People like to talk about sex, but talking about rape is a lot harder. For the past year and a half, I've been making a documentary on rape, so I've gotten some practice. The film is called Yeah Maybe, No, and it tells the story of a gay college student's experience with sexual assault. Blake describes his assault as something that happened because he was naïve and lacked the experience to tell that something was wrong. He doesn't even recognize what happened as rape until years later, when he learns more about consent. Most people tend to have strong feelings about my film, and as I've been talking about it I've gotten some interesting reactions.
First, there are people who struggle with the idea that a man can be assaulted. They think of rape as something that only happens to women, so when they see a man's face in the trailer, they think my story will be about a perpetrator rather than a male survivor.
One of the most touching responses I got was from a man at a protest. After marching in the streets to raise awareness about violence against women, I mentioned that I'm working on a film that highlights the story of a male survivor. He pulled me aside and poured his heart out about his own experience with sexual assault and thanked m for giving men a voice on this issue. He said that it's hard for him to find people who will listen and hopes my film can help men feel less alone.
Female survivors have reached out and thanked me for making this as well. Not because it features a man, but just because they can relate to blaming themselves for their experience. They know what it's like to feel that they didn't fight back hard enough to loud enough. They had the picture in their mind that all rape involved brute force or weapons, so when someone used coercion to wear them down and violate their boundaries, they didn't feel they had the right to call it rape. Seeing that on screen is a powerful moment for many survivors, and one that helps them explain to their families and friends what it felt like to be there.
I even heard from a man who had been raped by a woman who told me how much he could relate. He wrote, "this topic really hits deep for me. The lack of understanding on my part to identify what was happening, and the lack of sympathy I got when reaching out to others..." The story of self-blame transcends the gender of the rapist and victim. It is something that survivors feel, regardless of who did it or how their rape took place. It is hard to lose control of your body, and scary to admit that you did, especially in a culture that is so quick to ask what you did to deserve it.
We're currently running a KickStarter, and are just about halfway to our $10,000 goal. One of the things I am most proud of right now is how many different people have come together to back this. One of the dangers when making a social justice documentary is sticking too close to a single ideology and limiting your audience to one type of person. With this story, I really wanted to make something that would speak to people regardless of their political leanings or identity politics. Judging by the diverse set people backing so far, I think we got there. I hope you can join us.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.