How Legitimate Must the Rape Be?

I know of a fourteen-year-old young man who was finally given permission. He convinced his parents to let him ride the train into the city to take a summer musical theater class. Every Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks he rode his gold Schwinn to the nearby suburban train station. After responsibly locking up the bike, the young man purchased a round trip ticket and boarded a San Francisco-bound train. Once in The City, he connected to a bus that would take him up Third Avenue and make a left onto Geary. This young man would then disembark at Union Square Park and walk two blocks west to the American Conservatory Theatre where the class took place.

One day, as he was taking the train from the hustle and bustle back home he entered into what he considered a grown-up conversation with a well turned out older man of twenty-five or twenty-six, who wore a light wool sports jacket of charcoal grey with brown pinstripes. The young man, now feeling confident with his life path, poured out his heart and soul, shared his dreams, and perhaps even a few of his fears, for the older man was so very attentive, just the kind of professional the young man imagined he might one day become if his acting career didn't materialize

Coincidentally, they got off at the same stop, and as the train pulled away from the station the older man queried, "Have you ever thought about modeling?"

The young man couldn't believe his ears. Finally someone recognized his potential. The older man continued, "I represent a line of swim suits, and I think you'd be the perfect model."

The young man thought this older man of twenty-five or twenty-six uncannily perceptive, for the young man was quite the accomplished swimmer and had been on swim teams since he was seven. And it was there, by the train tracks, that the young man felt he was finally teetering upon the precipice of adulthood, a dazzling yet perhaps scary place where starry-eyed dreams can intertwine with reality.

The older man said, "I can't continue this out here. Let's go inside." The young man nodded and the two entered the sad little train station, where the older man gestured to the men's room. The young man, with a degree of caution, followed the older man into the lavatory, which smelled of industrial detergent and feet. Much to the younger man's surprise, the older man of twenty-five or twenty-six took off his charcoal grey with brown pinstripes sports jacket and hung it on the corner of one of the bathroom stalls. Then he undid his belt and unzipped his pants to reveal to the young man a rather skimpy, multicolored, Speedo-like swimsuit.

The young man thought it odd the older man had swimwear underneath his clothing, but with everything he'd seen and heard on his many recent solo jaunts to San Francisco (working on a scene from Mame no less) the young man was learning to accept what his suburban sensibilities deemed as outlandish. He didn't want to appear a rube so he acted as if strangers wearing Lycra beneath wool was an everyday occurrence. Besides, it made sense to the young man that people who regularly frequented The City would have a certain cosmopolitan flair and embrace capricious eccentricities. And the fact he was wearing a bathing suit surly must legitimize his claim that he was some sort of scout for swimwear models, doesn't it?

Then the older man looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming into the john, which didn't seem to have any foot traffic at all, and jutted his chin towards an open stall. Without a second thought, the young man acquiesced. It wasn't a choice the young man found difficult to justify, after all the young man knew to get the job he would have to show the older man his body.

Once in the stall, the older man unzipped and pulled down the young man's pants, and then lifted his shirt to get the lay of the land, the young man supposed. One glance at his tighty whities and the young man immediately wished his mother bought him more sophisticated underwear. Their eyes briefly met, but the older man broke away to once again gaze intently at the young man's almost hairless body. Biology took over and that thing happened, which happens to pubescent boys when over scrutinized.

Mortified, the young man tried to cover himself immediately, but the older man with a voice the young man misinterpreted as compassion said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of that for you."

And with deft precision, the older man pulled down the young man's Jockey shorts and began to stroke.


All this talk in the news lately of forcible and legitimate rape has made me think of this incident quite a lot actually, for the young man in the story was a fourteen-year-old me.

I'll be honest, I was unsure if the word rape, statutory or otherwise, even pertained to the violation I experienced. (I always thought of it as molestation.) In skimming through various websites I found that the umbrella phase sexual assault most likely pertains, but I'm still unclear if I was technically raped. In my case, penetration, which seems to be a defining rape act, did not occur.

Before you allow those speculative doubts that we all have to surface, let me assure you that I wasn't an old fourteen; carnality wasn't oozing from my pores and I certainly wasn't looking for it. The medication I took to abate my epilepsy slowed down my puberty considerably, thus I looked closer to twelve than the age of consent; thus my musical theater teacher saw fit to have me work on a scene playing Mame Dennis' ten-year-old nephew, Patrick; and finally thus at fourteen (late for most boys) I hadn't previously ejaculated until that moment in a smelly train station bathroom stall, with the hands of another man upon me, into a toilet.

