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James Barr: For many years, shame overshadowed the fact that I was raped

Content warning: Sexual assault

By James Barr

James Barr
James Barr on ghosting (Image: Supplied)

Have you ever woken up with someone inside of you? I have. At first, I tried to find it funny. As a comedian, I often joke about trauma on stage. But this experience is not funny and it’s not normal.

My mid-20s were pretty dark. Childhood trauma and gay shame were catching up with me, plus a toxic workplace made me feel worthless. I had thoughts of being ‘nothing’, I started drinking too much and ended up at various ‘kikis’ (as we called them back then) now known as ‘afters’, that went on all weekend. Then one night, most of which remains a black-out, I woke up in a stranger’s bed with someone I wasn’t expecting’s dick in my bum. I definitely wasn’t ‘ready’ for this encounter, and for many years the shame and dirtiness of that overshadowed the fact that this was rape. 

The way our brains work can be funny. I’ve recently learnt that one of the ways we can protect ourselves from harm is by distracting ourselves or only revealing part of the story. We like to minimise some of the bad things that happen to us, rather than healing from them.

I’ve noticed myself suppressing memories or picking and choosing which bits of information to remember, rather than confronting the full picture. And in this case, I carried around shame about not being ‘ready’ and ‘clean’ for the experience, rather than accepting that it was rape… but, and I write this to my twenty eight year old self: If I wasn’t expecting anal sex that night, how could I have been ready?!

“I’m proud of myself for owning this experience, but it doesn’t define me” – James Barr

Using the word ‘rape’ is uncomfortable for me, and it is only now that I’m acknowledging this incident as such. Gay men can too often normalise these experiences as being part of a crazy night out and so many friends of mine have ‘normalised’ assault, abuse and rape as part and parcel of a ‘normal gay lifestyle’. This is definitely not normal. But why do we blame ourselves or believe that such things are acceptable and part of our sex lives?

Rape and other kinds of sexual abuse are not inherent consequences of being gay. These abuses occur because, as queer people, we can be vulnerable and are therefore taken advantage of.

“If you’re reading this, please know that you deserve love, respect and power”

After discussing this on my podcast, A Gay and A NonGay, we had messages from listeners who, like me, have denied their own experiences with sexual abuse by “thinking nothing of it”. It’s disheartening to know that so many survivors in our community have this mindset. For me, it was easier that way. 

When I call what happened to me rape, I admit it wasn’t my fault. I shut down thoughts like ‘You were drunk’ or ‘You must have wanted it’. If I don’t, I’ll break down. Before now, I was happy to brush it off as normal or to shroud it in comedy. Talking about it here, and in my podcast, is the first step towards confronting the uncomfortable reality of sexual assault.

I’m proud of myself for owning this experience, but it doesn’t define me. I’m talking about what happened here so that hopefully, we as queer people can stop normalising similar abuses and know our worth. If you’re reading this, please know that you deserve love, respect and power and I wish you all the self-worth in the world. 

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, help is available through Galop, the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity on 0800 999 5428;