I want you to know that I’ve written this a thousand times.
I’ve wanted to say “me too” before the movement even existed. I wrote something like this when Brock Turner’s disturbingly light sentence for raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster overwhelmed my newsfeed. I wrote something like this when the president was elected. I wrote something like this last spring when I threw up after having sex for the first time in over a year. And I wrote something like this in September, before the Weinstein allegations came out, because October was approaching and the anniversary of my assault was beginning to take its toll on my physical body. Like somehow my muscles and bones possessed memories of their own.
But I didn’t say “me too.” I couldn’t. I decided that to say it felt unsafe. Each time I wrote down my experience, each time I looked myself in the mirror and said what happened out loud, it felt messy and untrue. I could not fully capture how what happened made me feel. I wondered if I was not skilled enough as a writer, which is perhaps true, but these confessionals are not always written by writers and seem to convey the experiences well enough.
What I have begun to realize is that these earlier drafts did not feel good enough because at the time that I wrote them what I wanted was sympathy. I was writing as a victim rather than as a survivor, someone coming from a position of empowerment. I didn’t think anything could be gained from sharing my story other than what it might provide me in terms of unburdening myself from the weight of my trauma. I still felt the guilt and the shame, and I wasn’t done healing myself. I’m still not fully done healing myself—I might never be—but I’ve come to a place where I see telling my story as an action that can empower other survivors to tell their own stories. That in doing so, we might begin dismantling the systems that have failed us for so long.
These drafts also felt untrue because I still doubted myself. It’s important to give weight to the doubt survivors often feel, because it speaks to the power of the system. Not only did I not have faith in others to believe me, but I also did not fully believe myself. It’s the culture we are raised in that makes women feel they shouldn’t have gotten so drunk, or shouldn’t have flirted, or that “no” should have worked if they meant it. That a friend can’t rape. That a “good guy” wouldn’t rape. That we should be armed at every second and if we let our guard down it’s our fault that something happened. And the fact that I had let my guard down more than once, that each situation was incredibly unique from yet all too similar to the others, well, I must have wanted it. Or maybe one was assault, but the other was a drunken mistake. But still, they felt the same—the dryness in my throat, the tensing of my shoulders. The way I would leave my body every time I told a friend what happened.
During the spring of my freshman year, I sat in the Title IX coordinator’s office and told her about all the times men had touched me with or without asking. About that one time in particular. I sat there as she confirmed what I already knew, though I wouldn’t admit it to myself. She told me what my options were—press charges, report it to the university—but that she understood why I wouldn’t want to. And I didn’t. Partially for myself, still trying to process what happened, not thinking that opening my experience up to police officers and administrators to pass judgment on was going to alleviate any of what I was feeling. But I also decided not to do anything because of him. Because maybe I was misremembering but even if I wasn’t, I didn’t want to ruin his life over what I still could not fully understand.
Because really, what made what he did any different from what the guy down the hall did to me during the first week of college? Hadn’t I asked for it, or at least, not stopped him when I woke up to him touching the inside of my thigh, outside of my underwear? I felt paralyzed. Didn’t he have a girlfriend? Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing. He said he was a feminist. When I confronted his friend about it, he explained that I needed to learn how to say no, told me that boys are going to do what they can unless I stop them.
Or my roommate’s friend in the bar? Was I being flirty or just acting drunk? I was drunk. Had been drinking since 6 p.m. But my roommate got mad because I was flirting and left me there with him. He gave me his drink, told me to drink it, told me we were going back to his place, started kissing me in the elevator, started pulling down my tights when we were back in his room and started to fuck me before telling me to get out when he was about to throw up. I didn’t have time to say no but he also made it clear I didn’t really have a choice when I tried to push his hand off my thigh back at the bar and he gripped it harder. He was drunk, too. Could I blame him?
