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Content warning: This piece includes themes and details of sexual assault.

Please see me

9 mins

On oversharing and #metoo

As I’ve been putting myself out there on the apps, I’ve been trying really hard to be honest and upfront with people about my situation. It started after a not-uncommon topic arose during one date: how weird dating is on the apps. We shared our stresses – that there are such unrealistic expectations brought to the dates, that love and sex loom so unnaturally in the air. I decided to add the other pressures I brought to the table: that I’m coming to these dates with “ARE YOU MY BABY DADDY??” darting around my head, while also bringing a clashing “I’ve just come out of a heartbreaking 5 year relationship and the idea of committing to someone right now is way too much for me!!!”.

 

“Fuuuuck…” was my date’s response.

 

Thankfully he saw the look of ohshitwhathaveidone on my face and followed it up with an empathetic “that sounds really full on and hard, I’m sorry”. I felt better having shared and being heard, and decided I would let people know this on every first date from then on. It’s been helpful to set people’s expectations, albeit somewhat emotionally exhausting. But what’s also come up many times – on dates, in life – is wondering how much more do I share? Am I oversharing?

 

In October 2017, #metoo started lining our social media feeds. A friend brought my attention to it one day as she deliberated and theorised over the movement, but I couldn’t tell you what she said. All I remember in that moment is a number of memories flashing before me, two names in particular, and a deep sense of terror arising. I said nothing to the friend, just sat there listening quietly whilst trying to suppress the festering feelings within me.

 

I never posted #metoo.

 

Jump forward to 2022 when I saw a sex therapist for the first time. I had always found sex quite painful and it was affecting my relationships – with my partner, with my body, my confidence, my relationship with sex in general. I explained the types of pains I had: sometimes deep internal stabbing pains (I once fainted it was so bad); often more like jagged edges trying to rip through me. She asked me if I’d had any negative sexual experiences and I said apprehensively that mmm there’d been a few that stuck with me, but awkwardly assured her “nothing that bad”.

 

Go back 8 years earlier, 2014, I’m alone at home reading an article published by Chris Thorburn, a fellow uni student and one of the two names that would constantly flash before my eyes in 3 years time. His article, Crimes against sex, essentially said that consent was getting in the way of pleasurable sexual intercourse. His words brought on a rage and pain that shook me, not only for the damage they cause more broadly, but for the personal experiences I’d had with this man in the past (that my sex therapist would later clarify).

I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for a while now. But while writing it is one thing, sharing it publicly is another. These are extremely personal topics and even as I write this I fear what judgements might come from it, family members’ discomfort, the moral conflict of exposing certain experiences and people. But I have also sat with these thoughts and pains for a long long time, and I wonder what it would feel like to let them out of me?

 

I remember being in school seeing girls in self-destructive modes, drunkenly confessing their habits of self-harm, of eating disorders and more. I also remember the constant “she’s just doing it for attention” comments, whispered too loudly. But, even if that were part of it, why is that said with such judgement and shaming? Couldn’t “seeking attention” just mean wanting to be seen? To not feel alone? For someone to see and understand their grief, to hold their hand, so as not to lose themselves in the abyss of darkness, of death even?

 

I came out of a heavy doctor’s appointment recently and found myself alone, literally and emotionally. I wanted to call that empathetic boy who’d just left my house to say “can you please come back? I really need a hug”, but I was too scared, too insecure. I wanted to be seen and held so that I didn’t have to hold all this pressure on my own, so that someone could say “that’s really full on and hard, I’m sorry” and I then not feel like an idiot for finding it so full on and hard. But I didn’t share that with him, and I spent the next few days feeling a weight and loneliness I hadn’t felt in a while.

 

As I said, it's one thing to write about vulnerable or contentious topics, but it’s a whole other thing to share them.

 

I finish recounting 5 or so experiences to the sex therapist. She’s quiet and there’s a dense silence. I’m worried I’ve said something wrong. She looks at me and in a serious tone says, “Zoya, I need you to listen to me very clearly. Every account you’ve just told me is assault”.

