From The Men’s Room and Other Places

It’s been very stormy in our little corner of Lac Leman in the last few days. It’s a welcome change after weeks of stifling temperatures; after sun-baked days in over-crowded playgrounds with over-heated, over-tired children and over-stuffed bags bursting at the seams with water-bottles, sticky lolly wrappers, already-drying-out baby wipes and greasy bottles of melted sun lotion.

Suddenly, we’ve found ourselves rain-dancing! Hopping around, barefoot in the grass, giggling and rejoicing at feeling bursts of cool droplets on our frazzled skin. After last summer’s patch of storms, I am pleased to say that my little girl is no longer scared of them. Like me, she now matches her excitement to the increasing pressure around her, as the storm gains momentum and menacing grey and purple clouds form a canopy above her. I no longer have to close the doors, as instead she and her little brother insist on standing on our picnic table on the terrace to watch the storm’s progress in the valley, letting forth squeals and claps of delight as they do so.

I think it’s simply that now they are getting older, they can begin to sense and understand that blissful feeling of relief; when oppressive, stagnant air is cleansed and purged, making way for fresh air, fresh thinking, a fresh start. Change. It often isn’t something to be afraid of. With what can often be perceived as unsettling change, something to be feared, there comes a new-found space of comfort and possibility.

Fear and comfort are words that have come up in my life many times recently. This is mainly due to the conversation I recently had with Karl from The Dialogue Project. The interview was published online on 16 July. Many of you know about this interview, indeed many have helped me to publicise it far and wide. Many of you have listened. Indeed, I have had an overwhelming and often shocking response to it, but it has taken until now to let the dust settle a little, for me to gather my thoughts and to make some kind of sense of my feelings about the reactions I received.

The following are descriptions of some of the reactions I received. Only some, however. The actual volume of the response was overwhelming and I continue to express my gratitude to those who have taken the time to listen to the interview and who have contacted me to express how they felt…

The Victim
Unfortunately, there were some negative reactions, or at least ones that unsettled me a little…

The reaction that saddened me the most was from a lady who found herself to be incredibly emotional after hearing the conversation. She contacted me to say that I had given her a voice. Although as I reiterated to her, this was not something I was intending to do, as I believe with all the passion possible that a person’s own situation is entirely unique. It transpired that she was a victim herself and was obviously having a few issues surrounding her own situation.

What was odd, however, was that having contacted me for a couple of days after the interview was published, suddenly, and inexplicably, she was gone. She didn’t answer my messages, she unfollowed me on Twitter and simply disappeared into cyberspace.

I was shocked, saddened, but that wasn’t all. Her disappearance happened on the day I tweeted and indeed blogged about the fact I was struggling. I felt abandoned. My so-called strength was a double-edged sword. When bystanders, onlookers, friends see you as strong, as someone who bounces back constantly, it is easy to think that you don’t need any help. There was I, putting it in black and white that I was feeling vulnerable, frightened, emotional, and the very people who had previously confirmed that they had cause to understand were the very people to remain silent upon hearing my call for help.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone has choices and I utterly respect her decision to no longer correspond. However, bearing in mind that she had been the subject of some negative Twitter reaction to her tweets about being a victim, I cannot help but feel that this disappearing act was just a way of reverting back to what she might have felt was expected of her by her followers. To me it felt like something was being conveniently swept under the carpet. However, this is not my situation and I can only speak for myself. I sent her a brief, but heartfelt message finally, wishing her all the best for the future.

Those Questioning My Motive
To talk during the interview so honestly and openly of a situation where I had no power, no control and no choice, and essentially was in fear for my life and that of my Mother’s, was intensely difficult. Many have asked how I was able to do it. The answer is simple, to talk about it is easier than being attacked. I will try to explain this further. I lived through the attack, and indeed have lived through other extremely difficult life situations both prior to it and since (see below about subsequent chapters to my interview). My theory is this: live through this and it makes anything else seem like a day at the beach. There is simply nothing to fear from a conversation.

Equally, there were those that asked why? Indeed, one person asked what I was getting from doing the interview in the first place and also what were others getting from it by listening? For a brief explanation (a detailed one taking a day at least), I can only answer in numbers, essentially: 1500 blog hits in one day, over 500 responses to my interview, new friendships, new conversations, new opportunities, but perhaps most importantly, I feel that this is another piece of my life’s healing process.

I can, however, understand these kinds of questions. As I have grown up in recent years and have been on a journey of learning self-acceptance, I have had to learn to accept others. I have come to understand that just as I am intensely open and wear my heart on my sleeve, there are equally people who are intensely private and who do not. These are people who perhaps have felt uncomfortable listening to such a detailed and graphical account of what happened.

Indeed, in regard to the graphical nature of the conversation, I received one comment on how, when I recounted my ordeal, I was surprisingly unemotional.

I can say that, when you listen to the audio, you will hear me describe how my tummy is tight and there is an uncomfortable feeling in my chest. I was NOT unemotional.

But actually, as regards the mechanics of the attack, it is simply that I have largely dealt with it. Yes, I have had my nightmares. I still get them at times. But I find describing the in-depth details of the attack as easy as describing a recipe or discussing what happened on Eastenders last night. It has taken several years of counselling to get to that stage, but I’m there.

