To Become a Hero

CW: sexual assault

For those of you who don’t know who the powerhouse of a woman is above: this is Marisha Ray. She is currently the Creative Director for Critical Role, a show that centers around some nerdy ass voice actors playing D&D, which just so happens to be my favorite show on the planet.

On Monday, Marisha was interviewed to talk about her life leading up to her current success. And, like an aggravatingly large number of women, her past involved a story of horrifying, yet under-recognized sexual assault.

I was sexually assaulted in my sophomore year of college. I was assaulted by someone I trusted very much. It was in my own bed, in my own dorm room, and it began while I was asleep. It was horrifying and infuriating and mortifying and scarring in so many uncountable ways.

But society taught me to find a justification for his actions by looking within MYSELF. To blame MYSELF for what happened — to silence MYSELF because, you know, at least I caught it just before it became rape, right?

So, instead of reporting it, I internalized it. Whenever I’d get close to mentioning what happened, I’d slather the story with a thick layer of humor to buffer the blow. I was scared people would think I was weak if they knew just how traumatized I still was by it, months and years later. I didn’t know how to tell people that I’d spent a month and a half sleeping on the floor of my bedroom because sleeping on my mattress reminded me of the event.

So I joked about it, and lied about it, and soon became just another statistic in that vast majority of women too scared, suppressed, or ashamed to come forward and report their assault. I didn’t feel like I was important enough to warrant the effort. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was strong enough to undergo the stress and shame of seeking justice.

That event was the spark for a host of issues with intimacy, confidence, and communication. I avoided men, and friends in general, but tried to play it off like everything was fine. Perfectly timed, what soon followed was a 2-year stint of 3 unexpected surgeries, a narcotic dependence, and a long-term relationship that violently uprooted my self-confidence and self-worth in a myriad of ways I’ve still yet to uncover.

But this woman, right here — this powerful, vulnerable, and strong woman who I’m so lucky to look up to — went through it too. Not in the same ways, but she was ripped through her own hell in ways that have destroyed so many — and yet, she’s still here. The way she discussed her trauma, opened up about her despair, and allowed those struggles to fuel her spite and self-empowerment was so, so important for me and thousands of others to hear.

For the first time in a very long while, I wept about my sexual assault tonight. I let my brain go back to that dark place which I’ve tucked away for a long, long time. And for the first time, I forced myself to destroy that guilt and shame. I didn’t excuse the event, I didn’t forgive him, and I didn’t forgive the people or the society that shamed me for suffering. I simply let myself be livid with the world on behalf of the millions of victims just like me and Marisha.

But then the tears stopped. And I looked down at a tear-stained pillow that I’d just punched the shit out of. And I looked up at my TV, at this face right here — the face of someone fighting to use their experiences and power to do real good in the world. And I realized that nothing was stopping me from being her too.

After all, what’s the point of having heroes if you don’t fight to become one?

In these past 16 months of living in South Korea, I’ve accomplished a lot of things I never thought I’d do. I’ve proven to myself that I’m more independent, gritty, and resourceful than I imagined. There’s still so much growing and improving to do, and there’s a whole lot I don’t know about myself and the world. But I know for a fact that I am strong, and that I will keep going, fighting for others like us. And in those inevitable times when that strength wanes, it’s people like Marisha Ray and fellow fighters that remind me to keep going. It’s our job to fuel both our own and each others’ fires.

And, maybe someday, I can be the reason someone else decides to fight back too. That alone is worth every hard day.

Thank you to Marisha Ray. Thank you to survivors of assault. Thank you to friends and family that listen to people that need to be heard. Thank you, for listening right now.

And thank you to the endless numbers of people that fight for justice in all forms, in spite of the laws and societal norms that encourage us to be assholes. For the rest of my life, I’ll do my best to fight alongside you.

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