I wrote this essay in response to a submission call for an anthology for WoC who had experienced sexual harassment and abuse.
It’s what we always say about sexual harassment and abuse. It’s what we’re taught. “It’s Not That Bad”
For a while, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this piece since it didn’t get picked up for the anthology.
I think this is the right spot for it. It felt an awful lot like ripping my soul out to write it, so if it has meaning to you or you liked what I had to say, maybe toss me a dollar via PayPal or buy me a Kofi?
Possibly become a patron? You all have no idea how much I value those of you who can help me keep going. Even a dollar a month makes such a difference, and I live well under the poverty line with a family to feed. My work of words is my only income.
Graphic discussion of sexual harassment, rape, and child molestation.
“It’s not that bad.” I say this to myself, all the time. It’s how we’re programmed to think. To excuse.
And honestly, it WASN’T as bad as what my mother and grandmother lived through. It just wasn’t. That doesn’t excuse it though.
How could it?
This whole subject is like ripping off a thick scab, then digging into the wound for me. Maybe my sharing it will help someone else. Maybe. Because it actually IS that bad.
I was eleven when my cousin tried to rape me. He was bigger and heavier than me, and if my brother hadn’t already taught me to kick a guy in the nuts, I’d have learned then and there what so many girls do.
I was older, in my early teens, when the next phase started, and I’ve blocked out most of the memories. I know it happened, and I don’t want to know any more than that. What I do remember is by far more than enough. I do know the day my step-grandfather died, I felt such a wave of relief. I was free. Sort of. I’ll bear the scars forever, but at least he no longer walks the earth.
At the time it was all going down, I kept quiet about it because he threatened me with not having a place to live if I squealed. The school got wind of it because I wrote about it in my journal and printed it out. I forgot the paper on the printer when the bell rang and… well. There were problems.
He screamed at me, spittle flying, smacking my grandmother around at the same time. Yelling at me that if I didn’t recant it when the police came, he’d kick my grandmother and me out onto the street.
Even though it was my grandmother’s house. Not his.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, I guess, that when my boyfriend ‘accidentally’ had anal sex with me, hurting me in the process, that I didn’t know it was rape until much later in my life. I’d long since broken up with the guy, I was in university and taking a human sexuality class for the first time.
It hit me kinda hard that I’d been raped. More than once. I wasn’t raised knowing what is and isn’t rape. Just with the concept of ‘stranger danger’. Which completely disregards the fact that most rapes and acts of sexual abuse are committed by someone you know. Someone you care about or who has care over you.
It’s odd, when I think back over the times in my life that have clearly been some form of sexual abuse or harassment. It’s so much easier to see it in hindsight. I think that’s why I’m writing this essay. To call attention to the fact that we aren’t teaching our vulnerable people what rape culture is. How insidious and damaging it is. How deeply ingrained and accepted.
I’m curvy. I’ll leave it at that, but in business attire, it can be pretty obvious if I wear a button-down shirt. I remember a day when we were in a meeting while I was working high-powered sales to the US government.
It was hot enough that I sweltered in the conference room, and my suit was wool. I unbuttoned the jacket of the pants-suit while giving a presentation on sales numbers. My blouse was one of the type with a bit of stretch to it. It made my bust rather prominent in comparison to my waist, and every single one of the men in the room with me looked. Eight pairs of eyes widened, and one of the old timers actually said, ‘wow’. He said it three or four times with his eyes glued to my breasts. The reason I got out of forensics work was the same. My coworkers were far more interested in my rack than in my brain, or my sales numbers, or anything else about me (including that I’m pretty damned queer and not usually attracted to cis men).
It made me extremely uncomfortable. But it was corporate sales. It wasn’t that bad. From the stories of other women I’d talked to, it wasn’t. They were just looking.
It was around the same time period that I went to a party with friends. It was a good time. We were young, in love with life. We got drunk. We hung together for a while and then dispersed into the crowd.
Dumb damned kid I was then… I decided to cozy up to the bar. I’d be lying if I said it had nothing to do with the hot, shirtless bartender. I’m demisexual, not dead and he was so very pretty.
I decided in the foolish way of youth to try things I hadn’t before. Tequila shots. Yeah.
I can’t drink tequila to this day.
I didn’t know it then, but my family is susceptible to hard liquor. It’s been suggested, despite scientific proof to the contrary, that it’s because we’re mixed race. First Nations, European and Black. For whatever actual reason, I can’t handle hard liquor. It affects me in ways others I’ve talked to don’t experience.
Basically, I don’t feel it until it smacks me upside the head with a board and I have to drink a LOT of it for that to happen. Like most of a 750 ml bottle. At which point I start doing really stupid things that I would never do when sober. Nor even if I were buzzed on wine or beer.
