Trigger Warning: talk of rape, assault, and abuse below. If you’d rather read my happier stuff, wait a couple days and I’ll be back to posting about my characters and books. I simply needed to get this off my chest due to a wonderful, revealing, and barely traumatizing conversation I had with my current partner about my past (you’ll actually be hearing more about him soon as well; he’s one of my characters).
Fight. Flight. Or Freeze.
Those are the options evolution gave us to ensure our survival. When it’s not safe to fight or run, that last option can become something new. Most assume freezing would be the worst option. But that’s because they only see the surface. Underneath, the body and the mind are fighting the best way they can in those circumstances. How could this possibly be useful?
The damage starts from birth. All our lives we’re told to submit to authority. We are softened and broken down until we are compliant. We aren’t taught how to protect ourselves. And then some of us are raped, assaulted, and/or abused. And we are told it’s our fault because we didn’t physically fight back or scream. Or even worse, some of us did fight back and it still wasn’t enough to get away to safety. But how can you physically overpower a perpetrator when you are much smaller, when you are very young, when you have never learned that you can say no or when the words simply catch in your throat? When it starts young there aren’t many ways to physically fight back, they haven’t been taught to you, and then as you grow up you find you still can’t say no. Because it’s not always a matter of physical strength.
Survival is also not simply a matter of physical strength.
Should I have screamed? Should I have physically fought back, knowing they could kill me or beat me or lie about the cause of it? Why don’t the bullied fight back? Why don’t the slaves? Why doesn’t a child fight their parent? Why don’t sane people fight the cops? Why is the emphasis on what the victim does to stop it after the fact rather than on what made the perpetrator think it was okay in the first place? Why is it so hard to understand that no matter what else is going on that consent is the issue? That it’s not always and only overtly violent and that it can be coercion, suggestion, or deception?
It is a mental issue as much as a physical issue. What it takes away from you, what it does to the psyche, how it changes your conception of everything you are is life-changing. It is a violation of your bodily integrity, your autonomy, and your health. The simple fact is that you don’t want it. That’s it. And yet they went ahead and did it anyway. It doesn’t matter why you don’t want it. You don’t have to explain yourself. No one ever cares about why you don’t want anything else; what does it say that this is the only time they do care to know? The assumption is that it always has to be a stranger or that it always has to be over-the-top violent, that it can never be someone that you’ve trusted and loved for years who has violated your trust, your peace of mind, and your body.
But that’s not what I want to focus on. I want to illuminate the ways that you do fight and are fighting when the only option left is to freeze. During the act, the mind fights by floating away and shutting down. The body can fight by getting wet, getting hard, or even by orgasming to limit the amount of physical damage that can result from being ravaged (if you’re too dumb to separate physiological responses from what someone consciously wants, you’re probably the kind of person that assumes a baby boy wants to have sex with you just because they get boners at random times. Or you probably hold sleepwalkers accountable for the strange things they do while asleep). The body doesn’t always do this, and physical damage can still be done, but the body and the mind protect you as well as they are able.
And then there comes all the ways you fight afterwards. You fight back every day you don’t kill yourself. You fight back every time you work through your anxiety and step out into the world. You fight back every time you rid yourself of any guilt or shame about what happened to you. You fight back every time you choose to trust someone. You fight back every time you do manage to say no and and defend your boundaries. You fight back every time you share your story. You fight back by taking back your sexuality, whether you choose to continue having sex or choose to never have sex again. You fight back with every breath you take afterwards.