CN: detailed account of sexual assault
“I technically raped you,” she jokingly whispered into my ear as I forced myself to go back to sleep—sleep that had been stolen from me minutes earlier, along with my virginity. As I wrestled with a reality that I was too groggy to clearly comprehend, let alone process, she added, “Happy graduation.” She was ten years my senior. I was 22, and in that moment utterly alone.
Twenty-four hours earlier, I had walked across the stage to receive my college diploma. Twenty-four hours earlier, I had the rest of my young life ahead me to figure out the person I wanted to become. Twenty-four hours earlier, I was naive to believe that it could all be taken away in an instant, worst of all by someone I trusted.
As a Korean-American, identical-triplet, third-culture kid, adoptee, I’ve spent my entire life grappling with a crisis of identity. To further complicate the matter, there have been two distinct times in my life when I struggled to understand my sexuality. The first was during middle school. The second was during my junior year of college. Both times I was convinced that I might be gay, but a handful of experiences only left me with more unanswered questions.
Beyond my academics, I had failed at the social side of college by coming out of my shell in hopes of finding a meaningful romantic relationship. The confidence I so desperately needed to enable me to attract the best partner was seized by my insecurities surrounding the stereotype that all Asian men have small penises, the jokes I’d seen woven into Hollywood comedies regarding uncircumcised men, but most of all the fact that I am a carrier of Hepatitis-B. Vertical transmission of the disease is extremely common in Korea and means that I’m asymptomatic, but nonetheless I have a responsibility to inform my sexual partners of this fact. I decided to avoid these things altogether, that the massive anxiety-inducing search of finding someone that would accept me for all my various flaws was a fool’s errand.
With a month remaining on my college career, I met a woman named Amy through mutual friends at a party one night. She was a graduate student in the metals and jewelry department of my art school. We were surprised to learn that we were practically neighbors in the same apartment complex, yet had never once run into each other. She was considerably older than anyone I knew, but possessed a youthful vibe. She was tall, blonde, with deep blue eyes, and a stunning smile. She was born and raised in Alabama and even had the accent to match. I fell for her instantly.
Over the next couple weeks we were inseparable. I eventually shared facts about my sexual history, as well as my various insecurities surrounding it. She passed no judgement on anything I said. My feelings along with my trust in her only deepened. Even so I could not bring myself to tell her about my being a carrier of Hep B, so decided to safely avoid the topic by telling her that I wanted to wait until marriage before having sex. She said she understood and even respected me for my celibacy.
One night we were hanging out at her place when she asked what I planned to do after graduation. I told her that I was thinking about moving to New York City with my friends at the end of the summer. She suggested I stick around until she finished her master’s degree in eighteen months, or she could just drop out and we could move together. I must have worn my discomfort on my sleeve because she immediately withdrew by my lack of enthusiasm.
The next day, and the thirteen after them, I didn’t see or hear from Amy. Our mutual friend who also happened to be her bestie, claimed to not know where she was. She didn’t answer her phone or the few times I stopped by and knocked on her door. After about a week I gave up and decided to just focus on graduation and my move to Brooklyn.
My family flew in for my graduation. The next night I was bar hopping with my brothers, roommates, and friends. We popped into my favorite bar called Churchill’s. The European pub decor reminded me of my time growing up in England, and it was the only place that had decent pool tables. We all headed downstairs to shoot a few games when I spotted Amy chatting with a guy by one of the tables. Their body language suggested that they might be on a date. I decided that she was not going to ruin my evening, so I proceeded to ignore her. By the time my roommates and I decided to head back to the apartment, Amy managed to rope one of my brothers into a conversation, which in turn allowed her to join our group. I offered to drive her home in her car when it was clear that she was too drunk to drive. After making sure she made it to her front door, I was turning to leave when she offered me to come in for a minute. I figured this was my only chance to ask her why she had ghosted me, and followed her inside.
What should have been a brief conversation turned into a three-hour discussion on relationships. Within this time she had sobered up while I only grew increasingly sleepy. She promised me that things would be different moving forward. She confessed to being afraid of losing me if I moved to New York City because long-distance relationships don’t work. She agreed that we could take it one day at a time and enjoy the summer while we still had it. She told me that she loved me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about anything she was saying, but agreed to stay the night simply to not make things awkward between us. I figured we could revisit the discussion in the morning.
I awoke to a considerable weight pressing down upon me. I caught a glimpse of her long hair swaying in the moonlight. I heard her moan. I pushed her off of me and immediately rolled over with my back to her. I wanted to believe it was all a terrible dream.
“I technically raped you.”
Something deep inside me cringed.
