trigger warning: rape, trauma.
I messed up my hormonal birth control this month. I got distracted and took a few pills at a time after missing a few, and now my breasts and nipples hurt. According to the internet, this can happen with sudden hormonal changes: the most sensitive parts of my body are exposed, and painful, and they hurt to the touch.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for how I feel in the wake of #MeToo. If I was scripting this for television, I’d say that the metaphor was too on-the-nose.
In case you missed it, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, #MeToo is a hashtag adopted by celebrities after originating with black activists. It’s simple. If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, use the hashtag. Add your story, or don’t, but it’s a way to share the scope and magnitude of the problem.
My timelines are nothing but post after post after post of #MeToo. Every woman I know has a story. And many men are reacting, are responding, are shocked and horrified, are pledging to do better.
And I feel such deep, hollow, sadness. I feel so empty. I’ve been crying. I feel so so so so so so so so goddamned tired.
First of all, none of this is surprising to any woman. We’ve ALL been through this. How many times do we have to keep shoving the statistic in your face? One in six of us has been the victim of a sexual assault. The rest of us live in the world where that’s permitted to happen. This is not news to any woman who exists in the world and who is honest about what it actually is. What did you think, that those statistical ones-in-sixes weren’t your girlfriends or coworkers or aunts or cousins, that they all live in Cleveland or Peoria or wherever you don’t live, that it’s a problem only in some abstract sense?
I’ve been saying this for years. We’ve all been saying this for years. Is anyone going to listen this time?
Because this time, it really hurt to have the collective band-aid pulled off from all of us, at once.
I can’t believe how much I had forgotten. How much I put away, pushed back, and kept moving through. But reading stories from other women flooded me with memories of all the shit I never really dealt with, or didn’t understand fully at the time, or laughed off because I didn’t know what else to do, or didn’t allow myself to get angry about. I had completely forgotten so much of it.
I still check my car for rapists. My mother taught me to always check the backseat of the car when getting in at night.
I mean, my rapist was someone I knew and trusted. If I’m able to call him my rapist. I’m still on the fence about that one, despite the fact that according to the most basic technical terms, there’s no question that he is. But I don’t want to call him my rapist.
It’s so textbook: I was drunk, he doesn’t drink; I wasn’t feeling well, I asked to use his bathroom, I threw up. I remember I was on my period, I remember bleeding into his toilet. I remember feeling sleepy and sitting down. I don’t remember much after that. I came to in a cab. I somehow got home safe. There was semen on my skirt, so I knew something happened. My thighs were bruised. They ached. I hurt.
And yes, according to all the definitions available, that’s a rape. I was raped.
I still don’t want to call him my rapist because when eventually I told him that I didn’t remember what happened that night, he told me that it was something I initiated, something I wanted, something that he thought was beautiful and sincere. That he thought it was about desire, something sweet and tender. That he was so very sorry he hurt me. And since I can’t remember, there’s still a part of me willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I scrubbed semen off my skirt in the bathroom sink in the morning and cried without knowing why, exactly. I wore that skirt again about six months later. I still have it. I look fucking great in that skirt. No one can take that away from me.
My rape, if we are to call it my rape, is deeply mundane. Ordinary. Commonplace.
I don’t want to check my car for rapists anymore.
I don’t want to avert my eyes in the street anymore. I don’t want to hold my keys in my hand anymore. I don’t want to text my friends that I arrived safely home anymore. I don’t want to adjust my smile or stride when walking in public anymore. I don’t want to be wary on the subway anymore. I don’t want to make myself small anymore. I don’t want to have my mental escape plan ready anymore. I don’t want to hear male voices shout at me from their cars anymore. I don’t want to have to defend myself online when people tell me that I’m just ‘blowing things out of proportion’ and ‘it’s not that big of a deal’ anymore. I don’t want to be told to buy pepper spray or a gun, or sleep with a knife nearby, anymore. I don’t want to read a chain email of ‘prevention tactics’ advising me to wear overalls, avoid ponytails, and try to pee myself if I’m about to be raped anymore.
I don’t want you to tell me to go to the cops. A cop once followed me on a subway platform for thirty minutes, telling me that he knew what I liked, what girls like me would like, that he knows all the good spots to party, that I was a party girl who would like what was under his uniform. He had a badge and a gun, and I was nineteen, and I gave him a fake phone number, scrawled into that little notebook that cops carry around. I smiled so I could get away safely when the train finally arrived. It was so cold on that platform that day.
I don’t want you to tell me to speak up in my workplace when things get out of line. I can’t tell you the number of men I could have had fired if I had tried, but I didn’t want to try. Because I liked them, except for when they were drunk. Because I thought they were good at their jobs, except for when they told me that their marriages were just “words on a piece of paper” and that they thought about me when they masturbated. Because I thought they were great bosses, except for when they cornered me in their minivans and moved their carseats out of the way to try to kiss me. Because they were good directors, good actors, good coworkers, except for when they gave me backrubs that I didn’t want, or looked at my breasts for too long, or made jokes at my expense, or asked me to a work dinner, so long as I didn’t mention it to their wife.
I don’t want to have to read your #MeToos anymore. Not because I don’t think you’re all so, so, so, so brave for sharing. Not that they aren’t incredibly necessary. I don’t want to read them because it confirms what I already know, what I already despair over: that we’re carrying this weight and it’s just so fucking unfair and I just don’t know what baring all of our collective trauma to those who deny its existence is going to actually DO.
