Corey Cashmon details her account of enlisting into the United States Navy as she worked towards becoming a lifelong medical corpsman and on her career journey Corey endured Military Sexual Trauma (MST) that led to her being transferred. Her dreams of becoming a medical corpsman were shattered. Substance abuse became her way to cope with the trauma. As she found herself on a path to self-destruction. While she became a corpsman she was unable to maintain her dream job due to the trauma and retaliation she endured.
When I enlisted in the United States Navy. I signed up as undesignated because the occupational specialty of Hospital Corpsman had no availability. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into and what the job entailed. I knew I’d have to fight to strike Corpsman. We had recently finished our maiden deployment on my ship when I was checking my email in the office, and my E4 walked in. I was super excited because I just got approved to start doing some OJT days during the workweek up in Medical to train to become a Corpsman. I tried to tell him that, but when I stood up to tell him he took both his hands and grabbed my chest. I stepped back and told him no that’s not ok. He proceeded to do it again, but this time he told me I better leave that room right now otherwise he was gonna rape me. I extracted myself and walked into the hall but shortly down the passageway, I got stopped by a couple of shipmates. We were talking when all of a sudden the same E4 comes up behind me grabs my left breast and proceeds to dry hump me from behind. In front of two witnesses.
The next day at muster I was slotted to be working with him, and I immediately went to a victim advocate who was also my friend. He told me my options and let me know I’d have 24 hours to contemplate on how I wanted to move forward with it. I immediately went to my best friend who worked in medical to talk to her about it and try to figure out which way I wanted to take it. Unfortunately, that choice was taken from me. The lead victims advocate turned out to be an HM1, and when she was told about the situation both her and the HMCS interrupted the conversation with my friend and pulled me into the office.
The one choice I had hoped to actually be able to make myself after experiencing so many choices taken from me was also robbed from me. The HMCS informed me unless I wanted to send my best friend up to captains mast for failure to report I would be making an unrestricted report. The one place on that ship that I felt at home, the last place I felt safe was forever changed. That was the beginning of the end of my naval career basically. The only good thing to probably come out of it was that I was transferred full time to Medical where I doing basically everything a Corpsman does, but as a seaman. At least until the E4 was interrogated by NCIS. It took 3 hours for him to confess, and after that happened; word got out. His friends started harassing me and calling my phone. My new chain of command in medical was so concerned for my safety that three days after his interrogation before he even went to captains mast; I was transferred to a temporary command on another base until my Corps School date came. I lost the job I loved and fought for, I lost my friends and even those who I thought as family. The trauma I endured, led to a host of other life-shattering events that negatively impacted my life.
I never really dealt with the trauma while I was still on active duty. I was under drinking age when it happened so I started taking NyQuil to try to sleep my days away. That continued until I became of age and added drinking into the mix. I stopped going out with friends, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to trust a man again after that. I went into my shell and never wanted to come back out. Towards the end of my time on active duty, I did start to see a therapist about the trauma. My chain of command had referred me to mental health, but at that time I wasn’t ready to face trauma and open myself up to therapy until I had left the service. After separation, I went on to get the help I desperately needed.
Chad Keck is a volunteer for MSTM. He is a U.S. Marine Corps. veteran. He received a retaliatory discharge after experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST) while serving on active duty. The struggle to attain VA benefits left Chad to struggle with PTSD due to MST without any support.
I AM VANESSA GUILLEN
I remember when I first understood and recognized that I had PTSD. It was a moment of awakening to understand exactly why I was falling apart, acting bat-shit crazy, doing harmful behaviors and I fell into drugs, alcohol, fighting and I ended up in and out of jail. My credit is crap and I had a short temper with most employers which led me to have well over 50 jobs since I’ve left the Marine Corps. My grandfather (USMC Korea ), My father (U.S Army Vietnam), Dad's brother Danny and his second brother Dustin (U.S Army desert storm). I always wanted to be the next one in uniform to stand proud with my family tradition. I joined the Marine Corps. fresh out of high school and straight to boot camp as soon as I turned 18. Unfortunately, I only served a year in service. I was discharged with an Other Than Honorable (OTH), A pattern of misconduct, and a RE-4 on my DD-214 and PTSD that would haunt me in my future years ahead.
No VA benefits or payments, back child support, and currently halfway homeless with my wife and three kids, no job with one felony and eviction and still trying, praying, and hoping for better days. My whole childhood I grew up to pictures of my family history in uniform hanging on the wall. Now in my opinion, any honorable veteran would ask or active duty service member would ask, "How the hell do you get PTSD with no deployments and one year in service?" My response is, "What if another man or group of men shoved something deep into your ass where you could feel the ripping pain in your stomach?" The times I have spoken out, I have received questions like, "Why you let that happen to you?"
Let me guess because you’re no bitch? It wouldn’t happen to you? Well if I told you I had no choice as I laid there in my barracks bathroom floor halfway in the shower passed out paralyzed by heavy drinking and partying. I came into consciousness for a split moment or two as the same exact Marines that I was partying with started shoving an object into my body; that I felt the pain in my gut; not to mention everyone was in my room was laughing. I felt less than human, I felt severely emasculated as if I was no longer a man by society's definition, and nowhere close to being a Marine. Besides I was one of the guys that would always be said “ If anyone tried to put anything in me I would fight to the death”.
