When she has been hurt over again without committing a sin

Or: Tackling the “Repeat Victim” Phenomenon

How do we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances approach those who exhibit extraordinary risk-taking behavior and self-disregard?

I’ve been hesitant to write on this topic, as it is a sensitive subject for many, including myself. I feel like my insight is something that is important and valuable however, so I’m going to take the time to write a few thoughts.

I was at a convention a few years ago and I went to a class where the presenter introduced the concept of “repeat victims” as a counter-point to “repeat offenders.” The “repeat victim” was portrayed as someone who sought out, consciously or unconsciously, situations in which they would be abused or assaulted. Now, I will be transparent and say that I left this class about ten minutes into it, as I found it completely repulsive. I do not know what the content of the class was primarily about. I do not even remember what the title of the class was or who taught it. It’s not really important. What’s important to me is that I remembered this concept of the repeat victim. It stayed with me, haunted me, throughout my time in the kink scene, until I ultimately left. What’s important is that my friend, who was somewhat of a mentor to me in the scene, told me afterwards that he saw me leave and thought, “Now that’s a mistake, because if anyone needs to be hearing this lecture, it’s her.”

I was a repeat victim.

Let me expand upon that a little:

  • When I was seven, an older girl sexually abused me, which continued for about three years.
  • At sixteen, I was raped after getting wasted at a party where I knew almost no one.
  • When I was twenty, my first boyfriend told me I wasn’t allowed to have sex toys because it was cheating, despite the fact that he was “poly” and had another girlfriend; he made me bring him my sex toys, hundreds of dollars worth, so he could make sure they were thrown in the trash.
  • My next boyfriend raped me in my sleep several times, and my therapist at the time said it was normal for boyfriends to instigate sex while their girlfriend was asleep.
  • My first night in the scene, I had the inside of my brand new nipple piercing burned so badly that my top said he “smelled burning flesh” and it ultimately rejected. I had specifically told him during negotiation not to touch my new nipple piercings.
  • During a flogging, in which I had specified that we would be doing nothing but flogging, my top groped my breast, hard enough to bruise, and kissed me.
  • I received a back rub from a man at a club, and established that no play would happen after that. He then proceeded to grope me.
  • I was gaslighted for nine months by someone I was very close to.
  • I was raped by a girlfriend.

Now there are varying levels of intent involved in some of these anecdotes. For example, the man who gaslighted me for nine months understood exactly what he was doing, from before he started to after he finished. I consider him to have done something truly horrifying, and intentionally so. However, it is entirely likely that the men who groped me were playing fast and loose with consent, without preemptively considering whether or not they might be causing a violation.

The problem was that, from the age of seven, I was taught that what I wanted and didn’t want was not important. That was reiterated throughout my life, and I never really had an opportunity to learn otherwise. By the time I reached the scene, I was hurtling forward seeking pain without much consideration for safety, rolling with the punches as well as I could, and getting knocked down over and over and getting right back up, as I was so used to doing. It was my reality.

But more than that, I was determined to maintain my reality. I sought out risky situations, disregarded red flags, and refused to educate myself on how to protect myself from future injury. When injury did happen, I would inevitably say that I was entirely faultless, and that it’s the entire responsibility of offender not to offend. Honestly, the biggest problem with that attitude was that I kept getting hurt. I kept finding out who the people were who would bend or break the rules by diving headfirst into the most extreme situations with them and then being unprepared when they didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

I didn’t completely have my head in the clouds during this time, of course. I considered myself an edge player, and I told people who’d talk to me about my play style that I did not recommend they style their play after mine. I considered myself to be a practitioner of risk aware consensual kink, and I believed I had accepted the risks involved in pick up play and high-risk play. But I hadn’t, not really.  Because eventually everyone will make a  mistake, forget something, or bend the rules, especially in pickup play, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that possibility.

A bottom has a responsibility to be proactive in maintaining their own safety, including preparing for such possibilities, just as a top has a responsibility to maintain consistent consent. These two things do not counteract each other. I am interested in the practical aspects of protecting oneself without detracting from the moral obligation tops have to value bottoms’ consent. When something does goes wrong, it’s entirely likely both or neither are responsible. Acknowledging that allows for a lot more conversation about how to move forward.

