Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

Why I Won’t Continue to Argue With You

I am a socially aware person. Which, if labels are to be trotted out, most often translates to “feminist,” “Social Justice Warrior,” “liberal hack,” “slacktivist,” or “Feminazi scum,” depending entirely on the beliefs of the speaker. With the exception of “feminazi” – which is utterly absurd and particularly hateful because no feminist or feminist group ever imprisoned and tortured and killed millions of human beings for their differences – I wear each one with pride. I know what they mean, what they’re intended to mean, and that the resentment behind them often indicates the frustration of the ignorant with inevitable social progress.

I didn’t just jump on this “bandwagon,” as so many opponents would call it, on a whim. I didn’t become this shining example of a “SJW” overnight. I got here through a very logical progression of questioning, seeking answers, and finding knowledge. It was an almost organic evolution. It was growth, and growth doesn’t happen without impetus, or all at once.

plant watering

It started when I was very young. I remember playing basketball in the Carolina summer heat, with my cousins, who were mostly boys. The hotter it got, the more shirts came flying off, to be discarded next to the red clay “court” in the backyard of the cousin who led the games. I was about six or seven. I hadn’t been taught anything about the differences between girls and boys, let alone about sex or sexuality. I got hot, too. I took my shirt off, too. And it was no big deal to me, or to the half dozen boys with whom I played. I took my shirt off, and ran around with the same sweaty, dirty abandon as all the other kids, and nobody cared. Until my father came running outside, red-faced and yelling. What the heck was I thinking??? What was the matter with me? He yelled and made me put my shirt back on, and go home, but he never explained why. From that day forward, I knew that girls couldn’t do everything that boys could do. That girls would get into trouble for things about which boys never had  to think twice.

I was also only seven years old when my family taught me to be a racist, and only about ten when I started to question that belief system. I found that I had a drive to learn more about other people, about how they lived in this world we shared, about how their experiences in that world were different from my own. I visited the school library. I read everything they had that related to my questions, then moved on to the county library. I talked to people. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t, like me, white and protestant, at the time, but I asked questions, anyway. The answers I got were… dissatisfying. My parents and my preacher gave me biblical justifications for racism. So, I read the bible, cover to cover, for the first time. What I found was that the Bible doesn’t justify racism, yet it repeatedly urges us to love one another, regardless of our differences. I asked my teachers. Only one had an response that didn’t amount to a lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders. She pointed me in the direction of some amazing literature written by black authors, about their experience in this world. I devoured every one. Armed with this knowledge, I started questioning people, again. My parents eventually just shushed me with the equivalent of Because we said so. Now stop pestering us. My preacher brushed me off the same way.

I had encountered the first revelation of growing up: The grown-ups didn’t know everything, after all. They weren’t infallible. They could be wrong. But I’d also learned something of the utmost importance. I didn’t have to settle for their non-answers. There was a whole world out there, full of answers. I just had to find them for myself.

library

The next stage of this growth was related to sexuality. In a church where they managed to justify racism with bible verses, it’s no surprise that homosexuality was also sternly frowned-upon. This was problematic, for me. See, I was in kindergarten when I developed my first celebrity crush – on a woman. I was in first grade when I had my first real-life crush – on a girl. I later developed crushes on boys, too, both in real life and on TV (Doogie Howser, anybody?), but by then, I knew I was… different. I’d never associated my differences with “The Gays,” then. That’s how they were always referenced. Implied capital letters, and sneery italics in my head. The Gays. Also occasionally known as HommaSECKshuls. I didn’t connect the descriptions of those people with the difference I knew existed between me and other people, because of the way those people were described. Immoral. Sneaky. Dishonest. Sleazy. Perverted. Dangerous. Likely to molest small children and family pets, and steal the family television, while they were at it. I knew that wasn’t me, and hadn’t yet connected those labels to who I was.

I was in my teens before I knew what lesbian meant, and the first time I heard the word bisexual I was a freshman in high school. And it fit, for me, in a simple way that nothing else ever had. That was when the derogatory use of The Gays and HommaSECKshuls connected, in my mind, with me. This time, though, I knew it may be dangerous to ask questions of the same people. I knew where to find answers, and went looking. What I discovered was that there was no logical reason for anyone to hate or fear or abuse other people, based solely on their sexual orientation. I also discovered a need to hide. To conceal who I was. Until I couldn’t, anymore. Until I accidentally outed myself to my school and my family. I’ve since discovered that a prejudice against bisexual people exists in more than just the straight community. Like the other prejudices I’d discovered, like all prejudice, it is illogical. I know this not only because I happen to be bisexual, but because I did with that what I always did, when faced with such things; I educated myself.

