Monday, May 3, 2010
Regaining Her Voice: Dossie’s Story
How old are you currently:
Where did the assault (s) happen:
at home, streets, cars, apartments
Did you know the person(s) who committed the assault (s):
most of them
Did you tell anyone about the assault (s) at the time:
Did the assault (s) go to a court trial?
Do you think they will commit sexual assault again?
For me, coming of age in the fifties, rape was inextricably entangled with what I and everybody else believed it meant to be a woman. We had this thing called a “reputation” back then, and if you were interested in sex, or excited about much of anything physical, you could lose your reputation and become “fair game.” I took the wrestling matches in the back seats at drive-in movies for granted. Boys attacked, girls defended: that’s how it worked.
I was too young, and the culture too silent, to question any of this. My blossoming desire, my fascinated delight with making out, my inability to understand how to use desire as coin to buy marriage, made me outlaw and a prime target. I was seventeen when the first serious attempt at rape was perpetrated by a polite young man who offered me a ride home from a party when my date was dangerously drunk. I escaped from him, I’m not entirely sure how, with ten bruises around my neck. I remember the struggle to keep talking, a make-out session turned into a fight for my life with this man who was so consumed with whatever he desired that he thought he should strangle me. I walked the streets of Boston that night, afraid to call my parents for help because I was utterly certain that this was my fault. I had stepped out of the suffocating cloister of my family unchaperoned, of course I got attacked.
I moved to New York when I was eighteen to be a beatnik. Lousy jobs, unsafe neighborhoods, and me with no street smarts, I fought my way out of one assault after another. Oral rape, battery, kidnapping, threats from the policemen who offered to walk me home: my independence seemed to inspire rage. How dare I not belong to some man? Somehow I felt ashamed: by seeking my own destiny I had forfeited my protected status as a young lady. There was something wrong with me for wanting more out of life than to be a wife: I was outside the pale and it was always after curfew.
The huge trauma that changed my life went down during the Summer of Love. My partner, fellow Flower Child, fell to schizophrenia and became violent. During the first six months of my pregnancy with our child, I was repeatedly battered and bruised, terrorized with knives and fire, on one occasion brutally raped. Our sex routinely became a form of rape: not that I fought, but that he would take care that I took no pleasure in the act. In his madness the madonna/whore mythology loomed very large – at one point, with a huge smile on his face, he promised that after the baby was born and he no longer needed me he would kill me.
I don’t blame him that he was afflicted with mental illness – he couldn’t help that. I blame the culture that taught him from birth that he had a right; even an obligation to be more powerful than me, to “have” a woman and forcefully “keep her in her place” was the definition of manhood in much of the society we lived in. The more his illness frightened him, the more he needed to beat me down so he could feel powerful: he would make me small so he could feel big.
I escaped, six months pregnant, and went into hiding. Searching for me, he threatened violence to all of my friends, and they were afraid to be around me: I became truly dependent on the kindness of strangers. And there was kindness, and I got away: the nightmares began to die down after about ten years.
This experience made a feminist out of me back when feminism was unthinkable. The violence became a strange sort of gift: torn apart, I could see clearly for the first time that my problems were not that I was unwomanly, but that I lived in a culture that did not allow me to be a person. Trying to compromise nearly killed me: I had to step out of the box and discover myself to survive.
Since that time I have raised my child and worked as counselor to survivors of the many traumas that get inflicted on women. I created a lifestyle that supported both me and my daughter in being, not somebody’s adjunct, but a whole person. I learned to discover and cherish my own identity for my own sake. As a therapist, I enjoy the enormous privilege of supporting many women, and men as well, in healing from the violence of our culture and choosing for themselves the lives they want to lead.