Christopher Saunders, White Noise no. 7

Christopher Saunders, White Noise no. 7

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she is currently employed as a pro-domme but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. She usually shares her stories each Monday in Harlotry–however, for the next five weeks, she’ll be writing specifically about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault. Here is part onepart two, and part three.

After Stanley raped me, I can’t honestly say I was okay, but I was certainly doing better than I would have expected, considering. People I know who’ve been raped dealt with the experience by holing up in their rooms, not eating, cutting off all but the most necessary social interactions, and generally withdrawing into a pattern of self-destruction. I did none of that. I got things done, I behaved normally in social situations, I even went on dates, mostly with very disappointing men who bought me dinners and tried to get me drunk in hopes that I would go home with them, something I never did. They were good practice for being social, I guess, but that was all they were: practice. Frankly I was disgusted at the very notion of sex and fearful of where a sexual relationship might lead. Rationally, I knew my fears were likely unfounded, but I didn’t feel like testing it. Other than that, though, I was mostly fine. Sure, I had some unresolved anger, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. If I went the rest of my life being functionally asexual, I didn’t think that would be a huge tragedy.

I believe a lot of what helped me deal with not only the rape itself, but also the abuse, was my background in sex work. Rape is, of course, no less horrible for a whore than it is for a civilian woman. Abuse is, of course, no less horrible for a sex worker than it is for a civilian woman. Violation is violation is violation and an invasion of something so deeply personal as one’s body or mind is, I think, the worst violation one can experience, but I was no stranger to having sex with people I would normally have had no interest in fucking. The difference here was that this time I’d been forced. I wasn’t being paid, I wasn’t gaining anything, and I had made my unwillingness very clear. I hadn’t said “yes” and meant “if you have to,” I’d said “no” and meant “no.” But just as I had been able to put my work sex into a box in my brain that separated it from my pleasure sex, I was able to put this act of sexual violation into a box and move on with the business of living my life. The experience was horrible, and I can’t think of anything I’ve experienced that’s worse, but it wasn’t life-endingly horrible. My life has, for the most part, been very happy; it isn’t difficult to give me the worst experience I’ve ever encountered.

Despite the fact that I was functioning fairly normally, I knew I had to deal with what had happened. I took more time off of work and tried to get my head together, but ended up drinking a lot, finding I could only really dissect what Stanley had done to me when I wasn’t completely sober. It was easier to go over everything in my head when my thoughts were wrapped in warm whiskey blankets and the memory of the violation and betrayal was dulled. It took me a long time to finally call a spade a spade and say he had raped me; it took me even longer to actually confront him about it.

I thought about how to go about making this confrontation happen for a long time. I planned out scenarios in my head and rehearsed righteously angry speeches in front of the mirror. I wanted very badly to march downstairs, beat on Stanley’s door, and give him a piece of my mind, but ultimately I was still too frightened of what Stanley could do to me and instead drank half a bottle of whiskey and texted him.

I am not proud of this. Such a missive would, I think, have carried more weight had I written out a letter on stationary or better yet done what I originally wanted to do and beat down his door to call him a rapist to his face.

But I didn’t do those things. I just texted him and finally told him everything I should have told him the night he raped me. I told him he was a rapist, I told him he was a pathetic excuse for a man, I told him he was no better than a dumb, brutish animal, and I told him he deserved to be summarily executed, but that ultimately death was too good for him. He didn’t dispute any of this, but he didn’t apologize either, simply giving excuse after excuse.

“I thought if I kept going you would eventually start to like it.”

“I only got angry at you afterwards because I felt so bad about what I’d done.”

“I know, why do you think I want to kill myself so badly?”

As if any of that would make what he’d done okay. If anything, his excuses made everything worse. He seemed to think I ought to forgive his unforgivable actions.
I finally managed to bully him into an apology, but I questioned its sincerity. The fact that I had to insist on his contrition decreased my sense of victory, but I still counted this as a win. He was sorry, and I could be finished with him. I blocked his phone number and resolved to keep moving forward.

It was not easy to move forward, though. I wasn’t really sure where to start. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about killing Stanley and wondering what the hell I was going to do with myself. I had been intending to return to work, but with my constant, paranoid distrust of men, I eventually decided it might not be the best idea.

I found other ways to occupy myself. I spent a lot of time with my family. I did a lot of writing and sewing. I occasionally taste-tested gum for the Wrigley corporation. I spent a lot of time alone, and by November I had gained a sense of peace I didn’t know was possible. I felt completely and totally alive again for the first time. I could run all my errands in one day and never have to take a nap, something most people take for granted but was practically miraculous for me.

I still didn’t really have an interest in testing the limits of my growing mental health. I continued to go on stupid dates with boring men, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Then, something happened. I stumbled upon a blog full of beautiful, beautiful writing. After a brief correspondence with the writer, it became clear that the blog was by none other than a Starbucks barista who I’d been pining over six months ago. We exchanged phone numbers, and quickly set up a time to meet. The date went from casual tea-drinking to cocktails and miles and miles of walking to me tipsily agonizing over whether or not to ask him to come home with me. I was worried about a few things, first I was afraid he would think I was easy, and second, perhaps more importantly, I was afraid of the fact that I actually wanted someone for the first time in months and still more afraid of how I would react if that someone did actually end up in my bed.

