Warning: this post refers to sexual assault, I want to make sure anyone who might be triggered by such content is aware.
I feel a funny mixture of I should have written this ages ago and should I be writing this right now? But I choose to move forward.
What we learned from something like the #metoo movement is that most women (though of course it is not limited to just cis-women) have experienced some level of sexual harassment, assault, or worse. I am no different. I have had experiences bouncing around in my own head that range from a strange man putting his hands on me in public without my consent (pretending he didn’t mean to on a crowded subway or at a concert) to a date gone terribly awry.
I think about the lesson most women learn as they venture out into their social elements. If a man comes up to you and starts hitting on you, it’s best to say you have a boyfriend. Simply being uninterested in his advances isn’t enough. But they will respect the unseen man that may or may not actually exist.
I know this to be a relatively accurate reality. Some men, some drunk men, become aggressive when you don’t want to talk to them. Some drunk men force you to make up lies because you don’t want to dance with them and you don’t want their hands on your hips. Some drunk men get angry even when you tell them you’re a lesbian, not romantically interested in men at all, and there with your girlfriend. (I’ll take this moment to remind you that men usually respect “I have a boyfriend” as a response, but they do not respect “I have a girlfriend” which is a whole ‘nother level of what the fuck.)
I was lying and was, in fact, there with my brother’s girlfriend. But we were trying to get each other out of a bad spot. And even though we were giggling through the lie, we were clinging to one another out of our fear and discomfort from the angry man before us.
“Go on and kiss, then.” He angrily sneered, standing too close to us. “Prove it.”
From there, it gets a bit blurry. I know we forced our way through a crowd to our group and told our friend behind the bar to stop serving the guy and kick him out, which luckily happened. And I remember feeling defeated, trying to retell the story to some of our male friends, who just couldn’t understand how in danger we felt.
And so why do women hold on to their pain? Why do women hold on to their assault? For fear of punishment, belittlement, judgment, blame.
I remember being 26, retelling a date where I invited the man into my home, into my room, and he forced himself on me, aggressively undressing himself and trying to undress me, touching me and leading me to touch him in ways I wasn’t comfortable with. I didn’t know what to do except try my best to get through it as quickly as possible. The man then became angry that I wasn’t “into it,” and “it” was his naked body on top of my nearly fully-clothed body, as he tried to get himself off. I feigned that I was tired and he quickly (and, yep, angrily) got his clothes back on and left.
When I retold this story, after feeling quite embarrassed and dirty and… weird, I was surprised at the responses I got. It was a pre-cursor to some of these white male republicans, as someone told me “You were asking for it” and, “what did you expect? You invited him into your room.” Some of these responses came (I’m sorry, but unsurprisingly) from a frat guy and others (very surprisingly) from a female friend. I was made to feel at fault, I was made to feel like some sort of tease, like I should have had sex with him, and that maybe it might help my case if I apologize.
The worst part? A part of me kept thinking they were right. So I apologized to him in text, and luckily we never planned to meet up again.
But a few months later, I walked out of my usual subway and nearly walked right into him, and I’ve never felt a colder sweat than the one that covered my entire body in that moment. I didn’t walk, but ran all the way back to my apartment, locked myself in my room, sat on my bed and just… thought about it. Thought and thought and thought. And realized, those people who heard the story, who told me I was asking for it, they were wrong.
I can invite you into my bedroom and not expect you to forcefully try to engage in sexual acts, especially when it’s clear I don’t want it. If I say no, accept that as my answer, don’t try to convince me otherwise. If I’m not interested in you, you don’t have the right to get angry. I can wear a short skirt, I can get a little too drunk, that doesn’t mean you can put your hands on me or have sex with me.
I’ve read the transcripts of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh (I don’t have TV) and it gutted me, it made me sick, it made me feel cold chills reminiscent of that day outside of the subway station on Bushwick Avenue. I believe her, I believe survivors, I understand the fear that comes with wanting to tell someone what has happened to you, because you don’t want to be blamed for it because your skirt was too short or you were sorta maybe kinda drunk, and you know what someone might say to that: you were asking for it.
I’m someone’s granddaughter, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s cousin, someone’s best friend, someone’s dog sitter. And I’ve been wondering, why does that have to be introduced into the narrative for sexual assault to matter?
I hope one day the world can see it objectively: a person doing a terrible thing and the victim of that terrible thing.
And we believe the victim. And we care.