy home with you to make out with him. You were sending him mixed messages.”
He used my sexual assault to try to telll me that something was revealed – something about me, not about my assailant, and this was his focus. He emphasized that it revealed my ambivalence, and that part of me really did want to have sex with him, otherwise why would I bring him home with me.
This was one of the few times early on I called bullshit on Stein. I had spent 2 years counseling survivors of sexual assult, both in an outpatient setting and in _____ Emergency Rooms, and I was a Certified Rape Trauma Crisis Intervention Counselor and Medical Advocate by that point. I had taken my sexual assault healing very very seriously and used what happened to go help others.
I said to Stein, “Fuck you. I’d brought home many men and women in my life just to make out. Maybe that’s naive or something but I was not ambivalent at all. I was very very clear about what I wanted, I stated it upfront and it was a condition of him coming to my apartment.”
His response, “You don’t invite a guy over without some desire to have sex with him.”
Me: “What fucking decade or century are you living in, man? I’ve been a kissing face motherfucker my whole life. I will make out with motherfuckers for MONTHS. I’m a fucking making out PRO. I love making out with people. I have only had this boundary violated this ONE TIME.”
Stein: “So you’re a cocktease, is what you’re saying.”
That one caught me off-guard. That was new. That was a punch in the gut. My mind went blank in an instant - a common experience for me in the cult.
And what did Stein say when my mind went blank? “We must be onto something true.” That was what he would say. Not that I might be scared, cornered, angry, out of options.
I’d never heard that before. That I was a cocktease. Stein, ever the provocateur always looking for the place he could needle in and manipulate you, found a way to get me to doubt myself in that conversation.
Was I cocktease? I thought making out was SO FUN. I loved making out. I never felt the need to make everything about sex and taking our clothes off. Especially in the beginning with people.
I love the full flair of making out. I really think it’s an art. People who are good at making out and can really hang in that space for a long time, to me, have tended to be amazing conversationalists and emotionally attuned people. I’m not saying it’s causation but my little anecdotal data suggests this. Languishing in the make out is just one of the top ten life experiences.
But, I was here for help. And perhaps I was missing something about myself. Perhaps I was a cock or clit tease.
I’d just never heard that before, and Stein was king of NEW IDEAS YOU’D NEVER EVER HEARD BEFORE. Was I? Was this being revealed? Was that always there?
The rock solid ground even under my sexual assault recovery started shaking.
But that is not all.
What this also meant - as this was early indoctrination days with Stein - was that I was being indoctrinated with a messaging that would, in combination with other messaging, have significant consequences on the arc of my dating and sex life to come (no pun intended).
Indeed - what I was to do with my body and my boundaries and when and where and why: these were now Stein’s frontier lands. He was galloping in on his horse and planting flags on my sacred body, my sex life. I didn’t know that was what was happening in that conversation, beneath solid rocks being shifted around by his sadistic, misogynistic interpretations of my assault. But that is certainly part of what was happening.
I am less than one year out, one year post-waking up, and I still have not found all the flags flapping in the winds of my flesh, there are so many.
I will find all the flags. I will burn them all.