[Content note: rape, PTSD, medical issues, seizures]
There is nothing like the shame of being asked if you enjoyed the show when you left your seat halfway through to thrash on the floor, screaming, you were screaming, rolling on the floor like the boys in the ring, rolling on the floor as someone tried to calm you down, rolling on the floor and skinning your elbows as you screamed and screamed and people started to gather, when you drew a crowd like the men in the ring, when you drew a crowd like you should be selling tickets.
When the boys ask, later, did you enjoy the show, and you smile, hold out a hand still shaking with tremors of half-remembered scenes of his friend’s hands on another man’s throat, and how that still takes you back after thirteen years, how that still chases you back to a boy’s hands on your throat and your “no” unheard, or perhaps he just thought it was a work, maybe he didn’t think you were being serious, maybe he thought everyone says no when you fuck them for the first time.
Men walk out of the ring bleeding, fresh red blood, the blood of victory or defeat but never the blood like I bled, ten days of agony running out between my legs and I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had been raped as I tried to stem the flow and told myself it was just my period, two weeks early. When I told other people and they said I was either a liar and it hadn’t happened, or a whore and deserved it, like the limping, wounded wrestler shrugging and saying it’s all part of the job, like being raped was all part of being small and femme and fifteen.
There is nothing like the shame of walking up to a man you don’t know, to turn to him and say “I’m sorry”, to say “you look like him”, to say “I need you to touch me because I need to know that you are a good man”. When Good gets capital letters because there are Good men and then there are the men whose hands still crawl but they are someone’s friend or boyfriend or father and you have to smile and pretend it isn’t happening. You get to go up to men you don’t know and tell them “you reminded me of the worst night of my life, now touch me on my fucking terms or every dream I have will have your hands on my throat for the next month and I cannot stomach hating you.”
I touch them all on my terms, all the ones I’m sure of, all the ones I like, and if I don’t touch them after then you know I have heard something, or think something, or don’t know how they will react or I’m too hurt and wounded to dare to touch them in case I am rejected, or worse. I am grateful for the extra pounds, grateful for the stick, because if any man tried to flirt with me I would rake my nails into their faces without a thought for their careers.
There is nothing like the shame of explaining to someone that you missed most of his match because you were hyperventilating and screaming at men to get away from you as the crowd gathered, that you were lost because there are three men in the world who can put their hands on you without you wanting to die, and none of them were there, when you wonder if you should plan your fucking trips out around who is in the ring, because there are two safe wrestlers you would trust to protect you, and if they’re not there, should you be allowed to go?
The shame is in everywhere as your friend holds their arm behind you, reminds you that it’s them touching you, as other fans push past and you shake and tremble, but throw your arms around a man you feel is safe and let him pat you awkwardly like he doesn’t know what to do with you, when you say “I had seizures” and you don’t say “PTSD” because fuck it, wrestling isn’t for you. Wrestling isn’t for people who flinch at loud noises, who can’t cope with a hand on a throat, who keep their bodies turned towards the back because if a man is going to approach them from behind, you’re damn well going to ensure they don’t touch you.
There is nothing like the shame of trying to tell a man who doesn’t care that he is safe, that you feel safe against his side, and what a fucking honour that is, because if someone gave you list a of wrestlers, you could tell them which ones you’d run from, which ones you’d lie still until they were done, and which ones you’d attempt to hurt enough that there might be evidence they’d raped you. That you know exactly which wrestlers you think people would believe you if you told them about, and those where you wouldn’t even bother reporting because no one would ever take your side and their career would be untroubled because you are not important.
There is nothing like the shame of writing this poem and knowing that anyone who reads it will consider you crazy, consider this an uncomfortable truth, that if any of your boys see it, they will wonder where they fit into the list – or worse, that they won’t. That the men you call your own, the ones you call family, the men you care about… don’t care. That you are merch money and free drinks and nothing else but an annoyance, something with a stick that they pity, and smile at, but do not think about. That you tell them they are safe, and they reply with a pat to your shoulder that makes you flinch, a bland smile – and then they get to walk away.