I felt extreme shame as I thought to myself, "I should of done more to not put myself in that situation." But hell, drinking, partying and fighting was part of the barracks culture, especially as a Grunt. I was 18 and being a fresh “boot” who would have known this would of happened to me. The depth of negative emotions emerged as I felt high levels of guilt, shame, resentment, that ultimately led to Depression. That's how “A demon was born.” Trauma causes people to respond to negative attraction patterns. That's how I ended up in and out of jail. Remember that old-time joke, "If you and I went camping and you woke up with a hurt asshole, would you tell anyone?" Who the hell was I supposed to report it to? Who was I supposed to tell? I was singled out in my barracks, threatened to be killed by the Marines in my platoon once went to Iraq together. The higher-ups didn’t give two shits about what I said.
if they didn’t like what I told them, I would get punished for my attempted asks for help or embarrassed where my problems would be announced in front of my platoon and others would be ordered to "fix my problems." I was constantly attacked and even jumped by seniors of my platoon and even my own peers as coming forward made me seem weak. To all of them, this was just hazing. It was apart of the culture that I signed up for. I still have severe trust issues until this day. It was those days in the Marines taught me not to trust anyone. If I could not even trust the people I enlisted with and the Chain of Command (CoC) how could I trust anyone? I learned quickly that this "brotherhood" consisted of hazing and sexual violence. The most elite fighting force in the world proved they couldn’t be trusted. 18 years old and I resented the fact that I had no one to talk to or trust and the shame and guilt started to eat me alive and since I couldn’t trust anyone to confide into, I started cutting myself to release the inner pain that was choking me inside.
I could imagine what Vanessa Guillen was struggling with. Help me get justice for her as well as the rest of us by signing and sharing our petition to Urge Congress to Establish MIRA, an independent regulatory body that will protect servicemembers from MST, retaliation, and hazing when they experience sexual violence. MSTMovement.org/MIRA Please sign and share in honor of Vanessa Guillen.
Listen to Chad Keck tell his story on MSTM's Perspective Podcast. To Listen to Chad Keck's I Am Vanessa Guillen Podcast visit:
Join our Fight to #EndMST
Black Trans Lives Matter Protest held in Poughkeepsie, New York on June 30th, 2020
Black Trans Lives Matter is a statement some people want to be appalled by. In reality, black trans people have it the hardest out of any marginalized group. Now, imagine being a black transgender veteran who experienced Miltary Sexual Trauma (MST) on deployment. That story is the real-life experience of Royal Parker (he, him, his). He is a disabled U.S. Army veteran who gave a speech about how the transgender ban adversely impacted his life during active duty. Not only did he speak about transphobia in the military but he touched on receiving a retaliatory discharge based on gender dysmorphia. He also spoke about the racism he endured as well. Imagine for just a few seconds you were in his shoes, how do you think all of these traumas would impact you?
You serve your country and you're hated on the basis of your skin color, your gender identity, and your gender at birth. The message the military is sending you is that everything is wrong with you. Now, you are fighting for freedoms in an organization where you have forfeited all of your rights to be who you are. You are fighting for freedom in a country where you don't have any freedom.
That is Royal's reality. His story is an important one about intersectional justice. This is a deeply embedded value within MSTM. Our civic engagement activities are oriented towards allyship with other disenfranchised communities because so many of our volunteers are apart of these other marginalized communities. When you think about someone like Royal who is apart of three marginalized communities, he has is much harder than any of us. I have privilege based on my skin color and my sexual orientation while he gets condemned for being a black transgender male who was adversely impacted by the transgender ban.
I dare to ask you - how do we in one statement say we support our veterans while our actions as a society allow so many of us to suffer in silence. The life expectancy of a black transgender person is almost half of a straight white male or white female. This is solely based on the violence against this community. As MST survivors we can relate. While our life expectancies are cut short due to suicide, some of us have experienced hazing and many of us have gone missing at some point. When we look at Vanessa Guillen's case, she went missing after telling her mom she was experiencing MST. Imagine, what Royal has had to endure while serving on active duty. His story isn't one full of pride in serving our nation. It is one full of pain and violence while being denied the very freedoms, he was fighting to protect for cis white people. It is quite cruel that we treat our service members this way. It is a very sad reality we live in, in 2020.
Transgender people are humans. Just like you and I, they deserve respect and support. They also deserve a life and a workplace that is free of violence against them. We are not hopeless here. Hope is on the horizon as we work towards allyship across all of our marginalized communities. We are all facing similar battles. When we unite and raise our voices in solidarity, we will create a more equal and just world. One where we all belong. At MSTM, we support people who are out to change the world. The thinkers, the doers, the innovators, the courageous, the unique, the one's out to defy the status quo are the people we seek out to amplify their voices. Royal exemplifies every single one of those qualities while in his pursuit of justice and equality.
The National LGBTQ Task Force complied research that demonstrates the devastating effects of structural racism against black transgender individuals
"Discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, but anti-transgender bias coupled with structural racism meant that transgender people of color experienced particularly devastating levels of discrimination, with Black respondents often faring worse than all others. Among the key findings of the analysis released today:
- Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26 percent, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the rate of the general population.
- A startling 41 percent of Black respondents said they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, more than five times the rate of the general U.S. population.
- Black transgender people lived in extreme poverty with 34 percent reporting a household income of less than $10,000 per year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general Black population rate (9 percent), and eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).
- Black transgender people were affected by HIV in devastating numbers. More than one-fifth of respondents were living with HIV (20.23 percent), compared to a rate of 2.64 percent for transgender respondents of all races, 2.4 percent for the general Black population, and 0.60 percent of the general U.S. population."
When you combine these statistics with the statistics of MST survivors, there is one very clear fact that comes to mind. It is that Royal Parker is a mother Fucking warrior king. That's why the LGBTQIA community calls him King Royal. It makes perfect sense when you've seen him defy all of the statistics while he has become a voice for a severely silenced and vulnerable community. We must take a stand and fight for change. We will not know peace until we know tolerance, we will not know tolerance until we know equality. We can not have equality without a politics of compassion and love.
