The Weight of Shame

 At the Women’s March in January 2017

At the Women’s March in January 2017

Coming out can be messy. There are of plenty of factors eager to complicate the already indefinite search for one's sexuality or sense of self. In my own experience, I have found trauma to be one of those factors that has clouded any sense of security I have held with my identity.

I am currently in my first year at Smith College and I identify as a queer woman. I came out to most of my friends sometime between my sophomore and junior year of high school, and came out to my parents, as well as became more public and open about my identity at the end of my junior year. Concurrently, while trying to make sense of how I felt and who I was, I was also aiming to navigate the impact that trauma had on my sexuality. In January of 2017, a week after I had participated in the Women's March on Washington, I visited some good friends on a college campus, where I found myself in the basement of a frat house being raped by a complete and utter stranger. My rape felt (and still feels) painfully like each story and statistic I had been perpetually warned about, “naive girl gets drunk at frat and is' taken advantage of.’” The words "no" and "stop" sat in my mouth the entire time, as I choked on my tears, and physical pain gutted me with no warning. It was raw and unsparing; and the thought of it still stings. The immediate period of time following my rape was nauseating and confusing; I felt as if I was constantly trying to invalidate each passing emotion, and it was exhausting.

 The author’s favorite spot on Smith’s campus

The author’s favorite spot on Smith’s campus

I now attend a women’s college in one of the most queer cities in the country, Northampton, Massachusetts. My choice to attend this school was influenced by the fact that I was assaulted, and living here feels safe and liberating in ways I could have never imagined. Though, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t carry my trauma with me to college, and still struggle to navigate when friends leave campus and ask me to go to frat parties with them. Or that attending a women's college means that we don’t have our own issues of rape culture on campus, because we do. The remnants of my rape are scattered everywhere, no matter if I go to the queerest college in the country or back to the campus that stole from me.

I have learned to greet shame with honesty, and allow it to stay as long as it needs and to interrogate the place that it is has come from.

Shame is a heavy thing; it is insidious and seeks to pull us away from our core, from the feelings we know to be true. I have learned to greet shame with honesty, and allow it to stay as long as it needs and to interrogate the place that it is has come from. I have found this to be the only way to become unrestrained from the notion of being "allowed" to feel a certain way, or take up a certain space. This unbinding has lead me to a newfound lightness, one of freedom and clarity. This isn’t to say that letting go of these feelings that have held me hostage is easy, because it hasn’t been. It has taken many angry journal entries, poems, therapy sessions, and time to recognize these realities. I still have hard days. Still mourn the steady trust for people I used to carry. Still mourn the girl I was that January day, unscathed from the trespassing that was yet to come. Still mourn my belief of a world in which women’s bodies are their own. Though, today I sit easier in my own skin, knowing there is a reckoning occurring in the midst of our pain, a world of women eager to rise.

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Eliza is a Psychology and Education major at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. On any given day, Eliza can be found reading poems, jamming to SZA, or FaceTiming her twin brother. Follow her on Instagram @emankin.