How did I eventually move forward, and cease to be a repeat victim? Well, I suffered a knee injury severe enough that I was wheelchair bound and thus expelled unceremoniously from the scene without so much as a goodbye. Oh, I clung to it as hard as I could for as long as I could, but eventually I let my grip go and I was free of the scene for over a year, only returning when I felt I was absolutely ready, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

During that time, I was forced to face not only mental health issues, but also physical health issues that had for a long time gone untreated, and had compounded upon each other. I also was faced with the fact that, outside of sexuality, I didn’t have a whole lot going for me. Only after I got my physical health, especially my neurological issues, under control was I able to face what until then I had been too ashamed to admit, even to myself: I was a repeat victim.

I had read The Gift of Fear at the suggestion of my boyfriend at the very early stages of my recovery. When I finally was ready to admit that I was a repeat victim, I returned to this book and faced down some of the things I had learned there, and instead of just accepting what was in this book as information, I instead worked on how to apply it to my life. I sometimes now come across as jaded or cynical about others’ motivations due to this, but I find it truly useful to recognize when and why to trust and distrust others’ motivations.

In addition, I spent a lot of time just doing shit. Reading, writing, making art, talking with friends, going to concerts and events, and essentially, becoming a better-rounded human being, and making the decision to do these things on my own. This I think, more than anything else, is what changed me from being a repeat victim. It may seem silly, but developing a sense of self outside of one singular community, and learning to define oneself independently is essential to learning how to self-advocate.

My question becomes then, what does one do when you suspect someone you care about is a repeat victim?

I consider classes such as the one I went to, but how are we to keep them from leaving, as I did? And even if they did stay, there is a good chance that they would simply hear the information and not apply it, as I had with other classes on negotiation. Are we simply to shut these people out of the scene for their own good? I don’t know if that would be effective either, or if it would just lead them to riskier behaviors elsewhere, after feeling rejected by one of the few communities that might accept them. Is intervention the way to go? Or would an intervention just cause defensiveness and anger?

I don’t have answers for these questions, and I welcome the opinions of anyone who has helped such people before. It seems to me that, as with many things, change is only possible when one recognizes there is a problem. However, I question if there is a way to push someone to see that there is a problem when they are otherwise unwilling.

I request that all comments be made with compassion; any comments made with the intention of cruelty or flippancy will be deleted. I also request that comments be focused towards the topic of how we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances can approach those for whom we are concerned regarding extraordinary risk taking behavior.

Mara Passio
Advertisements

Oh take me take me take me, I’m your plaything now

I am a masochist.

I was known in the kink scene as a “heavy bottom”. I loved pain and could take a lot of it.

So what does this have to do with narcolepsy?

The first time I experienced cataplexy while playing, I just went limp standing up, leaning against the St. Andrew’s Cross, my restraints holding me strong upright. My top noticed and stopped everything instantly, checking in with me, worried at my lack of response. We had pushed harder than ever before, and I had been enjoying it. I hadn’t exactly wanted him to stop, but I wouldn’t have been able to safeword if he had kept pushing. This strange paralysis seemed a direct response to prodding the high end of my pain threshold.

I sought out advice from a leader in the community, and the evaluation was that I was experiencing “emotional shock.” I was definitely playing with fire, but my opinion was that it could be fun to play with fire (I followed Risk Aware Consensual Kink). Going forward, I informed my play partners that I might “check out” while playing, and how to care for me if it happened, as well as whether or not they could continue after I “checked out.”

Often after the paralysis set in, my top would ramp up the pain a bit and I would “break out” of being frozen, and be filled with adrenaline. I craved this sensation; it felt spiritual. Sometimes I would even dream I was communicating with gods. After playing, I’d stumble away, dripping sweat and groggy, and curl up next to my top and rest in silence for some time while I returned to earth, after which we would discuss the shared experience.

On the nights I played, I would drive 40 minutes home, sometimes as late as 2am. I had a very close call almost exactly two years ago, when the snowfall was as heavy as my eyelids and my lead foot, and a car cut me off and I was nearly hit by semi and ended up facing the wrong way down the highway.

When I think about playing again, knowing what I do now, I wonder, will there ever be a point at which cataplexy would not be an inherent risk? And is it a risk I am willing to take, even without intentionally triggering cataplexy? The problem is that this goes beyond “no safewords.” This goes into the realm of “safewords medically impossible.” That is questionable to me on some deeper level. I’ll either need to come to terms with a new level of edge play, or I’ll need to seriously reconsider what my future holds in terms of kink.

Mara Passio

We fray into the future

I don’t remember 2015 very well.

My first impulse is to go through each solitary memory individually, and reflect upon it, as they are sparse enough that I would be able to do so in one writing, but I realized upon attempt that this was simply grasping at random memories trying to make sense of the whole, instead of attempting to look at the whole and make sense of it as it is.