It’s the method I’ve developed, over the course of a lifetime, when faced with beliefs that don’t make sense to me, for understanding those beliefs, and developing my own. Research, questioning, debating, reading, and learning as much as I can. Informing my opinion.

So when I encountered such concepts as privilege, institutionalized racism, rape culture, misogyny, transphobia, and patriarchy, I approached those in the same way. I talked to people who knew more than I did. I talked to people who believed those things, to understand where those beliefs, however problematic, originated. I researched. Fortunately, by this point, I had access to all the information I could ever want, via the internet. I read academic articles, first-hand accounts, editorials, and blog posts. I devoured research studies and statistics, conducted and compiled by everyone from accredited universities to the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. I ordered non-fiction books about the prison industrial complex, and civil rights battles, about the struggle for LGBT rights, about the ways in which US society is predisposed to actively disadvantage and oppress women, minority races, immigrants, and LGBT individuals. I read first-hand accounts and historical documents about protests and movements, the reasons they happened, and the motives of both those involved and those opposed. I participated in debates with other people who were seeking answers to the same questions. I sought out knowledge and understanding. I informed my opinion.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing, far too late for a TL:DR warning. I do not disagree that everyone has a right to their opinion. You have the right to believe whatever you like. But we’re not talking about the existence of fairies in a J.M. Barrie story, here; your belief does not make a thing true. You can’t clap your hands loudly enough for racism or misogyny or homophobia to be a logical response to the world. You can’t generalize your personal feelings or experience, as a single human being, to all of humanity.

I am glad to discuss any of those topics, at great length, and mostly without rancor. They’re a particular passion of mine, and we all love to talk about the things that inspire that passion. What I am not willing to do is give an uninformed opinion equal weight to one that is based on a lifetime of research, study, growth, and learning. If you haven’t spent at least some tangible amount of time and effort learning about these things, chances are pretty good that I know more than you, about those specific topics. If you want to learn more, to inform your opinion, I will be happy to point you in the right direction to do so. To a limited extent, I will even be happy to teach you, myself. What I will not do, though, no matter how often or how loudly you rail, is let you shout down those years of hard-earned understanding with your gut feeling, your very deeply tinted personal lens, your unfounded and uninformed beliefs. What I will not do is engage with you, when you don’t want to learn, when you aren’t interested in understanding, when all you want to do is be right, without any basis in fact, without any research, without any logical basis for your determination of rightness, at all.

My refusal to discuss those things with you doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like you. That I think less of you, as a person. It simply means that, until and unless your opinion becomes informed, I recognize the pointlessness of engaging with you on those topics. Doing so would be like inviting you to play soccer, when you’ve never played, then agreeing to play by the rules that you make up as we go along, and further agreeing that doing so makes perfect sense. It would be absurd, counterproductive, and demeaning to all the other people playing who took the time to learn the rules and practice, before that game began.

You do have every right to your opinion. I also have every right to refuse to discuss opinions that are uninformed, with people who refuse all attempts to learn.

not listening

The problem with “drama”

Drama. It’s a term we hear quite often, in recent years. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, in this context:

An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances

As defined by Merriam Webster, in this context:

a :  a state, situation, or series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces

b:  dramatic state, effect, or quality <the drama of the courtroom proceedings>

If we’re speaking literally, then, drama is really just a part of life, for everyone. Giving birth is drama. Dealing with a crying baby is drama. Getting married, beginning or ending a relationship or job, getting a promotion or a raise, being stuck in traffic when you’re on your way to something important, the loss of a loved one or pet, the first day of school, work, or marriage, a wedding, a funeral, a cat chasing a robot dog across your living room floor. All of those things qualify as drama, and all of them are perfectly normal, mostly necessary or unavoidable, parts of life. Without drama, there would be no life.

Recently, though, the word “drama” has taken on much more negative connotations. In order to explore those, we need to step into a slightly seedier (if occasionally more amusing) corner of the internet.

