Dear Dr Ren,
I have been in what I thought was a good relationship for the past year. My boyfriend and I had a mostly monogamous agreement, although I suspected he strayed while travelling and I occasionally had anonymous hookups, though we never talked about them.
About a month ago Steven found out about one such experience of mine and became completely irate. We talked it out and I thought we were okay, but several days later, during sex, he raped me “to teach me a lesson.” I ended the relationship and have since moved out, but I’m a mess.
What do I do? I don’t think services for rape victims are geared for gay men. Where do I go for help?
Wow. You have layers of hurt and loss to count, don’t you? You are suddenly single, you realize the “contract” you had with your boyfriend wasn’t what you thought it was, and you’ve been attacked sexually. Good for you for calling it what it was: rape.
And good for you, too, for leaving the situation immediately, despite what must have been a great deal of pain and confusion. After such a violation of trust, you would never have been able to rebuild a loving and mutually respectful relationship. The leaving would have been inevitable but could have taken a much longer time.
Many services are designed for women, but not all. Vancouver offers the BC Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, as well as the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), which is designed specifically for gay men.
We know so much more about trauma recovery now than we did even a few short years ago. With the advances in knowledge brought by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we are learning how the brain processes all sorts of information, including trauma.
Recent investigations into how trauma memory is established, and how it can be mitigated or even expunged, have been tracked using fMRIs. So many broken soldiers have returned from the Middle East that research is being generously funded to learn how to help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What we know is that the longer someone lives with terrifying memories, reliving them without relief, the more hard-wired those memories become and the more difficult it is for the victim to return to a place of composure and normal functioning.
Sometimes researchers find connections in surprising places. Happily for you and others, this occurred when scientists noticed that victims taking the anti-hypertensive drug propranolol were placed in therapy immediately following a traumatizing event. They were asked to recount the event in detail, over a series of weeks.
What the therapists found was that those on propranolol came to be at peace with the event, externalizing it and finding that it lost its gravity. Those soldiers with equal trauma reactions but without propranolol did not experience the same softening effect of the therapy. This treatment was most effective when begun shortly after the trauma, its reparative effect diminishing with time.
This is but one of the treatment modalities we are finding effective in dealing with trauma. EMDR, a technique using eye movements, tones or tapping, is another. Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may also prove effective during therapy with a sensitive and highly trained trauma therapist. You have options.
The point is that you have just recently been traumatized. Now is the time to find appropriate help. The longer you wait, the more established the trauma pattern becomes.
You have acted completely appropriately to this point. You did not excuse or mitigate your boyfriend’s behaviour, and you immediately removed yourself from the situation and the relationship. You realize that you would benefit from professional help. And you acknowledge that you are “a mess.”
You may find that you receive a less than supportive response in some social circles when you disclose that you have been raped, even though that is what happened. For years married women were judged incapable of being raped. You may well encounter similar prejudice and ignorance. Don’t buy it.
That said, your friends can offer you tremendous support at this time. You are mourning the loss of your love and your home. No matter how that came about, your buds are the best ones to help you through that. Don’t be afraid to let them do so.
And next time, you may want to design a contract with clearer content. If you want a “monogamish” arrangement, ask for it. If you want a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” deal, say so. If polyamory is for you, speak up. Though your lover’s response was inexcusable, he’d likely defend it by saying you had deceived or betrayed him. Honest negotiation from the beginning might have prevented this horrible outcome.
But that’s for the future. Right now find yourself a sensitive and qualified therapist who can help you mitigate the damage this trauma can cause. Then get on with a happy life.
Got a question for Dr Ren? firstname.lastname@example.org