I would hope that this is something to be proud of, it is not something that belittles my ordeal or indeed that of any other person who has suffered at the hands of an attacker.

The Men’s Room
I suppose the most surprising wave of reaction I received came from men. I was in awe and delighted at how many men contacted me after the interview and were keen to give their viewpoint.

I don’t know why I was so surprised. Maybe I felt that my interview might be taken as me “jumping on an anti-male bandwagon”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have never had a problem specifically with men. I love men! When I feel confused as a woman, I envy their logic and their matter-of-factness. I often envy their detachment; and by that I do not mean a lack of passion – but their ability to compartmentalise aspects of their lives. It is a skill I often wish I had.

I sometimes wish I had the ability to see the world in black and white, as I feel that many men have the ability to do, instead of these confusing hues of charcoal and grey that I find my vision filtered with.  Again, this is simply my perception.

At the risk of sounding patronising, however, I often feel sorry for men. Particularly in situations when someone they know has been raped.

To some of the men I spoke to, I wanted to swap roles and be their protector. Indeed, with some I was; I was the comforter, the consoler, the one to tell them it was all OK.

But I am more than qualified to do that, because I am the character in the story and I am OK. I have survived.

The Protectors
One close male friend simply couldn’t listen to the interview for longer than 5 minutes because he felt so angry. He sent me a message apologising, but explained that he felt almost violent. He just could not face listening any longer. No apology was necessary.

An understanding of the wave of angry male reaction came from a really helpful conversation I had with Jason, my partner. He told me:

“As a man, it is entirely normal to feel angry. When I listened, I was clenching my teeth as I thought of what that man did to you. It was extremely harrowing and difficult to listen to. You have to understand that as a man, I felt ashamed. I find it hard to tolerate that “one of my kind” would do that to another human being. It offends and angers me. And, of course, I wanted nothing more than to be transported back over twenty years, just so that I would have a chance to protect you”

The Fearless
One of the sweetest, nicest reactions I had was from a man that I correspond with online quite frequently. He is a married man with a child, hopelessly in love with this wife, bearing the strain of being a new Dad; a thoughtful, funny, intelligent guy. I would say that he and I have become close, in that I have shared things with him that I do not with others, except Jason. I do not know what our connection means, as I don’t really analyse it. I simply think of him as a good friend.

He contacted me halfway through listening to the interview, explaining that he was upset and had to take a break before carrying on.

Later he contacted me and said, “I have an overwhelming urge to tell you that I love you.”

He continued, “I don’t know how I feel, it’s a confusing combination. I feel sick. I feel sad. I feel strangely elated too. I want to talk to you about it, but I don’t. I want to look into your eyes. I want to hold you.”

He clarified, “It feels different to the love I feel for my friends and family.”

He then went on almost apologising for this reaction, as if he shouldn’t have said it.

But I understood what he meant. And I told him I loved him back.

There have been times in my life when I have developed relationships with people of any age or gender and have felt an overwhelming rush of love for their spirit, for their outlook, for what they represent, for who they are.

I would hate to have to go through life being unable to express love for someone. I loved his honesty and the fact that he was not scared to tell me. It made my day.

After all, if we cannot express love, then why are we here?

Saving The Best Until Last
Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, Karl received some reactions from close friends and colleagues who voiced concerns about the true state of my emotional well-being.

They asked him, “How could you possibly know that she was ok with doing the interview? She might have said she was, but how do you really know?”

There is no easy answer to this, as to understand fully, you would perhaps have needed to be a fly-on-the-wall during our conversation.

How can I explain? We shared something that day, almost from the very moment he got off the train at Villeneuve station. It was an understanding. Only the two of us can ever know how special that conversation was. Of course, I dearly hope that the connection we shared and the naturalness of the situation translated onto the audio. Perhaps my apparent ease in describing how I was violated, perversely translates into me being “unemotional” as previously described?

There are many questions that will remain unanswered…

Perhaps the questions Karl received regarding this lead me to the most important point about doing the interview in the first place.

I chose to do the interview. 

This was a situation to which I had choices open to me and I made my decision with strength, forethought and in a time in my life when I am finally happy, on solid ground and, perhaps most importantly, surrounded by love.

I also made the decision with a very open mind as to the reaction I would receive and what might follow in terms of publicity after the interview was published online.

And, I made the decision knowing that it would be extremely hard for friends and family to listen to. But I felt that, so long as I spoke from my perspective only and in no way tried to convey that I was a voice for anyone else, no one close to me would feel the need to voice any serious objection to it.

I am sorry for those of you that felt uncomfortable. I am sorry that you had to experience those feelings. But I remain without regret at doing the interview. The rape happened, it wasn’t nice, but it happened.

To sum up everything, as to why this interview took place, I will say this:

To take back my power and control over twenty years after it was stripped away from me, is a very healing thing indeed. It is not something I have been able to do properly until now. I needed to be heard as Jane the adult, Jane the Mother, Jane the almost-healed.

And, to me, THAT is the entire point.

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