Ed. note: This is a guest post by Alexei Fraser. Alexei currently lives and writes in Somerville, Massachusetts. She works as a child wrangler and hopes to one day become a professor of feminist early modern history.
While watching the media circus surrounding the Steubenville trial, I think about which actions could have stopped this atrocity from happening. What could have happened that night if a popular boy had dissented? But in these scenarios, how do we get the cohorts of these men to step up? The frigid numbers are not enough. We are flush with the terrifying statistics of the amount of women who will be raped, the small number of those women who will report and the miniscule number of the rapists being convicted. Yet, rapists and victims remain unfaced to most. Rapists look like shadowy sociopaths in dark alleyways and the alien victims’ stories always end with the assault. So, what do we do? It is time to start talking and never stop. It is time to embody those statistics. The survivors are the only ones who can represent their experience, in part because the story never ends with the assault. The survivors should make the purveyors of rape culture listen to their survival stories. Many have been silent, but that does not mean they can’t start talking now.
I’ll go first. My name is Alexei Fraser. I am 24 years old. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts in a graduate school frat house. I work with children in Dorchester and grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. The irony of being Lex from Lexington is not lost on me. I have a bachelor’s degree from University of British Columbia, and I was raped not long after my 18th birthday. That day I wore a tank top that a friend had sharpied the words “Beer Bitch” on the back of, two push up bras so my disappointing A-cups were at my chin, lipstick, and eye makeup so dark my friend asked me if I had been punched in the eye. There are pictures of me from that day. In some, I am toothily grinning. In others, I hold my finger in my pink shellacked mouth pouting insipidly towards the camera. By then, friends had nicknamed me cock-tease, C-T for short. I was known for endlessly talking about the sexual escapades I never had; I was a virgin. I had thought at one point I might take his last name. I drunkenly invited him in. I struggled. I bruised, but only ever so slightly; and I bled, but only ever so lightly. That night, I did not scream because I was ashamed. He abandoned his belt to my room and I picked it up with those sheets not able to imagine the touch. I stayed in that room for a week on a naked mattress and lived off of stale bread and slightly putrid cranberry juice. I slowly began to go to class again and for many months I thought I had stayed off the inevitable. The descent was insidious. I started to smoke and drink more. I had a flirtation with opiates and was given the new nickname Estella. The nightmares started.
And then I realized it was high time to say my story out loud before it really calcified. The first person I ever told did not believe me. I thought this reaction must be a fluke and, you know, perhaps this person cared too much about me to really comprehend. But then the second person told my parents as an act of revenge. I was shut up again. I started to sometimes forget where I was and there he appeared. Strangers bumped into my knees on buses and my day was sacrificed to clutching my spinning and cloudy bedroom floor. So I stopped going on buses. I started to become paranoid in class of the boy behind me who smelled so familiar. So I stopped going to classes. I hated how people looked at me so I replaced my glasses with noise-cancelling headphones. I oscillated drastically between the extremes of self-preservation and self-endangerment. I started walking alone at night on dangerous streets. I gravitated towards men that reminded me of him. I maxed out credit cards, skipped class, and stayed up until 7 am because I never wanted those dreams.
But, I still couldn’t talk because of the saturation of stories detailing how women who knew the men were asking for it, and I had cared for him; women wearing short skirts were asking for it, and I was wearing a t-shirt that said beer bitch; women talking sexy were asking for it, and my nickname was cock-tease.
I went to therapists. I could not tell the first one I had been raped. He told me he knew what was wrong with me and drew me a pretty little picture, tying up the ends nicely with a diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder. He could not stop burping the whole session. Another therapist suggested hypnosis to relive the trauma. Her office smelled of incense and she had the milky-faced appearance of a frequent Ren Faire attendee. That is when I first heard the diagnosis of PTSD. One more taught me a series of face pokes to distract. I started bearing a smoothed jade-colored stone to squeeze whenever I felt like I was going back. I lost that stone. I listed off rapid-fire the first five Marxists I could think of whenever the anger began. That helped. I still do that sometimes.
Now it is six years later. Here is my promise to start talking. I had been abused and assaulted by him, but my society ferociously demanded that I deserved it and should shut up. I felt the scarlet letter burning into my skin, and even while writing my history I feel shame and fear. I am and was scared that you will think I am lying; that you think I asked for it, that you think I am exaggerating my experience, that you will take away my agency and reduce me to the four letter word, that you think that these things just happen to some people and I should get over it already. I am scared about being labeled a coward for not being able to bring this forward at the time. Here is my truth: I will always have been legitimately raped. I will always be reminded sometimes when his name is said accidently, when I smell that smell, when my friends try to scare me by jumping out of nowhere, or when I am surprised with an image of sexual assault. I will always have those dreams, but hopefully not as frequently.
Here I am, a real bodied person. And, I assure you, take a good look deeply into the faces of women you care for, because others surround you. Like me, they did not deserve their attacks. They do not deserve the double bind of silent suffering they are forced into. The next time you are asked to support or laugh at the culture where my rapist believed he could rape me and I was abandoned for so long, you’ll think for a second about this beer bitch.