WARNING: This post will have some very personal information detailing my experiences with abuse and misogyny. Family may not want to read this post. Also, it may contain triggers for those who have had similar experiences with violence, sexual assault, molestation and rape. Please feel free to click away and join me at another time. Also, I suggest that everyone who feels they can take the time to read the #YesAllWomen thread on Twitter. It is illuminating, inspiring, sickening and devastating.
So… I’ve been sitting here staring at this blank screen for a while now. I spent a lot of yesterday the same way. Just looking at this blank space to write a blog post and wondering how or where to begin. If I should write it at all.
“Because 25 years later I’m scared to tell…”
I’ve written before that I was molested before the age of 10. I’ve told people–mostly women and my sexual partners–bits and pieces of that experience. But I’ve never told any one single person the entirety of it. I’ve been too scared to give any one person that much power. Even the people I know who love me and would never abuse that power. I have been too afraid to grant it. I’ve doled out certain details of my experience while holding back. For 25 years.
He was my neighbor. He was 13. I was 9.
Don’t write this, Jamie. You can’t tell. You’ll hurt people. You didn’t know what was going on so you misinterpreted it. He was scared and coming from an abusive home. He was dealing with homosexuality and didn’t know how to cope with his own shit. Don’t write this. It won’t help anyone.
You see? This is what it’s like in my head. And that’s what it was like before I tweeted EVERY. SINGLE. TWEET. to the #YesAllWomen hashtag. That reluctance to speak up.
Don’t make waves. Be a good girl. It’s over. That was 25 years ago. Don’t go back to the past and dredge it all up. It can stay where it is locked inside. You’re over it.
Apparently, I’m not. Because I’ve not only tapped into my own shame and self-doubt, I’ve also found catharsis in reading the #YesAllWomen feed. And I’ve found strength. The courage to say…
…he tricked me. We were playing a game. Pretending to be Ghostbusters. We went into the apartment building across the street from our townhouses and…
Don’t do this. You’ve never told anyone all of it. How can you possibly think about blogging it? Telling EVERYONE? Don’t do this.
…he took me to a closet downstairs. It was supposed to be a laundry area with a single washer and dryer for the tenants to use, but it was empty.
My hands are shaking as I type this.
He said we could pretend it was an elevator. Then, “Uhoh…looks like the elevator broke.” He put his arms around me and shoved his knee between mine, forcing my legs apart. He started to kiss me.
I didn’t like it. I felt uncomfortable. Like I would get in trouble. And I was afraid, though I couldn’t quite understand why. I pushed him away with an awkward smile. “Nope. It works just fine.”
I made to open the door and he got in front of me. “Nope. Broken again. Looks like we’re stuck.”
He put himself between me and the door, locked me in his arms and again put his knee between my legs. He started kissing me again, rubbing his hands on me and grinding against me.
My stomach knotted. This was wrong. I didn’t want this and I didn’t feel safe. I felt scared. But is this what boyfriends and girlfriends were supposed to do? If I stopped him, would he–then my only friend in the new apartment–stop being my friend? Seriously…these were my thoughts at the time. I was 9 years old and already I’d been conditioned to worry about what he would do if I tried to stop him (again). I’d heard him screaming outside at night, yelling at his mother. I’d seen the holes punched in his walls. He’d said his stepdad did that. Right? What would he do if I tried to make him stop?
All while I’m thinking this stuff, I’m frozen. I’m not kissing him back or doing anything to physically urge him on. I couldn’t say anything because my brain was locked up. And I was afraid. I could see his eyes in the dark closet and they were hungry. He didn’t seem to see me. It was like he saw prey.
Scared, uncertain, stunned, I just stood there while he touched me and kissed me.
Then someone came up to the closet and pounded on the door. “I know you’re in there!”
He shoved me over into the corner and blocked my body with his. I ducked down, making myself as small as possible…relieved that we’d been interrupted but also terrified that we’d been busted. What if they told my mom? What if I got in trouble?
The woman (late teens, early twenties I think? I never paid her much attention) who lived across the street from me was there with the head maintenance man of the apartment complex. I couldn’t see them well, but I saw enough to know they were there. I stayed down and out of the way, hoping they wouldn’t see me.
“I know you’ve got that girl in there,” she snapped.
He made excuses. I stayed quiet. She kept saying he was lying. The maintenance guy finally pulled her away, giving Bobby the benefit of the doubt or something. Rather than closing the door, though, Bobby was scared and pulled me out of the closet. We sneaked out of the building and around.
That was the first of 3 times he molested me…each time nothing more than touching above the clothes, but all of them terrified me.
I told an adult that he’d tried to rape me. I didn’t know the words for what he did. What I knew was that he made me afraid and if we hadn’t been discovered, I would’ve been in a very bad position. The adult I told didn’t believe me. “You didn’t understand. You don’t know what you’re saying. That’s not what happened.” And left it at that. I didn’t tell anyone else because I didn’t want to look stupid. I didn’t want someone to not believe me again. And maybe I didn’t know. Maybe that’s not what really happened, right?
