Psychedelic Sisters In Arms is an ongoing series inspired by women who have recently come forward to speak their truths about the sexual violence they’ve experienced in psychedelic communities, and is indebted to the whisper network that continues to ensure the safety of the outspoken survivors to this day.

This series is a collection of personal stories on violence against women and marginalized people, dealing with issues of consent, gender, and sexual violence. It’s been led by women, and each writer is a member of the broader ‘psychedelic community’. If you have any interest in sharing your story, please reach out to oriana@psymposia.com

It’s my choice, but he wanted it more…

 

By Leia Friedman

When I was three years old, I went to Building Blocks preschool. I remember looking down at my outfit one day, a blue and white polka-dot dress, navy blue tights, white buckle shoes. I stared at my legs especially, and I remember thinking, “my legs are fat. Boys don’t like little girls who are fat. If I eat less food, I will not be as fat.”

I’ve spent most of my life trying to cure myself of a disturbing and disordered relationship to food and my body. This pattern of thinking is systematic; I was conditioned from a young age to view my female body as an object for society’s approval and a commodity for men’s enjoyment. How had my innocent, child’s mind been socialized to undervalue herself at so young an age? Why did I want to be attractive instead of smart, creative, or kind? Why did I want to be anything, when I could have just been having fun?

Fast forward to my teenage years. I was interested in sex from a young age, and had a few years of experience by the time I started working as a hostess in a restaurant at the age of 16. I lavished in the attention from older men at work. They showed interest in me by running their eyes up and down my body, sometimes whispering lewd comments, sometimes touching my hair, or my ass.

I never acted uncomfortable. I felt accomplished: I was sexy, a man-eater, I understood how men were driven mad by their desire for women. I could harness my sexual appeal in order to get what I wanted. My best guess now is that I really wanted to be seen, to belong, to feel important, to not be forgotten.  

Within a few weeks of working there, a server named Mark, who was 26 years old, invited me to come sit in his car with him after work. We made out, and the next time we worked together, I went back to his apartment and we had sex. A few women in the restaurant found out I had left work with him, and they warned me that Mark was “bad news,” he liked to date much younger women and he did not respect them.

I thought that they were jealous of the attention I was getting, so I didn’t really listen. I pitied them and their delusion, thinking they were warning me when really they were just envious of the way all the men at work flirted with me. When Mark tried to convince me to do things I was afraid of, like have anal sex, I brushed it off as “that’s just how men are,” and viewed him as innocent and overly simplistic for pursuing his desires at the expense of my feeling comfortable and safe. I reasoned, “He’s so caught up in what he wants sexually that he doesn’t know how to be a good lover. That’s adorable. Maybe I will influence him to think more about how he could be a better lover.”

But I never did influence him to think more, and he never did become a better lover, at least not with me. I also had sex with a manager who was significantly older than me, who made me swear I would never tell anyone. I don’t think I would have anyways, because I was well aware that my sexual conduct would invoke others to call me “loose,” or a “slut.” This understanding kept me quiet, and ultimately led to my being exploited and abused more, and for longer.

When I would sleep with these men, I would think, “They must see me as this sexually liberated woman.” What I know now is that sexual liberation is only having sex when you want to. Only having sex because you want to, not because it will convey status, value, safety, or belonging.

I never looked at these incidents as being problematic. I did not see myself as taken advantage of. I felt that I had agency and that those were my choices; if they resulted in my being harmed, it was my own mistake. Oriana Mayorga was a guest on my podcast recently, and we spent some time talking about sex and power. She said something that resonated deeply with me on a personal level: “Rape is not the only form of sexual violence that is egregious.” I’ve been reflecting on this idea, and beginning to see that it’s not actually my fault that I experienced sexual trauma from these early interactions with men.

bell hooks, African American author, feminist, and social activist, said patriarchy has no gender. To me, this means that it can be upheld by people of all genders, and it can affect people of all genders. I don’t bring up these stories to cast the light of blame on these men, or put their problematic behavior on display. I certainly had my parts in it, too. There is a lot to unpack and examine in this story.

This narrative is about the building blocks of my cis-female mind, where before preschool the foundation was laid for me to internalize certain aspects of rape culture. In my story, I see a lack of consensual, mutually affirming, respectful sexual encounters early on. Culture taught me that men were not morally responsible for their actions because they could not control their sexual longing. Culture taught me that my body was a currency that I could spend. A deep yearning pulled me to seek sexual relationships with men that left me feeling empty instead of whole. I did not have the awareness or the ability to look critically at the dynamics of power at play in those situations. If these older and more experienced men did see the power that they had over me by virtue of their sex, age, status, etc., they went ahead as if they didn’t know.

I am sex positive. I believe that it is healthy for people to explore their wishes and desires, and that no one should be shamed for what turns them on. I believe that everyone deserves to explore their sexuality safely. I appreciate you reading this, and perhaps thinking about how we can make this a reality.

My message to you is that anyone who has sex with women in this society should be familiar with the stories women hold on these matters. Listen to them, ask them what they need to feel supported, and be prepared for it to stir up all kinds of feelings in you. Find an appropriate container and a supportive context to explore and deal with those feelings. Learn about consent, and practice it enthusiastically. If it’s not a “fuck, yes!” then it’s not a yes. Inform yourself about systems of power and oppression so you can recognize and deconstruct the patriarchy, rape culture, and supremacy in your thoughts and actions. Listen to survivors.

Working with psychedelics, reading feminist literature, listening to women’s stories, engaging in a radical, loving partnership with my queer, anarchocommunist feminist man, and lots of courageous introspection have been the exorcism of some of these harmful untruths about my body. The journey is ongoing.