I was 17 years old the first time I heard the word rape in relation to sexual violation. Before this, rape was the spinach-like vegetable that I ate as a child in Zambia – which I now know to be kale. I was in my first year of university and a friend called to say someone we knew was raped and needed our assistance. Although I didn’t know what assistance I could offer, the distress in her voice jolted me into action. It was 1997 and there was no hashtag to follow and find information or blogs with first-hand accounts from survivors or easily accessible information on who to turn to. What I knew was that anything in the province of violence goes to the police and/or campus security. I also knew that this wasn’t something I could tell my parents because even just the mention of a boyfriend would illicit a lecture that would end with “we didn’t send you there for this!”.
That evening I listened to a young woman, my age, speak of being pinned down against her will and not being physically able to respond.
I listened to a young woman, my age, speak of her inability to locate her voice enough to scream, let alone whisper.
I listened to a young woman, my age, speak of the final surrender that engulfed her as she waited for this boy to “finish”.
I listened to a young woman, my age, tell us something was taken from her without her permission.
I listened to a young woman, my age, tell us she was raped.
In the 22 years that have passed, from this evening, I have been exposed to countless stories from women who have been raped by friends, lovers and strangers. Consequently, as we live in a global culture that denigrates women, many of these cases have gone unreported and live in the memories of these women, sometimes shared publically but often times held inside – a living pain that is carried like a leather handbag filled with gunmetal boulders.
It is with this in mind that last weekend, in discussion with a sista-friend about “rape fantasies” and her discomfort around it, I got to thinking it’s time we find another term to describe what we actually mean when an adult says s/he fantasizes about being raped.
We all have various permutations of how we experience and imagine pleasure and for the most part, we are able to keep our sexual fantasies to ourselves – perhaps I should speak for myself here – my fantasies are mine and are not to be used as a launchpad for debate or negotiation. Furthermore, there are a collection of sexual fantasies that I am happy to keep out of the real world. This is to say, not everyone wants their fantasies to collide with reality. I don’t imagine that healthy adults that fantasize about rape are seeking the trauma that comes with it. There is no divorcing sexual pleasure – however it arrives – from consent, and rape is not pleasure and it certainly is not consensual.
So, seeing that a “fantasy” is something we have complete control over and “rape” is something that is out of our control the two designations have no meeting place – in my opinion. We need to separate the word rape from fantasy and locate adequate terms that translate to the respect, communication and consent that come with the fantasy of being “raped”.
Before you ask, I have NO idea what these new terms are nor do I have any suggestions (yet) on what they could be. All I know is we need these new terms of descriptions for ourselves and those of us in complete control over how we use our bodies – in reality, and in fantasy – and perhaps most importantly we need new words in order to support and respect what it means when a person says they have been raped. Our respective desires do not need the brutality of what rape is and our respective desires do not need to be held in shameful secrecy because of the word we have chosen to align the fantasy with.
Rape is NOT a consensual surprise – so I ask us all now, what new words can we use to describe the freedom that comes with the marvellous “world” of fantasy?