Feeling a little nauseous after four shots of tequila and two of ouzo, I went out on the porch for a breath of fresh air. It was a three-floor walkup, and they hadn’t closed off the stairs. I wasn’t paying attention, and I fell down all three of those flights on a zipper ride of ouch.
The ER doc even said I was lucky not to have broken my damned neck. He told me that booze saves a lot of young peoples’ lives because the muscle relaxants make us less likely to be hurt.
But the ER was later.
It was a Halloween party, so we were all in costume, and when I made my way back up the stairs, a guy in a sheep costume that had been hanging around my peripheral awareness all night offered to help me.
Each flight was something like twenty-five splintery wooden stairs. I counted on the way back up.
I’m adhd/autistic, and not great at reading social cues when I’m sober. I won’t ever pick up a verbal hint. You have to be very clear with me, (ideally without hurting or triggering me) with whatever it is you want. Drunker than a skunk on tequila, still in shock from the horrible ride down the stairs, I didn’t pay attention to that voice that was saying not to go with him. I just wanted a phone to call a cab (pre cell phones). I wanted my friends so I could go home.
He led me to a room in our host’s home and locked the door.
Only then did my warning bells go off.
It still isn’t that bad, though. He didn’t rape me.
He tried. Hard.
But by that point in my life, I’d learned Gung fu and Hapkido, I was working on Juijitsu. By the time we were done, and thank gods I function reasonably well, physically, when I’m drunk, he was the one who lay crying on the floor.
Instead of me.
That time, I was the one who walked away, and out of the four times someone has tried or succeeded in raping me, it was the only time it was a stranger.
I didn’t report it.
I didn’t report any of the times someone hurt me.
Most femme presenting people know we won’t be believed, and if we are, well, it’s our fault. We were asking for it.
I went home that night with my friends, slept off the booze and went to the ER the next day. They did a rape kit, in case I’d blacked out. I had, in addition to the bruises up and down my side where I’d fallen down the stairs, strangle marks in the shape of fingers around my throat. Bruises in cuffs around my wrists, also in the shapes of fingers, a cracked zygomatic (cheekbone) and bruises on my belly with knuckle impressions.
But it wasn’t that bad.
Because he didn’t succeed.
The ER had to accept my leaving AMA after giving me shots. A tetanus booster and a vitamin K shot, I think, against all the bruising.
They told me the signs of a concussion to watch for.
I went home.
I went on with my life, going to work on Monday. I wore long sleeves and a scarf around my throat until the bruises faded. I guarantee I’m not the only femme-presumed person who has done this.
As far as the invisible marks those kinds of things leave, they’re with me always. I have CPTSD, many things will trigger me, a lot of them are wrapped part and parcel up with the experiences I’ve had with regard to the concept of “It isn’t that bad.”
I have trouble with some sexual positions, even though I’ve been with the same person for going on twenty-four years now and he has never harmed me.
I feel guilt, frequently, that I didn’t report the people who tried or succeeded in harming me, because that means they are still free to do it to someone else.
I know for a fact my cousin went on to rape someone else, because I’ve talked to her. She didn’t manage to knee him in the balls.
But with regard to my family, no one would have believed me. That’s why I didn’t tell. IF they had believed me, they would’ve done nothing. For the sake of keeping things even keeled in the family, they wouldn’t have acted, because it wasn’t that bad. Nothing had really happened. Even at the tender age of eleven, I knew that. (My brother did have a fight with my cousin, and wiped the floor with him. Kyle was a bit of a banty rooster.)
I certainly knew it at fourteen to sixteen with my step-grandfather.
I tried to report the sexual harassment at work. The female human resources person I talked to blew me off and said, “that’s just the way it is in corporate. It’s not that bad.”
She actually said to me, “It’s not that bad.” She told me that unless someone had propositioned me in exchange for something like a raise or something, there wasn’t anything she could do.
I feel guilty that I didn’t report sheep-costume-guy. I should have. I worry about the people without my martial arts skills who he probably went on to hurt.
But what was I supposed to tell the cops? Dark-haired, overweight, Caucasian man in a sheep costume? There wasn’t any evidence gathered in the rape kit, just pictures of the bruises. At most, it would’ve been an assault charge. Maybe they’d even have charged me with assault because I maybe hurt him worse than he hurt me.
It was the nineties. They’d have blamed me for drinking too much and wearing a skimpy costume. (Even though a sari isn’t all that skimpy.) I knew that then, same as I know it now.
Rape culture loves to victim blame. Western culture adores excusing things like this.
But let me tell you something.
It IS that bad.
It really is.