Wilful Blindness, 2015, oil on paper, 14 x 11.5 cm each

 

Sacha Jeffrey is the other name that flashed red before my eyes regularly throughout #metoo and can sometimes still cripple me when I watch shows like Maid featuring abusive relationships. Images of a man towering over me, standing on the bed screaming “get the fuck out of my house”, seizing my wrists with his might, more shouting, “don’t you dare leave!”. Handwritten poems titled Cunt that expressed all the ways I was apparently so. Drawings of red-headed bulls crushing a woman’s body under its weight, a woman who looked an awful lot like me (and yes, Sacha, was a fiery red head). And of sex between two people who apparently love one another, but one of whom is experiencing pain during the intercourse – those jagged edges – tears in her eyes when he asks if she’s ok, “no, it really hurts” she chokes, and the 5-word response she’ll never forget – it’s ok, I’ll be quick. I still remember going to the toilet afterwards, the sharp stings as I weed and wiped, the blood on the toilet paper - not from a period, but from tearing.

 

My sex therapist explained I likely have vaginismus – a type of sexual dysfunction where the vaginal muscles involuntarily tighten, causing discomfort or pain during intercourse, often linked to sexual trauma or abuse. Whilst I was mentally hiding from the realities of my past sexual experiences, clearly my body knew what was really going on. It was keeping the score, as the book says.

 

To this day I feel a deep shame and regret for not having contributed to #metoo, such an important movement within feminism and a cause I care so much about. My first boyfriend, Jake, did things that disgust me; teenage porn-driven, manipulative and non-consensual. The second time Chris contacted me for a booty call, I rang him to say no, “I’d felt violated during our previous date”. He apologised and, naively, I fell for his empty words, and the exact same deception and harm ensued a second time. A third memory involving too much alcohol, passing out in a shower, waking up to him in my bed. The list goes on – more names, more verbal and physical coercion. In 2017, those names and experiences scared me, and sharing meant admitting to certain truths. And I wasn’t ready for that.

 

Processing all of this information has been a real journey. I have felt shame, embarrassment, anger, sadness, fear, low self-esteem and generally been pretty overwhelmed by it all. But it has also been an incredible help to have this awareness. Particularly as I venture into this daunting dating world – where sex occasionally eventuates – I’m finding that sharing actually makes a massive difference. Finally, I’m only having consensual sex. And while that doesn’t mean every single experience has been mind-blowing, it’s certainly meant that I’m slowly growing and healing (and it's also meant that some experiences have been fucking sexy!). Contrary to Chris’ article, talking about what you can and can’t handle, where and how you do and don’t want to be touched (“oversharing”, perhaps), doesn’t impede pleasure but actually cultivates it. It creates a trust and connection, it safely encourages curiosity, and these allow you to explore one another. And fuck me, that’s hot.

 

That same #metoo friend once explained she wanted to stop calling it “oversharing” and just say “sharing”. Because that’s what it is, right? The over- or under-ness of it is really just determined by the receiver – that is, whether they have the emotional intelligence or capacity to hear it. Sometimes when I “overshare” it doesn’t land so well and there’s the momentary side-glance as my listener searches for someone to save them from this emotional woman. But other times, I’ve made new friends this way. In being open and vulnerable, we allow others to do the same, and this creates space for genuine care and connection. And I suppose this is what #metoo allowed on a global level. For all these people across the world to release their pain and traumas; to feel strength in numbers and find community in “oversharing”.

 

Me wanting to share details about assault, pain, sex, love – I’m finally ready to confront these things and, in that, to be seen so I don’t feel like my experiences are inconsequential. Because they weren’t. These experiences have hugely affected my self-worth and confidence in undeniably deep and lasting ways. Some people might argue that by saying that that I’m giving them more power than they deserve, but that’s not what’s happening. I say all of this now because I want to properly, finally acknowledge it. And I want to move on from it. So here it is, my #metoo post, 5 years late, but shared at last. And maybe sharing this with you will be another step forward in this big overwhelming journey to healing.

 

I decided to “overshare” with a dear friend and asked him to come meet me after my next big doctor’s appointment. Another then offered to come too and they met me afterwards with hugs and love. I can’t even begin to express what a difference it made. I’m still scared about my future around assault, sex, love, babies, but when people know what’s going on, when you’ve overshared, and they’ve had the emotional intelligence to perceive and support you, it’s all that little bit less full on and hard.

The article, ‘Crimes against sex’, can’t be found online anymore, only a response article by Miriam Adams-Schimminger.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or domestic abuse, support is available at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Living on Gadigal Wangal Country.

Always was, always will be,

Aboriginal land.

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