The year 2015 was a year of letting go, and a year of learning hard lessons.

In winter I let go of the kink scene in Chicago. It had become the most toxic thing in my life, and I had clung to it until my body literally would not allow me. I spent the majority of winter recovering from knee surgery, slowly progressing from a wheel chair, to a walker, to a cane, to walking unaided. I surprised even myself by weaning myself off of the narcotic pain medications long before I ran out, and relying only on anti-inflammatory medications throughout the vast majority of my recovery.

In the spring I muddled through my last semester at SAIC. It was complicated, to say the least. As it turns out I had been struggling for the past several years with undiagnosed narcolepsy, and this year I was in a capstone class that I desperately wanted to succeed in. It seemed, to my dismay, that the harder I worked, the more I slept. It became this vicious cycle of working throughout the week and then sleeping through class, or sleeping through the week in order to make it to class. Similar things were happening with my performance class, only in a lot of ways worse on two fronts: the work was physically demanding, and I had my job immediately afterwards. Now, the work being physically demanding actually helped me stay awake during the class, but having my job immediately afterwards made it nearly impossible for me to succeed at both simultaneously. I ended up leaving that job quite suddenly, after having been one of their star employees for four years.

I managed to walk at graduation at SAIC with 3 credits left to complete. This was the plan; I was going to take an additional art history over the summer to complete my credits and then I would receive my BFA. I gladly signed up for an online art history class at my community college, along with an accounting class, my backup plan.

Over the summer one of my closest friends, who would become my boyfriend, moved in with me. He had always challenged me, but now, in close quarters, he seemed to notice everything that wasn’t working, and challenged me to change it. Soon after he moved in, I started on a new medication, which vastly improved my mental health. It was like night and day. I was still tired all the time, but I was motivated, and happy.

As it turned out, SAIC decided to reduce the number of required credit hours, and so I ended up not needing to take the art history class, and I retroactively graduated.

I found a job at Goodwill. I won’t go in-depth about that except that it was a bad experience, and their attitude changed towards me instantly the moment I asked them for an accommodation for my knee injury. I worked there for a total of two weeks, and then was put on a leave of absence.

Soon after I started working at Petco, and while it was hard work, I loved it there. I wasn’t good at it at first, but I learned and I made good friends and I respected everyone who worked there.

In early fall, my boyfriend moved back with his family in Virginia, so he could finish his schoolwork without the pressure of job hunting and rent.

I don’t remember the fall very well at all to be honest. It basically consisted of medical issues and me failing to take care of myself until I absolutely had to. Most of what I do remember is because I wrote it down as it was happening.

I was constantly re-injuring my knee, to the point that popping and sudden pain became familiar parts of my week. I started seeing a pain specialist for my back pain, an issue that had been affecting me for over ten years. I finally had an MRI done, something all my other doctors had refused to do, and they found osteoarthritis and bone spurs in my back. They gave me several injections in my back and hips along with several sessions of radiofrequency ablation to help manage the pain. Usually I’d go straight from a doctor’s appointment where I’d had my nerves literally killed with heat to go work for an 8-hour shift on my feet. My narcolepsy hadn’t gone away either. It was easier because I was active most of the day, but whenever I got really stressed out, I would start to lose my muscle strength, and felt the need to sit down suddenly, like my legs would give out. Sometimes I even felt like I’d fall asleep if I was really stressed. I thought I was on the verge of passing out, but it turns out it was something much more complicated.

My boyfriend was constantly pushing me to take better care of myself. I just never seemed ready to listen, or didn’t think it was possible to both take care of myself and do my job.

I brought my beautiful ferrets into my life, their names are Briar, Larkspur, and Iris. They are a big handful, and I adore them. I treasure every second with them.

Eventually I quit my job at Petco, finding another job quickly in the two weeks that I had given notice. This new job was seated, on the phone, everything I preferred to do about Petco with none of the physical demands that were injuring me constantly. I still work there now, and I still enjoy it.

Over the last few weeks of 2015, I was given a preliminary diagnosis of narcolepsy, with more definitive diagnosis coming up on January 15th. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of research into it and it’s like seeing myself described by someone else when I read the description of narcolepsy.

I haven’t made photographic artwork since I graduated SAIC, and that has been a major source of frustration for me this past year, but I see myself using my experience of health as a major source of inspiration for future work. My main goal for 2016 is to take care of myself, wholly. And that means taking care of my physical health, which is most pressing, but also taking care of my spiritual health by making art, and continuing to maintain my mental health that I’ve worked so hard for these past seven years.

Mara Passio