Me too. Many of us have typed these words this week, many of us couldn’t bring ourselves to – or not publicly, anyway. As part of a sexual assault awareness campaign started by Tarana Burke, survivors of sexual violence wrote these two simple words on social media feeds. It helped survivors know that they were not alone, and it also served as a tool to show men how prevalent the problem was.
It was powerful to see so many of us coming forward, sometimes for the first time. Many folks also pointed out that we shouldn’t have to bear our pain so publicly for the problem to be addressed. We were once again putting the onus on survivors to solve a problem that we didn’t cause. I agree.
Why was it so hard for me to write the words “me too”? Why did some people admit that it took them hours to get up the courage? Because I still feel the words catch in my throat. No. They don’t even catch because I have never spoken them.
What if we told our stories for ourselves? Our stories are not polite requests for awareness, like a pink ribbon worn on the lapel. Our stories are gas soaked rags in molotov cocktails, ignited by our righteous anger.
Like all weapons, the wielder should be in control as to how, when, and if it is used. But I know that our stories can be powerful.
We don’t need to tell our stories to convince them – the others – the ones who are doing this and getting away with it that it is a problem. They know. We need to do it for ourselves. Because I still feel shame and I still feel like it’s my fault.
I have been actively doing feminist work for 20 years and I still have never told anyone the extent of the abuse I have suffered, but I know that when I read other people’s accounts and want to tell them it is not their fault, that I believe them – that I am really talking to myself.
My current self, but especially my 14 year old self.
The 14 year old who thought she knew what she was doing and got herself sexually assaulted. GOT HERSELF (that’s still how it feels). A grown man who offered me $5 to kiss him and then grabbed me and felt my breasts and tried to put his hands down my pants until someone came by and punched him and I got away. But reader, I told him that I would kiss him if he paid me $5, so I still feel complicit in my own assault. I was 14 and he was grown. These are things that I would never think about another person who told me their story. Why do I think it about myself?
I keep writing away from it. I can feel my heart beat faster when I am talking about being sexually assaulted (the first time – there were other times, of course there were other times!) and then my heart slows as I start to digress.
Then a few years later when I told my friends that I had been assaulted and they said they weren’t worried about me because I could take care of myself – did I mention these were guy friends? Is that obvious?
I fell asleep on the couch at those same guy friends house and woke up with a hand inside my vagina. What if I tell you that I went to sleep next to him on the couch? What about how I didn’t tell anyone? Not even other girls who may stay over? What about how all this time I was a LOUD OUTSPOKEN feminist and would talk about pretty much everything. Everything but this.
This is not the most shameful thing. But I believe that the harder it is to write about the more important it is to write about. If we write about our experiences FOR EACH OTHER then we can bring it into the light and there is no shame in the light. In the light I can talk about how these assaults have shaped my sexuality even today. I see it in the way my fantasies involve coercion and control. Things that I masturbate to are the things that would trigger me in real life and maybe cause me to shut down. This is part of my story too.
I have so many dreams where I am not able to speak or yell and there is something in my throat making it hard to breathe. Maybe this is what is (was) in my throat. But words can be a weapon.
More Radical Reads: #MeToo: Why I Don’t Want to Talk about It: When Sharing Becomes Self-Harm
Even writing this my throat is hurting like my body is punishing me for letting these words out. The harder this is the more important it feels and I am tired of carrying this weight. I can’t make the men who did this (and other things – so many other things) carry the weight but I can put the words out into the world. And each person who reads this can take a little piece of it and each piece will be so light like air and we can let the wind carry it away like ashes AS WE BURN THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY TO THE GROUND.
[Feature Image: A photo of a person with light brown shoulder-length hair. They are wearing a peach tank top. They have tattoos on their arms and chest. Their mouth is open and angry. Source: Nicole Hanusek]