TW: Sexual Assault
Dear the person who approached me in HSQ earlier this week,
Before I go into the details of our encounter, and the short string of words that oozed out of your mouth, I’d like to paint a picture of how my day was going right up until that point. I was walking through Harvard’s campus for the first time in months. I’ve taken this route many times, and I often look forward to any errand that directs me towards HSQ because I find comfort in the warm memories from summer days spent reading in lawn chairs. The Harvard yard is always bustling with locals and tourists, you can always tell them apart by what activity attracted them to the yard in the first place. Are they listening to a podcast against a tree or are they rubbing John Harvard’s golden foot? Due to COVID, I knew it was going to be different but I still couldn’t help but compare it to my memories from last summer. I noticed all the empty bulletin-boards, and I thought about how strange it was to see such a lively board stripped of everything- leaving behind nothing but residual staples and torn edges. A lot has changed since quarantine, and I suppose this is a common theme with community boards all across the country nowadays. As I continued down the sidewalk, still thinking about empty bulletin boards and vacant restaurant tables- my eyes continued to wander around, and my face was still sweating under my mask. I was in my own secure world with my little thoughts dancing around. The sun was shining, and I was having a really good day.
Then without warning, you blocked my path and broke into my world with such a short string of unsolicited words. You positioned yourself in front of me and said “Oooh, mmmm honey, you are perrrfect.” Instead of looking at you, I put my head down and looked at the people around me who were continuing on with their day. I felt your eyes all over, and your inability to acknowledge that every cell in my body went cold. I thought if I was still enough, I’d slip into the cracks on the sidewalk without anyone noticing I was ever there. I wasn’t surprised, nor was I expecting anyone to intervene, but I’m curious how many of them even recognized the severity of that “minor” interaction. My first thought was disappointment, not at you but at myself for showing off so much skin. Why did you stop me? Was it because my tattoos were visible, and maybe you misinterpreted them as an invitation to speak to me that way?
Here’s the truth about my tattoos: I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy over the past few years trying to mend every bit of skin that has been branded by the intrusive fingertips of those who were never welcome. For most of my younger years, I felt robbed of my own body which made it impossible to show up and be strong for anyone, myself included. Replacing those spaces with ink from artists of my choosing felt like my way of breathing life back into my empty body. All of the spaces that used to feel more like someone else’s scorched earth were reinvented into something more than just scar tissue. They became uncharted territory of my own creation and I was free to do whatever I wanted with them.
I’d also like to add that this is far from my first experience with being approached like this. In the past, I’ve had my exit blocked while trying to leave a parking garage alone at night because the attendant demanded my phone number, I watched my entire family ignore my discomfort as a relative forced me to sit on their lap on Christmas Day, and I was 11 when a classmate demonstrated what they wanted to do to me using a slice of cantaloupe and a plastic spoon- so in comparison to those, this one was rather mild. However, my understanding of the weight behind your language has shifted. I am incapable of brushing them off like I used to. They’re not innocent comments because behavior like this is inexcusable.
You made me question my place in the city I’ve called home for the past year and a half. How dare I exist in a public space in broad daylight, what was I expecting? You made me reflect on how this ostensibly minor situation ignited the same fear and panic as the one that happened almost three years ago which landed me on a therapist’s couch receiving a diagnosis of PTSD, and a very fucking difficult road to recovery. All of these situations happened in the company of other other humans who were unaware of the damage being done. This time, I was approached in broad daylight and the folks around me continued on with their day. I don’t blame them, interactions like this happen all the time and we’ve grown to ignore them. Sticks and stones, right? Three years ago, I was carried off by a “good Samaritan” who was simply helping a vulnerable girl home from the bar after having one too many pints. I don’t blame the folks who saw me getting carried across town, they didn’t know that I only had two beers- how were they supposed to know that I was drugged and that his intentions were far from benevolent?
I understand that the circumstances of these situations differ in severity, but the emotions that were felt did not. I still went home and repeatedly tried to scrub the feeling of your eyes from my raw skin. The one personal response that never fails to surprise me is my inability to turn around and shout, or make a scene so interactions like this are acknowledged by more folks than just you and I. However, you were three times my size, you were physically capable of causing harm if you chose to do so, and at the end of the day, would my words even matter? I tried to confront my abuser from three years ago and I was told that it was consensual because earlier that night, I smiled at him from across the bar so I should just get over it. Just to be clear, an innocent smile directed at no one in particular gave this guy the “OK” to slip something into my drink to make it easier for him to carry my body away without anyone batting an eyelid. This time, I was minding my own business and thinking about vacant spaces while walking to an eyeglasses appointment. So what are our options? How are we supposed to approach situations like this? I’m genuinely curious, because at this point I have absolutely no idea.
You didn’t know my name, you didn’t know a single thing about who I was- not even the minor details people catch on to within minutes of meeting someone. You also didn’t know that just a few hours earlier, I was celebrating a personal victory: I (mostly) slept through the night without being startled awake from whatever nightmare my subconscious decided to throw my way. You saw an empty body attached to a defenseless pair of legs walking alone in a busy square, you didn’t see a person. My words wouldn’t have made a difference to you.
I took a different route home.
TLDR: Don’t look at my body. And before any folks decide to bring up the “not all men” argument, I’d like to formally say fuck you, and do better.
P.S. for whoever this may concern: If I’m friends/family/coworkers with your abuser, please let me know and I will sever that relationship immediately, without question and definitely without a moment of hesitation.
If I was ever a bystander in a situation where you were hurt, I’m so sorry and please let me know if there anything I can do for you.
Here are some links for those of you who are interested.
Resources because data & statistics are important.
Violence against Trans/NB folks
3 Comments Add yours
I kept trying to reply to this on insta but it felt like I was using up way too much of your space for my voice, especially since we only met once, six years ago.
But It’s a potent piece of writing, and I was affected by it. You convey your emotions in a way that’s impossible not to feel, and I don’t think all writers are successful in that.
I think having perspectives such as this available to men is important. I’ve been trying to make sure I’m being honest with other men about my own failings along these lines, when the opportunity presents itself –though I hope they’re far behind me now. I think that’s one of the only ways we’re going to improve, as men.
Thanks for making your feelings about this experience available to us.
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Hi Sam! I saw your message on Insta, and I suppose you took it down before I had a minute to respond. We only met once, but I’m so thankful that you reached out because these conversations are important. I’m really interested in your perspective, and kinda curious about where you failed in regards to these situations. I think we’ve all been guilty of perpetuating aggressions at some point throughout our lives, I’m also guilty of it. Usually the reality of our words/actions doesn’t hit us until far down the line. While I can’t think of a time where I’ve cat-called, or objectified any folks in passing, I’m guilty of failing to recognize the impacts these situations have on men too. They’re also victims of harassment, and abuse which is something that is definitely not talked about. Honestly, there’s just so much to unpack here- but if you’re interested in continuing the conversation, I am 100% here for it.
Sam, this is Greg from Clover at the moment I am so emotionally angry because we men still do not know and understand how important it is to treat women with respect and honor their space. As a man I understand and recognize that we allow this to continue when we should step up and explain to our sons, brother, friend and associates that this is wrong on so many levels. That we as men need to check our selves I feel so hurtful about this especially because you are such a wonderful person and have always been so nice to everyone around you. Reading about the things that have happen to you and the strength that you have projected daily to go through your day is amazing. I am so sorry that you had to experience these negative things in your life and wish women did not have to experience these things from us men. I am at fault like every man because I don’t say enough to other men about how they treat women. I hope that you still consider me a friend.