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 Many years of being angry on behalf of other women had only prepared my responses to outdated and unnecessary questions, ready to go.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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