When I was 15, we lived in a less-than-stellar neighborhood in a crappy, three bedroom apartment. I was a freshman in high school and knew everything there was to know about the world … you know, like all teens do.
Only from the comfort of my adult life and 20/20 hindsight did I realize our town bordered Inglewood, CA by mere blocks. Those who know history and geography will know Inglewood is one city over from Watts, home of the riots of the late 1960s. Those familiar with the nascent hardcore punk and “OG” rap scenes of the late 70s and early 80s understand what that means, too – i.e, we were not in the best area – or circumstances – at the time.
Halloween of 1981, I talked my reticent mother and my outraged-to-the-point-of-red-faced-yelling father into letting me dress as a hooker for the holiday. I wore a fuchsia bodysuit with a neckline cut nearly to my belly button, short-shorts, lots of jewelry, and knee-high go-go boots. My BFF at the time, two years older than I, did my hair and makeup.
I looked like a whore.
In retrospect, that was the point I suppose.
My BFF, for her part, was dressed as a pregnant nun. (Yep – my ability to commit utter sacrilege goes waaaay back.) Consider this was during the time Father Guido Sarducci (aka comedian Don Lovello) had taken on the Catholic Church via comedy videos on Saturday Night Live and on the cusp of Spy! magazine, which removed such push-the-envelope satire from the pages of genuine porn magazines to place it into their own, more “decent” format. (Interesting note: The Lazlo Letters, one of Don Novello’s most brilliant antics of the era, eventually published in book form, appeared in Spy! first.)
We were pushing our limits as well as the limits of those around us. It was the perfect time for it.
The only reason my parents allowed this behavior from me and my friends:
1) I was going out with a group of girls. There were six of us together for the evening and there were never less than three of us in a group at any given time.
2) My Mom knew they had to let me go the way I wished or I would rebel even further than I already had. (Of course, I only learned this fact from her years later, but she was right. Mom was one smart cookie when it came to her kids.)
We girls enjoyed ourselves out there in the dark. We trick-or-treated in the ‘hood until we got bored, then hung out on the corner of the busy, major boulevard just four doors away from home.
We got yelled at by folks who seemed angry, but we couldn’t make out what they said as they drove by. We got catcalls – lots of catcalls. Basically, we acted out like teens and got the attention every teen seeks.
It was exhilarating.
The first week of November, I visited another friend in the apartment she shared with her mother and brother in the back of the building. On leaving and heading toward home, I was confronted by a boy I had seen out and about and knew by name, but had never really met. He was a couple years older than I and had either dropped out of school (his story) or been kicked out (everyone else’s).
He came up behind me and I turned to face him, looking him square in the eye. This is a habit my mother had ingrained in me, to always confront the unknown.
He was slightly taken aback, at least at first. I don’t recall exactly what was said or what conversation ensued, but this I recall as if it were yesterday:
“Wait a second … you’re the girl who was dressed like a whore for Halloween!”
I smiled really wide, happy at the recognition.
“That was me!”
He took a step closer to me – we weren’t that far apart to begin with – and pulled a knife out of his pocket. Like in a bad 1950s movie, he brandished it in my face and said, “Do you like me?”
It was the first and only time I froze in place. Confused, I answered in a way he obviously didn’t appreciate. “What?” I said.
Before I knew it, he had grabbed my arm, turned me around, and had the knife at my neck.
I didn’t panic. I merely said, quite sincerely and a little seductively:
“Yes. Yes, I do. And if you let me turn around, I’ll show you … ”
The boy didn’t know I’d been sexually active since age 10, hiding in dark places, playing “touching” games.
The boy didn’t know I’d freely given oral sex from 13 on, sometimes just to shut boys up, but mostly because I liked the way they reacted when I did it.
The boy didn’t understand I knew how to use my sexuality already, that the whore costume wasn’t really a costume.
Most importantly, the boy didn’t know I could, at such a young age, shut down irrationality and become 100% sexual predator at will.
It was, however, the first time I did it to save my own skin.
(So many firsts that day.)
He let go, I assume to see if what I said was true.
I turned to face him as if I were going to act out what I’d said. Then he let down his guard – and the knife – and I did a 180 and ran as fast I could toward home.
I’ve never told a soul about that incident until now.
The boy I encountered was obviously a sexual predator. I’m sure he went on to do actual damage one day, but I don’t know for sure, since I never reported him and we moved to a better neighborhood by Xmas of that year.
When I was 22, I agreed to meet a guy I’d met at a party at a local bar. He was a police officer and (surprise!) was not my problem that evening.
After a few drinks, my date excused himself to go the the restroom. I sipped my cocktail and turned my attention to watch the TV above the bar.
A dude two barstools away took that very opportunity to slip on to the one next to me. I turned and looked him in the eye (notice a pattern?), nodded, said hello, and turned back toward the TV.