Read our Reflections Magazine to read Royal's story!
Listen to Royal's Podcast: The Struggle of a Black Transgender Male MST Survivor
Royal Parker served in the U.S. Army before his transition. Royal faced a series of hardships based on race, gender identity, and as a survivor or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Royal's preferred pronouns are he, him, his. Royal details his story of adversity and struggle while serving our nation. Today, Royal is an activist in the Hudson Valley Region of New York helping other transgender veterans.
I am an American soldier. My experience in the military was heartbreaking. I experienced sexual assault, rape, gender inequality, racism, and countless other trials and tribulations that were continuously swept under the rug. I experienced gender inequality throughout my entire career. Having been born biologically female, we were looked at as less than. Even when we aced PT scores and were leading the class in testing scores; the idea of a woman being a leader was downplayed. I experienced trans-phobia first hand, as I was denied medical assistance on two occasions before the transgender ban was implemented. I was told that it wasn’t the time to pursue my transition for military readiness before deploying and that upon my return I would be given that.
During this time I was not on any hormones. I had not begun my transition, but I was not silent about who I was. Once the leadership started to receive memos about people being transgender and what regulations would change for transgender individuals within the military, I began to receive backlash and harassment. I was not late to formation, I was always on time; I was always ready and willing to do whatever duties were assigned to me. Yet, I was still put on the radar as a malingering soldier.
I experienced a sexual assault during my deployment when a male off duty NCO entered my room. I was on the floor with all men at the time. I was the only female on that floor, so he figured he wouldn’t need to knock after obtaining the master key from the patrol desk on the first floor. I told my NCOS, my First Sgt and he got written up and nothing more. I never received an apology and I certainly didn't receive justice. So once I got back to the states from my deployment in South Korea, I sought out to begin my transition. After countless attempts, appointments, blood work, and after I was classified with a mental disorder; all of my paperwork was fulfilled: only to be denied by my officers. Who told me they didn’t want this to be brought up on the red carpet and that this was an elective procedure that they wouldn’t approve.
Listen to Royal's story on our Perspective's Podcast!Read more
Black Lives Matter. For some people in America this statement seems radical when in reality, we as a society can not say everyone's life is equal and meaningful until we are willing to acknowledge that in 2020, we still treat black lives as 3/5th a person. This statement remains a fact when we look at every sector of our economy. When we look at consumer staples we see a number of influencers and corporations who appropriate black culture for profit while not giving credit or even funding to the Black community. On June 1st, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma contained the Greenwood District known as "Black Wall Street." There were 300 black-owned businesses that were burned down by racist whites who were envious of the rich black people in this part of the country after an incident between a black man and a white woman, where the black man tripped in an elevator and grabbed the white woman's arm to support himself. This led to one of the deadliest race riots in American History. The damage led to many deaths and the wealth of these black families was never restored as all of the insurance claims on their properties and businesses were denied. In the 1940s Black families were denied FHA mortgages. These are government-backed mortgages that insure high-risk borrowers from low-income backgrounds. During this time Black families were denied access to these mortgages while white people were afforded the opportunity to build wealth and move to the suburbs. When we fast forward to the 1960s during a time of Jim Crow Laws and a well-known slogan of the era, "Separate but Equal" is the reason Black communities emerged and developed separately. It wouldn't be until Dr. Martin Luther King's poetic death, a violent assassination that created civil unrest across the nation because White people refused to close their businesses while black people mourned the loss of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the country, that riots broke out. After 100s of riots broke out, Congress signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which prohibited the government and banks from discriminating against minorities seeking to purchases homes. This was one part of MLK's Economic Bill of Rights. By the time Black folks even got an opportunity to participate in home buying, Whites already had almost 40 years of government-subsidized wealth accumulation on their side.
Fair Lending Laws which still exist today, alone would not end racism in America. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank was fined for Fair Lending Violations in 2017 for $55 Million Dollars for denying Black and Latinx mortgage applicants who rightfully qualified. On June 18th, 1971, President Nixon began his campaign for the War on Drugs. This campaign was a systemic effort to funnel Black and Latinx people into jails in America. This system still remains in place today. Many of the private military corporations such as Lockheed Martin who are contracted out by the government operate the welfare programs in almost every state in America. Black and Latinx Americans are more likely per capita to get involved with CPS, end up in jail because of a non-violent offense, and join the military for a better a life. I am very familiar with the institutional injustices because I worked for Wall Street for 12 years of my adult life. It was by far an eye-opening education to see how deeply rooted racism is in the American economy. It was one of the factors that motivated me to get involved in local politics in the Hudson Valley. I was working for J.P. Morgan at the time and the North Dakota Access Pipeline became a huge debate because the pipeline was being built on sacred Native American land. At the time, J.P.Morgan opened a proprietary investment called the J.P. Morgan Energy Renessaise Portfolio. Our firm's Certified Product Specialist was coaching us on how to sell it. The company's economists were all talking about how they expected 9% annual returns and that this would provide wages of $25.00 per hour at a minimum for workers. As they started discussing what companies would be the holdings in this particular portfolio, Halliburton was one of the top ten. That alarmed me because I had known them to be a weapon company while I served in the United States Marine Corps. I couldn't understand why they would be in an oil portfolio until I started doing research. I was attending Post University at the time and I made this my research paper for my advanced economics class for the semester. This was how I went down the rabbit hole of really understanding minority issues in modern America. After I concluded my research, I learned Halliburton is an oil company that won a weapon's contract because Dick Cheney was not only on the Board of Directors for Halliburton but he was also the Vice President of the United States. This $5 billion dollar contract would help take over territory in the Middle East that Halliburton had been fined for doing business with in the past. This was a very strategic deal at the expense of the American taxpayer and would ultimately take the lives of many service members who believed they were fighting for freedom. As I began researching every portfolio I sold, I began to see a trend that minorities are essentially funneled into certain aspects of the economy in order to create wealth for the white and wealthy on Wall Street. That didn't align with me. While working at J.P. Morgan, I protested this portfolio and everything it stood for, and for the remainder of my career, I refused to sell any oil portfolios. I began internally protesting this portfolio. There was no reason why in modern-day America we should be profiting off of Native Americans, Black Americans, and Latinx Americans while disrespecting their cultures and rights at the same time. These economic issues exist in every sector of our society in 2020. When we look at law enforcement and the prison industrial complex these same trends emerge that black lives will serve longer sentences and be convicted at higher rates than white people will for the same exact crimes. The prison industrial complex is the backbone of consumer staples and products that we purchase every day in America. Many for-profit businesses use prison labor to create products at a lower cost. That labor mainly comes from Black and Latinx prisoners.
