Dear 13-Year-Old Me,
A few months before you turn 14, you’ll be a raped by one of your closest friends. There will be scars on your right hand that will remind you of that day for the rest of your life. One day, you will see them as a sign of survival, but for a while you will see them as a homing device for abusive people. You will try to figure out for many years what you did to “ask for it,” so that “it” will never happen again. Nothing you do will work because no one asks to be raped by staying a little late at school after basketball practice or scoring higher than the boys on the math test or acting too much like a “dyke.”
You will not be the protagonist in your sexual and romantic life for a long time because of this. You will be ambivalent but neurotic and will sometimes want to disappear. You will not know what to do when you develop feelings for your classmate at your all girls’ Catholic high school. You will feel a twinge of fear every time you hear that word “dyke” again, even though you know it doesn’t really fit you.
I’m not going to say that “it gets better.” You will be raped again in college. You will remain too long in relationships with folks who are, at best, incompatible or, at worst, abusive. You will be stalked. You will face sexism, homophobia and biphobia, street harassment, slut-shaming, and people who think they get to touch your body on the dancefloor or at the bar or in the office. There are people who will tell you to “be careful” when you go on road trips with your guy friend or travel for business alone or take a nap under a tree or wear yoga pants (yes, even to do yoga).
You will, however, be a more authentic and empowered version of yourself. You will stop searching for what you did to “ask for it.” While the world will change far too slowly for your liking, you will change. You will find trustworthy friends who will anchor you. You will come out as bisexual, which will help you cultivate a life that feels more honest and free. You will start caring a little less about what everyone thinks of you and start caring more about being the kind of person you want to be. While you know that giving people the power to love you gives them the power to hurt you, you will do it anyway. Vulnerability will always make you nervous, but life without it will feel scarier. You will have all kinds of intimacy and friendship and romance and adventure.
One of these adventures will involve a guy you meet for what you think will be a casual brunch date. You will fall deeply for his wit and kindness and strength. He will love all of you, even the pieces you’re still learning to love about yourself. One evening, you will make a promise to love him for the rest of your life, and you will mean it more than you’ve meant anything else. You will let him stare right into your eyes for a long time without turning away. As you begin contemplating having children with this guy, you will keep trying to make the world the kind of place you want for them. While you would hope that world would be one without violence or abuse, you will settle for a world in which no one ever has to feel they “asked for it.”
Cheers, kiddo. Take care of yourself.
LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her career to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a researcher, educator, and consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as a lead trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center. She and her partner will be relocating to North Carolina this summer, where she will be pursuing her doctorate in social work at UNC-Chapel Hill. You can follow her on Twitter @LB_Klein.