From urbandictionary:

The…

Wait… Jesus Christ. That’s a rather… dramatic… discovery. I had to go down thirteen definitions, just to find one that wasn’t completely loaded with misogyny, either in the definition, or in the examples. And number thirteen is so poorly written, I refuse to include it, here.

So, I guess we’ll just start with the number one definition:

Something women and especialy [sic] teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich [sic] would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.

Unfortunately, when people talk about drama, these days, the above definition is usually what they’re intending to convey. Unfortunately, it is very much a gendered issue. In fact, looking through the top 35 definitions, there are over 50 blatant misogynist, ableist, or homophobic slurs, or characterizations of women and girls as the main sources of all the “drama,” always.

Which is telling, really, and speaks directly to the point I wanted to make, when I opened up this post. I’d like to include the first definition listed, at number twenty-three, which I feel adequately describes what is actually going on, when someone tosses out the word “drama,” in conversation, especially around sensitive or controversial topics:

A way of referring to problems and other normal complications in life, typically of others; painting them in a negative light so that the person speaking doesn’t come off as being a self-interested jerk even though doing this inherently determines them to be so.

This definition is actually much closer to the truth, I think.

When victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or blatant misogyny speak out, or when someone speaks out on their behalf, there’s almost a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will accuse them of being drama queens or drama llamas, or of stirring up drama, or having too much drama, or of causing drama. Often, the people using the term will claim that the person’s tone is the problem, or their personality, or their past.

What this indicates is that the issues to which you are trying to draw necessary attention – issues like domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment – are uncomfortable for them to hear. It indicates that the person hearing about these important issues doesn’t want to face up to the reality of the problems, doesn’t want to admit that, perhaps, there’s something they may need to do, or change, or put some effort and empathy into, in order to fix the problem.

What it amounts to is fear. They’re afraid of things changing. More often than not, they are comfortable with the way things are. Either the situation isn’t harming them, personally, or they have internalized the harm to a point where they are unable to see how damaging it is, to them, to others, and to their culture as a whole. Or, perhaps for some, they are well aware of the truth of the matter, and don’t want anyone to take what you’re saying seriously, because it might reveal them to be the abusers, rapists, harassers, or violators that they are.

It’s fear, manifesting as intimidation, and it is one of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of the victim blamers, abusers, misogynists, and cowards of the world. It is almost exclusively used against marginalized or victimized people, to discredit them, to silence them, to shame them into not saying things that might make somebody look bad. To make them shut up. To make them question themselves. It’s their way of saying,

STAHP!! Stop saying these things that I don’t want to hear about! Stop trying to take away my illusions or my nice-person mask! Stop telling me things that make me ashamed of things I might have done, or might do in the future! Stop making me have to actually think about what my actions, my choices, my words, or the actions, words, or choices of the people I support and defend, might be doing to other people! Stop pointing out my utter lack of empathy for my fellow human beings!

The worst of it is, in many situations, it works. Often, a victim will speak up to a community, to tell them that their policies aren’t good enough to keep the members safe, or they will give an account of something that another community member did to them, which caused harm, or they will notice a Missing Stair, and ask that someone make the needed repairs. They will be met by an onslaught of criticism, insults, attacks, and threats. They will be accused of being drama queens. They might face entire groups of people, loudly demanding that they stop lying, stop stirring things up, stop causing trouble, stop making noise. They will be met with such ferocious resistance, at a time when they are already vulnerable and raw and afraid… and they will back down. They’ll shut up. They’ll stop trying to draw attention to the problems that need to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes, they’ll simply pull away from the community in which the problems exist, often losing important social support networks in the process. Sometimes, they will internalize what is being thrown their way, and begin to doubt themselves, blame themselves, and by extension, begin to blame other victims, in later problematic situations.

That’s just not okay. Silencing and shaming people who are speaking to legitimate issues, by using the word “drama” as a weapon, is not okay.

So, do me a favor. Stop that. Have a little more empathy.Understand that anyone reporting someone or something which is causing harm isn’t a “drama queen.” They’re a brave, hopeful, empathetic person, trying to keep other people from being harmed, often in ways in which they already have been. They deserve your attention. They deserve to not be invalidated with words like “drama.” They deserve your gratitude, instead of your ridicule.

When you say, I don’t do drama, what I hear is, I am more invested in being comfortably ignorant, and utterly selfish, than I am in showing empathy to my fellow human beings, or taking some responsibility for shaping the culture in which I live. 

