When I was 20 years old (but developmentally much younger) I lived in Burbank, California near Warner Brothers’ Studios and shared a house with two hyper-masculine aspiring Hollywood actors. One was a black belt in karate; the other an off-road motorcycle racer. Both looked like magazine models. Over the six months we lived together, I probably saw three dozen women at least half-willingly cycle through their bedrooms.
Late one rare evening when all three of us happened to be home there was a knock on our front door. I went to answer it and found an attractive woman about five years older than me stand- ing at the door. She asked if she could come in and use the bathroom. She was supposedly walking home from a friend’s house and suddenly found herself with an urgent need to go. I invited her in and pointed her in the right direction.
When she came out of the bathroom, both my roommates began chatting her up in ways that made their motives seem obvious to me – it was a competition to see who could get her to spend the night in their bed. Once that dynamic became clear to me, I opted out and went to my own room to finish a project for work before I turned in for the night.
In the Still of the Night
I’d been asleep for much of the night, when I was awakened by someone next to my bed.
“Can I come in here to get away from those guys?” Without waiting for a reply, she pulled up the covers and slipped into the bed beside me. When I realized she was naked a rush of adrenaline flooded my body. The main thing I noticed was she smelled of B.O. and alcohol – all-too-familiar childhood smells. Almost immediately she was on top of me as I lay there frozen stiff. It was quickly evident that she was quite experienced in the bedroom. To my relief, before I knew it she rolled off of me onto the bed and fell asleep beside me.
I was still wide awake when she woke up several hours later and wordlessly tiptoed out of my bedroom. When morning came and I got dressed and ventured out into the living room, my housemates were waiting for me. “Hey Studman, how’d you like being the last man standing?” They both laughed at what was apparently a hilarious joke. I simply ignored them, left the house and went off to work.
Lost in the Rain in Juarez
On the morning commute I came to one basic truth: there was little enjoyable about the previous night’s experience. Although I didn’t know these words then, it was a disembodied, dissociative encounter. Fearful thoughts of STDs or of her getting pregnant filled my mind flooding my body with stress hormones. And yet, I felt ashamed that I did nothing to stop her, laying in rigid silence as I did. I was greatly relieved when she got up and left me alone in my room. Mostly though, I felt confused. Wasn’t sex – no matter what the circumstances – something men were supposed to unquestioningly pursue and greatly enjoy?
With the benefit of age and hindsight, it’s clear to me that experience had many of the hallmarks of Post-Traumatic Stress. The elements of surprise, confusion, feeling overwhelmed and powerless, my brain and body flooded with stress hormones, a freeze response, along with my roommate’s demeaning remarks in the morning. Shortly afterwards, I found myself initiating a series of my own one-night stands. A compulsive, unconscious attempt to try and heal the trauma?
Help for the Shamed and Confused
Unfortunately, there was no organization like RAINN then for me to turn to in my numbed-out confusion. While originally formed to serve women, RAINN has since expanded to include services for male victims. Rape in western culture is generally thought of as something perpetrated against women. It’s surprisingly NOT. Lara Stemple, Director of UCLA’s Health and Human Rights Law Project, discovered that in all sexual violence reported to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 38 percent of victims were men. A 2012 study from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found in a sample of 43,000 adults little difference in the sex of self-reported sexual perpetrators. Of those who affirmed that they had “ever forced someone to have sex with you against their will,” 43.6 percent were female and 56.4 percent were male! Clearly, there’s a need for Male survivor resources. Two more besides RAINN that I’m aware of are Male Survivor and Pandora’s Project, both greatly needed, for as Lara Stemple reminds us, “Compassion is not a finite resource.”