Monday, August 27, 2012

On Being A Male Rape Victim

Before writing a text that will contain an explicit description of a rape, it is only polite to include the phrase 'trigger warning' as early as possible, as there are those who will get to that phrase and decide that they do not wish to read further at this time. So. Trigger warning. You have been warned.

If that is enough to make you stop reading right here and now, please know that that's ok, and I hope that you will come back later on.

If you're still with me, you should be aware that anyone who is even remotely attempting to pay attention to What's Going On will have noticed that there has been a great deal of discussion of rape lately (August 2012 at time of writing, whenever you actually get around to reading this), what with the batshit insanity of Rep. Akin in the US claiming that 'legitimate rape' will not actually get a woman pregnant and, perhaps far worse, the ongoing morass of the Assange case, wherein whether or not the man is actually guilty of rape (something we cannot possibly know until the trial actually goes ahead, which thanks to Ecuador, Sweden, the US and the UK between them, may never happen), we are seeing all manner of unexpectedly backward views on the subject from people from whom one might have expected better – George Galloway, Tony Benn, Craig Murray and John Pilger just being the first four men who spring to mind in this context.

But that's not really what I'm writing about here.

There are many issues around rape that merit deeper examination than many people give it. One of these is its quite literal ubiquity. It's a lot more common than most people think. By 'most people' I of course mean 'most men', although there do exist some women who believe that outside the really rather rare context of stranger rape – where a woman gets jumped in an alley by a knife-wielding marauder – there isn't much to worry about. This is, sadly, not the case. While stranger rape does exist, the sordid truth of it is that very many rapes exist within the context of existing relationships – marriages even – and that a good bulk of them take place in a context where the woman and the man already know one another in some way.

If you're a guy, you probably know another guy who genuinely believes that if he buys a woman dinner and a few drinks it is somehow his right to have sex with her afterwards. I'm not saying that this guy you know is a rapist necessarily, but it isn't hard to see how a guy who thought that way might find himself raping someone at the end of a date, even if he didn't realise that 'rape' was what he was doing. That kind of thing probably accounts for a good bulk of rape.

If you're a guy, you might remember a time – perhaps when you were younger – when your partner didn't seem to want sex even though you did, and you managed to 'talk them into it', or just went ahead anyway. Perhaps you split up soon after that. I'll leave the analysis of that one to you and your conscience – I'm not saying anything either way. What I will say, though, is that it is clear from any reasonable amount of reading about rape that there is a substantial constituency of rapists who genuinely have no idea that they are rapists and would be horrified to realise that this is in fact the case.

As an example, please read Laurie Penny's incredibly brave account of her own rape, linked here. It is quite possible that the guy involved genuinely thought 'after the party she took her clothes off and got into my bed, so clearly that means it was ok to have sex with her'. Which he did, even though she didn't want him to. Manifestly, here it wasn't the case that it was ok to have sex with her, but in the context, what the hell else can he have possibly been thinking? May he rot, by the way.

However, actually, that isn't what I wanted to write about here either.

In many internet discussions of rape, there are (almost always male) trolls who pop up and point out that it is quite possible for men to be raped too. The annoying thing about this kind of troll is that while they are not actually wrong, their point usually has very little to do with the discussion in hand. There is a general problem with human beings raping other human beings, for sure, but in the vast bulk of cases we are talking about men raping women. Certainly there are other cases, some involving men raping other men and a very few involving women raping men, but these cases are very much in the minority.

If there's one thing that everyone ought to be able to agree on, it's that anyone raping anyone is a bad thing and that it should be stopped. Not only that, but if it turned out to be the case that people were generally given to make light of rape in such a way as to make it easier for those who perpetrated the crime to get away with it. it would seem not unreasonable for that kind of behaviour to be given a description, such as 'rape culture', in order to make it easier for people to identify and then attempt to eradicate such behaviour.

Of course, this is not a subject that everyone can agree on. This is a problem. Hordes of guys line up to deny the existence of 'rape culture' every time it gets brought up. This is mainly to do with them not wishing to confront the reality of it and also to do with them believing that there is no reason for them to confront the reality of it. After all, the vast bulk of rape victims are women. Why should a man worry about this?

I am a man who has been raped by a woman and I am telling you that this is something that everyone, male or female, should worry about.

