My massage was the last treatment of the day and it was a pretty good thing that it was because the touch I received during those other services kind of warmed me up for the compassionate touch that I received during the massage. By the time I got to my massage I realized that this type of service industry touch was skilled, trustworthy and – even though it felt intimate – professional.
At the end of my massage, the tenderest voice in the universe spoke to me through the fog of relaxation and surrender I was drifting in to say, “Okay, JodiAnn, you can take your time gathering yourself and getting up and come out of the room when you’re ready.” My massage therapist shut the door behind her as she left and the moment I heard the door click shut, I experienced a minor explosion in my psyche. I immediately began both laughing hysterically and crying hysterically at the exact same time. I had no idea why I was doing this but it was pouring from me with absolutely no effort on my part. It felt like emotional vomit – THAT uncontrollable, THAT involuntary, THAT horrible and THAT relieving all at once.
I will be 45 years old in about a month. I have had many massages since that first one. In the new world I have built for myself, a massage is a service a middle-class woman can and will from time-to-time treat herself to. Massages are also a service that THIS middle-class woman believes should be fully covered by health insurance – but that’s a subject for a different post.
Yesterday, I had my most recent massage and remembered my response to that first one again. I wondered why I had felt like that – where had that response come from? I considered these things as the strong hands of my wonderful massage therapist moved capably and firmly over my body. I considered my body, naked on a heated table under luxurious blankets, being touched by a stranger in a private setting with soft music playing and the lights turned down low.
And then it dawned on me; almost 16 years after that experience of my first massage, it dawned on me. That first massage was the first time in my entire life that I felt what counselors and therapists specializing in sexual assault like to call “good touch.” My massage therapist didn’t want anything from me, wasn’t trying to get anything from me, other than, obviously, her well-earned pay. My massage therapist, in earnest, was trying to make my body feel good, better than it did before. Her work was not to hurt me or violate my trust. Her work was to heal me and heal me she did, though I doubt she could ever know to what extent.
Understand, Dear Reader: I had been married and with the same partner for 12 years. I had left him for another man. I had had many sexual encounters with about a handful of people since the age of 13. I had two parents, five biological siblings, two cousins who lived with us, and a very large extended family in my early life. My whole life, I had been surrounded by people and people touching me. BUT… I had also experienced early childhood sexual abuse, incest, date-rape as a young teen, marital rape, and attempted gang rape as an adult. I could not remember a time in my life that touch EVER felt safe or welcomed or good. Even when I desired sexual touch, it was always tinged with fear and a memory of violence. Even when I desired physical closeness to my mother, who was a warm and cozy person to snuggle with, it was always tinged with her need, her dysfunction, her self-hatred that she so eagerly wrapped me and my body up in without at-all realizing what she was doing.
It took me 28 years to feel “good touch” and another 16 years to realize what that even meant. In that 16 years, I found a great partner who gives me lots of good touch. In that 16 years, I had two children whose snuggles are nothing but sweet, perfect, wholesome love. In that 16 years, I learned a whole new definition of family and of love and of trust. I learned that none of that has to hurt.
Survivors don’t come forward sooner, in part, because we do not even understand what is happening to us. The whole world tells us we were asking for it, we deserve it, that’s what our bodies are for. Many survivors learn from a very early age that our bodies do not belong to us and that we do not deserve good touch. In fact, most survivors who learned “bad touch” early do not have any idea that there is any alternative. Touch just IS bad. Touch just IS terrifying. Touch just IS violent.
I have been vocally supportive of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse for many years. I have sat – sometimes quietly and sometimes not so quietly – and listened to other women and men in my family, in my schools, in my workplaces question, disbelieve and slander any woman who would dare to come forward about her abuse and against her abuser. In the last couple of years, I have watched interestedly as the tide seems to be beginning to turn, as #metoo gained momentum, as an entire generation of voters woke up and some of the generations before them FINALLY woke the fuck up. I continue to watch, still interested.
Yes, it’s true, individual sexual assault cases are often rife with complexity. My own are absolutely no exception. In many of the cases of sexual assault that I was involved in, even I realize that my perpetrators did not understand what they were doing to be “wrong.” Men are raised in this country, after all, to believe that “boys will be boys” which means they can get away with whatever the fuck they want as long as they stay ignorant and foolish.
But, where we stand with regards to the overall concept of sexual assault is VERY simple: either we believe her or we do not. If we do, we are clearly aware and awake to the patriarchal soup we are swimming in. If we do not, we are ignorant and careless and callous to a long history of male violence. And that’s it.
The #metoo campaign is an important, necessary, and inspiring movement. Watching people wake up to the patriarchal paradigm is great. But, as a survivor, every case, every article, every conversation, every public hearing involving sexual assault – particularly when centered around the basic question of “do we believe her or not?” is a trigger and a difficulty and a reminder that the world at large isn’t even close to being safe – even if some of us survivors have learned to create something as close to safety in our own worlds as we will probably ever get.
Choose where you stand, Teamies,
and if you don’t believe her, fuck off, sincerely, with love.