Trigger warning: this post deals with rape and its aftermath.
Filmmaker Jessie Kahnweller explains why she created the film, 'Meet My Rapist." The film is included at the end of the post.
"When you slap me on the ass without asking, it really reminds me of the time..." I look back at my boyfriend for the evening who I'd met two hours earlier in the bathroom line at one of SoHo's most exclusive (douchey) clubs. After a night of buying me shots of tequila, exotic wine and even an $18.00 summer salad, he motioned me onto the dance floor by slapping my tushy so hard I almost choked on a piece of Kale. And though I was too drunk to cry, I remember thinking I could totally cry right now as the ending of my sentence crept past my chapped lips before my brain could catch it as I whispered, "I was raped." Talk about a party pooper. As the bro from SoHo quickly apologized and ran away from me forever I remember feeling shocked that I was still pulling out the old rape card. I mean, we were in the VIP section and everything. I'd spent years on therapists couch's, inside journals, even on stage doing standup working through the pain. Yet no matter how hard I tried to make my rape a thing of the past, the truth remained: aside from being a feisty Aquarius free-spirited filmmaker, I was also a victim. And with the eight-year anniversary of my rape looming, the evening with the SoHo bro left me with the sobering truth that I was totally not over it at all.
Throughout these past eight years I've tried everything possible to make meaning out of the madness of that night. I always take pride in being strong and self-sufficient, a "what doesn't kill you" kind of gal and my rape would be no exception. Refusing to be the stereotypical victim shivering beneath a wool blanket, I began talking about it with anyone willing to listen until my rape story became just that: a story. With each new boyfriend came the same bottle of wine, late night pillow talk, and sobering confession "I have to tell you something that's going to freak you out." Crying often followed, never were they my tears. Like any good story, I even had my happy ending, I was strong and victorious and even a better person for it. I refused to let the rape make me hate men; in fact, I was more into men than ever. Forcing myself into sexual situations, trying to prove that my rape was a minor detour rather than a major plot point in the movie of my life. Looking back at my early 20s, I had no business having sex and often times feel I still don't.
Not only did that ass slap make me think twice about accepting free summer salads from dudes it also triggered memories of that OTHER night 8 years ago when a stranger used my body without my permission. I found myself thinking about my rapist again. Was he married now with kids? Had he experienced any type of spiritual awakening? Was he jazzed about the whole Mars thing? Did he remember that night the same way I did? Did he remember me at all? OK to be fair, I was obsessing a bit. Obsession quickly let to annoyance. How in the world could I give some stranger so much power over me? Spinning and lost, I did the only thing I know how to do when my questions seem galaxies away from any answers: I made a movie.
Spinning and lost, I did the only thing I know how to do when my questions seem galaxies away from any answers: I made a movie.
As production began on Meet my Rapist I was pumped to get this story out of me once and for all so I could finally get on with it. We made the movie in 3 sweaty days in Los Angeles and despite the dark subject matter, we laughed a lot. For me, it's always okay to laugh. For the final scene where I'm supposed to dump my rapist we hustled with to the LA River chasing the melting sun as it drizzled down the Santa Ana Mountains. With only moments of light remaining, as the crew manically assembled the camera, I took a deep breath knowing that this was my chance to finally dump his ass, leave him in the dust, and finally be the hero! And I wanted to be the hero so badly for my audience. For YOU. I needed the perfect ending to the movie of my life. Yet as we began to roll I just stood there motionless like my body was dipped in Cortisone. As the sun took its final encore, and my crew looked on eagerly awaiting for me to start acting, my knees remained locked as I was face to face with my rapist (or the wonderful actor who played him). I saw him and most of all allowed myself to really be seen. In that moment I realized these past eight years I had skipped straight to the healing when what I needed most was to let myself bleed.
As I attempt to grow up, I'm realizing breakups don't happen over night. And as all my ex-boyfriends can testify, clean breaks have never really been my thing. Though the movie is wrapped, my rapist and I will probably be breaking up forever. And perhaps one day I'll be able to explain to you exactly what I've learned from the whole experience or maybe I won't. Making the film forced me to realize that being a strong woman doesn't mean keeping it all together, but rather, having the grace to fall apart.
A good friend who was with me THAT night says he remembers seeing me right afterwards and, sensing something was off, asked if I was okay as I quickly snapped back "Dude, I'm okay!" Lately I've been thinking about that 20 year-old Jessie a lot. In her stained lime green paisley skirt, tongue ring, and sloppy dread locks. I think about that Jessie and how not okay she is and I hug her.