You can stop laughing now. Don't try and claim you weren't – the vast bulk of people that I have attempted to speak to about my experience have found it completely hilarious that I – as a man – should have been raped by a woman. I am used to this response, from men and women alike. But please do keep reading. I'm going to tell you about it in some detail.

Again, and this is perhaps the opposite of the trigger warning above – if you don't give a fuck about this kind of thing – please stop reading now and piss off. That could save us both a great deal of time.

Anyway. It was about eight years ago. I wasn't in a great way. I'd been recovering from a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork in IT and triggered by a particularly unpleasant breakup with a girlfriend. I was unemployed and living in a dodgy shared house not far from Camden. I was trying to put my life back together, and this time, to involve more music, being as I am a musician and all.

I'd met this woman, some years older than me, who we will call R., who ran a music studio in Camden. She would regularly turn up at open mic nights and jam sessions and invite people back to the studio for an after-hours jam. I wasn't remotely attracted to her, but I enjoyed the jam sessions and it was always good to meet and play with the random group of other musicians back at the studio. At least one of the people I met through her is someone I am playing with regularly to this day.

R. was aware that I was earning very little money at that point, and after some time became aware that I am technically adept enough to know my way around a studio to some extent. Eventually she asked me if I wanted to come and work at the studio as an assistant. I was delighted and accepted. We went out for a drink to celebrate.

We both got quite drunk. We ended up back at my place. I was extremely tired and just wanted to sleep. I told her she could sleep where she liked or just go home but I really needed to sleep; I took my clothes off and got into bed.

I wasn't bothered when she got into bed with me – I have shared a bed with female friends many times over the years without sex being involved - but I really really really did not expect her to grab my cock and force it into her. I was too tired and drunk to get a proper erection, to say nothing of the fact that I really didn't want sex with her in the first place, but it had been a long time since I had fucked anyone and my body started responding in a way that my mind was not in control of.

I came very quickly.

“You bastard,” she said. “You came.”

Eww, I thought. Also, have you not heard of condoms? What the fuck are you doing?

I dozed for a bit, and woke to find her forcing herself on me again. This time there was no question of ejaculation, and perhaps if I had been sober and more awake I could have simply forced her back off me, but such as it was, I just lay there underneath her watching her face contorting and grimacing until she was sexually satisfied herself. It was horrible. It was the opposite of sex. I don't know what it was.

I didn't come that time.

Afterwards I got out of the bed, put my dressing gown on and went to sit at the far side of the room feeling more like shit than I have ever felt in my life. I stared at her, not knowing what to say. She lay on the bed for a while, then announced that she was going home, and that I should call her to discuss when exactly I should start work at the studio.

I didn't call.

At first I thought I'd simply had the worst sex ever. It took me about six months to realise that what had happened to me was rape. I hadn't wanted sex with her but she'd forced herself on me. That's sex without consent. That's rape. The vast bulk of rapes are men raping women, but very occasionally, it's the other way around. That's what happened to me. I still think it's probably worse for female rape victims but I can tell you it's no fun for anyone.

I spent most of the next year drinking and smoking weed in enormous quantities without particularly enjoying it; in the meantime the shared house fell apart and, being incredibly lucky to have a supportive family, I ended up back living with my parents for a while and have been trying to put myself back together ever since.

At points, I attempted to tell a few friends about the experience, and they all laughed at me. Every one. I stopped trying to tell friends about it.

I tried to look for support online, but I couldn't find any Rape Crisis centre that dealt with male victims of rape. They might exist now, but eight years ago, they did not.

I went through some pretty bad years, mainly dulled by alcohol. I seem to remember coining the phrase 'the seven bottles of wine a week diet' in one of my cartoons. I am not proud of this. I am still trying to kick myself of that habit.

I have also met a lovely woman to whom I am now engaged and who I love very much. I've built up my business as a musician and I'm doing ok. I'm trying to drink less. I'm not smoking weed any more.

Lucky me.

That's not really the point of my story.

The point of my story is this: those of you reading this who think that rape is some abstract quantity or some rare event are wrong. Read around the statistics – the results are all too clear. The proportion of people who have been sexually assaulted or raped is alarmingly high, and the fact is that the vast bulk of victims are women.

Yes there are occasional men, like me, who are also victims. I wonder to this day whether perhaps my rapist had earlier been raped herself at some point; maybe she lived in a world where forcing yourself on someone else sexually was something that she had been taught personally, something that seemed unremarkable and normal. It seems plausible.

