I was at a friend's shindig - which was more of a gathering, if Oz's definitions are correct, though there was no brie - a couple of years ago. There weren't a lot of people there, and I knew all of them. We watched some television, listened to some music, probably played a game or two; these are people an ex-coworker of mine described as my "basement buddies", people who would rather go out than stay in. There's also some drinking going down.
Around 2 in the morning, I was asleep. I was still a little drunk, and I'm a heavy sleeper as it is. Around 2 in the morning, I'm asleep on the couch, and I slowly come aware of the fact that one of the mutual (boy) friends is touching me. And not in mutual friendish places. Places like under my shirt, under my bra. And I am, strictly speaking, afraid. And ashamed. And silent. Being a deep sleeper, I can talk in my sleep. Being a deep sleeper, I oftentimes can't talk when I'm starting to wake up - even if I want to. Being afraid, I didn't really want to talk at all. I just wanted the touching to stop. I wanted this "mutual friend" to recognize the fact that I was most definitely asleep - and therefore not open to his touching. It went a little further - toward the pants further - and I did the cowardly thing by turning over. The touching didn't stop immediately, and all those things they tell you to do when you're in a situation like this weren't coming to mind. And I started to really wake up - and then he stopped and went into another room.
I stopped trusting Mutual Friend, stopped thinking of him as a Mutual Friend. But I also didn't name what had happened, didn't tell anyone else what had happened for a long time. I told my best friend about six months or so after that night. I never told my then-boyfriend. I've never told my friend, the person whose shindig it was and whose couch it was, because I have always been nervous about the reaction I'd get back. Even more than that, I'm not sure what reaction I want to get. I know what reaction I don't want. I know I don't want what happened to be minimized, to be laughed off or brushed off or apologized for in the "I'm sorry for Mutual Friend" way. But I don't necessarily want Mutual Friend to no longer be my friend's friend either. Because I don't want the guilt of saying, "Hey, Mutual Friend? Not a great guy" and having my friend believe me and lose a friend my friend likes quite a lot. I don't want that burden. I've never wanted that burden. And even more than that, I don't want to be seen as the problem, as the burden, as the person who brought up this thing that we could have all just as easily ignored and had life go on as it has always gone on.
And so, I go through, telling myself that it wasn't that bad (and it wasn't; it could have been a lot worse). I tell myself that it didn't affect me much - I just haven't spent the night with a group of people since. I tell myself that Mutual Friend was drunk, that I was drunk, that I should have stopped it, that I should have woken up and immediately said, "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" I tell myself that all it was was touching, that to make a big deal out of touching would be weak - would be taking something away from those people who have actually been assaulted; you know, the people who weren't gently molested - the people who were grabbed violently, the people who were subjected to Bad Things, the people who fought back. The people who were forced. I wasn't forced, not really. I was just asleep and didn't say no. And I try to make it seem like being asleep and not being awake and conscious for the start of the whole thing makes it less big of a deal, when in reality it makes it more troubling.
If someone had asked me a series of questions after That Night, without asking directly if I felt I was sexually assaulted, the answer would lead to me having been sexually assaulted. If someone asked me straight out if I had been sexually assaulted, I would have said no. Because he was a friend. Because I should have said something. Because I don't want to think of myself as a victim. Because I don't want to make other people think of this guy as someone capable of sexual assault. Because I don't want someone to look at me and pffaw me off, to say, "That? You're making a big deal out of that?"
And I don't want to make a big deal out of that. But I would also like to live in a world where sleeping on someone's couch doesn't lead to a foreign and unwanted hand down the pants.
A year or so out, I can say that I was a victim of (a relatively minor (and I'm still qualifying it)) sexual assault. The day after? I couldn't. The day after that? I wouldn't have been able to. Now, I can.
And that's why sometimes it is important to accept what someone has described as the truth, and then possibly come to a different conclusion about what that was, legally and/or statistically, than how the victim would describe it. Because the reasons for how and why we describe things the way we do are vast. And sometimes, the way we describe them and the way we think of them are a way of coping with what has happened, and nothing more or less than that.