This needs a prelude:
Four weeks ago, I was talking to a friend at 4 AM. He’s an emergency services dispatcher and sleep comes at a premium for me, so our best conversations tend to soak through into the night. Prior to the Weinstein story breaking, we had a long chat about the gendered politics of sexual abuse. And how people are and aren’t expected to carry it.
So, for purposes of volume and honesty, I dragged this out: from ages 11-13, I was sexually taken advantage of by an older boy in my neighborhood. I wasn’t the only one; it happened dozens of times over two years to at least four of us I know about. It took me years to develop the vocabulary and perspective to realize I’d been abused; that I didn’t feel anger about it at that point or ascribe issues of weight, masculinity or orientation to it isn’t of consequence. I had the “first time we all had sex” story swap over beers with friends in conversation at 19 and realized via their reactions that what happened to me wasn’t normative and okay.
I don’t know if anger is the emotional crux of what I feel, 25 years later. I tracked him down via the internet; he’s married, in North Carolina, with three kids. And that’s where I’d like the story to end. But as my dispatcher friend reminded me, you can’t undo what happened. Whether or not I’m aware of how I express myself, I do carry the marks of what happened to me.
So, first time I’m talking about it publicly: I was a child and the victim of sexual harassment and assault. Me, too. And I didn’t talk about it for so long because I’d nornalized it and ascribed my status as a hairy, masculine and physically intimidating man to my invincibility: not so. We dismantle environments where this can happen and sit on the shelf for decades by creating, instead, environments in which we can talk about what happened without shame.
And yet, I’m a fervent believer that #metoo isn’t about me. This isn’t about what happened to me or how it happened; it’s about the gendered use of power to attain sexual gratification and harm and take things from another. That’s not quite what happened to me, as a sixteen year old took advantage of me. But it’s part of the same horrific continuum.
This isn’t up to women to solve, or the victims of any gender to own and speak out and tear down walls. We know this happens. Men know this happens. And men have the power and requirement to solve this. It’s way past time. And ignorance of our position in this is culpability, as if we did it ourselves.
We have to be better and we have to do more. The victims are not responsible for the next stage or creating safe spaces. That’s on us.