And I think that most of us want to be better than that. Don’t you?

A response to “We don’t teach men to rape.”

Originally posted elsewhere, August 5, 2014


I posted most of this as a comment on a post, elsewhere, in response to another comment. (What follows has been slightly edited, and expanded from the original.)

The comment basically said that men who rape are abnormal, and that what they do isn’t a learned behavior.

I beg to differ.

I would agree that no man who molests children is ‘normal.’ As to the men who rape women, well, I see that a bit differently. Some of the men who do these things aren’t normal. But not all, by far. Many of them are as normal, as statistically average in every way, as they can possibly be, and are simply the end products of societal conditioning that shows them, over and over and over, that they don’t have to be held accountable for their aggressive behaviors when it comes to relating to women, or transpeople, or anyone who isn’t a man.

See, we (society) have this picture of “RAPIST” that is the stranger lurking in the bushes, or behind a parked car, waiting to jump out and attack us, and drag us off into some dark, dank space to have their way with us. We (society) have this picture of “REAL RAPE” as something that is always a violent attack, with brutal, aggressive force, weapons, masked men, which takes place between strangers in dark alleys.

The statistics do not support that picture. The vast majority of rape is perpetuated by people known to the victims, trusted by the victims. It is more likely to be coercive, or the result of more subtle intimidation and power-play, than brute physical attack.

People say that the behavior hasn’t been taught to them. Actually, it has, in many, many cases. Sure. Someone, somewhere, told them “don’t rape.” Maybe. But the real messages coming from society aren’t so black and white. They are taught, over and over and over and over again that their aggressive sexual behavior is either perfectly okay, or not their fault or responsibility. That they can’t be expected to control their sexual impulses or desires, because … cavemen, or something?

  • If she was wearing a short skirt, or tight jeans, or a revealing top, or makeup, she obviously wanted to draw attention from men. So, if they catcall or approach her, if they get all up in her personal space, she must have wanted that, right? Because she wore those clothes that drew their attention, so that’s her responsibility.
  • If she went to a bar and sat down to have a drink alone, she obviously wanted their ham-handed come-ons and PUA bullshit. She obviously wants someone to pursue her, even if she says no. She couldn’t just be there to enjoy a drink, either alone or with her friends.
  • If she’s rejecting their advances, she doesn’t really mean it. She’s only saying no to be a tease, to make them pursue her, to play hard to get, to tantalize and inflame men’s desire for the chase. Because her behavior is all about them, doncha know.
  • If she’s passed out drunk, or so intoxicated that she slurs her words and stumbles when she walks, then it’s all on her if he has sex with her. She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

See, ^these are the things we have really been teaching men. That “boys will be boys,” and aren’t responsible for their behavior. Look back, really LOOK, at all of those scenarios. In each case, someone is acting, and someone is being acted upon. Yet, in each case, society tells the person who is acting that it is the “personal responsibility” of the person being acted upon to play gatekeeper. To not wear the clothes or the makeup that ‘entice men.’ To not have a damned drink in a bar. To be blunt to the point of cruelty if they want their rejection taken seriously (which can then bring on even more aggressive, violent, threatening behavior).

But we absolve the person who is acting, in each scenario, of any accountability whatsoever.

So, yeah, in many cases, they ARE being taught that it’s okay to ignore boundaries. That it’s okay to push past them. That it’s okay to get in someone else’s personal space, even when the person is expressing distaste or unease or discomfort or outright rejection. They are being taught that it is not their responsibility to not rape. They are not being held accountable for acting, and they are being shown, repeatedly, that when they do act, the responsibility for their behavior is on the person at whom the behavior is directed.

Under the he-had-a-weapon-and-was-a-stranger-and-she-was-beaten-into-submission model, sure. Very few men do that.

But LOADS of men who don’t fit that “REAL RAPIST” false archetype are raping women. They rape their wives and girlfriends. They rape passed out girls and too-drunk-to-consent women at parties. They refuse to take no for an answer, and coerce and intimidate and bully and push and push and push until she gives in, not actually consenting, but unable to withstand the onslaught.

And we (society) overwhelmingly blame her. Even though he was the one pursuing, he was the one acting, we blame his victim. And he knows it. He may not think that he’s raping someone. He may think this is just how sex works. HE. IS. WRONG. And so is the society that teaches him that he isn’t.

