#metoo

Like most women, I have lost track of the little forms of sexual harassment I have experienced. It happens whether I take the train[1] or a Lyft[2]. It happens when I ride my bike[3]. It happens at my job[4] and when I’m out with friends[5]. It comes from men of every race and every age. Men who I have expressed a little bit of interest in and men who had no reason to believe I would welcome their advance. Since there isn’t time to deep dive into every one of these occurrences I want to highlight three. These stories have commonalities not only because they all take place in times and places I should have been able to feel completely secure (asleep in my home) and because they all involve a man using my generosity and hospitality against me. They also all include a day after of shame, during which I found a way to blame myself for what happened. That shame is why I have never posted before. These are stories I tell my friends, often spinning them for comedic affect because they are outrageous. But I don’t want to laugh it off today. They are outrageous, and I am outraged.

When I was 18 years old-

The summer after my high school graduation I did a two-month internship in Washington D.C. It was my first time living away from home and my first time living in a big city. My roommate Maya and I hosted a party and a friend of a friend came to it.

I didn’t register Andrew for most of the night. I only remember his name because it was the same as our hot neighbor down the hall and I had been disappointed when the person who showed up at our door wasn’t “that” Andrew.

I was busy drinking tequila and dancing and hosting and puking up tequila into our kitchen sink and dancing more. I was the youngest in our group of interns and I was trying my best to hang with people who had already made their freshman year worth of mistakes. The party was a big success and as most of our guests stumbled back down the hall to their nearby apartments, Andrew stayed behind.

He told me he “missed the last train,” which was true. He asked if he could spend the night and I said “yeah the couch is all yours”. Once he had made that tiny inroad he felt encouraged to push for more. He begged me to let him sleep in my bed because our couch was “so small” and he was “too tall for it”. I was tired, and I didn’t want to ruin the good feeling I had gotten by doing him the favor of letting him spend the night. Even though I didn’t like or even know this guy, I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I let him sleep in my bed. All night he tried in various ways to initiate sex, and I all night I pretended not to feel it and just tried to sleep. In the morning, hungover, I essentially pushed him out the door of our apartment and before he left he had the nerve to ask for a kiss goodbye.

When I was 21 years old:

Two of my very close friends were getting married and the event brought guests from all over the country to our small college town. Three mutual friends asked me if they could stay at my house and I told them all yes, the more the merrier. After the wedding reception, I hosted a party at my house and over the course of the night various friends fell asleep on the different makeshift beds I had set up around the house. Someone had the idea that we should find a hot tub and so the remaining guys and I walked to a nearby apartment complex and hopped the fence around its pool. After I almost fell asleep laying on my back with one leg dangling in the hot tub, I knew that if I didn’t go home soon I wouldn’t be able to get back over the fence. We made it out and three men, one I knew well and two I had just met, came back to my place.

The last available sleeping surface was a queen sized memory foam mattress topper on a carpet in my converted garage. It could technically fit all of us, so in the clothes we swam in, now dry from the warm summer night’s air, we laid down on the foam pad all in a row.

Stranger. Me. Friend. Stranger.

I fell asleep almost immediately. It was a restless sleep, but I was exhausted and committed to not being awake anymore. Sometime in the early morning I felt the stranger to my right maneuver his hand across my thigh. Before I could process what was happening he had slipped his finger inside of me.

Somewhere in my cloudy, quarter-conscious brain, I knew that I should make a scene. I knew that it was my house and my body and my hospitality being taken advantage of. I knew that the right thing to do when someone assaults you is to, at the very least, say “Hey buddy! Would you mind not assaulting me?” But, just like when I was 18, I didn’t want conflict. I just wanted it to not be happening anymore.

I forcefully grabbed his hand and pulled it out. Then, assuming anyone would take that hint, I tried to go back to sleep. Then he did it again and once more I pulled his hand away. Then, again, I tried to sleep.

In the morning I almost couldn’t believe it had happened, but I remembered the feeling so vividly I knew it couldn’t have just been a dream. Before I could tell any of my friends what had happened, a plan had been made for us all to grab brunch.

