The incident happened a week before my 30th birthday in 2015. It was a Monday. My friend Chuck and I did our usual tradition of getting cheap wings and catching up at our local gay sports bar.
While there, I bumped into a former hookup who had a friend that just would not stop talking to me. He seemed innocent enough and insisted that I continue to drink with him. It sounds cliche, but one thing lead to another from kissing at the bar to eventually ending up at his place. What I wasn’t expecting was his friend joining in. When they both decided to go bareback, I said “No!” many, many times. To repeat, I said “No!” many, many times. I found myself overwhelmed by two bigger men who forced themselves on me. I was helpless. Feeling violated, I walked home with tears in my eye and found consolation through my best friend who lived close-by. He guided me onto the steps to take care of myself.
In the next few days, I took the necessary steps to take care of myself. My memory was blurry but I tried to piece together all the details from how they looked to their location and anything else I could remember. I filed a police report and sat in the station for three arduous hours. I recounted my story twice to the authorities and wrote all the information down for them two more times. After all that, they told me they’ll look if I said was valid. Legally, I couldn’t call it rape cause I conceded even though I was inebriated. Through the police’s report, they referred the incident to sexual assault. I never heard from them again. I went back home and I told my roommate, who was a really close friend at the time. She just shrugged it off and said: “Maybe you should stop having sex.” Not only was I victim-blamed by a friend, every outlet I came across was useless. I was defeated.
But the final step for self-care was the hardest. I visited the local gay health clinic and because the incident happened in less than 72 hours, I took medication taken for HIV prevention after exposure. For 30 days, I took a pill called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). After 30 days, I went back to the clinic for my test results and I froze. To my complete horror, one of my rapists happened to work at the clinic. He was the technician that would deliver my lab results. My mind started playing tricks on me. It’s hard to describe how uncomfortable it was. It almost felt like holding your breath for 20 minutes. My entire body was stiff and my mind kept wondering if I should curse him out. He acknowledged everything and tried to apologize knowing how unprofessional the situation was. I darted him a look of disgust and shame. Once he announced my test results as negative, he tried to preach me about safe sex. I denied his request and I sped walked out of that clinic and just as I left the building, I exhaled all that tense emotions and cried on the street.
I found myself alone and depressed. I was angry and cried many nights. I didn’t have the support system I needed and it was hard to ask for help. I couldn’t process my feelings naturally because it was difficult to tell my peers. On top of my inner demons, I later discovered that Chuck, the friend I had with me at that night, passed away through an untimely death. His boyfriend shot him in the leg after an alleged dispute and he internally bled dying at the hospital. He was just 28.
I did not have an outlet to harness my emotions. But i found something interesting. Just a month before the incident, I bought a gym membership after my best friend insisted I join. It was nothing special. I would work out maybe 2 or 3 days out of the week. After Chuck passed away, I made a concentrated effort to get myself to go to the gym more often. He had worked out nearly everyday. When I was combating emotions that I didn’t know how to handle or express, I discovered that the gym was the perfect arena to harness all that anger and confusion over my trauma. And within weeks, I went to the gym 5 or 6 days of the week. I would go as early as 6 in the morning and later add a second workout after work for cardio or ab classes. Now, I go to the gym everyday and do my second workouts specifically for the work week. The first thing I do is work out because it prepares myself for any unresolved issues and gets my day started with a clear and balanced mind.
What was it about the gym that made it the best distraction? I didn’t need to talk to anyone. I could just lift weights, listen to the new Beyonce album or the latest lip sync for your life song on Rupaul’s Drag Race and just harness all my emotions into that one hour to myself. And not shockingly, I felt better every time I walked out. Fitness became my stress-reliever where I was able to handle life’s obstacles. I smiled more and looked good doing it. I’d like to think that I carry on Chuck’s legacy with fitness.
And if no one has ever told you this, I’m telling you now, in my opinion the gym is the best place to make friends. Everyone is there for the common goal of fitness, however for some, like me, it’s also to empower themselves to overcome life’s obstacles. I met some of my closest friends through this journey. We bonded over our routines, our occasional cheat meals, and our urge to eat salads. Because of spending more time at the gym, I came to know my new friends more intimately. I was able to connect again with other members of the LGBT community whereas after the rape, I felt isolated. And the greatest accomplishment was that I took a horrific trauma and harnessed all that frustration into my own personal fitness.
While the incident will always be with me and by no means am I suggesting that fitness is a cure all, what I do know is that I’ve seen positive results: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I became what I wanted: a survivor.
I used fitness as a coping mechanism to help me become a better person, but I didn’t believe it was over. Yes, I helped myself, but I wanted to take it the next level by helping others who have also survived rape. It was during the Brock Turner case that I spoke publicly in San Francisco about my own experience. Was it scary to be so vulnerable about something so horrific? Yes, but when helping others by sharing my own story, my own fears felt inconsequential. Receiving love and support from friends and strangers gave me a sense of purpose and completion. It was the right thing to do.
Whenever I think about working out, I think of the iconic quote from Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Elle Woods had a point. Someone make her President.
I exercise because somehow completely exhausting myself is the most relaxing part of my day.
Surviving trauma feels like you have a weight on your shoulders, so for me, lifting weights was my pathway to becoming a stronger version of myself.