You don't have to be against law enforcement or the military to acknowledge that we have serious systemic issues surrounding race in America. It is okay to support the military and law enforcement and still fight for justice and equality within the institutions that are currently benefiting from racism. Racism can be both conscious and unconscious. I have seen both in my interactions with people in power. Civic engagement and involvement in politics are how we can create meaningful change as a society. We have to work towards removing racist elected officials from power while supporting elected officials who are willing to hear and see us. Many local police departments are governed through local and county governments. As well as the District Attorneys that prosecute individuals. All of these elections happen in off-cycle years and generally have primary elections. Most people do not vote in local elections or in primaries. In states like New York where there are closed primaries, unless you are registered to vote with a party line, you can not vote in a primary at all. This restricts an individual's power in the political process. We each have the power within us to change the future. It requires all of us to take action.
I received a number of people who told me they were disappointed in my support of the Black community and their belief that MSTM should only be focused on survivors. As a political organization, there are times when it is necessary to speak out. Black people serve in the military and in law enforcement. Black people go through MST as well. My point is that Black people have it harder solely on the basis of skin color. They have a right to feel protected, supported, loved, and empowered. I will always stand on the side of civil rights and equality. MSTM will represent those same values. I have heard the stories of many black women who shared what it was like to serve and go through MST and to experience trauma, retaliation, and discrimination on top of it; it takes an incredible level of strength that most people do not have within themselves. These are struggles that no one should have to endure but unfortunately, they do. We can't ask for allyship with MST survivors if we aren't willing to show up as allies for others. We can not ask people to see us as survivors when we chose to deny every other part of their story. We have to accept every part of everyone's story while in our pursuit of justice. MST is deeply correlated to racism in that they both are manifestations of white supremacy. In order to have true and meaningful progress, we need to show up for everyone. Not just ourselves. I know that concept is difficult for some and I ask that you can take a moment to think about what it feels like to be a Black woman or man in America who served this country, experienced MST and feel as if your life is less valued or as if you don't have the same freedoms. There comes a time where we need to acknowledge the pain and strength of the Black community and be there for them during this time. They need love and support and we need to be here to provide that. We need to help echo their voices and fight for justice.
Having personally experienced injustice when I experienced MST, I know what that pain feels like. It is one of my life's deepest pains. I specifically remember this one day a few months after I got out of the military that I was walking on the streets of New York thinking that no one actually cared about service members unless it benefited them. I cried thinking about how no one would ever really know what I went through. I was also terrified to share my story because I thought people would think that I was going against the military versus trying to make it better. When I reflect on what is going on now with the deaths of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and many more who have died by police violence who are standing up, I know the level of courage it takes. That is why I chose to stand with our black community despite receiving a number of messages that suggested I should not. I am proud of our black community and I am proud to stand with our Black community. I do hope this message helps put their struggle in perspective as well as helps create empathy and bridge to the black struggle.
Empathy for our Black community is the first step but it is certainly not the only step. A lot of work needs to be done and we need to move into action now. Peacefully protesting is a right afforded to us in the constitution but it is only one aspect of politics. Protesting has always been a marker for where someone's values lie. It is a clear indicator of what shortfalls they perceive and what motivates them to act. We can not have diversity, inclusivity, and freedom when we are not allowing everyone's voice to be heard. We need real action now!
When I got involved in local politics, minority issues in my community became my interest. As a Puerto Rican woman, my cultural upbringing is tied to Caribbean culture, from the foods I eat and cook, to the music I listen to, clothes I wear, and hair products I use. Also learning about the economic injustices that occur after working in finance, I really wanted to explore and understand how these policies get executed politically. I remember one of the first political events I attended was at Beacon Town Hall. It was about the Dutchess County Jail Expansion. The room was packed and I remember that the unrest in the room. It was because the Black community was concerned about the Poughkeepsie High School-to-Prison pipeline. This is directly correlated to a long educational segregation battle that took place in Dutchess County throughout the 1960s when IBM, a major technology company during the time built a large plant that would be home to many of IBM's senior-level executives who have the money and power to fund a lengthy campaign to keep the divides between a manly Black and poor school and a White and wealthy one that both neighbor each other. These fears from the black community were completely rationale to me. I supported their cause to ensure that the jail does not get expanded and that support services do. At the time, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro made the argument that New York State was mandating the expansion and remodel due to the fact that it was completely full and Dutchess County was outsourcing and paying for inmates to be placed in other county's jails. I understood the economic situation as well as the government mandates but I still felt it was morally wrong. I questioned if our predominantly White government understood what it is like for minorities in the Hudson Valley. I remained engaged in politics and I consistently saw racism and even experienced it myself. A local paper in Wappingers Falls called The Hornet wrote an article making fun of me for having PTSD due to MST. I really had to sit and reflect on this for a number of reasons and the main one was would a White male veteran who told his story about MST experience that? I knew for a fact that a white male veteran in my town, would be met with overwhelming support if he shared the story I did. I'll be honest this left me resentful to those in power in the area. I consistently watched how elected officials and party officials disenfranchised minorities in a number of ways. I began seeing this pattern within the county Democratic party which is why I never fell in line with what they wanted. This became the reason I ultimately resigned.
