I’ve been unsettled for days.
So unsettled that I’ve been nauseous and thought I must be getting sick. Turns out I don’t have the flu, just a really bad case of anxiety. Classic.
This “me too” movement is painful, right? Who knew two simple words could bring so much hurt? It’s simultaneously comforting and terrifying to see how my Facebook feed turned into pages and pages of “me too”s echoing into infinity.
I read an article yesterday that really resonated with me. Now, I’ve read a lot of posts over the last few weeks since the Harvey Weinstein scandal that I have loved, but this one stuck out to me more than any of the others. It was about how a girl who has been sexually assaulted doesn’t think that she can say “me too” without feeling guilty for saying it.
Ah, yes. Me too.
Because maybe I’m remembering it all wrong, maybe I imagined it, maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe that’s just how life goes. Maybe I’m just lucky it was never anything worse.
“Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”
The question came from my then-boyfriend while we laid happily cuddled up in my bed. The windows were open to let the cool breeze into my too-hot room, washing over my bare shoulders and rosy cheeks. I stirred against him, suddenly uncomfortable.
“Have you ever been sexually assaulted? You react that way when I touch you sometimes.”
Immediately I was defensive, angry even. How dare he even suggest that? The question came out of his mouth with that tone that I know very well. The one that therapists sometimes use; it sounds distant and almost like they’re gathering scientific data. My then-boyfriend had been a resident assistant at a popular college nearby, and I could tell he had had this conversation before.
“No,” I snapped. “No, I haven’t. Don’t ever RA me again.”
I wasn’t lying. At least, I didn’t think I was. I mean, I had never been raped, so I was fine. I had it much better off than so many others. I was offended on their behalf that he would even think that I, someone so lucky, was experiencing even a fraction the amount of pain others have felt.
I doubt he remembers this at all, but I hear these words in my head over and over, still. They almost haunt me. They were said out of kindness and genuine concern, but they offended me. They still make me uncomfortable. How could he suggest that?
But maybe he wasn’t wrong. There’s a reason why I reacted the way I did when he touched me sometimes. It was involuntary, like when you know someone’s home with you but jump when they come into the room. I wasn’t scared of him, but there was something that made me jump.
The first time I can remember that I was sexually harassed was when I was barely 13. I remember it so clearly because I wrote about it then, in a diary that has long since been buried in a box in an attic somewhere. I was wearing my glasses, baggy jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, laying out on a ledge on the porch of one of my dad’s properties. I was so happy there, I remember. I was smiling as I let the sun warm my face and let the sounds of the trees rustling in the breeze lull me into a sunny sleep. Then some grown men in a car sped down the street, skidded to a stop in front of my yard, and began to honk, whistle, and yell inappropriate things at me. I shot up, scared, and they laughed and drove off. I tried to shake it off but left my sunny porch to go sit inside. It’s no big deal.
In late high school, I dated a series of unfortunate boys. Boys were only ever after one thing, as I had always been told, and I did my best to stay away from any situations that would be deemed inappropriate. But sometimes boys don’t listen. And sometimes you’re young and unsure of what’s happening until his hands are suddenly somewhere you don’t want them to be. And sometimes you’re scared so you aren’t sure how to stop it. But it’s okay. I left. I stood up and walked away each time it happened. So, it’s no big deal.
Much later, there was the guy from work who I agreed to hang out with. I invited him over. He was in my house, in my bed. I was okay with some of it. I wasn’t forced or hit and there was no gun to my head. But something was wrong. It had to be a secret, he said, because he didn’t like people at work knowing about his personal life. Stupidly, I agreed; partly because I didn’t care and partly because yeah, I didn’t think anyone at work needed to know either. It went on much longer than it should have, me saying yes to a point and him just pushing me further once I said no. Until one day it went further than I wanted and I tried to stop it until I froze, unsure of what to do. Eventually, I abruptly got up and walked out of my own room to barricade myself in my bathroom while I tried to calm my racing head. Later, he bragged to all the guys we worked with that he had had sex with me – truth or not, whether I had said yes or not. I found out because one of them made a sly comment to me at work one day in a room full of people. I felt my face flush and snapped at him. He didn’t know what had happened. I was humiliated. But I had never explicitly said “NO!”, right? I let him come over. I knew he was trouble. I had gotten myself into this mess. It’s my fault too. It’s no big deal, it’s no big deal, it’s no big deal.
But that’s the thing. It is a big deal. Or maybe they’re just a bunch of little deals that add up to be one big deal. Is that how this even works? I’m not sure, and I think that’s part of the issue here. So many of us are in this grey area, this area where we maybe aren’t sure what happened or maybe feel like we can’t say what happened out of guilt or humiliation or fear. Maybe we feel like saying “me too” is an insult to those who have been seriously hurt.
You know, though, I don’t think it is. And I don’t think that we should feel like we’re going to be judged for it by anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I was (am?) pretty terrified to write this for just those reasons. But I think that sometimes I need to suck up my pride or fear and just do it because maybe it will be okay. Maybe it won’t be as bad as my little friend Anxiety likes to tell me it is. Maybe it can help someone else to know they aren’t alone in their confusion.
So, to the boy who texted “bye bitch, go write a blog about it” to me after our encounter, this one’s for you my friend. I finally did it.
If you would like to learn more about sexual assault and harassment or would like to reach out for help, please check out https://www.rainn.org/ for more information.