I don’t want to think about what men are thinking about right now. I am glad that so many men are recognizing their complicity in this system that oppresses women. I am grateful to those men who have always treated me with respect and kindness, who are stating publicly that they, too, can do better. I love reading those posts. But when it comes to scrolling through my newsfeed and landing on specific individuals who have sexually harassed me in the past, it stings. I don’t want your apology. I want you to not have hurt me in the first place. I’m glad you are holding yourself accountable, but your Facebook post is not your confessional, and my ‘like’ is not your absolution. I’m not ready to make you feel better about having hurt me, and other women. I’m just not ready to do that just yet.
I don’t want to think about the deep love I have for my own partner, who has done some shitty things to women, and whose pain at having done them is no less real, but very, very different from the pain I experience. How my partner, the love of my life, cannot be neatly reconciled with the man who has hurt other women in the past.
I don’t want to think about the ways that I have behaved in response to trauma. The ways in which I’ve internalized it. The ways in which I’ve acted inappropriately towards others, been judgmental towards other women, and been part of the problem myself. I don’t want to think about the times I’ve desired sex and actively sought it, not because of actual desire for connection to another, but out of some desperate need to heal my own pain.
I don’t want to have to write this blog post. I don’t want to have to put my pain on display. I don’t want to feel as though my rape is somehow also my credibility, my badge of honor that the problem is real. The one-in-six statistic wasn’t enough for you? The routine stories of catcalling and sexual harassment and creepy shit that adults started doing as soon as I hit puberty weren’t enough for you? What the fuck did you think we’d been talking about this whole time?
I don’t want to have to ever explain ever ever ever ever ever ever again that sexual harassment and abuse aren’t about sex. They’re about power.
I don’t want to think about the man who pushed his erection into my thigh when I was fourteen. I don’t want to think about being told I had nice “dick-sucking lips” before I had ever seen a penis, let alone knew that one might go near my mouth. I don’t want to think about the man who hung around near me at the hospital when I was a teenaged volunteer and tried to get me into his car, who later killed his wife when she tried to leave him. I don’t want to think about the guy who stole my phone when I set it down so that he could get my number, and sent me sexually explicit texts when his girlfriend wasn’t looking. I don’t want to think about the countless times I’ve pretended to have a boyfriend so that men would leave me alone. I don’t want to think about how after I posted my own #MeToo story, a guy hollered at me from his car literally twenty minutes later. I don’t want to think about how every woman I know has these stories. I don’t want to think about my mother and my grandmother and my aunts and my teenaged cousins having these stories. I don’t want to think about it.
But I have to think about it. Because I have to keep going. I have to go on.
And today? Today I really don’t want to keep going. Today I want to stay home in bed, and cry some more, and eat warm foods and watch trash TV. Today I want to curl up and just sit in my own pain, and the pain of all of my friends’ collective pain, because I am feeling its astonishing weight.
I can’t. I have to go to work. I work in theatre and today, I’m making a comedy about marriage. My favorite scene is where a young man is interrogated about his soon-to-be-wife’s virginity, and they make a bunch of dated, sexist jokes about how women are whores as soon as you let them off the leash. Just kidding, that scene actually makes me incredibly angry, just not angry enough to ask that it be amended, or bring it up to anyone in charge. Because I need the work, because I like everyone there, because I believe they are good people, and because it doesn’t make me angry enough to actually try to change it.
I don’t know where “enough” is: where and when enough is enough.
And that’s the thing about ‘enough.’ #MeToo exists in a place of murkiness. So many women are unsure of whether or not their stories “qualify”: that they felt lucky that their own experiences weren’t “one of the really bad ones,” so they weren’t sure if they should stand up and be counted.
I don’t know where “enough” is, either. But that’s part of the problem. All of this pain has poured out of these collective floodgates because every woman I know lives her life in a constant equation of “Is it worth bringing it up? Is it bad enough to make a big deal about this?” And since the answer we give ourselves is almost always, “It’s not bad enough to do something about it,” the pain seeps in and gets scabbed over, and we re-armor so we can keep going. It builds up until the dam bursts.
All I know is that I’m angry all over again. I’m hurting and sad and wounded all over again. A lot of female friends have texted me today. “Are you hurting?” “Yeah. I’m hurting today.” “Today has been rough.” “I keep reading other posts and remembering things I’d suppressed.”
Are we hurting enough for something to change this time?
Is this enough for you to believe me?
This is the link where you can give me money if you liked this post. But please know that if you’re someone reading this who has been affected by sexual trauma, violence, or harassment, and that’s so many of us, what I really want isn’t your money. I want you to care for yourself today in the best way that you can.
I want to say one more thing real quick, because it didn’t fit easily above, but I think it’s important. It’s incredibly important that marginalized groups, particularly GNB and trans folks, are recognized as part of the people whom gendered violence and harassment impacts. And yes, men experience sexual violence too, and their stories are deeply important and necessary. (And yes, of course women can be predators! Yes, of course, there are exceptions to every rule!) But right now, I think it’s important to recognize the specific ways in which we are dealing with sexism as it pertains to women’s experiences. I’ve seen some posts that, knowingly or unknowingly, have derailed this conversation because men experience sexual violence too. While that is certainly undeniable, and incredibly worthy of our time and attention, it is simply not a problem on the scale and magnitude that women face daily. They’re branches of the same tree. Today, I’m choosing to focus on the roots.