Let’s begin by saying that I was not raped. Some might say that I got off lucky. That I should be grateful that it did not go any further than it did. Which is precisely why I kept it to myself for so long.
The words offered to women to describe the things that happen to us are limited. There is a vast world of possibility between “someone grabbed my butt on the subway” and “I was raped.”
These are my words. Ahmet, my middle aged adult male landlord, who served as one half of our landlord duo (number two was a woman, Nancy, his wife's best friend), came to my apartment, sat in my living room, and told me I owed him a very large sum of money. This came as a surprise to me. A mistake I didn’t realize I had made. Apparently I hadn’t paid my electric bill for nearly the entire first year. I thought I had set it up to come out directly. I had received no notice. No warning. But now I owed ten months. Plus interest. Plus the cost of having it shut off and turned back on. The amount was big enough that a barista/cater waiter/performance artist would be broken and have to move home.
Ahmet told me I was lucky. Lucky that he liked me. Lucky that he let me remain in the apartment. He kept saying it, how lucky I was. And how much I owed him, both financially and otherwise. He promised not to tell Nancy. She would kick me out for sure. And then he sat on my couch, and made me sit on his lap. As his erection grew beneath me, he kissed my neck and held my breasts. He stood me up to walk me to my bedroom and I, in my best performance to date, convinced him that I wanted it too, very much, but it would be wrong. He had a wife. What if Nancy found out and told his wife. Now is not the time. That sort of shit. He finally consented, after holding me very close for a very long time, all the while still kissing my neck, my ears. And then he left my apartment.
There is a vast world of possibility between “someone grabbed my butt on the subway” and “I was raped.”
That is not a simple two-word explanation. It took me two paragraphs, and I was trying to be succinct. Anything that happens to a woman that compromises her sexually is not simple. But we want it to be. Otherwise, we will apologize for taking up time or seeming like we are asking for pity.
I ended up blaming myself. I have a flirtatious personality. My mom used to warn me about it. “Don’t be too friendly, Amy Virginia. A guy will get the wrong idea.” So this just felt like a result of my behavior. Perhaps if I had been different, this wouldn’t have happened. And because of that, I was ashamed.
Which is precisely why I kept it from people. I even kept it from myself. I told myself that it wasn’t as bad as it felt, and that I was lucky. This word kept coming up, lucky. I was lucky I wasn’t raped. I was lucky I wasn’t hurt. I was lucky I got away. And now that I was safe, it was time to forget.
I held it in for a year. If I had been paying any attention to myself, I would have noticed changes and patterns. I drank more. Had more random and meaningless sex. Avoided closeness and intimacy. Got angry at men that spoke to me in bars. Got angry in general. But anger is only effective for so long. And the lie I had told myself was no longer believable.
Even when speaking with my closest friends, I had trouble finding words. Emotionally, they all responded similarly. Same feelings. Anger. Concern. Defiance. Fear. Sadness. But when it came to next steps, there were differences. Some wanted to fight back, fix the problem, or defend me in some way. But women who’d had similar experiences knew better. Nothing worth my time, money, or energy that could be done would be worth it. The media was providing me with glaring examples of that truth daily.
Something that would be worth my time would be an art project. So I wrote “Not Us.” With music, I could use words but also sound to accurately demonstrate my feelings around the subject. I could also create a broader audience and potentially reach someone that needed to hear that someone else had gone through what they had gone through. The hard part about the media in relation to sexual offense is that the only situations that get attention are extremist or involve celebrities. But I am a relatively normal person who got fucked over, and that is relatable.
It’s a degrading experience being a woman. Always wondering if I’m being too nice. Having to sort through cat calls and determine which is dangerous and which had good intentions behind it. Knowing that at the end of the day, no one will help. But until things get better, we need to be here for each other. Willing to speak up, and ready to listen.
Amy Virginia Buchanan is a musician, performance artist, producer, and cultural curator in New York City. She serves as artistic director for Spring Street Social Society, which she co-founded with her creative partner, Patrick Janelle. She has written, produced, and performed in two full length plays, and her third studio album, Not Us, is scheduled to be released in May. Currently she lives in Brooklyn, with Carl, her partner, and Whenny, her cat. Follow Amy at amyvirginia.com.
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