It was then he thought it appropriate to place his hand on the back of my neck, rubbing it in a massage-like manner.
He leaned in close and said, “Why you with that guy?”
You know, in the manner of “What’s he got that I don’t?”
I nodded at the bartender to ensure he saw what was going on, turned toward the man touching me without permission, smiled as if he had a even a snowball’s chance in hell with me …
… then punched him so hard he fell off his stool.
Just then my date exited the restroom and asked, “Is there a problem here?”
The bartender and I both answered, nearly in unison, “Not anymore.”
I don’t know if it’s luck, my early onset sexuality, my acting ability, the borderline sociopath that inhabits my brain, or some combination of all that, but I’ve never been molested, assaulted, or raped. I know I’m lucky in this regard, because all of my female friends – ALL of them, without a single exception that I know of – have been victims of one or more those terrible acts at one point or another in their lifetimes.
Sometimes I wonder how I got off so easy. Mostly I marvel at how all of them, with few exceptions, have moved on from victim to fully formed, sexual beings.
Being a human is hard. Recovering from the shit humans do to each other is waaaay harder.
I’m not fond of social network justice. You know, the armchair activism that only requires sharing posts or hashtags with no real investment or content. But I admit, the recent #YesAllWomen movement on Twitter spoke to me. I think it’s because even though I haven’t suffered the way my friends have, every women I know – no exception this time – has had moments like mine, moments where some dude or another decided I was an object to be obtained, property to be stolen, or could be manhandled without thought of rebuff or recourse.
Yes, it’s anecdotal evidence, but I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have stories like mine. Or more. Or, unfortunately, worse.
And the fact some men have seen our stories and argued “But not all men are that way!” just makes me realize one important fact:
SOME MEN ARE NOT LISTENING.
Because dude, if you listen – not hear, but really listen – to what the women around you are saying, you’d be as sad for humanity as I am. Women have taken the time to voice themselves, some at great cost to their psyche, job, or relationships, and instead of offering support you’ve screamed, “BUT I’M NOT THE BAD GUY!” in their faces and at the top of your lungs.
It’s magic how that totally discounts another person’s experience and derails the conversation simultaneously.
I’m not saying you should shut up. By all means, speak your mind, but please, take a moment to think about what you’re saying and how your audience will perceive it. Don’t diminish what someone – anyone! – says by making the discussion all about you. Sometimes people don’t want explanations or advice or stories about your own life – they just want someone to listen.
#YesAllWomen want to be heard and the guys who took the “I’m not the problem” route don’t seem to see how that reaction shuts down the conversation, even when they’re doing it themselves.
There were too many stories for it to be ignored or taken personally.
I don’t think we live in a “rape culture,” per se, because not every man is a rapist (obviously – THAT would be fucked up). I think our Puritanical view of sex and sexuality messes with our heads, absolutely – we sell beer with bikini-clad women yet insist on abstinence education and purity rings – but for the most part, people are reasonable, even kind to each other. There aren’t a lot of true misogynists or misandrists in our society and even fewer who act out in violence due to their hatred of one gender / orientation / race / religion over the other.
But when a group speaks out as loudly as #YesAllWomen, maybe don’t immediately go on the defensive. Instead, consider that there might be some relevance – even (dare I say) importance – to the hundreds of thousands of stories shared over a two-day period.
I’m not advocating women over men. I never would. We’re equally stupid, narcissistic, drama-laden asshats. In other words, we’re human. But when half of us start talking about an issue, is it so hard to think, “Shit … there might be a problem here” instead of “Bitches be cray-cray”?
It might be too hard, and that’s what makes me saddest of all: that there are those who took this beautiful moment, when women shared their common experiences with the world, loved ones, colleagues, and each other, and downplayed it by calling us insane, or worse.
Seriously, a 17 year old boy called me a cunt on Twitter this week. My response was a bit pithy and somewhat witty, then I blocked him. Adults don’t feed the trolls, nor do we take what they have to say personally. Yet even as a rational adult, I worried about sharing the above stories, here or elsewhere. Sure, it only took a microsecond for me to kick myself for being the least bit nervous, but that hesitancy is what the trolls seek.
We don’t know them, but their summary judgement makes some of us less likely to share any part of ourselves again.
Me, I don’t walk away from conversations. People with different opinions help me learn; I only walk away from trolls.
I’ll listen to what you have to say until you prove yourself an idiot.
That boy was an idjit of the highest order.
I’m not sure what my point is here. Maybe there isn’t one. I just felt the need to share in this space, where I can express myself in a lot more than 140 characters at a time. Hopefully everyone who participated in #YesAllWomen will continue to do the same, no matter the limitations, judgements, and/or consequences.
The avalanche rolled down the mountain and smothered a few people. Let’s dig the survivors out and learn from it.