Men Can’t Be Raped, I Once Thought — Until It Happened to Me
I said no when we met at the wine bar in downtown Palo Alto.
I said no when we talked about his book collection in his two-bedroom apartment.
He even acknowledged that he wouldn’t touch me, and I actually believed him. Yet, he must have misplaced his memory because I had to repeat the word “no” when he looked into my eyes — and he still did exactly what he said he wouldn’t do.
My chest tightened. Like a threatened opossum, I just laid there with disassociation. I tried to make the next few hours, days, and months feel emotionless, too.
Just because we met on Grindr meant that I wanted it, right?
Just because I let him pay for the wine meant I had to be agreeable, right?
Just because I didn’t fight back meant I enjoyed myself, right?
Black men can’t be victims, right?
I was a 23-year-old man, and I didn’t know that I could be raped, too.
Eight hours after the incident, I was awake and had to represent my company at the sales conference Dreamforce. That’s when I realized that one can be in a room full of people and still feel alone. While I hadn’t fully acknowledged what happened, my body knew. I took a shower after Dreamforce, scrubbing away his scent from my body. My skin, like memory foam, still remembered where he had touched me. It knew that it had been violated. I grew restless. My body turned on itself; for months, my muscles ached, and I developed canker sores and constipation.
My best friend encouraged me to go to the police. I did, but because there was no rape kit, because Pablo didn’t even remember sleeping with me, because I came in three months after the incident — and to some degree, because I am Black — the police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office could not provide criminal justice.
My experience isn’t uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that queer men experience sexual violence at similar or higher rates than straight people. In general, men don’t report abuse, so how can we truly ever know the accurate number of cases? Our pain is invisible. I can only imagine the experiences of Black and queer men are even more hidden. It was nearly two years after my assault when I saw a Black queer man raped for the first time on television. That’s an odd sentence to write, I know. But Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, streaming on HBO, found a delicate and thoughtful way to demonstrate that Black queer trauma also deserves to be represented on television.
Because I didn’t tell anyone for months after the assault, I therapized myself. I asked myself how I would advise a friend in the same situation. They should tell someone, I resolved. At least that’s what I did in elementary school when my little cousin playfully admitted that an older boy had been touching her. I was so young that I couldn’t even pronounce sexual assault, yet I still knew what to do with that information. I wanted to protect my little cousin. Now, could I protect myself?
I resisted the idea just as forcefully as I resisted acknowledging my depression. If I spoke the words “I was raped” or “I’m feeling depressed,” the trauma of my sexual assault would feel real. It would give life to the emotion I had run away from for so long. It also comes with the responsibility to be honest.
I started with my mentor, who reassured me that the sexual assault wasn’t my fault. Then I told my best friend — then another friend, and then others. Some said I was fearless for talking about my trauma. Fearless is not the right word. There was undoubtedly fear, even with these individuals I trusted so much, but I still spoke my truth. That’s power. I felt myself gain even more power with every tear. It felt powerful, to be honest with myself and others, to release the self-shame I carried. I started to put my whole body in alignment with my values.
My best friend encouraged me to go to the police. I did, but because there was no rape kit, because Pablo didn’t even remember sleeping with me, because I was just coming in three months after the incident — and to some degree, because I am Black — the police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office could not provide criminal justice.
But I could create my own justice, or so I had imagined. I wanted to smash out his windows. I wanted to alert his employer, Google, and tell his supervisor exactly how predatory he is: the who, when, what, and where. The why? I’m still searching for that myself. I wanted to write him a letter. But if I wrote him, I’m not convinced he’d truly hear me. After all, he didn’t hear me before. Or he could easily toss it away and never think about it again. No one would ever have to know a letter even existed.
I ultimately decided to write something, but it wasn’t going to be a prose letter. It would be a song. The more I wrote, the more I healed. I wrote an album called A Survivor’s Reward, which became a collection of thoughts as I navigate my twenties. “Give Myself Permission,” track six, tells the story of how it’s up to me to unlock happiness for myself. That also means I get to define what justice means to me. My definition of justice allows me to feel emotions, to say his name, tell my story, keep my plans to visit Argentina (even though that’s where he’s from), and help other people.
I said no, and my rapist didn’t hear me.
The pain from his following actions lingered because there was more to be said at that moment.
I now have the words, and I speak my truth. Hopefully, more Black queer men will tell their stories of assault, too.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800–656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.