I had some difficult early teenage years growing up, becoming a sexual person. Being poorer than my class mates, I found it challenging portraying myself as someone desirable and attractive without all the ‘stuff’. I found boys confusing and didn't know if they were interested in me or not.
I don't remember a lot of things, but have had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which has brought a few things which have been dormant back into my mind.
One of the first memories that came back to me was when I went to a party and was drinking alcohol. I was 14 and I ended up getting drunk off vodka for the first time. His aunty bought it for us, and then she fell asleep upstairs and didn't check on us. He raped me in front of his friends. I was half asleep and didn't realise that made me fair game because I was trusting. I assumed that they were my friends.
I remember coming to and having moments of lucidity, including crying in his bathroom at one point. Ever since then, I've always had this feeling that rich people's bathrooms make me cry, which is an unusual cue. Having grown up in a modest home, the polish of that bathroom really stood out in my mind.
Going back to what happened, the way he approached it was very playful. Obviously he was drunk too. I wasn't quite with it, but eventually I realised what had happened. Everyone had seen my bits, which concerned me the most. It was the humiliation of having people see. They weren’t harassing me, it was more giggling as if it was consensual. But, how can it be consensual if I was unconscious?
It didn't feel like a violent trauma, it was playful and there was an innocence to it, except for the fact that I didn't know what was happening. If he'd asked me to sleep with him, I probably would have. The fact of the matter was that I didn't know what was happening and didn't give consent.
After it happened, I was very distraught about what it meant, and what people would think of me, being that my sexuality was so public. My friend (who was at the party but not there at the time) and I ended up going home. I think his aunty found out and dropped us off in the middle of the night. She said she was really sad and felt really bad. My friend was holding me and I was crying, and then when we got home my mum sent me to bed to get warm. She thought I was just tired and grumpy.
I actually ended up speaking to this guy afterwards. In retrospect it's a funny situation but I felt some responsibility to make it right. I felt that if I could position it as a friendship, it made it seem less wrong. Everything could be all right, and everything was fine. And it was. I forgot that episode over a long period of years.
Another time, I must have been about 17 or 18, I went on a date with someone and he slipped something in my drink. GBH in a sugar cube in my glass of wine. I realised just before I passed out that he hadn't drunk his one. Later on, when I woke up, I had my underwear on backwards and I was bruised. I was quite sore in places.
I oscillated between realising that something happened and then talking myself out of it and giggling about how silly I was for putting my underwear on incorrectly. Accepting that I had been raped meant I would have to accept responsibility for it all over again. I ended up having sex with him later on that night, to make myself feel less like he was in the wrong. I ended up trying to establish a relationship with these abusers to make it all OK.
I can't make sense of that on an individual level. I understand this through the power of social norms to shape our expectations, assumptions and interpretations about what sexual violence is – to the point where we may not recognise it for what it is. I was brought up with a very pragmatic outlook on life. If something bad happens we move ahead, keep going for our goals and don't let anything hamper us from that. There was a lot of merit to that, it just meant my healing was delayed until I could make sense of these experiences from an adult vantage point.
There are other experiences I have already written into the public domain for work (see my article in Culture, Health & Sexuality). For Megan’s ‘Us project’, I wanted to talk about these two clear experiences of rape, to highlight the challenging context around experiences of this kind. My cumulative sexual experiences meant I walked a fine line being considered a slut, and I wore it with pride. I was probably a bit of a player, and rarely let my guard down unless it was over the course of a long term relationship. Now I'm older, I realise that wasn't the best (or easiest) way to be, but that was the way I protected myself, in still feeling sexually confident but also loveable.
As I’ve gotten older, my arguments have become more tempered, with a view to understand how my own and others’ experiences can teach people about the world, and envision how it can be shaped differently. I do think it is a coping strategy to ‘intellectualise’, but that doesn’t come at the cost of experiencing the emotion behind it. You can be an ‘intellectual’ who still feels deeply.
I went down a pathway to study Clinical Psychology. I wanted to help young people out of difficult times that often felt hopeless and impossible. However, some of the study was predicated uponvalues and assumptions that didn't fit me that well. I have a lot of respect for people who work in that discipline and make it through, but I found it too confining. Clinical Psychology was not the right pathway for me.
I eventually found a home within Critical Psychology, Kaupapa Māori and Mana Wāhine research. I think there's a lot that I can offer others, teaching people about social structures – how what is just considered ‘normal’ can limit our aspirations and what we do. Especially when we don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of what’s expected – the norms and assumptions of those wealthy, conventionally-bodied/minded, European, heterosexual, cisgender, or men.
While I was going through the PTSD and unravelling the past, I came across some really unhelpful and invalidating responses from people that stifled my recovery, and led me to question myself. People with no connection to the past events, who simply refused to believe me. I still wonder if that relates to racism, being considered ‘untrustworthy’ or ‘undeserving as Māori’ – and to sexism and being considered ‘unruly as woman’.
For me, the memories were intertwined with support from my ancestors, cushioning some of the pain and warning me of what was unfolding. With the support of Māori counsellors who understood that, I was better able to understand their reassurance and ultimately, believe in myself, and my own (and ancestral) intrinsic knowledge.
It was useful to have an awareness about how memory can be infused with the current context, and that names and places can get muddled in the recollection, and with that in mind, develop a reconstructed collage of the memory – the fragmented sights, sounds, smells, feelings, worries, mine or other people’s words, striking visual information, and reconcile the contradictory cues – and piece that into a narrative story about ‘what kinda went down’.
I have always maintained that I am ‘nobody’s victim’. No one can diminish the mauri (spirit) that exists within me, between my whānau (extended family, friends and colleagues) and whakapapa (ancestral connections) from the past, present and future. These experiences of sexual violence have not and will never define me. I am so much more than what has happened to me. And if you too have had awful experiences, remember that you are also so much more!!!
Arohanui, Dr Jade