Sexual assault has been on my mind a lot this summer (I know, fun!), not in a negative rut kind of way but in a pensive, overarching kind of way. At the beginning of the summer, and in what may be one of the weirdest arcs of my life so far, my own experience with sexual assault was resurfaced a bit when the perpetrator (mind you, a classmate from my high school in a fairly small city in Wisconsin) was outed for other alleged sexual assaults on a national level. Truly never thought I would see the day that would happen, and the circumstances leading up to the attention it got were all his own doing (seems like a no brainer that if you’ve attacked people in the past you should avoid trying to appear on a popular reality TV show, but some people really are that narcissistic, apparently…)

Anyways, I’ve written more about what happened here, and it was such an interesting experience emotionally to see this person outed like that, in addition to being deeply painful to know he had been hurting more women. It didn’t bring up any feelings about the experience itself; thanks to therapy, I have hashed out all the emotions I could ever feel about that night, and I’m at peace when I think about it. But it did bring up emotions about things I guess I hadn’t quite put to bed yet, like how other people in my high school responded to the events at the time, how unheard and dismissed I felt. It was hard this time around seeing people from my high school decry this person immediately, especially ones who had made fun of me for what I said happened, who accused me of lying, who sided with him and justified it. I know intellectually I should have been happy to see how far people have come, after all we were all just kids then, and it’s great to know that as adults maybe these people see what happened then differently. But it was like 16 year old Tarin was still inside me, so bruised and so belittled, and she still felt hurt and alone and so angry at how people responded to such a traumatic event.

Thankfully, I have really great friends from that time who are still in my life, and they couldn’t have been more supportive. I even had a long phone call with one of my best friends from high school who I hadn’t talked to in about 2 years, and it was sooo incredibly therapeutic to just talk and be heard, and to hear him say things that I didn’t even know I needed to hear. So all in all, the dust settled again on that part of my life.

And then, about a week ago, good ol’ Louis CK decided he was ready to return to the public eye! Yay!

I know this shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did, but it fucking enraged me. It really did. I don’t even want to get into it right now, because it makes me so worked up still. I tweeted the most basic of thoughts on it, but I’m not distanced enough from the anger it makes me feel to write coherently and thoughtfully. I’m also not sure it’s my place to.

So instead, I want to write about something it made me think about, in relation to my own experience. It is natural to focus so much on how sexual assault changes a person, because it does. But this past week I was also thinking about something that my own experience didn’t change, but changed how others treated it: my sexuality.

I was very in touch with my sexuality and preferences and desires before any experience with assault. But after, I think some people were worried that things like how I held myself, who I dated, and what I liked were somehow direct results of the trauma I went through. That’s a huge presumption to make, and while I understood it came from a place of concern, it was frustrating. Because assault is not sex: it’s violence. And the way I processed my experience, I was always able to keep them separate, what is an act of violence and what is an act of sex. How I used my sexuality and fed it never changed. I still only wanted sex in the context of a relationship, I still was attracted to older men, I still felt no need to hide my sexuality, and I still liked passion, adventure, thrills, and the downright dirty.

And ultimately, this all comes down to the same idea we’ve heard throughout the Me Too movement, specifically after the Aziz Ansari callout: being tuned into your partner. If you’re genuinely worried something may trigger them, it is okay to ask. But if they say no, they indeed want this, and their body language tells you no, no trigger, and everything is going great, trust them. Don’t just make assumptions, or try to tell them you know what’s best for them. “Believe women” means believing they are capable of knowing who they are and what they want, too.

Which, finally!, brings me to the music! This concept makes me think of a line in Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way,” where he sings, “She’s got a way of pleasin’, I don’t know what it is, but there doesn’t have to be a reason.” Because there really doesn’t have to be a reason someone is into something! You can love sex and it doesn’t mean you have daddy issues, you can decide you only want to sleep with people you’re emotionally attached to and it doesn’t mean you’re religious, you can be into kinky things and it doesn’t mean it’s because you’ve suffered a trauma. You do not have to be “damaged” or “depraved” or “old-fashioned” because you aren’t what many deem conventional or the status quo. If you’re in touch with who you are and know what you like, that’s amazing! And there doesn’t have to be anything more to it than that.

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To go with this song, I chose a sexy LBD by T by Alexander Wang, to pair with the notion that I can dress sexy simply because I like to dress sexy. Sometimes I want to dress romantically, sometimes I want to dress athletically, sometimes I want to dress conservatively. It all comes from me choosing to express me, and there is no more rewarding or powerful feeling than putting yourself out there into the world through your words, your dress, your unapologetic presence.

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She’s got a light around her
And everywhere she goes
A million dreams of love surround her

I do think that as a whole society is moving away from such antiquated notions, specifically about women and “why we are the way we are,” and it gives me hope! Until I see a news headline about someone running for office who believes women should fully submit to their husbands and I want to laugh/scream at once…but I do have hope, I’m clinging to that hope!

Listen to it here! “She’s Got a Way”-Billy Joel

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