But the truth is clear – rape is a massive problem, and the vast bulk of victims are women, and the vast bulk of rapists are men. This has to stop and this has to stop now. It's fabulous that women are tending to organise through this or that branch of feminism in order to do what they can to make it stop, but it's incredibly important that men also join in the fight against rape.

Simply 'not raping anyone' isn't enough. Not letting your mate get away with dodgy rape jokes is also part of it. Finding out what rape culture is – it's a just a Google search away you know - and working to make sure that you don't yourself perpetuate any of that shit is a great deal of it.

And if in the end, you think – as a bloke – that rape isn't something you need to worry about yourself, you may perhaps have statistics on your side, but statistics mean fuck all when it actually happens to you.

I'm still sure it's much worse to be a female rape victim – I wasn't physically damaged and I didn't have a risk of pregnancy. But the STD test was no fun and the psychological fallout even less fun. I'm supposed to be a guy, whatever the hell that means. And to this day sometimes I still think, well, rape? Really? Maybe it was just really bad sex.

Really bad sex? Isn't that just another way of describing rape?

Think about it.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Crazy 'Bout You Baby

One of my all-time favourite albums is the Christine Perfect album. It was released in 1970, just after she left Chicken Shack and just before she joined Fleetwood Mac as Christine McVie; this was also the year before I was born. When I was eighteen or so, I pretty much had it on repeat play for several months, so it's only natural there are a couple of tunes from the album that I've learned to play myself.

I haven't performed any of them in public for a long while, but when I was asked to play a short impromptu solo set at Bluepeace last weekend, I ended up doing both No Road Is The Right Road and Crazy Bout You Baby. Unknown to me, it turns out the performance was recorded, and I'm in the process of figuring out whether it's ok to upload cover versions to Soundcloud or not - seems that the answer is 'no, not without permission, but actually lots of people do anyway, so go figure.'

No Road Is The Right Road is an original Christine Perfect number, and I had always thought that Crazy 'Bout You Baby was too, but it turns out not to be. However, working out the actual authorship of the version of Crazy 'Bout You Baby recorded by Christine Perfect turns out to be something of a conundrum.

The Wikipedia page for the album credits Little Walter with writing the song. However, the page for the song claims that this credit was a mistake, that it in any case applied to a different recording of the tune by Perfect, and that it was actually written by Sonny Boy Williamson.

You can hear Sonny Boy Williamson's version here on Youtube. It's more or less clear after several listens that Perfect's version, quite apart from changing the tempo and feel of the tune, doesn't use any of the original lyrics except the chorus - 'crazy bout you baby but you don't care nothing in this world for me'.

Perfect's first verse ("can't sleep at night, catnap through the day...") turns out to be taken from the third verse of Walking Dr Bill, by Doctor Clayton, covered by BB King. I cannot find any reference to her second and third verses except in lyrics sites that list the Christine Perfect lyrics.

Clearly I'm not looking hard enough though, as according to the liner notes, the song was chosen via Ike and Tina Turner's version. Sure enough, Perfect is singing substantially the same lyrics as Tina Turner does, though the writing credit there, according to, is still Williamson.

The plot thickens further when you realise that - according to Wikipedia at least - Little Walter played with Sonny Boy Williamson at some stage, though if he recorded a version of the song I can't find any reference to it. So it's quite possible that the Little Walter credit is actually at least partly correct - maybe the altered lyrics sung by Tina Turner and repeated by Christine Perfect originated with him.

Alternatively, perhaps there is an alternate Williamson version with different lyrics. Getting to the bottom of it will require more than just sitting here at home and Googling - the next stage would probably involve attempting to get in touch with Tina Turner and asking what she can remember about the song, as sadly neither Little Walter nor Sonny Boy Williamson are around to settle the matter once and for all.

I might have a crack at that, but in the meantime, I've realised that the more I look into this, the more I simply don't know who wrote this tune. In any case, I mostly screwed up the lyrics myself when performing it and have no idea what I actually ended up singing - it was one of those 'this is as much as I can remember of the lyrics' performances, so my silly little version, for what it's worth, is different again.

So how do you go about asking permission for that?

Maybe I should just go ahead and upload anyway, for what it's worth.


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