But I’ve never been good at denying myself, and I took him home.

As soon as we walked through the door of my apartment, the reality of what I was doing hit me. I was terrified. I felt sick, and ran to the bathroom to throw up. There wasn’t any vomit, but I’m sure I looked quite pale and green when I reemerged.

“Are you all right?” Daniel asked.

I wasn’t really sure how to answer that, I hadn’t told anyone except my sister and beloved fake brother about what Stanley had done to me. I wanted to have sex with him, but at the same time, I was really afraid it could be too much too soon. I considered what would happen if I sat this man (who, in all honesty, I barely knew) down and told him the whole epic, ugly story of my last relationship. In his position I probably would have bolted for the exit, and so I just said “Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” “

We don’t have to do anything you aren’t ready for,” he said, “I don’t want to force you.”

That, somehow, was all it took. Maybe it was the words themselves, or his tone, or his body language, but somehow my fear evaporated, and suddenly I just wanted.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after we’d gone to a Mexican bakery for breakfast and then he’d gone home that it occurred to me that I still hadn’t told him exactly why I had acted so strangely the night before. My original plan had been to go on several dates and eventually broach the topic when I felt like it was a good time (and definitely before we did anything more than kiss). But said plan was suddenly useless and I had never thought to make a plan B.

And so, in the middle of a completely unrelated conversation I said the words everyone dreads hearing, “I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

I probably could have handled things more gracefully; in fact Daniel seemed so distressed by my insistence that I needed to talk to him in person that I decided enough was enough, and instead of waiting until our next in-person meeting I wrote an essay and emailed it to him. I’ve always been better at writing my feelings out than I have at speaking them, and displays of strong emotion in front of people other than my sister make me uncomfortable, so perhaps writing it was the best way. What mattered more, though, was Daniel’s response.

I have gradually learned that there are a lot of ways people respond when you tell them you were raped, but the most common by far tend to be something along the lines of “you poor dear, come here and let me coddle you,” “THAT BASTARD!! HOW COULD HE DO THAT?!” or, “how are you still just going about your life? You must really be hurt inside to put on such a brave face.”

While I recognize that everyone’s experience of the aftermath of rape is different, these responses are not helpful to me. I do not want to be coddled; I have enough anger of my own and do not need the anger of others. I’m going about my life because, well, that’s what I do. I didn’t want any of these responses from Daniel. What I wanted was exactly what he gave me, an acknowledgement of the shittiness of rape, a congratulations for functioning at “an incredibly high level,” a compliment on the essay, and not a single assumption that I might be anything less than okay.

His reaction to my story said more than anything else. Here was a man who would support me as I worked to fix myself, but not try to mold me into his idea of what a whole human was. A month late,r I left him alone in my house while my friend Britney and I went out to pick up wine. My journals and computer were both sitting on my couch and it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Daniel to go through one or both of them while I was gone. There is always a tiny flicker of doubt the first time you leave someone alone in your house, but when Daniel asked if I was sure I didn’t want him to go with us I found myself saying, “no, I trust you.” It came as a shock at first, what my mouth was saying, and then even more of a shock when I realized it was true and I did.

I had spent so much time in the last four years being afraid and distrustful, not only of Stanley, but of men in general. I hardly trusted my male friends, always worried that if they showed me too much affection in front of Stanley, he would assume I was cheating on him. The ability to say “I trust you” and mean it was something I’d assumed I’d lost forever, and the fact that I’d gained it back was a huge and wonderful shock to me.

Not long after I realized I was once again capable of trust, I started considering going back to work. I had concluded that if I was capable of trust I was also capable of sexualized interactions with strangers, and the inactivity of unemployment was starting to turn my brain to mush. The more I thought about it, the more important work became. I had proved to myself that Stanley had not broken me, I now wanted to prove that he hadn’t stripped me of my livelihood either. I’ve written about my latest return to sex work a few times now, and it’s been difficult to talk about it without also bringing up the fact that I was raped.

Rape isn’t just something you can casually bring up, but it is so deeply important in the story of this new return to the sex industry. At the fetish house where I work now, I don’t have sex with anyone, but naturally the interactions I have with clients are sexual in nature, as they are paying me to fulfill their fantasies. As with any sex work, I am renting out my sexuality again. The thing about renting something out, though, is that you can’t rent out something you don’t own or can’t control. Returning to sex work is the last piece of my recovery puzzle.

Having the last piece, though, doesn’t make me magically better. It’s a process that will go on for who knows how much longer. I am still angry. I still get a lot of feelings that are hard to sort out when I read things about rape or watch certain movies or episodes of television shows. I find myself cheering really hard, either out loud or in my head when I hear about women exacting bloody revenge on the men who raped them, and I almost cried from happiness when I heard the Steubenville rapists were facing at least some justice. I am angry that I live in a world where I can’t even publish Stanley’s real first name without potentially facing serious consequences, and I am angry that he never had to face consequences, but I don’t think about it as much as I used to.

I suppose one day I’ll really be over it. I’ll be able to read about rape without feeling my chest tighten, and watch rape scenes in movies without feeling stiff and sweaty. I’ll probably always cheer really hard for ladies who bring the men who raped them to justice, though, and I can only hope that eventually they get to recover too. Ultimately, recovery is victory, and I am winning.