[CN: sexual assault, PTSD, panic attacks, alcohol-induced blackouts]
This is a post I’ve been putting off for a while, partially because I’m not sure who’s really interested in reading about my personal bullshit, and partially because I wasn’t sure I was ready to write it without losing my shit. I work pretty hard to appear normal and functional when I’m at wrestling events (disability aside!) and not let slip the fact that, usually, I’m absolutely terrified of being there. Now, these experiences are by no means universal, and I’m not saying that this applies to everyone. For me, this is how I feel when I go to wrestling shows, as a rape survivor, and someone with PTSD.
My first rape was a long time ago. I was barely fifteen, he was a year older and my boyfriend, his parents got me drunk on champagne. I have a complete memory blank between being too drunk to climb his stairs, and being naked on his bed with him inside me. I bled for ten days afterwards, and it’s been a huge part of medical complications involving scar tissue in my abdomen. My second rapist was an ex-boyfriend I lived with in a student house, who threatened me with violence if I didn’t give him access to my body, and who made good on those threats as well. Both of these were at least six foot tall, and climbers, fencers, rowers – people of not inconsiderable strength. They were bigger and stronger than me, and they used it against me.
Fast-forward to April this year, and I was thinking of attending my first ever Fight Club: Pro show – the Dream Tag Team Invitational. I was excited when I booked and paid, and utterly charmed with how much effort they put into organising things to do with my disability (which will be another post!), but as the date drew closer, I started to get nervous. I doubled my anxiety medication. Then tripled it. I didn’t plan the travel, or the details, because I was putting off thinking about it. I’d paid extra for the above picture, as well as an amble about to get things signed at the fan convention beforehand. I suddenly realised this was going to mean being near men. And not just any men.
The above picture is, of course, Tyler Bate. Now, unfortunately for me, especially in these shots – something to do with the angle the light hits him, although certainly the glasses don’t help – he looks a hell of a lot like my first rapist. Not his fault, obviously, and I’m casting no aspersions on his character with this, it’s just… when I see pictures of him my whole body tenses, going into fight or flight mode. Just finding the picture has made my back go tight, stress and fear making me panic. Panic attacks have happened, just from a photo.
When I realised I was going to have to be near him for this picture, a week or so before the show, I asked everyone to send me pictures, and I looked up my rapist on Facebook, so I could compare the two side by side, and point out how Tyler was different. It fucked me up, because it meant seeing my rapist’s face, but I figured it was better to be fucked up then, than to have a meltdown when I got to the venue. I have PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – as a result of my abuses, and unfortunately, it’s not a reaction I can just switch off. And when I saw the way the boys were arranged for the photo? I froze. I was going to have to stand next to him.
Sure, I could have ambled to my place and asked them to switch around Tyler and Trent (given as Trent feels so safe to me that I called him “darling” upon him opening the door to let me avoid the queue and sit in the lobby, a sure sign that I feel comfortable around a man) but that would have meant admitting something was wrong. So I stood there, made this face as someone put their hand on my back – I was too tense to work out who – and got my picture, then got away, as fast as I could. I don’t think I even remembered to say thank you.
We got that out of the way pretty early, while the room was still quite empty, and I managed to get to Will Ospreay, who I’ve met before, for a quick hello before the room started to fill up. I kept finding my way back to Chris Brookes and Eddie Dennis, because they were friendly, and made reasonable eye contact, and felt safe. Travis Banks also felt safe to me. Lio Rush seemed more scared of me than I could ever have been of him. Jack Evans made me giggle at how adorable he was, and Angelico made me feel calm.
Once more, I’m not casting aspersions on anyone else in that room. PTSD dictates who frightens me, along with, obviously, anything I might know about people – for example, ask me to be alone in a room with Jerry Lawler, and I’ll scream for help until someone comes to get me – but there was nothing I knew about anyone else in the room that should have scared me. Marty Scurll, who I’d been looking forward to meeting, made me so tense that I didn’t ask for a picture, because I didn’t want to put my back to him for even a second. Sometimes it’s something in how someone looks, how they act, or how they stand. Sometimes my PTSD is just flaring at anything. It’s not personal, it’s just something that happens.
But the room quickly filled up with mostly male fans, wearing the uniform of jeans and a black t-shirt, and… I’m short. I’m not even five foot tall, and when you’re that small, in a room full of mainly cis men, all you can see is a wall of chests. People bump you, either because they don’t look down, or because they don’t care or understand that it might hurt to be bumped, or even that it might make someone uncomfortable. When crossing lines, blokes tend to pick the short people to walk in front of or behind. They also tend to stand slightly too close for comfort. It’s an atmosphere I struggle in, a lot of the time, and as my wife and carer is also under five foot, she can’t shield me too well with her body. Although she tries. A lot of people have got a sharp elbow from my wife for bumping me.
Most people wouldn’t question it if you said that a wrestling show atmosphere could be a little intimidating for those who don’t fit the cishet able-bodied white male demographic that will be fully represented at shows. But no one really plans anything with PTSD in mind – understandably so, it’s not all that common. Or is it? Speaking in one of my group chats about how Tyler Bate made me feel, and my efforts to overcome this before heading to FC:P, every single person who was with me had someone within wrestling who reminded them of an abusive figure in their lives. Sure, liberal bubble, survivors banding together because having that in common creates bonds, but at the same time, it made me think. How do we get past this? How do we, as survivors, find ways to enjoy something which might be tainted by a face we see in our nightmares, when we wake up screaming, every time we close our eyes?
For me, I trust my instincts. If my body is telling me someone isn’t safe, I’m not helping myself by pushing through it in a public situation. If I’d insisted on a hug with Scurll, or wanted Bate to cuddle me, I would have wound myself up into a stress, which could have become a panic attack. In a space like that, full of blokes? Likely someone would have tried to touch me, making it all worse. So I kept my distance, I spoke to those who didn’t spook me, and when I grew tired of standing, I asked someone who made me feel safe if I could sit behind a merch table, so I was out of the press of humanity. I took my own steps to preserve my safety, and my own health.
As a note – probably don’t touch people before they touch you. Possibly call it an American thing, but the Bucks and Omega both decided I could do with a good slap on the back which was both painful and frightening, as it wasn’t something I expected. I took the initiative and hugged them in response, taking control of the situation as a way to make myself more comfortable with the contact, but it did make me nervous. A few guys trying to get past physically moved me out of the way instead of asking. As survivors, we know how to take the right steps to keep ourselves safe. But we need you to go along with the rules, accept boundaries, and not assume you can just touch people. Ask. We’ll all be happier.