When the organizers from Stop the Violence Movement asked me to assist them in organizing, speaking, and leading the demonstration in Poughkeepsie, New York yesterday my answer was a resounding yes. Given all of my experiences along with my moral compass, this was a no brainer for me. It was an emotionally powerful day as well. The peaceful protest drew over 2,000 demonstrators from across the Hudson Valley. Someone else was in attendance, our Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it was for a photo-op but as I spent the day leading side by side with him, I started to see his engagement and care for the people around him. He was fully present and participating in the activities of the day. He understood the pain of the community he serves. He made a leadership decision that he needed to be present for the Black community. I think that speaks volumes about where Dutchess County can maneuver to in the future. Marc is well respected and loved by just about everyone. His participation is far more powerful for the community than what most people realize. He represents a White male leader in a conservative power structure in a diverse county in New York. If he can stand with the Black community during this time of George Floyd's Death and the civil unrest, well then there's hope for change on the horizon. The reality is that we need everyone to create progress and to have meaningful change. There is a light shining in Dutchess County, New York even where other places in the country look dim. I hope that our story from the Hudon Valley inspires community leaders across the nation and that we continue to take actions that demonstrate Black Lives do Matter!
Janelle Marina Mendez
CEO of MSTMRead more
I am blind. I am not asexual.
My disability and my sexuality are two aspects of my life which I have tried to keep separate but despite my best efforts they have woven together: defiantly entangling with one another until I can no longer tell if I have a preference or I am just blind. I was once asked if I am bisexual because I am blind. The implication was that I could not see the difference between a penis and a vagina, so my sexual orientation was invalidated. For some people, the idea that I was born this way is a hard pill to swallow and so it is easier for them to believe my bisexuality is just a side effect of other things that are wrong with me.
There is a societal expectation that as a disabled person I should act as if I am a little broken. As if I am unable to walk independently even though it is my eyes that are the problem, not my legs. I have had people offer to stir my tea, as if my blindness means that my hands are unable to hold a spoon and move in a circular motion. It makes some people feel better about themselves to have helped that poor little blind woman, even if she did not ask for it. They go to bed that evening patting themselves on the back for the good deed that they have done. Often, I am treated like I am a puppet on strings at which people love to pull. They pull me from one side to another under the ignorant assumption that I need their assistance to be able to move. The problem is that people stop being there to pull the strings when the puppet really needs it.
I was sitting in an empty classroom at my college, shaking and questioning myself. I had been raped just a few nights before by a fellow student. I had decided to contact the police and make a statement. In Britain at the time, there was a massive push about the importance of reporting rape or sexual assaults. The famous “consent and tea” video had recently gone viral and it felt like some sort of feminist revolution was brewing. I almost felt ready to stir my own spoon in this cup of tea, expecting the questions the officers were going to ask me. I was expecting to be asked ‘Did you flirt with him?’ and ‘What were you wearing’. Many years of being angry on behalf of other women had only prepared my responses to outdated and unnecessary questions, ready to go. I knew what had happened to me and I knew for a fact that what I was wearing had nothing to do with my attack. I can be utterly sure of this because the man who raped me was also blind.
Instead of asking me those questions though, the police officers asked me questions that seemed to punch me in the gut; I was asked visual questions. They got angry when I could not describe the pattern on his shirt. They seemed annoyed when I could not draw them the layout of his bedroom with much accuracy. All of my fight, defiance, and anger was replaced with shame and sorrow. Not only shame because I had been raped but shamed that I am blind.
I spent months angry at myself, terrified that he would hurt another woman as he hurt me and that it would be my fault because I couldn’t tell if he had been watching me from across the bar that night. It was a type of victim-blaming that I had not been prepared for, despite my years of third-wave feminist media consumption. Nobody informs you that even though coming forward is brave, the right thing to do, and a display of strength, it does not always work: not always because you are not believed, but because you can not help the police. Your disability renders you useless in that situation. You are no longer going to bring a criminal to justice. You are no longer going to right a wrong. You are no longer going to take a stand against the injustice that you faced where your own body was used against you. Instead, you are going to be just another statistic.
A sense of powerlessness washed over me that day, and it stayed with me. It is coming up on five years since I was raped and I have used so many coping mechanisms of varying degrees of healthiness. Sexual trauma is not a singular event, it lingers in the back of your mind for years to come. You never forget it, but you learn to live with it. Shame is the real killer: it encroaches in every aspect of your life, including your identity. It dampens vivid colours and blocks your view from genuine beauty or pride.
It has taken me many years, a marriage, and a hefty dose sex therapy to realize that in order for me to finally untangle the knots between my disability and my sexuality, I need to reclaim my body, not only as a sexual trauma survivor but also as a blind woman. The world seems so determined to present sex as a purely visual affair that the sexuality of blind people seems to be an anomaly for most of the sighted population. But the truth is, Blind people fuck and we really it! But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we didn’t want to fuck that night. Sometimes we were too drunk to give consent. Sometimes we want to have a voice and scream about what happened to us. Our voices work just fine, yet so many areas deaf and blind to our plight as sexual assault survivors.
We are moving forward in the world. Laws are being amended, bills are being passed. Women are speaking up and being rightfully believed. I think that we need to extend that same courtesy to disabled people.