And maybe it fucked me up more when a friend and I drank the value size bottle of wine as I consoled him post break-up? I told him he was attractive, that he would find someone else. He asked if I would hook up with him to help him get over her. I said no, his ex was my friend too, he asked again and I said no, he asked again and I told him I wouldn’t say yes, why was he even asking, and eventually he just kissed me and I let him. Let him do what he wanted, told him to just fuck me if he wanted. I went down on him because that was what I was supposed to do. The next day I felt the worst I’d ever felt in my entire life. But he was my friend and under any other circumstances, I might have. Every time we’d hang out after that he would try something. If I were drunk enough I’d let him. Sometimes when I woke up in the morning I had to ask if we’d done anything the night before. I’d try to get my other friend to hang out with us so I could make out with him instead, at least he never tried to go further than what I was comfortable with. My friend respected the boundaries this other man set around my body more than my own.
That one makes me the saddest, but no, it’s not really the one that fucks me up the most. It’s that one time in particular, because every time I see a man with shoulder-length blond hair or hear his first name I still have to pop one of the benzos I was prescribed for PTSD. The friend-of-a-friend who took me to the women’s bathroom to give me two more shots of whiskey from the bottle in his backpack then slammed my head against the wall. I was okay with kissing him, I told myself, but he took me into the stall and pulled down my pants. When I repeatedly told him no, he told me to stop teasing him. He couldn’t get hard enough to fuck me there—he was too drunk—but not drunk enough to stop him from practically carrying me back to his dorm room. I blacked out, but I remember coming to when he was choking me. He asked me if I was a virgin and I told him “no” because I supposed I wasn’t anymore. The next morning, I walked across campus and found the bruises and scratches covering my body. It hurt to go to the bathroom. My friends looked sad and worried but I laughed it off. Because what else could I do? And really, what made it so different?
What makes something an assault? What’s the difference between assault and rape? The difference between a Ben Affleck and an Aziz Ansari and a Harvey Weinstein? I don’t think there is a difference. Because groping me while I’m asleep, or repeatedly asking for me to have sex with you until you wear me down, or giving me bruises that don’t go away for weeks doesn’t really feel all that different in my mind. One day one incident is more painful to think about than the other, and the next day I see how the first assault primed me for the rest. The names aren’t important because they all thought the same way—even the friends I confided in, who said “boys will be boys” or not to get worked up because whoever did it was a “good guy.” You didn’t believe me. And all of these men—some of whom called themselves feminists, some of whom weren’t even men—they’re are all culpable. By choosing not to speak when I have the means to do so, I am culpable, perpetuating a cycle of silence that cannot continue.
I didn’t speak out then because I thought about the men who assaulted me. I didn’t want to ruin their lives. What was my body worth compared to their public image, their education, their self-image? Some of these men wanted to create great art, or help people through their chosen career paths. Now, I feel guilty for remaining silent because I still believe that they don’t see what they did wrong. That they might have done something similar to someone else, and I could have stopped it. That I was wrong in remaining friends with certain people for too long. But mostly, I’m sad that I wasn’t supported at the time. I also understand why I wasn’t. Fortunately, I now feel that I have the support I need to comfortably speak out. Not all of us have that kind of support.
We all know a rapist. And it’s not survivors’ jobs to out them. It’s your job to examine how you’ve contributed to this culture, and to out yourself. If you’re friends with someone who has done this, you are wrong. If you purchase a ticket to a Woody Allen movie, you are wrong. You are contributing to a system that victimizes women, and little girls, and little boys, and LGBTQ individuals and POC in highly disproportionate numbers—and even men. In this culture, we all suffer. It doesn’t happen in a bubble. It happens next door, to your little sister, and to your best friend’s girlfriend (hint: the rapist is your best friend). There are people from my past who might read this and be offended, but I urge you to think about why.
And for all my sisters who haven’t outed themselves as survivors because they don’t feel like they’re in a position of enough power to do so, I’m here with you. I am you. This is scary for me, too. But hopefully, as more women and men—survivors, allies, and perpetrators—come out and shed light on what happens in private spaces that become unsafe, we can begin to understand and dismantle the system that has oppressed us for so long.
Art by @hexelot on Instagram