Ben Wilson: Writing after Rape
Novelist Benjamin G. Wilson writes about the uneasy relationship he has with discussing sexual violence in his writing.
I was sexually assaulted four times in the year preceding the events of my novel. I’ve become bored of writing that now. It’s the third fact everyone learns about me; Benjamin G. Wilson, novelist, sexual assault victim. It feels worse than boring, crass even, to repeatedly capitalise on the reality of sexual violence as a marketing exercise for my writing. But still. Here we are. I keep writing it. I was, sigh, sexually assaulted, yawn, four times in a year.
I suppose I’m still writing it because it works as a short hand for bigger, more complicated things. Whilst my experience of being a queer man has involved a lot of violence — four is the conservative count for acts of sexual violence that year — the big violence, that I’m trying to tell you about, is something else. Visible queerness means existing in a state of heightened awareness at all times. Coming out in every new job and corner shop. Never being sure who is going to hate you because your voice is too animated or your hand gestures too fluid. But that feeling, that lifelong nausea, doesn’t translate into soundbites as easily. People roll their eyes. Dull men on the internet screengrab your tweets and call you a ‘snowflake’ on Reddit.
But rape … rape unites. Rape, in patriarchal discourse, is the worst thing that can happen to you. Worse than murder, even. (Look at all the virgin martyrs.) So when I say I was raped, it gives me permission to write heatedly. It lends me, in the eyes of some readers, an authority to say ‘actually, it’s tough to be queer sometimes.’
I’m not happy with this dynamic. I think it relies on some deeply messed up thoughts our culture has. And the idea that sexual violence is unusual, exceptional, only really holds water if you ignore the experience of women and other marginalised identities. There is a reason people keep describing our society as a ‘rape culture’.
But the alternative to ‘I was sexually assaulted four times in a year’ is explaining, again and again until I die, that being alive whilst queer regularly breaks my heart so thoroughly that I feel I could punch someone through a wall. The alternative is explaining, again and again, that my oppression matters just as much even when someone hasn’t spilt my blood. There are so many straight people in the world. Who has the time?
My superpower: I was raped. Listen to me.
Benjamin G. Wilson is a writer and performer about to enter his third year of BA Creative Writing. His novel, Dispatch from the City of Orgies, is a ‘magic-realist memoir of sexual violence, drug use, and being in love’ set during the east London ‘Grindr Murders’ of 2014-15. It is currently in development with Penguin Random House as part of their Write Now scheme. On his blog he writes and makes zines about being being queer, witchcraft, mental health and politics.