Ellie Wait, Military Spouse, and Blind Rape Survivor
Ellie Wait is a military spouse and hails from the UK. As a rape survivor and blind person, Ellie offers a unit perspective as the newest advocate in our Movement. We welcome you to congratulate Ms. Wait on her bravery and articulate fashion in sharing her story. We look forward to more poignant perspectives from her as our movement grows.
I left a highly successful career in finance at the end of 2019 due to serious health complications and an enormous amount of stress that would be difficult for anyone to deal with, let alone a disabled person who suffers from PTSD. I took that risk because I felt that I had something to look forward to, The Military Sexual Trauma Movement. I still had a purpose and a mission to pursue.
Due to economic trends during the last half of 2019, many of the economic indicators began emerging that a Recession was very likely to happen within a year. I was trying to stay in finance through Q1 2020 to ensure my clients felt secure as the markets began conceding. Although I made Recession preparation a key part of my strategy with my clients’ finances, I still felt obligated to finish out that duty before taking the leap of faith into this new endeavor.
In December 2019, I almost died from complications due to Sepsis and my organs began failing. The pain of feeling my body dying was excruciatingly painful. I was in so much pain that even with strong IV painkillers, I was having a conversation with this higher power within about letting my soul go, peacefully. I was at a point that if I didn’t survive this, well I’ve been a good warrior during my time. The physical pain was so strong and the hospital setting was so triggering that I kept having flashbacks to my miscarriage, laying in the hospital bed just wanting to die, which then flashed me back to being raped in the Marine Corps. and laying on that hospital bed wanting to die. That’s the thing about flashbacks, they compound over time and as the pain points compound the emotions become overwhelming. Now, think about combining severe emotional pain multiplied by severe physical pain. That is exactly what I was feeling in December 2019, It just seemed like my only viable option was to accept that it was my time to go and that I lived the best life I could. My sister, Kristen told our family this was the worst she had ever seen me. I texted my dad to tell him I’m not going to make it. I know he was thinking about the time I overdosed on drugs in an attempt to commit suicide. I remember feeling my organs failing and I just made the choice to fight. This time was different, I just felt tired of fighting.
I have accomplished almost every dream I have had, despite any adversity that came my way. My life’s greatest failure would be that I didn’t become a mother. It was a paradox. I fought so hard through all of my struggles, I fought to work on myself, I fought to improve despite knowing I have a disability, all to work towards becoming a woman who is a healthy mother. I grew up with a very unhealthy relationship with my mother. I knew that if I ever had a daughter, it would because I would be able to build a solid bond and be there for her. I am laying in the VA hospital bed, dying and accepting that the one dream, I secretly wanted the most, just wasn’t going to manifest and it hurt but I was at peace with what the universe needed.
When I made it out alive, I was pretty happy and grateful to have another chance. I resigned from my company and ended the 12-year run I had in finance, as I needed time to heal and manage my health as a top priority. My recovery plan was a year-long process that involved changing my entire life. I would eat at home, most days of the month and cook food based on an organic nutrition plan, go to the gym or outside to exercise and discuss fertility preservation with my doctors. It feels like it's that one shot, one opportunity type of deal where I have to look at my circumstances and decide do I try again? It feels so extremely vulnerable to even make that choice.
The warrior goddess in me said, “Fuck it, let’s take this risk again, but this time we have to win!” I went to the VA and scheduled appointments with all of my doctors to make sure that I wasn’t taking any medications that would harm my fertility or potentially harm a baby. Then discussing what medications I needed to switch or come off of altogether. That’s when I got a call from my psychiatrist at the VA and she asked if I was planning on getting pregnant because she saw that I went to a few of the specialists at the VA and discussed my fertility. I told her, I’m planning for fertility preservation. She obviously knows my history with PTSD, pregnancy and miscarrying. That was when I opened up to her stating I think I need to stay on certain medications because when I cycle off of these medications, and my brain chemicals go haywire, that the stress chemicals are sending messages to my body to abort the baby. All of my blood panels have proven this. She understood this. Here I am in 2020 re-aligning my entire life to ensure I am healthy enough to become a mother. What solidified my confidence was when my psychiatrist said that all of my doctors will pool their resources together this time to make sure I am well prepared for this next phase in my life. That was when I knew that my history with the VA has helped them have a better understanding of the relationship between PTSD and fertility issues.
At this point, I have ⅔ of the equation worked out, in my family building plan. My mental and physical health, and what I want for my future kids. The most important gift I can ever give my children would be the best father for them. I want my kids to know they are loved, valued and protected and when the world is harsh and it hurts that they have a safe place to call home. I want them to have a father who loves them so much, he can’t stop himself from showing them endless affection and love. I want my children to have a healthy father who creates a stable bond with them. A strong father who enjoys playing with them and getting a little dirty. I have that kind of father and he’s been such a positive influence in much of my life.
What that means is that I have to jump back into dating, let’s be honest, the singles market is a cesspool of unhealthy people trying to figure shit out. I’ve never enjoyed the early dating phases, the conversations to see if there’s chemistry, respect, shared values, similar levels of intellect, vision, healthy boundaries, etc. It’s so much work weeding unhealthy men out. It is emotionally taxing. I often need breaks from dating.