No. We may not explicitly teach men to rape. We just teach them that, if they do, it’s perfectly understandable, and not their fault. Which amounts to the same damned thing.

How not to be a friend to an escaped abuse victim

When I left my abusive ex, I also decided to make it very clear to the community in which he was participating that he was a danger. See, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one he’d abused. In fact, I’d say anyone would be hard-pressed to find anyone with whom he’d ever been in a relationship, whom he had not abused. And the people to whom I was giving warnings were people I cared about a great deal. People I knew, people I’d loved as chosen family, friends, and part of a community I once cherished and called home.

This all set me on a path to consent activism. I’ve been doing that ever since.

One of the most hurtful things to ever come out of that was a message I received from a friend. At the time, I considered her my best friend. It was a message in which she explicitly withdrew her support for me, and what I was doing. It led to a conversation in which she very clearly stated that she didn’t believe I was ‘actually’ abused. In which she described what was the result of a typical behavior, by abuse victims – namely, covering up for their abuser, until the abuse is over and they are safe – as the reason she didn’t believe that I had been in an abusive relationship.

What seems to be happening is all these little changes and edits are merging together to create an inhuman monster out of a guy who is merely a selfish loser douchebag.

And there were no changes. No edits. No creation of anything. Only revelation of the way things actually went down, when I was in a place too frightening to be able to speak out.

I wrote the following, then, as a response to every single piece of it that she brought up, claiming I was lying. Just recounting it, now, leaves me trembling and aching, not only because of what he did, but because of how the loss of my friend hurt me.

What follows was originally posted elsewhere, January 9, 2014. I almost chose to simply delete it, but it is very illustrative of the things you shouldn’t do, as a friend to an abuse victim seeking support. 

I was warned about the ex. His ex warned me. Her friends warned me. I didn’t listen. That is on me.

Of course, he made it a very convincing case that she was psycho, and all her friends were just jumping on a bandwagon, but I did make the decision.

I agreed to move him into my home. By the time I did so, I had determined to put as happy a face as possible on it, because I knew some of my friends would be trying to poke holes, and I didn’t want holes poked. I was in dire straits, and needed this to work. Which, of course, he well knew.

Of course, by then, I’d been through a long campaign to convince me it would be okay, and every concern I brought up was either pooh-poohed or brushed aside or handled with explanations that rang true at the time. He decided that was what he wanted long before I got on board. There’s a witness to that, in case my credibility is that far gone in your eyes.

But I did make the decisions, both to agree to it, and to keep perceptive friends from poking holes. I needed this to be good, and he was saying all the right things. I didn’t want holes. I didn’t want to see holes.

He and I, together, figured out a way to trigger my seizures for a purpose. I knew one was coming, sometime around the court date I had for my stepfather’s bond reduction hearing, and I couldn’t afford to have a seizure in court, or to be in a brain-fog, the day of. This kind of triggering worked by me lying down on the bed, and him flickering lights in my face. We used it a handful of times for important occasions, for times when I had to be okay, but my seizures would probably get in the way of that. Triggering a seizure in time for me to recover kept me  from worrying about the seizure happening in the midst of those important things.

I never believed he would take that to a different place. I never even imagined he would figure out that stress triggers could be manufactured, if he just didn’t give me an avenue to walk away, and yelled and cursed and called names and got all up in my face with a barrage that wouldn’t stop until I spazzed out, seized, and later forgot the fight. I never imagined anyone would do something like that. I mean, who would?

But, because I cooperated with it the first way, I must have been on board with the second, right? …even though I wasn’t sure it was happening until it had been going on for months? No. But hey, I was on board with one, so why not the other, right? This seems to support the whole idea of Well, she let me kiss her, so why did I need to worry about getting consent to do more?

Yes. I actively encouraged him to find other partners. At first, I did this without knowing how bad things really were. How awful he really was. I was simply happy to be experiencing compersion for the first time, and I liked the women he was meeting.

Then I started having a much harder time not seeing what he was. Much harder. I was still entirely on board with him being with other people, but for much more selfish reasons. I needed a break, now and then. I needed rest that wasn’t me sleeping with one eye open, and time in my house that wasn’t eggshells and hot coals all the time. Maybe that was “stupid or cruel,” as you called it. Perhaps I should have just fought tooth and nail against him getting what he wanted, to protect all those women from the things I was already suffering. I was too weak. I was too worn down. I was too afraid. Maybe I even hoped that some of the bad would stop, if he got his girl, and got back to the NRE that allowed our first two or three months to be okay.

