I was raised as a "good girl" in Wednesday night youth groups and Sunday morning church services, taught to serve and place others before myself. I was taught that "good girls" aren’t gay, lesbian, bisexual, or involved with people of color. I was taught to not swear and to get straight A’s. I have broken almost all of these rules.
Following my assaults last year, I have struggled to find myself in many ways. One question, in particular, has persisted since the early stages of my relationship with my girlfriend: “am I interested in women because of my sexual assault?” I often wonder if I am attracted to her simply due to some subconscious feeling of safety provided by women stemming from the simple fact that they are not men, and thus do not pose a threat.*
I am not alone in questioning the nature of my sexuality following my assaults. Some men abused by women also struggle with self-doubt when attracted to individuals of the same gender. Those assaulted by members of the same gender may struggle with their sexual orientation and identity as well when engaging in same-sex relationships.
For months following my attack I distanced myself and became increasingly isolated. The simple touch of another human became startling. I jumped when I was tapped on the back or the shoulder. So how in this moment could I be capable of discovering and defining my sexual identity? In the words of another survivor, “it’s difficult to reclaim the path of pleasure from the source of pain.”
Recently, I realized that the cause of my attraction doesn’t matter-- maybe my fear initially fueled my attraction or maybe it did not. I would not question my interest in a man in the slightest. Yet, even as it concerns my own experience, the heterosexist stigma or subconscious prejudice I hold towards the LGBT population is tangible. In many regards, the prejudice similar to the numerous rape myths and stigma that surround sexual assault. These prejudices and socially instilled fears make it hard for me to fully embrace my own identity as a bisexual woman.
Many survivors of assault and individuals in the coming out process face double sets of disclosure when discussing their experiences- they have to come out both as LGBT and as a survivor. The fear generated by this prospect makes it hard to communicate with friends, family, and reflect on as an individual. Attempting to heal from the assault and process both journeys simultaneously is daunting to say the least.
Heterosexism leads us to believe that it is not possible to find ultimate pleasure and happiness with someone of the same gender --that there must be some reason for this “abnormal” behavior. This implies that if I were able to overcome my fear and trauma that my attraction for my partner would disappear.
I have decided to give myself a gift. I decided to give myself happiness I decided to let myself love. To forget the nagging question of “why?” and to allow myself to be happy in my relationship no matter the cause. That, for me, is the power of moving forward. I am learning to accept that it is okay to question my identity and to not have an answer. Today, I am defining myself as bi. I do not know what tomorrow will hold, but in this, I have the power.
To anyone reading this please know that you are not at fault for your experiences with sexual violence. The only person responsible for your assault is your rapist. Your sexual identity isn’t a “fault” to be had. You can’t control who you love, but you should celebrate it.
I am interested in hearing the stories of others affected by these identities and experiences and engaging with the research that needs to be conducted at this intersection. My story is complex, likely similar to many of yours. I hope in some small way that my voice provides a small moment of solidarity and a reminder that you are not alone. As you follow along through my blog post and story, I will share the interconnectedness of my experiences during and following my assault.
*Disclaimer: I use "men" to explain my own experience. Women also perpetuate these crimes.
Kathryn Snyder is a student at George Mason University and will be graduating in the winter of 2016 with a major in Neuroscience and minor in Chemistry. Passionate about global health, food insecurity, and fueling best practises through research. Lover of avocado, coffee, puppies, PubMed, and Instagram. Check her out on social media at @Kathrynsnyd.