Once a healthy bond is established and a relationship is stable is the phase I most enjoy because during dating I have to establish that if this investment into this man is worth my time, and I need to ensure he has the capacity to meet certain standards. He has to have his life in order, has strong ethics, be ready for family building, he needs to look yummy, and most of all he has to love me as deep as the ocean and build a bond as unbreakable as steel while respecting me. If his future isn’t family-oriented, then his future isn’t with me. That means that while dating, I have to expel energy on men until their intention is clear and once it doesn’t orient with my future, I have to cut him off and move on. When it comes to dating, generally you’re not going to ask someone what their intentions are. You find out way more through someone’s actions and how they treat you, which means you have to maintain boundaries while also knowing where to be flexible. For someone with PTSD, that is a struggle, the closer you get to someone, the more they can harm you. Learning to ask for what I need to feel safe is a scary feeling in itself because I want to protect my inner child from any more damage. In the age of meeting people online, sliding into the DMs is how we tend to meet people and date in 2020.
That doesn’t even factor into account, the endless amounts of messages my social media pages produce. Obviously, my aesthetics draw attention, although I do believe there are men who just direct message, every single woman ever for the sake of grasping at straws. I’m sure I get thrown somewhere in that bunch as well.
At this point in my life I can not run with intense chemistry or passion and see where it takes me, because usually, those teenage hormones lead to trouble and poor decision making. The reality is that I don’t have time to waste, and that time isn’t on my side. Knowing these are the factors that run against me, I have to make my decisions wisely. I also have to identify a potential partner who can accept that I have a disability. It’s a huge part of my life.
After miscarrying just under two years ago, I am happy I am here and I have the opportunity to take this risk again. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that I feel extremely vulnerable; being at this place. I am potentially risking failure again while trying to remain positive and hopeful. I think that is the hardest part of this new point for me. I could be doing everything right this time and becoming a mom, might just not be my fate. At some point in my life, I may have to accept that. In the meantime, I’m going to remain hopeful, because there’s a unique kind of beauty in hope.
I should be able to enjoy my body without having to please a man.
I used to feel that its only purpose was to please them.
Since my miscarriage & PTSD episode in 2018, I have slowly shared more and more of my story with the public. It has been far from easy. The more exposure I have received from telling my story, the more attention I have received as a result. What I have come to learn is that when it comes to attention, you can’t really pick between the good and the bad: you have to learn to deal with yourself and your own emotions. People have seen my aesthetics and said, “You’re so pretty you could have anything and anyone you want, the world is yours.” While I understand that this is meant to be a compliment, I often think to myself, how they have no idea the burden and struggle that comes with being an attractive woman.
The criticisms are endless, and you’re looked at as a sex object due to the unconscious biases the media has embedded into Americans’ brains about curves and a woman’s body. I’ve been objectified in sweatpants, a hoodie, and no makeup. I’ve been raped in military cammies while covered from head to toe, literally speaking. I have been groped walking through the mall with my dad. One time, a guy walked up to my father when I was about 14 and asked if he could milk my breasts while my dad and I were checking in to our lodging accommodations. My father has had to deal with a lot of McNasties in my lifetime. I even remember this older man following me home from the bus stop and trying to lure me into his car. I distinctly remember feeling fear and trying to walk fast to get home, and I remember when I made it to my front yard, my dad was cutting grass and I started screaming for him. My entire life since I hit puberty has been having my body objectified. What made this experience so incredibly hard for me is that I did not grow up with healthy boundaries and standards; this left me extremely vulnerable.
These interactions with men were so normal to me because of how frequently they happened. I would pump my gas and have men come up to me and tell me my legs or feet look sexy. When I was 17 and in the Marine Corps, I had this Gunnery Sgt who would call me into his office and tell me my breasts and nipples were staring at him and that I needed to tape my breasts down. This man scared the fuck out of me because he had immense power over me. One time, he got other senior staff NCOs and he started making these statements in front of them. I was so terrified, as they circled around me repeating his comments. I felt like trapped prey. I ended up peeing on myself and crying. I complained to the Sgt Major on my base, who sent me to get larger cammies and advised me to tape my breasts down. FYI, nothing changed. The harassment continued and just got worse over time.
I’ve shared many parts of my story during my time in the USMC and what I dealt with from hazing to sexual violence and harassment. Sexual violence runs rampant in the military in a way that it’s unfathomable to the American public, but talk to another veteran and they innately understand these horrors. There is a larger systemic issue than what happens in the military, it just manifests horrifically in the military because of the fact that it’s severely male-dominated. When I joined the USMC it was comprised of only 6% females and 94% men, which will provide some perspective into why sexual abuse is so severe. After reporting being raped while drugged, and I was thrown in a military jail, I obviously wanted out. Due to childhood physical and sexual abuse combined with military sexual trauma and harassment, I couldn’t take life anymore. My mental health had deteriorated and I saw suicide as my way out of this hell I was unwillingly born in to. Abuse is all I knew up until I was 21. When I got out of the USMC, with no benefits or resources, fighting to survive was even worse. I had a retaliatory discharge, I was homeless and on drugs, because I had no medical benefits and my brain was straight fucked. The trauma was so severe, that I was high or drunk all the time, often with cocktails of drugs and alcohol in my system just to numb the unbearable pain in my body. I often dealt with re-victimization because I needed money and let’s be honest $11.00 an hour part-time in Westchester County, New York doesn’t get far. I lived in a crack house where drugs were the income for everyone. I remember one time the cops raided the place and I did a pull up to the roof and hid there with my drugs as everyone else in the building got arrested with the exception of my roommate and me. I knew this life wasn’t sustainable. This is why I fought so hard to get promoted in finance.
At first, it was weird to me: here I am in stilettos and sexy designer dresses for work with my hair and makeup done. In this environment, I would expect harassment and sexual violence to be worse, and I had the exact opposite experience. I spent 12 years of my life in finance, climbing up the corporate ladder and getting promoted due to my talent and skills. I felt so safe working in corporate America in a way that I had never experienced before. I still dealt with harassment from time to time but nowhere near the severity of what I dealt with in my past. This alone created a sense of safety as to why I was able to succeed on Wall Street. It’s hard to function when you are in fear of experiencing violence every day. It feels good to be safe and recognized for your skills. As I was promoted, I purchased a home and left the illicit trades behind. That’s not without much damage to my mental and physical wellbeing.
