Thursday, May 3, 2012

How NOT to try desensitization...

Really rough night last night. I can't remember the last time I was triggered so badly that I couldn't fall asleep when I tried. Even worse, I didn't realize I was triggered; I thought I was okay. Only after an hour of lying in bed, sleepless, with my heart pounding did I realize why I couldn't fall asleep.

I've come to accept that lots of books will use rape as a plot point in some way or another. Most of the time, it comes as a surprise, too, because the description on the back of the book doesn't mention it. The thing is, after four years, I can usually get past that and not be too affected by it. (Sometimes I will numb out a little, but then I'm usually fine.) I was reading a mindless romance novel last night, Mackenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard. I have liked her books in the past. A series of stranger-in-a-ski-mask rapes occur in the town, and the main character becomes a victim of attempted rape. The author tried to realistically portray PTSD in a strong, stubborn woman who values her independence, and I appreciate that. However, during my bout of sleep-destroying anxiety, I finally deduced that what really got to me was how the character tried to deal with her fear. She wanted her lover (the other main character) to re-enact the attempted rape with her in order to try to replace those memories with something good from someone caring. Sure, desensitization, that's legitimate. But when it got underway, with her running and him chasing her, the description of him became really disturbing. It felt like he was portrayed as enjoying it. And when he captures her, she starts to scream and cry and struggle and she repeatedly says "no" but he doesn't stop, and he has sex with her. In the end, of course, the author portrays her as being fine and the desensitization successful, but all I felt was revulsion and horror.

In my mind I kept screaming "oh my god, use a safe word!" before I realized that the characters had no concept of that, and had never established a way to distinguish between "I'm scared but okay to continue" and "please, stop, I'm really having a hard time." It gives me the squicks, and just thinking about it makes anxiety claw at my chest. What the characters were doing felt much more like rape to me, and it evoked a much more visceral response than the stranger-in-a-ski-mask thing because it was someone she cared about and trusted. And, cynical person that I am, if that scenario had gotten out of hand and she had legitimately wanted to stop and he didn't, and she quite correctly called it rape, he would have said she asked him to do it-- i.e. she was asking for it. It makes me nauseous.

Ugh, I can't write anymore. I will write another post later about the trouble I am having with reconciling my identity and fears as a survivor of sexual assault with my somewhat long-standing interest in [safe and healthy] dominance/submission. I know a lot of people think submission fantasies are a way of coping with being raped; I feel like all the resources I have found for assault survivors treat submission fantasies as an unfortunate consequence of sexual assault that survivors can learn to get past, like a disease people can strive to heal from. I don't think that is necessarily the case, and I'd like to do more research about BDSM for survivors of sexual assault before I write this post. If you have any thoughts or insight, let me know!