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navigating a difficult past

Posted: Tue Jan 19, 2021 10:20 pm
by tenderqueer
Once, when I was 17, I was making out with a fellow 17-year-old who went further than I felt comfortable with: basically, they got on top of me and started tribbing/grinding their genitals against mine (we’re both AFAB). We hadn't verbally discussed boundaries, and I don't remember how much I non-verbally signalled my discomfort (it was long ago; I was drunk). I do remember that at some point I decided to pretend to be into it because it seemed easier. It happened on two or maybe three occasions - I broke things off after that.

I’m now 28 and have reconnected with this person. We saw each other for a weekend in June 2019 and have been in touch on-and-off since then, though we haven't seen each other since because we live in different continents. We’ve discussed our history: they feel terrible about it, have apologised profusely, and are careful to respect my boundaries now.

We really like each other and have built a beautiful dynamic where we deeply care about each other. We have a lovely connection in so many ways - we're both on the autism spectrum, we're both genderqueer, we went to the same (very particular/strange) high school, we're both from the Mediterranean but have spent a lot of time in Anglo contexts, we speak the same languages (English, Spanish, Italian), we have similar relationships to studying and careers, we have similar values in terms of consumerism and the environment, we're both monogamous, and we've experienced similar forms of queer sexual trauma in relationships from our early twenties. It feels very special.

Even though we like each other a lot, things often still feel a bit icky and heavy for me, like I feel kind of repulsed by them a lot of the time. I find myself struggling with lots of questions, like:
-- is it fair to describe what happened between us when we were teenagers as sexual assault? That's something that many people would not even consider sex.
-- how much is the ickiness I feel with this person due to our specific history, and how much of it is due to sexual assaults that I experienced in later years that are yet to be resolved?
-- can we ever move past this history and have a healthy relationship? We find ourselves talking and planning for a way for us to be living in the same place at some point over the next few years: is that reckless or irresponsible?

I am in therapy for my experiences of sexual assault (primarily doing EMDR) and I am on anti-depressants, but therapy is just taking so long, and I am so tired of everything hurting so much and being so confusing.

Re: navigating a difficult past

Posted: Wed Jan 20, 2021 6:00 am
by Siân
Hi there tenderqueer,

From what you're describing, it sounds like this person didn't have your consent for everything they were doing, which means that yes, it is sexual assault. Sexual assault is any kind of sexual activity without the other person's consent. Tribbing is definitely a sexual activity, and is one that many people would consider to be sex.

I can't tell you how much of the ickiness you're feeling is down to these specific instances and how much is about other assaults. I don't think it's a question that really CAN be answered - these traumas have a tendency to compound one another, building up layers of hurt that can't be meaningfully separated from one another. I'm so sorry you've had multiple experiences of assault, and I'm glad you have support from a therapist for it. I know it's a slow process but I promise you it does get better.

Can you move past this history and have a healthy relationship?

things often still feel a bit icky and heavy for me, like I feel kind of repulsed by them a lot of the time.

This sentence very much tells me that you aren't there yet, and pushing through those kinds of feelings generally isn't a good way to heal.

I wouldn't advocate being involved with someone who has hurt and assaulted you in the past. I do understand that a lot of time has elapsed, and if this person has confronted what they did, taken responsibility for it and done the work to re-educate themselves then I'm sure that they can be a safe and loving partner to someone else. It doesn't sound like a place you're feeling safe right now though, and working through that trauma whilst it's constantly being activated by your relationship with this person sounds doubly hard. What does your therapist say about this relationship?

Re: navigating a difficult past

Posted: Thu Jan 21, 2021 5:28 am
by tenderqueer
Hi Sian,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply.

You're completely right about it being sexual assault -- it's hard to accept, due to the combination of me liking this person/wanting it not to be sexual assault + that kind of act not being seen as 'sex' from a heteronormative gaze, but you are right. It's just a lot to wrap my head (and heart) around. You're right too about trauma not really being able to be separated in such a neat way.

Thank you also for reassuring me that things do get better with therapy and work. I've just been working on these issues for so long -- seven years, by now? but very on-and-off, and I've moved around to many cities and countries in that time -- and I still don't feel like I've made any progress, so I just have these moments of crisis and frustration. You're right though: it will eventually get better.

My therapist has told me she doesn't think this relationship can become a healthy one, or at least not before I have experiences/relationships with other people. And, rationally, I do understand why. It's just... it's hard to accept: it's so nice to have romantic companionship and support (I've been avoiding relationships for many years), particularly because I don't have many people I feel close to, and because Covid/politics/etc right now is so scary and it feels good to have someone who is there for me and kind to me.

You are right though, in perceiving that I'm pushing through icky feelings - I know that relationships should feel safe and secure at least most of the time, rather than having an underlying feeling of ickiness most of the time. And you're also spot on about me continuing to be 'activated' by this as I continue to be in touch with that person - thanks for phrasing that in that way, that's very helpful to me and feels like a very accurate description of how I feel.

Thank you so much! (Thank you also for responding to me even though Scarleteen is geared towards teens and I'm not a teen anymore - my psychologist is on leave for a month, and I just don't really have any support systems that I can lean on about things like this.)

Re: navigating a difficult past

Posted: Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:01 am
by Sam W
Hi Tenderqueer,

I'm so glad talking here is helpful!

I want to touch on what you said about that need for companionship and support making it difficult to end this relationship or scale it back to a point where you no longer feel that ickiness. I wonder, do you think it would help to start building other relationships, either by deepening ones that already exist or by finding new ones? You could approach that process in baby steps, since you mention that you've been avoiding relationships.

Too, have you mentioned that fear that if you lose this person, you lose companionship and support to your therapist? If so what approaches has she suggested?