I didn’t just let it happen, though. I warned them. ALL of them, personally, if I had any contact information at all. I warned them of badness in general, and gave specific details, when appropriate. I’ve maintained friendships with the two most notable ones, to this day. I call them friends. I’m pretty sure they call me the same. Both have mentioned red flags that came up, that they didn’t ignore because of things I said. Both have thanked me for making them aware enough to do so. But hey. I let him date them, right? That must prove he wasn’t abusing me. Uh-huh. Sure.

I was stupid and vulnerable and I loved the man he showed me, far past the point when his actions, and the abuse, had made it clear that man was never coming back, at least not for me, no matter how ‘good’ I was, how compliant.

I covered up the abuse because I was scared. He’d charmed the pants off a very close friend. Hell, he is a great friend, as long as you don’t get any closer than that. I was assured that no one would believe me, and he proved it with her. The more time they spent together, the less she seemed to care about me. I became paranoid. I stopped telling any of the bad stuff to anyone that he might talk to, though I had to sneak to talk to people he didn’t like. But hey, I chose to be there, right? That must mean there wasn’t any abuse, right? I mean, victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse don’t ever choose to stay with their abusers, right?

I smiled and acted like everything was hunky-dory, made excuses for his behavior, explained things in the best possible light…

I kept doing this, even when he was throwing hands full of pennies at the person who cut him off on the highway, after chasing them down and passing them at 90 mph. I kept doing this even when he broke my daughter’s cello in a fit of rage. I kept doing this even when he took the dinner I’d cooked him and threw it across the room, breaking the plate, scaring the kids, and leaving food on the floor that wasn’t safe for the dog to eat, then raking the carpet like a madman, when I insisted that he clean it up. I kept doing this when he was telling me what a bitch my daughter was, and what a cunt I was and how lazy and useless and worthless and crazy I was.

I kept doing this right up until that became impossible, which happened pretty much all at once.

I went to a con with him. Where he violated my consent, then spent three days laying on the thickest coats of victim-blaming bullshit you could possibly imagine, before posting a bogus apology online, trying to save face with the community, that he hadn’t even given to me, in the next room, in person. But hey. I chose to play with him, right? That must mean that he wasn’t abusive, right?

So. There you go. All the things that make me either a liar, or a willing participant in my own abuse. Since they’ve been thrown in my face, I thought I may as well own it all.

Do me a favor, okay? If any of ^that^ makes you think of me as a liar, or a manipulator, or whatever other hurtful words you wanna toss my way, just keep it to yourself. Un-friend me. I don’t even want to know why, anymore.

You wanna kick somebody? Well, it’s the kink community, after all. I wish you luck finding someone who’s into that sort of thing. Me? I’m not.

How rape gets its foot in the door

Summer of 1994. I was fifteen years old. Like thousands – perhaps millions – of teenagers before and since, I lied to my parents. Told them I was going to the beach with my friend – we’ll call her Brittany – and her family. It was only a partial lie. Her brother and his fiancee, age nineteen, were our dubious chaperons. Her mother even lied to my mother, for us. Told her she was driving us down to the coast for a week, when she never planned to leave her home.

Instead, we rode down with the brother’s low-rider club. A bunch of ratty teenagers, looking for a good time. There’s never been a worse idea than a six hour road trip in a miniature version of a pickup truck, the vast majority of its suspension sacrificed for the low profile, except, perhaps, for cramming as many kids in every tiny cab as physics would allow. By the time we arrived, every single joint was buzzing, every muscle tight and achy.

But we were fifteen and easily passed for nineteen. We were at the beach, had money in our pockets, and were pretty much on our own, so who cared? Every day, we got dressed up, debated this top with those shorts, hands in or out of pockets, hair up or down. Does this makeup look too slutty? Does this bathing suit make me look fat? Is this too much cleavage, or too little? We’d stroll up and down the beach, or shop on the strip, or pour quarters into the crappy little bar tables and well-stocked jukebox at the arcade.

We bungee jumped off a crane, without ever showing our IDs. We got our belly buttons pierced.

We behaved like teenagers.

