There is only one way to begin this post, which is to acknowledge that I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky and that I’m writing from a place and position of privilege, safety, and security. I’m writing to honor the women and men who have come forward with their stories and to encourage those who remain locked in worlds of hurt and shame. If you haven’t spoken up because you feel that you have no one to tell, I’m here to listen to you.
I thought about writing this when the #MeToo movement first gained ground, but I didn’t. Again, I am incredibly lucky. I didn’t want my uncomfortable experience to be misconstrued as a cry for attention and I didn’t want it to take away from the “real stories” that people were telling. And frankly, my grandparents read this blog and this isn’t something I want them to read. (Sorry, grandparents.)
But the more I thought about it, half the problem is that I feel like I need to justify what I’m going to say. And then today happened.
A man filmed me while I was running this afternoon. I realized this as I ran towards him and he didn’t move from where he was standing on the path, holding up his phone. There was a glint in his eyes that went right through me and a leer that made his actions apparent. Instead of knocking his phone out of his hands or spitting at him, both of which I was close enough to do because I was hellbent on making it obvious that I knew what he was doing, I snapped, “Totally in the way” loudly enough for him to hear me and ran past him.
My heart rate sped up and I felt my legs begin to pump faster. Hello, fight or flight. I tried to relax my breathing and stopped running. I sat on the rocks by the beach until my body felt normal again.
This experience reminded me of being tickled from behind for the entirety of a crammed three-hour bus ride. It reminded me of all the times I’ve been whistled at, catcalled, stared at, and approached while walking down the street. I thought of the podcast I heard this morning about sexual assault in the entertainment industry. And I thought about the time I repeatedly used the words, “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, and “get off” before he finally did.
The only time I’ve ever alluded to this experience on this blog was when I wrote about my online dating experiences in New York. The guy I’m talking about is one I named “The Guy With Two Faces”. That post was supposed to be light, airy, and humorous.
This one is not.
The first night we went out, he walked me home and then asked if he could come up and use my washroom. I knew that was coming because he hadn’t let go of my hand for the entire walk. New York isn’t a city known for its public washrooms and it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Against my better judgement and because I really do understand that plight, I said yes.
He wasn’t the first person who had walked me home but he was the first to ask to come upstairs and I didn’t know how to get rid of him. I didn’t want him in my apartment. I didn’t want what was next in the script of “boy pays for a nice evening and girls pays him back”. But that’s the script we was running.
What made me uncomfortable wasn’t anything we did that night, but his insistence that we do it. In my experience, people are usually a little cautious at first and let me lead. That was not how this worked. He was very strong and forced on me things that I did not want. And I didn’t kick him or punch him or scream because I figured it was easier to play along. I also figured I’d given enough mixed signals because of my own confusion that he actually may not have realized that I did not want to participate. In many aspects of life, I am bad at saying no. This was no different.
We went out again because we did have a lot to talk about and he was really sweet over text messages. I reasoned that nothing had really been that bad, that I hadn’t gotten hurt, and that this time I just wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Easy enough.
But I hadn’t solved the problem of not knowing what to say when he asked if he could use my washroom. So again, he came upstairs. Again, I couldn’t get him to leave. I couldn’t figure out how to simply open the door and say goodbye. I failed at acting as my own agent.
This time, he wouldn’t put on a condom and all of my protesting and squirming didn’t seem to register. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t you trust me?”
Done playing, I replied, “No. I hardly know you.” And that was when I figured myself out. I kicked myself out from underneath him and shoved him off, which was easier than I had expected, likely because it came as a surprise. I told him to get out of my apartment.
I can’t actually remember what happened next. Part of me thinks he asked to take a shower and part of me thinks that if this happened, I probably said yes. But part of me thinks he just left. I’m sure it’s written in a journal somewhere but I really can’t remember. When I described this to several girlfriends later, I said he’d “given me sass about using a condom.” All could relate, too familiar with that scenario.
Reader, we out again. I was lonely, it was a nice day, and walking around the city with a buddy seemed like more fun than doing it on my own. He kept trying to direct our walk towards my neighborhood. I kept turning the other way. He finally said, “Look, I don’t have all day.” I made up a story about my roommate having friends staying with us.
“So?” he asked.
“I’m shy,” I said.
His hands were all over me in the middle of the street and he muttered, “You don’t look shy to me.”
I saw people on the opposite side of the street and loudly demanded, “Stop” and pulled away. He saw the people, too. He stopped and we kept walking. Eventually, he said he had work to do and led us towards his office. On a random street corner with no office in sight, he announced that we’d reached his destination. We said goodbye. I went into the first coffee shop I passed and sat there for hours.
I didn’t reply to the message he sent me weeks later and never saw him again.
Although I have a number of concerns and questions about the #MeToo movement, this is not the time for those. This is the time to say that yes, me.
And you, and you, and you.
I do not know anyone who has not been touched by this movement in some way, even if it’s just through degrees of separation. And in case someone in my world hasn’t understood that yet, here’s my story. So now you’re part of this, too.
As a society, I hope we can do two things to move forward. First, I hope we can talk to young people about what it means to have a relationship. We talk to students a lot about actions (this is what sex is, this an STD, this how to use a condom) but very little about what it means to love, value, and respect another person. Love is a verb. What does that verb mean? What does that verb require of you and of someone else? We need to talk about that. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about how we enter into relationships and why the agreement of both parties matters. We need to talk about how we relate as humans and how we come to know each other. Consenting to embark on any journey together is essential to the journey’s success. We need to have conversations about that.
Secondly, we need to allow adults to have conversations about the very human desire for intimacy. It’s still strange to me that so many people meet in the workplace and then feel the need to keep their relationships secret. After all, the workplace is where you’re supposed to turn off the part of yourself that is human. This then becomes the place where you’re probably the least honest with yourself and with those around you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a stranger to coffee, but you’re not supposed to think of a colleague, someone you actually know, in the same way. And if you do, and if you voice those thoughts, you run the risk of a sexual harassment claim even if a rejection is respected and never brought up again. Why is that? Why are we prohibited to be human around the people with whom we spend the most time?
I think these are questions worth considering and I know there’s more to ask, to say, and to do. We will have come a long way when #MeToo leads us to rebuild the society we live in.