Not all rapes are rape.

My legs shoved against his hips to stop him from raping me.

(That wasn’t rape.)

He shoved his penis in my mouth and hissed “Watch the teeth.” Then he told his friends I’d given him head before I knew what “giving head” was.

(This guy didn’t rape me, either.)

He used so much force I threw up then he kept pushing his penis into the back of my throat despite the puke.

(What this guy did also wasn’t rape.)

As reasonable people know, forcing sexual intercourse in any form without consent is a violent act called rape. That’s a simple fact. Rape, however, isn’t a simple subject.

In some important ways, there is such a thing as a rape that isn’t a rape. “Nearly rape” can be a violation comparable to actual rape. There are variations and shades and complications involved in many sexual violations that might cause reasonable people to disagree about whether or not something is rape.

When Marty tried to force his penis into my vagina (my feet on his hips, shoving him off) we were drunk and naked in bed together. My audible “no” and “no I won’t have sex with you” and “don’t do that” were very clear. My physically fighting him off of me was also very clear. But, his penis never did enter my vagina. Afterwards we sat near each other at the pool where the party was going on as if nothing had happened. A therapist once told me I should have expected him to think intercourse was okay—even though I said no—since I was naked and drunk in bed with him. My own thoughts told me I was a slut for being there with him.

I call these experience I’ve described, “nearly rapes.” The shame, self-blame, self-doubt, and trauma that followed felt like they had been “really rape.”

There’s no such thing as a rape that isn’t “legitimate.” It’s nauseating to even take a moment’s time to utter the phrase. But not all rapes are rapes. Some are only nearly.


A few days ago I was singing a song while my older daughter read her book nearby. She was also, of course, listening. In fact she was watching, too, and it was lovely. It added to the intimacy of the moment.
After I finished she asked me what the first words of the song were. On hearing them she burst out with, “Mommy, that’s just like you!” The song was “Nobody’s Girl” by Bonnie Raitt and the first words are, “She don’t need anybody, to tell her she’s pretty, she’s heard it every single day of her life.” I asked her what she meant and she said people are always telling me I’m pretty.
What I think she’s picking up on is a stream of compliments I’ve received lately because of this whole weight loss thing. It’s relatively dramatic (about fifty pounds) so people who haven’t seen me in a while find it notable. As in, they note it.
My freshman year of college I dabbled in anorexia and bulimia and dropped down to around 108 pounds (I’m around about 5’6″ and weigh about 160 now). When I went home over Thanksgiving and Christmas that year people were insane. They were gushing and ooooooohing and aaaaahing over “how great” I looked. I was starving myself, making myself sick, and got nothing but praise for it. Our society and the obsession with female thinness is seriously fucked up.
Since I’m not starving myself and I’m not unhealthy now I don’t mind the “you look great!” comments. I’m a little annoyed for the sake of humanity that a woman getting thinner draws more compliments than a plumper woman, but remove the socio-political issues from it and I appreciate people are just trying to be kind.
When I notice a friend looks particularly attractive it’s hard for me not to say, “What is different?” Frequently I say it (I tend to say what’s on my mind without much consideration for the consequences) and realize what I’m implying is that they usually don’t look so great. Oops. Commenting on appearances can be so laden in miscommunications it’s easy to avoid them entirely. Then those of us who strive to always value the person inside more than the external qualities end up feeling shallow for what seems such a surface level assessment. I even had a friend hug me the other day wanting to apologize for “making such a big deal” (about my weight) because she didn’t mean to draw attention to it like that. In that case I think she just caught me in one of my many, many foul moods so her compliment may have been met with a blank stare verging on a stink eye.
Of course with The Beauty Myth still alive and well, some lost pounds doesn’t equal contentment, necessarily. I’ve continued my moratorium on mainstream media which I began last year in an effort to stop letting unrealistic and unattainable visions of “beauty” affect my self-esteem. As the reality of divorce set in I began seeing myself differently. Marriage is a comfortable state and one as loving and good as ours provided unconditional acceptance of me just as I was. I didn’t give much thought to my appearance. I’m working hard on returning to a similar state of disregard. It was a pleasant kind of ignorance I felt with no concern about what I should look like or how I should “take care of myself.” I lived with that peacefulness for years so I know it exists. Cutting out mainstream media has helped immensely. I dread grocery store checkout lines these days because that’s where I’m hit with the images and insidious messages I’ve so successfully avoided.
In about fifteen minutes I’ll be having “spa night” with my seven year old, a ritual we started after I read this article in Mothering magazine years ago. We’ll soak our feet, massage lotion into our skin, take turns having bubble baths, and we’ll even put a “clay” mask on our faces as something “fancy.” I was struck, though, tonight by how tempted I was to pick up some lotions promising they would “get rid of wrinkles” or “firm sagging skin.” Some of the fat might be gone, but The Beauty Myth lives on. For my daughters sake (when my own sake isn’t enough motivation) I will continue my search for loving myself for what I am, for how I am, not for how I believe I ought to appear. Tonight we will celebrate our bodies and as always, I will follow her lead in self-love. Children are wiser than any of us “grown-ups” when it comes to this stuff. We’ll talk, we’ll laugh, and we’ll feel extra special giving ourselves these treatments. The intersection of feminism, parenting, mothers/daughters, and being female will all come together and it will have nothing at all to do with appearances. It will be beautiful.

