“You’re really beautiful.”
The words broke the silence and I physically froze, the way a person who’s finishing a self-examination might when they come across a small tumor.
I thought maybe if I left it at that, it would stop there. I felt him roll towards me, on top of me, and felt what was happening. A malignant tumor. I remember saying no, haltingly, without conviction, and being so confused. I thought I’d been clear. Did I want to do this, on some level, had I always known this would happen? Did that mean I wanted it?
No, no, and no. But it did. It happened while I was trying to work out what was happening and how I felt about it and why it was happening. By the time I’d realized that what I was feeling was utter disgust for myself, it was over, and he was walking my back to my room.
As luck would have it, we ended up in the same friend group for most of freshman year. In an effort to reclaim autonomy, I continued hooking up with him, telling myself it was my choice even as he actively pursued me via incessant text messages, possessively hovering when we were together. When we hung out with friends, we looked like a couple.
Where are you? I’m waiting for you.
Tell me where you’re going. Are you pre-gaming tonight? With who?
Okay, where are you?
I’ve been waiting for you.
Scalding showers became my solace.
The act became unbearable after a few weeks, and I broke things off. I did it in public, on a bench with lots of passerby, and he was visibly upset and angry. Later, my friends told me he was having a really hard time. I spent the rest of the year leaving rooms when he entered them and pretending he didn’t exist when we had to be in the same space. I was told I made it uncomfortable.
It’s been a little over four years, and it’s rare when more than two days go by where I don’t think about that person and that time. Throughout my time at university, I eventually confided in a few close friends, or tried to. The first time I realized what had happened, I was a sophomore, and I cried in the arms of my roommate who held me and told me it was okay, that I was okay. She used the term “survivor,” which I didn’t feel like I deserved. Survivors are people who experience abuse, assault, coercion, threats to their physical and mental well-being, who feel harassed and exhausted and feel spikes of self-loathing, who can’t think of a person without thinking of an event that makes their stomach clench.
What would it be like, to go through the world without feeling eyes on you, calculating, appraising, assessing, claiming?
I’m sharing this story because it forces all eyes on me. For once, I’m choosing why I’m looked at, and now I’m going to tell you the terms under which I’m to be seen.
I am not to be pitied. I am not to be compared. I am not to be dismissed. I am not to be silenced. I am not to be made uncomfortable. And I am not to be ignored.
You–the faceless enablers of this culture that reinforces the idea that “boys will be boys” and #notallmen and “it’s just locker room talk” and that somehow, it’s the victim’s fault for being the victim–you are to be pitied, for not having the strength to speak on behalf of those women and men who are marginalized under a societal structure you benefit from. You are to be compared with every other person who does not speak out against “guy talk,” who let your friends get away with saying things because “they’re good guys.”
I promise you, they’re not.
You are to be dismissed for speaking in support with survivors, and going silent amongst the perpetrators. No need to call on you for silence; you do that all on your own. For that, you are to be made uncomfortable, because you continue to allow generations of entitlement and power imbalance to go unchecked because you can’t be fucked to put in a word for basic human decency.
Your responsibility to the faces of #metoo, however, will not be ignored. I am determined for both of us to be seen, because then I will be seen as a who and you will be seen as a what.
Not a very pleasant feeling, is it?