Content warning: references to suicide, sexual harassment, assault, rape, PTSD, intimate parner violence
Against my better judgment, I recently decided to start watching the second season of “13 Reasons Why”. The first season was a struggle to watch and sparked off a massive panic attack and PTSD relapse – by surely the second season would be fine…
I figured if I was mentally prepared for all the in-your-face rape references, then I’d be able to watch it without that same reaction… But that was probably a little naive.
The reason I imagine people want to watch “13 Reasons Why” is that it is really real in it’s depiction of different issues that teenagers/people deal with, and what hit me was something the others may not have noticed. There were a couple of references to clothing and how they affected someone dealing with trauma, which was super real to me. The first was Hannah’s mum and the dress she wore on the night of her daughter’s suicide, and the second was Jessica deciding what to wear to testify in court and worrying about what to wear at school as a girl who had accused a guy of rape, and been called a liar and a slut because of that.
These references really hit home for me as my mind swirled with all of the ways that terrible events in my life have made me lose my clothes. And they’re all events created by men who hurt me.
The first item of clothing that jumped to mind was a super cute black mini skirt that I bought when Supre first came to Auckland when I was about 15. It wrapped around and tied up and was easily the coolest item of clothing I had ever owned. Until I wore it out in public for the first time – I only walked 10 mins down the road to Burger King to buy a soft serve ice cream, then walked back to the boarding hostel. But on the way back, a man in a car stopped at an intersection, rolled his window down, looked me up and down like a piece of meat and told me he wanted to “have a lick of my ice cream”.
I was alone, and that was the first time I remember being so unsafe and blatantly sexually objectified against my will when I was so young and innocent. I felt humiliated and I went back to the hostel feeling sick to my stomach, vowing to never wear that skirt again so I would never have to feel like that again.
So I gave away my favourite item of clothing after the first time I wore it out of the house. The first item I lost to a creep in a car.
The second items of clothing I had to hand over, around ten years later, aged 25, to the police. I had been raped by colleagues, one who was my manager and lived in the same work accommodation as me. When I told my story to the police, days later, they wanted me to hand over the clothes I was wearing that night – of course. But I had washed them – of course. They wanted them anyway in case they could use them for evidence (they couldn’t’).
I honestly for the life of me can not remember what I was wearing anymore, but it wasn’t anything sexy – just casual clothes. Maybe shorts and a t-shirt. Also some underwear I really liked. Like those comfortable ones you’ve owned for years but wouldn’t wear on a date.
Some horrible boys put me in the situation that I had to literally give some strangers in uniforms my comfy clothes and underwear.
I never got those clothes back, so my second items of clothing are assumedly in some Blackpool police file cabinet somewhere.
The third items of clothing that I’ve lost to men was only just over a year after the police ones. When I had an argument with an abusive ex-boyfriend in a hotel room in Bali and he slammed me into a wall so hard that my head was bleeding all over everything. I was bleeding on the wall, it was going down my back and matting down my hair, going into my eyes. I was panicking and touching my head to see how bad it was, so my hands were covered in blood, my clothing, everything I touched. It felt like a murder scene.
My ex had gone from angry to terrified that he’d end up in jail so he told me to be quiet. He tried to clean off the blood but it wasn’t working. He stripped me down and put me in the shower and told me to wash it off and stop it bleeding. The shower water ran red for a while, but the cut can’t have been too deep and the bleeding slowed a bit.
I came out of the shower, terrified of this man – this wasn’t the first time he made me fear for my life. So I shakingly got dressed in new clothes, packed up my things, looked at my blood-soaked clothes and knew there was no easy way to clean them. I put the clothes in the hotel rubbish bin, looked around at the wall, bed, floor, shower, all covered in my blood, and walked out of the room. He didn’t stop me.
And I never got those clothes back that he covered in my blood.
All of these instances are really loaded memories for me. And the loss of clothes I liked, I owned, I wore, taken away from me from circumstances outside of my control. Taken from me by men who treated my body like a commodity of theirs.
This isn’t even taking into account the playsuit I don’t wear anymore after a man in a bar untied it then stuck his tongue down my throat, or the clothes I didn’t feel like I could wear after my rape in case someone would think I was a slut who wanted it. Honestly, all the clothes I look at twice and put away because I can’t be bothered dealing with harassment or assault that day.
The memory of giving away my clothing, handing them over to police, or putting them in a bin are just as strong in my mind as the events that led to that happening. It’s amazing how trauma is stored in your brain and what some seemingly unrelated storyline on tv can pull out of your memory banks.
I’m not totally sure what the moral of this is. Maybe it’s that PTSD sits in some unexpected places that get brought up by the randomest things (*cough* The OC theme song *cough*). Or maybe it’s that if you also have this reaction to people being upset about clothes, you’re not alone and we can totally talk about it. Or maybe it’s just another #metoo story that you didn’t know about me and you can maybe think about how people you know are going through some really confusing stuff in this #timesup time.
But mostly, I feel like the main takeaway could be that I’d really like it if men stopped taking the clothes I like from me – you’re really fucking up my tv watching.