Following the abuse (and with distance and perspective I find this incredible), the older man and I made plans to meet the following week on the doorstep of the American Conservatory Theatre!

What came next was a deluge emotions. Shame, fear, anger, and yes, fervor (which spiraled back into shame because I felt I must be mentally imbalanced for feeling sexual arousal of any kind) tsunamied up inside me, each demanding to be validated. They have ebbed and flowed throughout my life, morphing into varying degrees of confusion, doubt, prudishness and abandon, clouding my all-consuming need to be desired with sexual desire itself (I would basically fall for those who coveted me). That this one act can create such a hairball of conflicting emotions, that I am probably still in some way navigating, bargaining with or against, manipulating, or trying like hell to disregard what may bubble to the surface these thirty-six years later shows just how corrosive a sexual assault can be.

On the day I was to meet the older man again, my panoply of emotion had crystallized into razor sharp dread. As I exited ACT, instinct took over and I quickly ducked out of the building into busy Geary Street not looking for him at all. I have no idea if he was waiting for me, nor have I ever heard from nor seen him again.

Up till now, I haven't made this part of my life public; I believe I've only told four people. I certainly didn't tell anyone at the time. Not that I could have articulated this when I was fourteen, but I didn't trust there was a support system in place to actually help me. On top of which, and this is truly unfortunate, I was afraid that I would be made to feel culpable of the molestation.

And this is where society fails horribly. We are a skeptical bunch and have the tendency to blithely spread seeds of doubt with phrases like, "Well, he was asking for it," or "She always wears those low-cut dresses." As long as we allow ourselves to place blame on anyone but the attacker we are enabling a system we all know is broken. And somehow my fourteen-year-old self knew this.

Rep. Todd Akin said he misspoke. But his apology, if that's what you want to call it, cannot stop the damage. By speaking the phrase "legitimate rape" he has conjured into America's already vivid imagination that there must be such a thing as it's antithesis, or "illegitimate rape". Which implies what? That some of us really wanted it, or perhaps the molestation although unfortunate wasn't that all that bad, or maybe we deserved to be assaulted because we were not man or woman enough and needed to be sexually shown the way.

Whether any of these thoughts actually went through the congressman's head is less to the point than the fact that he presented glaring misinformation as truth, all the while holding up a figurative Bible to authenticate his claim, and that sort of Christian vigilantism scares the fuck out of me. I worry what the ripple effects of his statements will do to today's fourteen-year-olds who are sexually assaulted. I'm afraid they, like me, will keep mum because they can't help but question the legitimacy of their attacks.

As I should not be judged, neither in any way, shape, or form should we judge the decision any woman or girl has to make after being impregnated by a rapist. It's their body, their business. Unlike Mr. Akin and his brethren, I believe our primary concern should not be for unborn fetuses (which oddly stops becoming a concern to Republican budget cutters once these children are born), but rather we should move heaven and earth to give aid to those who are violated. Help the women, the girls, and yes, the men and boys who've been abused, offer them services and never belittle anyone's pain by misusing qualifying words.

It's true that I wasn't tied up and beaten to a pulp, but my experience, although less forcible, was no less legitimate.

For anyone who has experienced a sexual assault and would like help call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800) 656-HOPE. Also you can visit the following website: RAINN, I found it incredibly helpful.


James Sie said…
Beautifully-written, Hutch. Thanks for sharing this, and hopefully it will help others think about the corrosive actions of not only their actions, but their words.
Wendy said…
Excellent post.
Thank you for "putting yourself out there", Hutch. Very brave of you.

And thank you also for the link to RAINN. My daughter found it a couple of years ago (when she was in 11th grade) and finally found the courage to tell me about her rape that occurred at school in the fourth grade.

Silence, "secrets" and shame are damaging to our Souls.

Jo said…
Hutch...I am spechless and grateful. Thank youfor giving such an eloquent voice to an experience that would leave us all...well, SPEECHLESS.
God bless us all.
An absolutely wonderful blog post. Your message is so important and I thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes.
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