I was raped, and the first thing I thought was, I guess this makes me a bad feminist.
I'd been a feminist since I was a teenage riot grrrl and knew the stats on rape backward and forward. So, sadly, it didn't seem crazy that I too would one day be a victim of sexual assault. But I'd also always assumed that a stranger would leap out from the bushes late at night and grab me, and after it was over I'd call the cops, testify, and help put a bad man away.
Instead, I was raped by my boyfriend of four years, a man who systematically broke me down, isolated me from my family and friends, and got me hooked on drugs. I drove my once-promising career off a cliff; I was broke and totally cut off from everything, including my political activism and feminism.
And the worst part of it was, I had no idea how I wound up there. I was one of those bright young things, parroting Kathleen Hanna and doing ninth-grade book reports on Susan Faludi. I had parents who loved and supported me, and was raised in a middle-class home in a comfortable place. I was never abused or molested. I spent high school racking up internships with elite feminist organizations and putting together protests and benefit concerts, and I skipped off to my elite New England liberal arts college thinking I'd be the next Gloria Steinem.
Instead, I met my ex, who seemed like a nice guy — if a little directionless at first. He gave me brown powder that he told me was ecstasy, and then told me it was "ecstasy cut with heroin." Eventually, he came clean and told me it was pure heroin, but by that time, I was hooked. For the next three years of college, I was a secret junkie.
But while I was a secret junkie, I was also a student at a fancy school, a board member of the local chapter of a national feminist organization, and an intern at an Ivy League university's feminist think tank. I won a prestigious grant to go work for a female senator. And I enjoyed none of it, because my boyfriend convinced me it was all silly and worthless, and I was better off doing drugs with him.
As I prepared to graduate, I started applying for paid jobs with feminist organizations, and was turned down by all of them. I can see now I was probably too strung out for anyone to want to pay me, but at the time it felt like a deep betrayal, and proved my boyfriend was right — I was a loser and a nothing.
I moved home and managed to get a job, but my boyfriend followed me, and subsequently spent so much time complaining about my hours that in the end I quit. I wound up temping, and spent most of my time getting high and wishing I'd get hit by a bus. My boyfriend spent my money on drugs (he couldn't hold down a job because...who knows) and forced himself into every place I lived.
The morning after he raped me, I called a hotline to see how I could get him out of my apartment and get a restraining order. The person on the other end of the hotline was unbelievably rude, unhelpful, and condescending, and when I hung up the phone, I thought, How did I end up here? I was a feminist wunderkind; a board member at one of my internships told me I'd run for Senate someday. Instead I'm begging some asshole to tell me how to kick my boyfriend out of my apartment.
This realization flew in the face of everything I'd believed for the last four years: that it couldn't happen to me. That because I was a smart girl at an elite school, festooned with banners that told me I would "make a difference in the world," that I was somehow above everything. I thought I could dabble with a dangerous, deadly, addictive drug and walk away whenever I wanted. I could date a man who was the opposite of everything I should want and make it a cool, subversive act rather than a suicide mission. I thought calling myself a feminist and getting up at 5 a.m. to do clinic defense would make me some magical unicorn, when in reality, I was just another junkie trapped in an abusive relationship, feminist bonafides or not. My beliefs and my activism were sincere, but I expected them to erase everything else.
I blamed myself because I should have known better, when in reality I was as human as everyone else. The narrative that assaultive and abusive relationships are only for poor, uneducated women and that a girl like me could never end up in one is harmful to all women, and probably kept me from seeking help earlier.
After the rape, I bailed. I moved home, gave up the apartment, spent a week in bed detoxing while telling my folks I had a bad flu, and then tried to get on with things. I never reported my boyfriend, and I told very few people my story. I spent every moment from then on trying to move on from the past — building a respectable career, going to grad school, racking up awards and accomplishments, marrying a nice guy. But the rape is never far from my mind, because I know what it's like to be held down and be so totally powerless that all your years of yelling, chanting, and organizing are so utterly useless in that moment.