The taxi’s dim headlights illuminated the labyrinthine streets, sobering me up. I didn’t want to go to this man’s house. Why did I agree to go with him from the club?
I knew why. I am a man, a gay man, and I had met a local gay man. After serving in my host country for the past two years, I knew that wasn’t rare. It happened many times during my service. What didn’t happen was my acceptance of their offer. I was on vacation with my parents in another country and just thought, “Why not?”
So “why not” brought me to this neighborhood I didn’t know, late at night, in a foreign country, with another man I had just met and not enough money to get back to my hostel.
With no options in my view, I reluctantly got out of the taxi followed this man to his door.
As I entered his dark house, I started snapping mental pictures of escape routes and tools to use in case of a struggle. It wasn’t that I was scared of this man, he wasn’t menacing. He was shorter than I, and I had at least forty more pounds on him. My fear came from the unpredictable-ness of the situation. So many factors were out of my control yet I followed him back to his bedroom and we both undressed for bed.
Survival was the game, not sex. Sex for me at that time was like one of those islands in the Pacific that are specks of ink dust, the kind where you have to squint and strain to make out if it is there.
I quickly got into bed and pulled the covers tight. I told him “No sex, just sleep.” He agreed with a swift nod.
He turned off the lights and then it was like his hands mutated and multiplied. They were everywhere, grabbing and groping, fending off and dodging my own hands that were slower to parlay his attacks.
I don’t know how many times I said no or the number of times I swatted his hands back. That night I didn’t sleep. He tried to penetrate me at least two times. I beat him back but one time he was partially successful. I could feel the condom break inside me – no lubricant was used. I stayed awake until the sun rose and then darted out of there as fast as I could. I hailed the first taxi and made my way back to the hostel.
The most difficult part was that I could not share the incident with anyone at that time. My parents do not accept my sexuality so I certainly did not what to talk about it with them. I suppressed what happened and never once thought that I should report it to my PCMO. I am a man after all, doesn’t that make me immune?
“Why? Why wouldn’t you report a sexual assault?”
I looked up and saw a scowling face looking down at me. Looking around and behind me, I saw that the PCMO was talking directly to me. It had something to do with my hand being. Though my mind fought to keep my own sexual assault experience a secret, my body ratted me out to her and the other 20 trainees in the room.
After finishing my service in Africa, I signed up for a second tour in the Caribbean. Before beginning my assignment, even though I had completed the standard training during my first tour, we still had to have a week of training that included a sexual assault session.
She had asked us who, in the room, would not report a sexual assault, not who had been assaulted. I had seen other people raise their hand, but those hands scattered away in the light of her interrogation.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
“But why? Why wouldn’t you report?”
I looked around again. Did my body begin following suit with my mind again? Did I think that I spoke but really was just thinking? I focused on my words and said again, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
“Why? Why?” she repeated.
My previous response was not my imagination. The tension in the room from the other onlookers filled the empty space after the PCMO’s inquisition. I couldn’t breathe in this atmosphere densely packed with my past, so instead of answering again, I got up and left. Once outside, I held my closed eyes up to the sky to keep from crying.
From that moment on, I was shaken. On the outside, I was calm and cool, but on the inside I shook. I shook all the way through training and then right into my service. The shaking kept me up at night with chronic insomnia for three months.
The head PCMO, who I confronted about her colleague’s interrogation and her subsequent apology for the incident, referred me to a local doctor and didn’t think I needed counseling. The local doctor recommended that to cure my insomnia, I should: play basketball, have sex with a woman (even though I told him of my homosexuality, and take a shot of rum every night before I go to bed.
Thanking him for his medical advice, I told him that I already do over an hour of cardio every morning, I’m not interested in women at all, and I don’t drink. I asked for other options and he called every pharmacist on the island to look for Ambien. No one had any so he prescribed me three doses of Valium to “regulate my circadian rhythm”.
Sitting in that doctor’s office, I knew I couldn’t tell him about my assault. Afterwards I wanted to ask for counseling from the PCMO but I had lost all my nerve and sense of self. I did what I thought needed to be done: I left. Within days after that doctor’s appointment I early terminated my service and went home to begin my treatment and take care of myself.
Returning home, I began therapy, which Peace Corps pays for the first three sessions, and when I needed more I had to justify it with Peace Corps medical office. I couldn’t get through my account about what happened without bawling. The medical officer said that to get more sessions, I have to report the incident to the security office in Peace Corps.
The security officer listened and said that I shouldn’t have a problem in applying for more sessions.
“Why didn’t anyone at Peace Corps in the Caribbean suggest you go to counseling?” the security officer asked.
That was a great question, one I had thought about a lot.
“I think,” I replied, “because I am a man.”
If I was a woman, I think this whole incident would have played out differently. And it’s not just the way the staff treated me but also the way I treated myself. I’m a man after all, aren’t I invincible?