The silence that you’ve been hearing from me this past week or so has been the product of hesitation and great debate. I’ve watched Twitter and Facebook blaze with the gaining momentum of the fire that is #MeToo, reading stories from friends that have broken my heart. Overall, I am shocked – I, a woman, had no idea how terrifyingly prevalent sexual harassment/abuse/assault is. And that’s saying something.
The sickening norm is that sexual abuse/assault victims very rarely speak about their experiences, a product of anger, shame, frustration and ultimately futility. Why would any of us come forward when we know that, in the end, the blame will be shifted to our shoulders? Why should we come forward when sexual assault/rape is punishable by a scant few months in jail – less if you’re a white, powerful/rich, male. Why come forward when questions like, “what were you wearing?”, “did you do anything to lead him on?”, and “were you drinking?” are normative? What’s the point? Often times we think it’s better to simply attempt to move on with our lives and try to forget what happened. The problem is, none of us – male or female victims – forget what happened to us.
As I said above, I’ve been hesitating about this post. Hesitating about coming forward with my own stories because most of my friends, and none of my family know. Hesitating because I’m not sure I really want to share these stories, not sure that I want to answer questions about them. But as I see the rising tide of incredibly courageous women adding their voices to this hashtag, I think there’s a sense of obligation to share mine. Another voice to the cacophony of voices that demand an end to sexual harassment and abuse.
So, dear readers, here I am. #MeToo
- When I was 14 I was at a concert with my mom and our friends, and a male somewhere in his 20’s or 30’s was standing behind me. At some point during the show – early on, I remember – I felt his hand brush my butt. I didn’t think much of it, figuring that it was merely the push of the crowd behind us, and move forward a step. A few moments later I feel his hand brush my butt again – and again I move a step forward. This happens a third time, and I finally understand what’s happening. I turned around swiftly, and yelled at him loud enough for him to hear me over the music. He put his hands up in surrender and moved away from me. A friend of mine – who had been standing at my side – now moved behind me to make sure this didn’t happen again. It was at this young age I understood that I’d need a man – or at least the idea of a man – to protect me from other men.
2. When I was 17 I had my first “serious boyfriend” – by serious I mean that we were engaged my senior year in high school. It should go without saying that we were (safely!) sexually active. One night while at his house he began bugging me about having sex, and for whatever reason (or no reason at all) I wasn’t interested and said no. He continued to press me, and I continued to say no but he continued anyway. I remember staring at the wall, counting the places where the paint had chipped off and hoping that he’d be done soon. I told no one for months, but for some reason told a friend of mine – Tonia – who was, rightfully, horrified. She was the give it the name I couldn’t; rape. At the time, I was too young to understand that just because it was my boyfriend, and just because I didn’t scream, kick, or fight back, didn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
3. At 18 I was at another concert, and as I walked through the crowd with my best friend, Shell, to go to the bathroom a young guy in the crowd reached under my skirt and grabbed my vagina. I looked back to see him laughing with his friends.
4. At 19 my best friend and I were sharing a hotel room with a good friend of ours. My best friend left the room for whatever reason, and our friend began getting handsy with me. I said no, and told him to stop but before I knew it I was bent over the bed with him simultaneously yanking my jeans down and him pulling his dick out. Perhaps it was the strength of sheer terror, but I broke away and high tailed it to a nearby hotel room where two other friends of mine were staying. Those two men harbored me for the night – again, I needed the protection of men against another man.
5. From the ages of 24 to 28 I worked as a model, traveling across the country for work. I cannot tell you how many times photographers have propositioned me for sex or sexual acts. It’s exasperatingly normative in this business.
6. This past summer I had an experience in Chicago. I was walking alone, coming back to my hostel after lunch. A man began talking to me as I walked, matching pace with me. There were some run of the mill pleasantries exchanged, and then the conversation turn an abrupt turn. He began saying disgusting things, laden with obscenities. I broke step with him, trying to get ahead but he continued to follow me. He followed me for 3 blocks before I ran into a convince store for safety.
Last night as I was driving to work, I was speaking with my grandmother like I usually do. She mentioned the Weinstein coverage in the media, pausing for a few moments before she said, “I’d let a man touch me anywhere he wants so long as he makes me a movie star.” I was shocked into a few moments of silence before responding. “Those women didn’t want to be touched.” “Well, why did they take so long – years and years – to come forward if it’s true?”
And so we come full circle, friends. I am encouraged by so many coming forward with their stories – women (trans and cis) and men (trans and cis). Maybe this will help bring about a change in the tide of our culture.
I cannot tell you how much I look forward to the day where I can walk alone on the street and not have to worry about being bothered.