When I told someone that I thought we were boyfriend/girlfriend, he started chasing me home from school every day, screaming at me and hitting me.
He moved away a few months later. I contemplated suicide. I went to a therapist but never mentioned anything about him or our time in the closet. No one asked.
Three years later, when I was in 7th grade, I saw him again at my junior high. I started having nightmares where he came back to my house and raped me, killed me. I had panic attacks every day because we passed each other in the halls. He moved up to the high school. I had another bout of suicidal depression.
Tenth grade… I walked into my psych class to find him sitting there. PSYCH CLASS! With the guy who’d caused a shit ton of my psychological issues. I remember one day the teacher started talking about aversions. He wrote the word “RAT” on the board and talked about how if people were afraid of rats, they might not even be able to look at that word. When someone chuffed a laugh at how stupid this was, the teacher changed the word from rat to “RAPE”. People grew a little more somber. I crouched in my seat, burning with embarrassment and fear. Bobby was still sitting two rows away… just sitting there. The teacher described how someone who’d been raped might react to seeing that word… he described me to a tee…. burrowing down, shaking, sweating, red-faced.
I couldn’t get out of that class… that would mean telling. That would mean dredging up the past. So I stuck it out. On the last day of class, I handed Bobby a note saying he had no more power over me.
I thought it was over.
I saw him a few times after that… and still had panic attacks. I still look him up online 25 years later to make sure I won’t be surprised to see him at the grocery store. That’s how I found out that Bobby is gay.
It has taken me 25 years to understand that he was dealing with shit. His stepdad was abusive. He was probably very scared to be gay in that house and trying to understand himself. I’ve made excuses for Bobby and what he did to me. It’s also taken me 25 years to understand that the woman who discovered us in that closet wasn’t trying to get us into trouble. She wasn’t trying to haul me out and brand me with some scarlet letter…. she was trying to help. She knew–at least on some level–what was going on. And she was trying to stop it.
My daughter is one year younger than I was when all of this happened. And that’s a fact that terrifies me. She seems so little. So young and innocent.
25 years later I still make excuses and question myself. Maybe it’s not real. Maybe it wasn’t actually so sinister. He was confused.
And that’s what women deal with daily. We excuse the behavior of others. “boys will be boys”. Or “he’s just mean because he likes you”. Or “he couldn’t help himself”. Or “You should take it as a compliment.”
There’s a constant prattle of shame and doubt and it’s not just in the media or our culture it’s IN OUR HEADS! We do this to ourselves. AND EACH OTHER! There are women using the #YesAllWomen to shame others into silence.
Misogyny, violence against women, rape culture, male entitlement… it’s all real. We know it’s not all men, but we’re trained from an early age to be on guard because it could be ANY man. Friends, uncles, fathers, neighbors… you can’t tell from looking. We know it’s not all men! I’m blessed with a husband, and my father, and male friends that I’ve never feared.
But I have stories. That one time at a concert when I said hi to a guy who then thought that was an invitation to get into my car and make out with me. AND HE WAS MARRIED! The time I was at marching band rehearsal and we were on a break. I left my drums on, but pulled them up to lighten the stress on my hips and a guy said, “What’s the matter, bitch? Does your pussy hurt?” AND NO ONE THOUGHT THERE WAS A DAMN THING WRONG WITH THAT COMMENT. Just two weeks ago I told a complete stranger that I would pretend to be her girlfriend to get the creeper to leave her alone!
The catcalls. The slaps on the ass. The crass comments and rude gestures. The leers at the bus stop or patronizing comments at conventions. They are all symptoms of this BULLSHIT.
And that’s not all of them.
And I’m not the only one.
Someone tweeted to the #YesAllWomen thread yesterday that it’s part of female bonding to begin comparing survival stories. It’s true. I’ve been in a group of women where we traded stories and survival techniques. Being “just one of the guys” is not just part of my personality, it’s a survival skill. Carrying your keys like a weapon. Having a knife under your pillow or in your purse. Fake names, fake numbers, fake wedding rings. Knowing where the exits are. Going to the bathroom in packs. Having code phrases to alert your friends that you need help. These are things that we have developed in response to societal cues that tell us we are prey. We are objects. That men can’t help themselves.
It’s all in our heads like a low drone. “Is my bra strap showing? Is this outfit too revealing? Call or text me when you get home so I know you made it okay.” Walking quickly. Look over your shoulder but don’t act afraid. It’s all there. And it’s part of EVERY WOMAN’S life experience. We may not all experience rape or sexual assault, but every woman knows fear and our social position. We all experience misogyny and harassment.
We know it’s not all men who will shoot up a sorority house in response to being rejected by women, but all women have to deal with misogyny. You need only to see some of the comments from men saying, “See? A woman could’ve been a hero if she’d just given him some sweetness. Then no one would’ve died.”
It’s a fucked up and flawed world.
But we shouldn’t be silent about it. We need to change this.
And that’s why I had to tell the whole fucking world something I’ve not told a single soul in 25 years.
This needs to stop.
What are you going to do about it?