In the week that has passed since that first call to the rape hotline, I have tried to unpack my sense of shame. It has not been easy. There is not one “thing” about which I feel shame. There are layers. It is an entire matryoshka doll set of shame.

On the outermost level there is the simple shame. The shame that I “allowed” myself to be raped. I didn’t fight him at all, and my first reaction was to freeze. I didn’t fight when he forced himself into my apartment even after I said no; and I didn’t fight when he started forcing himself inside of me either.

One layer into the matryoshka dolls, there is shame when I acknowledge what happened after I unfroze. I made a calculated decision to comply. I knew that my kids were coming home. I didn’t want them to walk into the apartment to see me in the middle of being raped. I knew exactly what I needed to do to satisfy him and get him out of the apartment before they arrived, so that’s what I did. So much better to comply and be only “a little bit raped” than to have the rape continue to escalate, and have that end in my kids getting traumatised too. In practice, I didn’t have any option. Choosing to mitigate the severity of the rape isn’t consent. But there is shame about that choice nevertheless. I complied with my rapist. I gave him what he wanted, and I am ashamed of that.

Opening that doll, I find another doll inside it. After that first night at Mardi Gras he’d stalked me for months, gradually learning my patterns, leaving creepy gifts so I knew he’d been at my apartment, learning my routines and working out that I was most vulnerable to coercion when my kids were coming home, always showing up at my apartment with just enough time for him to fuck me but not enough time for me to be able to safely risk a confrontation to tell him to leave me alone. Choosing, over and over again, to comply. To let him fuck me, as the path of least resistance. For months. And never telling anyone that any of it was happening. Because I was ashamed that I was letting it happen.

Another doll. What made the Mardi Gras rapist any different from the others? That was a time in my life when I was making so many risky choices around men. I look back at the things I permitted men to do to me, the things I craved from them, the things I consented to, and none of it makes a lot of sense to me now. So very many acts of extreme violence and rough sex, so many inventive varieties of verbal and physical degradation, so much humiliation and shaming… absorbed from so very many men… and I kept seeking out more of them, more of that treatment. I took so many risks and took so few precautions. It it any wonder that I ended up getting myself raped? It now seems like an inevitability to me that at least one of the men, especially the type of men I was seeking out, would turn out be a literal rapist. I knew full well what dangers I was courting. The negative binomial distribution doesn’t lie: if you keep rolling the dice, eventually they will come up snake eyes. True as it might be that the rapist and only the rapist is morally culpable in this situation, I cannot pretend I wasn’t at least somewhat complicit. I am ashamed of my choices.

More dolls. All those other men I fucked during that time? The ones who weren’t rapists, with whom I shared nothing but consensual kink? My memories of them are all poisoned by my shame now too. I cannot bear to speak to any of them, not even the ones who were kind. I ghosted every single one of them. They didn’t deserve that from me, and I’m ashamed of that too.

Another layer inward. None of this exists in isolation from the fact that I am transgender, nor is it isolated from the shame I feel at being transgender. I did not, after all, grow up in an environment in which it was even remotely acceptable to be trans. I have internalised that shame, and from that perspective letting men use and abuse me was a perverse validation. It showed me precisely what I am, threw into stark relief the shameful thing about my nature. The degradation was the point, and the rape was simply its logical endpoint. So it goes.

At this point I am close to the centre of the doll set, and it would be nice if – having carefully unstacked the dolls – I felt some sense of catharsis. But I don’t. At best, what I feel is a sense of clarity. At long last I understand why this is so hard for me to face. There is a vicious defence mechanism in play. If someone tries to be kind to me in respect to one of the matryoshka dolls of my personal shame, I will automatically switch topics and pivot to blaming myself in respect of one of the other dolls. It is, from the perspective of someone trying to be nice to me, a shell game. No matter which doll you choose, I will have shifted the ostensible source of shame to another doll, never allowing you either to be kind to me or – more importantly – to pin me down and make me face up to the unkindness with which I treat myself. Because ultimately, I hid the real source of shame from the very outset. It was in the smallest doll, the one that I slipped into my pocket before the shell game started.

The doll at the middle. The smallest, simplest, and the most painful one. The shame that was there from the very beginning: I am worthless, and I deserved it.