Only a couple of days left in our trip, Brittany and I had a falling out. I honestly don’t remember why, but we were pretty angry with one another. We’d told her brother we wouldn’t go out alone. That we’d practice the “buddy system.” And she was going, whether I wanted to, or not. I was firmly in the “or-not” camp, but I pulled on clothes and followed her onto the strip, anyway. She was walking quickly, and had a head start, so I was struggling to keep up, and maybe forty yards behind her. As we were walking towards one of the many aquamarine-painted-concrete motels, two things happened simultaneously. A young man in an orange VW Beetle pulled into the parking lot ahead of me, effectively cutting me off from my friend, and started to flirt. About the same time, a group of older boys and young men walked out from the motel itself, and started talking with Brittany, also effectively halting her.

I didn’t want to be rude, so I talked with the young man in the beetle. I didn’t find him attractive, and didn’t really care about hurting his feelings, as I’d been taken completely off guard. I was anxious, and unnerved, and worried about Brittany, who was suddenly surrounded by strangers. But I knew being rude could cause even more problems. I chatted – politely – for a moment, then told him I was sorry, but I couldn’t talk, because it looked like my friend needed me. I shuffled quickly around his back bumper.

By the time I caught up to her, Brittany was being … herded… towards a room in the motel. I jumped in, and tried to extract her from the situation, but she was still angry with me. She said she wanted to party, and they were having a party. I told her we could party back in our room, but by then they were ushering her through the door. My choices were to follow along, or to go back to our motel and try to find her brother. I’d promised not to separate from her.

I won’t go into many details, here, but we were both gang raped that night. Filled with booze, and possibly more, used, and quite literally dumped on a curb, wearing someone else’s clothing.

And it started with street harassment. It started with a demand for attention.

Rape got its foot in the door, the moment those boys and young men cut off our route, expecting us to be polite – and we were.

Really, though, rape got its foot in the door in so many ways. Ways that started long before that orange Beetle and that sleazy motel.

Rape got its foot in the door when our parents, who should have been teaching us about boundaries, who should have been keeping us safe, taught, instead, for us to be polite.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were forced to endure cheek-pinching from that dreadful great-aunt who smelled like mothballs and wore too much rouge.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were made to understand that it didn’t matter whether or not we wanted to hug the uncle who always hugged just a little too tight, held on just a little too long, we were going to hug him, and smile while we did it.

Rape got its foot in the door when those young men were little boys, being told by older boys, and sometimes even fathers, uncles, and other authority figures, that girls play hard to get, so “no” just means you’re not trying hard enough, not doing the right things.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were told that good girls didn’t enjoy sex, that sex was shameful, that talking about sex was bad, that learning about sex was tantamount to actually engaging in it. When we were only told that it was off-limits, while the boys were being told it was their job to talk us out of our “no.”

Rape got its foot in the door when we learned we were only allowed to have boundaries if they didn’t make other people feel bad.

So don’t tell me street harassment is a compliment. Don’t tell me it’s no big deal. I have seen and felt, firsthand, where street harassment can lead. It’s not a compliment; it’s a threat. It’s rape, shoving its foot in the door, demanding access. If some strange man shoved his foot into my home in that way, I’d be baffled to find a single person who thought it was then my job to make the invader’s feelings my first priority, my job to be polite to someone who was intruding on my home. In fact, there are laws on the books in most states in the U.S. that grant citizens the right to use up to lethal force, if they feel their home is being violated. And we’re talking about houses, here. Brick and mortar, wood and stone. Things.

How, then, can you excuse someone commandeering my agency, and tell me to be polite, lighten up, it’s just a compliment? Maybe not every stranger who shoves a foot in your door is a threat. Could be a salesperson, or someone handing out religious literature. Are you willing to take that risk, and welcome them in, once they’ve shoved a foot in there? Once they’ve pushed past polite, as if they were entitled to access to your home, are you willing to then offer them tea and cookies, just to be polite? Of course not. The very notion is absolutely absurd.

And so is the notion that we should have to be polite to those shoving their feet into the door of our very ability to determine to whom we wish to speak, or how we wish to spend our time, or whether or not we wish to have company at our table, or at the bus stop, or on a stroll. Whether or not we’re okay with you standing so damned close. Whether or not we want to have a drink with you, or hear your opinions about our bodies. When you assume you are entitled to someone’s attention, and demand that without concern for what they want?

That’s rape, shoving its foot in the door. And we have every goddamned right in the world to crush its fucking toes, as we slam that door in whatever way we choose.