edited to add:

silver strands

These are silver hairs, not grey. I describe them that way because, truly, they glitter like silver. Grey to me implies a plain boring tone, and these shimmer as they lean toward white.

I’m writing about these hairs/threads because because for the first time in my life, last week, I saw myself and thought, “I look old.” I have never feared getting old. And, I suspect even when I am “old” whatever that is, I’ll have a youthful appearance (big eyes/big head does that). But this was my first experience with disliking some aspects of aging. In particular: my skin looks like crap. I’ve got wrinkles, which have never bothered me before. Everything seems blotchy. And too many photos lately have made it seem as if I have dark lines going along the side of my nose down to my mouth. Like Deputy (Droopy?) Dog or something.

Vanity. Sure. That’s mostly all this is and it will pass. But it’s not nothing and it’s not just a shallow experience. I’m recognizing I’m no longer in the generation of the “young,” and am entering have entered will be entering “old.” I’ve had many startling experiences where I realize those around me already see me that way. Or I just realize it again and again on my own.

The idea of being “grown up” is something I’ve danced with for ages. You’d think having a child or home ownership or marriage might speed up my familiarity with that concept. But, no. I don’t think I’ll ever feel “grown up” in the way I always thought I might. I had a mythic conception of what that meant, and it’s not something I ever want. I’d lose who I am inside if I became a “grown up” as I was defining it. I will likely never become someone who has routines, schedules, or consistent habits. Not gonna happen.

But, growing older, of course, will continue happening. I’ll be 40 in July, so it’s definitely going on. What’s been most striking about this past week’s findings is that I’ve never before had any sense that getting older might be hard or unwanted. I’ve always proudly said, “I’m just like my Mom, I’ve always loved the age that I am.” And that’s still true. And, honestly, the wrinkles and dried skin and ridiculous undereye circles don’t really bother me (as for the circles, I am 20,000 months pregnant and only slept 3 hrs last night). My husband and people who care about me see me through love-filtered glasses that can’t judge negatively. I have the same for them. I also know that I’ll learn to love the new older qualities in my physical being. As more of me sags (“your belly is like bread dough, Mommy!” says Maya), and more of me changes color and gets wrinkly, I’ll still be me inside. Once I connect the outer and the inner, the outer becomes beautiful again.

Friends of mine think it’s funny when I have talked about being “young.” In their experience, especially with family who did hard manual labor for work, “old” starts much earlier than in my circles. Where I’m from, people start second or third careers in their 40s or 50s. Life is really just getting going in our 30s. Where they’re from, your body starts giving out on you by your 40s and it’s an aching experience to make it to retirement age. If retirement is even an option.

Of course, besides the realities of colonoscopies, the coming mammograms, eyesight failings, and my parents’ mortality, age will always be that flowing and powerful state of mind. When I see myself in the mirror or in photographs, I may still sometimes flinch and say, “That is me?!?!?” because I feel so young inside. But, thankfully, I also have those love-filtered glasses all around me. People who wouldn’t care if every inch of me was blotch and wrinkle and flake. If I have to leech off of their acceptance of me sometimes, that’s what I’ll do. Most of the time, I expect I’ll stay in the blissful state where my Mother mostly stays… “I’ve always loved the age I am right now.” And then I’ll take a nap.