Whatever it was suddenly had a sharp edge to it. I clenched my eyes shut in a silent attempt to dull the quasi-pain.
I met up with my family for a breakfast the next morning. Throughout the entire meal I was suspended in an out-of-body experience. I was the lurking ghost of a now emotionless shell of myself. I didn’t tell anyone about what happened for two months. Even more alarming: I continued to date my assaulter as if the attack never happened. After all, was I really attacked? Can a man get raped by a woman? There was nothing that happened that I would consider violent. There was no struggle. There was no blood. No hitting. Not even any shouting. Sure, I was unconscious for most of the incident, but hadn’t she done me a favor by taking my “V-card”? If all men yearn to have sex, especially with attractive people, what did I truly have to complain about?
I eventually gained some much-needed clarity while out with my brother and roommate near the end of the summer. My brother remarked that it was ridiculous I was still a virgin, and wanted me to make moves to correct that over the weekend. I was suddenly reminded of the one and only time I had had sex with Amy. I sheepishly said, “I… I think I lost it.” He and my roommate looked completely puzzled. My brother wanted clarification. “Oh, I technically had sex with Amy.”
I proceeded to tell them what happened. I didn’t have much in the way of details—believing that’s what they wanted to hear—but what I did share left them in a state of slack-jawed shock. They asked me if I had told anyone. I said I had not. They asked if I had thought about what had happened. I said I had not, and remember feeling a little annoyed that they weren't impressed that I had managed to finally have sex. They asked me to imagine for a moment if I had done to her what she had done to me, where I might be at that very moment.
“Oh…” I sighed. “Definitely single. She definitely would have broken up with me.”
Their shock mutated into noticeable frustration. They told me I wasn’t thinking of the worst case scenario: An arrest and probable jail time. The courts might even slap me with a sex offender label for good measure. They demanded that I confront her about it, so I did. I told her that I felt what she did was an incredibly selfish act. I asked why she did it. She burst into tears and screamed for me to get out of her apartment. The next day, overwhelmed with guilt for having made her cry, I went back to see if she was all right. The door was ajar. When I pushed it open I discovered that her apartment had been completely cleaned out. Her car wasn’t in the parking lot. She had vanished into the night, literally. That’s when the severity of the situation imploded in my mind.
It’s taken me over fifteen years to climb out from underneath the rubble of my shattered psyche. Only in the past year have I truly confronted my rape and acknowledged the long-term damage that it has done to me. As a result of it I went on to sever all ties from my emotions for the majority of my adult-life. This enabled me to be more agreeable, social, and care-free. All positive attributes, or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was disarming myself emotionally, which in turn stripped me of any agency over personal conflicts. You don’t care about anything when you feel nothing. This led to one problematic relationship to the next, and eventually an abusive three-year marriage that I left last summer.
Through all of it I have searched for how I fit into this thing I call a life. Fortunately, uncovering truths about my gender identity has opened up doors in my mind that have long been sealed. Reconnecting with that aspect of myself has given me the strength I’ve needed to keep hold of my emotions. Until I met my loving partner, I believed that passionate, head-over-heels love was merely a concept, something imagined for the silver screen. But now I know what it feels like to be the leading person in my own story. Her love has resuscitated in me deeper truths about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Remaining open to the unfamiliar is scary, but being with her is like a tender handhold that gives me courage to proceed into the wilderness of my raging heart. Embedded deep within is an unwavering confidence that I could not have unearthed on my own. Even when it feel like the world is burning down around me, her love renders me impervious to the flames.
[Editor’s note: The language used by the author reflects what was needed for the writer to piece together a narrative after surviving trauma. Virginity is a bullshit social construct that upholds patriarchy and cisheternormative concepts around relationships and intimacy. And a person definitely doesn’t lose their perceived virginity through sexual assault of any kind. Sex requires consent, and rape is violence, not an actual act of sex.]
An illustration on off-white paper. The author is depicted with golden wings behind his back, medium-length dark hair blowing off to one side. He is wearing glasses, one lens broken, and a blue denim jacket with "TENDER" on both sides of the collar.
About Dominic Bradley:
Dominic Bradley is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn. They are also an editor of Rest for Resistance and facilitator with QTPoC Mental Health.
About Jeremy Holt:
Jeremy Holt is a non-binary author whose most recent works include After Houdini, Skip to the End, Skinned (Insight Comics), Southern Dog (Action Lab), and Pulp (comiXology), which IGN has called, "...one of the best one-shot comics of the year." When he's not writing, this Mac Genius is fixing computers and getting confused for his identical triplet brothers. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Holt.