A lifetime of trauma and fear is going to lead to a strong flight or fight response. I was struggling to function as a normal healthy person. Due to the fact that I boxed and did sports throughout school and then I went to the USMC, I was obviously extremely physically fit. When my fight response was triggered, it was uncontrollable. If I felt my physical wellbeing was at stake or someone else around me would be harmed, I became violent while often having flashbacks. I couldn’t decipher between reality and my memories. This caused me issues in my personal and professional relationships. At 22, I started attending CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) at the VA and started to learn on a very basic level how to manage my PTSD.
I still dealt with getting involved with violent men who would hit me and treat me poorly. In my entire 20s, I was in and out of court from some boyfriend, fiance or husband beating me. I didn’t really understand that I had a negative attraction pattern until my then-husband hit me in the stomach while I was pregnant and I miscarried. The pain of losing the baby just made me feel like a failure of a mother. How could I let my baby die from harm at my baby’s most vulnerable point of life while in my body? That was a sobering thought. It was also a life-changing one for me.
I went to VA Mental Health and decided I was going to get my shit together. I enrolled in bonding and attachment style therapy, wellness programs, CPT/CBT, exposure therapy and any other program I could take advantage of. I was tired of living in this mental prison. I felt like I was in a maze that my brain could not get out of. Living that reality was living hell on earth.
My concept of sex was so fucked. I really thought that my mind and body were tied to a man’s gratification. It’s so degrading, to feel those emotions. If this is the best life gets, then it’s not worth living anymore. The process of peeling back the onion (those layers of trauma) working on examining my emotions was challenging, to put it mildly. It was deeply triggering at times, so I had to commit to attending sessions and be disciplined in practicing what I learned.
In the last two years that I have been in treatment consistently, I have had a variety of trials and triumphs. When I had to discuss the shame, humiliation, and fear that have been ingrained in me from various life experiences that made me feel like a worthless sex object, I would get so triggered that I often wanted to quit. That was when I realized that I needed to get serious and become open to taking medication. I was at this stuck point of feeling like I capped out on functioning and I knew I still wasn’t healthy yet: medication made a huge improvement in my trauma recovery. I have come to the realization that healing is a slow process, but every day I am getting better at managing my disability. I still struggle with romantic relationships. It is so challenging for me to feel truly safe with a man and feel confident that he will have my best interest at heart. While dating after divorce and pregnancy totally changed my trajectory for my love life, while I feel more fulfilled, I still deeply struggle with accepting true and authentic love from a partner, having a sense of wellbeing and emotional security while bonding, and developing healthy behaviors that create a stable relationship. That is the nature of what PTSD due to sexual violence feels like when bonding: it is a mother-fucking struggle. These days, I am much better at handling the waves and hurricanes that come my way. I feel a sense of freedom in knowing that I will be okay. I know that I can make healthy choices for myself that feel good to me. I am hopeful about my future.
My life has drastically improved in certain areas. My relationships are feeling healthier, and I am much happier. I also needed to make the choice of going on medication to manage my disability effectively. I also had to learn how to set healthy boundaries and decide who is worthy of being in my life. These lessons helped me to love myself. I’m thirty years old, and I just learned what self-love feels like. It’s so sad to me that I lived so much of my life in self-hate. It’s in this newfound love that I feel so connected to nature and consciousness. I’ve learned that love is so powerful that it motivates me to think about an entire generation of women to follow. I want them to know self-love much sooner than it took me to arrive at this point. It’s such a heartwarming feeling that makes every day seem like a gift. I lived so much of my life feeling like I am not skinny enough, I am not pretty enough, I am not sexy enough.
Now, I look in the mirror or at photos of myself and I tell myself that I am enough. I am sexy, powerful, beautiful and most of all, I love and care about myself. I love my thick curves, cellulite, muscles, fat, etc. I love everything I come with. I am okay just being Janelle Marina Mendez in the world. I feel proud that I could be so severely disabled and making a positive impact to help others. I often struggled with my body image since I hit puberty. Was I too skinny? Too fat? Too curvy? Too sexy? Too muscular? I have heard so many criticisms and critiques about my body and clothing that I struggled to just love and accept myself. When I look at myself now, It’s a sense of accomplishment and most importantly self-worth. The journey to self-love and self-acceptance is what strengthened me to ignore the critics and keep pushing forward. As women, when we learn to love ourselves, we will end up having families who live and embody love as a value. This is how we create change in our communities.
This journey also changed my experiences with sex. I often felt like sex was more about surviving than connection and love. It was more about pleasing my partner than embracing connection. Sex while damaged feels exactly like the nightmare that it is. It’s a numbing of emotions and disconnection during such an intimate moment. I would disassociate and fantasize to prevent my emotions from connecting to my partner. I felt that way because I felt so vulnerable I just couldn’t tolerate that level of connection because of my trauma. I was in fear that I would be hurt if I truly fell in love and my partner betrayed me. I avoided love altogether. The journey to self-love took courage and dedication, more than I had. It was a struggle to reach these new standards, let alone, maintain them. We are meant to heal and while having a disability is a struggle it is possible to live in dignity. It’s just a vastly different journey than the average, healthy person. I believe that on my journey of learning to value myself, loving my flaws and my body was a battle I was able to conquer. I hope that the next generation of young people can learn these skills sooner than I arrived at these critical lessons. I hope that leaders of organizations start to raise their standards on how they choose to show up and lead. That is an impact on the world that I would love to see.
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