I sat across the table from the man who assaulted me. The man who never even introduced himself to me but felt entitled to touch me while I slept.

When I was 22 years old:

Early on during my time in Chicago I lived in an apartment with 3 guys I met on Craigslist and their pitbull named Syd.

The second story of our house consisted of my bedroom, another smaller bedroom, a common area and room that had tried to be a kitchen but had settled for just being a room with linoleum and a fridge. After Syd bit the other upstairs resident, he moved out and a girl moved in. I really liked her style and wanted to be her friend.

One rainy night she had a date planned with a guy she seemed really into. He came over and up to our little common room and we all hung out for a while. I offered to drive them to their date, but my roommate didn’t want that kind of favor from me. They got an Uber and I went to bed early.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke halfway to a crack of light in my doorway. I had heard my roommate and her date come home a while earlier and thought perhaps they had forgotten to close the door that kept Syd downstairs. Then I felt a presence enter my room, then enter my bed. In my half consciousness I felt myself get scooted over as this, now decidedly human, body made itself comfortable in my bed.

And again, I didn’t want to make a scene. In the haze between sleep and wakefulness I made every possible excuse for this behavior. I assumed that there must be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a stranger had, without asking, taken over half my bed.

At 5am my roommate burst in yelling, “What the hell is going on?” and I didn’t know how to respond.

Freshly conscious, I realized that the person next to me was in fact her date from the night before. “You have to explain this to her,” I whispered to him, feeling guilty but not knowing exactly why, “I don’t know how you got here.”

He said, “I would, but I’m naked.”

I gave him a spare sheet and sent him out. For days I was too uncomfortable to broach the subject with my roommate. I felt so ashamed. I wanted some sort of apology but not from her.

When I finally addressed what had happened, the most I could muster was, “So that guy from the other night. Can I assume he will not be making a second appearance?”

“Oh, it really wasn’t his fault,” she said. “He was sleepwalking. We’ll probably hang out again soon.”

People are always surprised when I tell them these things happened, but that’s not because they are rare. It’s because we are all silenced by our shame. We don’t see ourselves as perfect victims so we prefer to let others do the talking. We feel so much more comfortable framing ourselves as strong supporters than real human beings.

I believe myself to be a person who takes a stand against sexual assault. I have even physically put myself between a friend and her abusive ex-partner. But when it came to my own experiences I couldn’t speak out.

I thought because I “could have protected myself better” I didn’t have the right to speak out afterward.

I thought because I didn’t do enough to stop it, I was complicit.

I thought because I was okay, because my life wasn’t destroyed, it wasn’t my place to take the spotlight.

These stories have fuzzy edges to them. They exist in an area that doesn’t feel traumatic enough for the word assault. To call them that feels like an insult to those who have experienced the physical and psychological pain of forcible rape.

But they are real. And they are not okay. Although I understand every reason that I didn’t speak up before, I wish I had. Because I know that some people, for a million different reasons, can’t, and I can. And so I should, if not for myself then for other women who could be next.

I hope in the future I will be more less afraid of conflict and more afraid of the consequences of my inaction.

[1] One time, a man seated next to me got up to let me out. I said “thank you” he said “No, thank You baby,” while staring directly at my chest.

[2] One time, a Lyft driver asked me repeatedly if I had a boyfriend and told me that I had a good body but it would look better if I wore heels.

[3] One time, a man biked up behind me and started a conversation about the weather. Then he said “Not to be a creep or anything, but nice buns.”

[4] One time, a higher up at my job talked to another employee while looking over repeatedly at me. When I asked what was going on he said “I never knew what a great shape you had until you wore that skirt. You should dress like that more often.”

[5] One time, I was at a bar with a group of people. The two men in our group went to go get drinks leaving me and one other girl. Two men came up to us and one wouldn’t stop hitting on us even after I said “My boyfriend is in the bar. He is getting us drinks right now.”

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