I’m Not Pretty When I Cry: Rants from a Failed Victim

Painting: Helene Knoop

Painting: Helene Knoop

Until recently, I couldn’t call myself a survivor let alone a victim. Ironically, it was my always strength that attracted abusive men who tried to put me in my place. It’s taken years for me to see that the series of monsters, who controlled my life and hurt me, were nothing but weak men. And these cowards took away the most precious things from me: my time, my writing, and, ultimately, my strength.

Abused female characters in Hollywood films are always cowering in fear or begging for mercy. They usually never talk back while being beaten and they never strike their attackers. And they always look beautiful, even when they cry. Well, I am ugly when I am furious, and I never shed a tear, not even after my boyfriend dislocated my shoulder. In fact, I put my shoulder back in place myself and later took a hammer to the diamond ring he’d handmade for me because the pain was intolerable. I also kicked him in the testicles.

I often went back to my abusers because of a pathological belief that the abuse I endured was my fault because I was strong. I always felt guilty for demanding to wear whatever I wanted and to say whatever I felt. When one boyfriend began checking my cell phone and breaking into my email accounts, I felt guilty after imposing the same lack of privacy on him. It was my fault when he tried to choke me because I was withholding sex from him. It was my fault that he beat me because I slapped him after finding out that he was sleeping with another woman.

When I was raped by a colleague at Rolling Stone magazine, I also believed it was my fault because I wanted to have sex with my rapist, who decided it would be more enjoyable to drug me first and assault me while I was unconscious for nearly fourteen hours. I could’ve died and I will never know exactly what was done to me, but it took me a decade to call myself a victim because I’m allergic to that word.

Why? Because I’m the “anti-victim:” I perfectly fit the mold of the character every rapist’s lawyer tries to make the victim out to be.

I used to work with my rapist and after I was let go from my job post-assault, I sent our mutual manager a vitriol of emails saying things like, “Even speed-freak sluts don’t deserve to get raped.” And, suspecting that I’d been gang-raped by a group of men at work, I said, “Why couldn’t we just all hang out and see if there’s any chemistry instead?” I doubt the Neanderthals who got away with shattering my world understood my dark sarcasm, which belied how utterly broken I was.

My former professor, James Lasdun, flirtatiously came to my aid because I’d been in the midst of writing a novel when my life fell apart. But he cut me off after I told him all about the rape and began naming names. Instead of weeping girlishly because he didn’t care about me enough to help me seek justice or even finish my book, I sent him a rash of hate emails for seven years. I punished him for having wanted to fuck me instead of actually helping me.

What kind of victim am I?

Victim shamers who read my writing often say that I have a victim complex, not understanding how hard it is to stop the guilt and admit to having been abused by the aforementioned men. Some people even ask me, “Why do all these things happen to you?” No, these nightmarish things don’t just happen to me; They “happen to” countless women. I just have a big mouth. I’m also one of the lucky ones: I’m still alive to tell.