No Means No, No Matter Who Says It
Just promise you won’t laugh. I mean, not that you would. Since there’s nothing funny about it. And when this sort of thing happens to other people, of course, I take it deadly serious. But now that it’s me, I just… I’m just so big, you know? I’m six foot five. You look at the size difference and it feels ridiculous — as in, literally deserving of ridicule — to even say the word. So I won’t. I can’t.
But then I can’t just ignore it, right? How do you do the right thing here? I think if it were someone else, if it were a friend, I’d tell them to speak up — do something to make the person realize that what they did was Not OK. That’s what I’d tell them, I think. I think that’s the right move. So I’ll say something.
I’ll say something.
I’ve only known her a few months, but I consider her a friend. She tells me it’s been a bad week and an even worse day. I can tell she’s upset. I say she can come over, if she wants. That usually helps. She sounds excited. She says she’s on her way.
She brings hard cider in bottles stuffed into her backpack. I can’t drink because of the medication I’m on, but I tell her to go right ahead. When she kills her supply I make a cup of Jameson and Ginger — my favorite drink. She says it tastes like chalk but drinks it anyway. She starts to lean into me. We talk about the week and her apartment in Alphabet City: how she can’t walk to work without being accosted by homeless guys and weirdos. They yell from across the street. They follow her home. She doesn’t understand why it keeps happening. What do they hope to get out of it?
“I was actually just talking to The Girls,” I say, “and they were saying pretty much the same—”
“What girls? Who are these girls?” She cuts me off, shoots me a look that is meant to be “playfully accusing” and “flirty” but comes out glazed and unfocused; at some point, her eye make-up had begun to smear.
Still, I answer her question. “The Girls” are a group of highly-educated and extremely well-read women in their late 20s and early 30s working as part of the publishing industry here in New York. They were talking the other day about how, regardless of the amount you spend on rent, it seems there’s no escaping the catcalls of obnoxious men on the street. From Tribeca to SoHo to the Upper East Side and the United Nations, any neighborhood you choose, they lamented, will contain some jerk-off who thinks it’s okay to publicly humiliate a woman. And that’s what it is, they said: humiliation. Catcalls are never compliments — they are insidious little comments meant to demonstrate dominance and control over women’s bodies. They communicate that the loudmouth and his gaze can commoditize and enjoy a woman without her say. And those are the ‘nicer’ ones, I was told; it wasn’t uncommon for The Girls to encounter someone who would begin appreciative but suddenly, as they passed, switch to a string of abusive vulgarities.
I tried to explain all this.
“Hrmmph,” she replies, apparently unsatisfied with my answer. “I wish there weren’t all these other girls. I wish… it was just one girl. And maybe that one girl is me?” She bites her lip and smiles before burying her face in my chest. We’re alone in my room; the door is closed and, as I’ve just recently moved, there isn’t much more than a bed inside. She’s finished her last drink — the empty plastic cup clatters up and down the uneven floor, synced to the rotation of a small plastic fan. I know what she wants me to say, but things are too unstable right now; I’ve been job-hunting for almost a year. I’m struggling to pay rent. I’m eating spaghetti 14 times a week. My hair is falling out in clumps. She knows this; she knows it’s impossible.
“I’m not even that cute,” she says. “Or… no, I’m definitely cute, but — I dunno, I’m cute but like, not to the level where creeps should be falling over themselves for me, ya know?” She rolls onto her back and places her head gently in my lap, eyes upward, gazing at me with an intensity not easily replicated sober. “Do you think I’m pretty, Mike?
“Of course,” I say.
So she squints now and smiles, seemingly satisfied, equal parts sanguine and sloshed. “That makes, it makes me so happy because — because you are, I’m not even lying, this sounds crazy maybe to you but not to me, because, because you are the most honest and… and trustworthy person I know — that I know I have ever known… in my life. That’s sad. But it’s also happy. Because I know you. I know you.” Her hand runs up my leg, up the leg of my basketball shorts.
Until she starts with her mouth — only briefly, because after only a few seconds she pulls back, smiles, gives her best Sexy Look and congratulates someone named “Lamar.”
“I’m not Lamar.”
“Well, obviously,” she says as she leans forward.
I stop her.
“No,” I say. “I mean, you just called me ‘Lamar.’”
“Yeah. Definitely. Is that—”
Like throwing a switch, she’s instantly frantic, sitting up and pushing herself into me, explaining that it was an old boyfriend and it’d been over a year since they broke up and it was her idea to break up in the first place and she doesn’t even think of him, but it’s just, if you listen, it’s just that it’s almost their anniversary — if they were still together, she means — which they aren’t, which is a good thing, definitely, she says, and she only remembers the anniversary because it’s sex days — she means six days — away from her birthday which, by the way, she’s got a great party planned and I can come, I have to come, I have to touch her, just touch her, she pleads, just lie on top of her and let her feel your weight right now, do it right now because it’s been a horrible week, it’s been so bad but I’m so good, and how bad must it have been, she says, for her to remember him this week, to have that just fly into her brain like, oh wow, hey, dumb girl, she says, today you’re gonna think about some old asshole you don’t even like and care about and didn’t even know how to care, back then, really, before, at all, about anything, and and and and she breathes and stumbles over words and makes an analogy and pleads, hug me, lie on top of me, just hold my hand, okay, okay, no this is like, she makes an analogy and gives up on the analogy and strips off her clothes, throws her clothes into the wall—
“Let me make it up to you,” she says. She tears my shorts down my leg. They get stuck around my knees but she doesn’t notice, sliding as she does above my stomach, into a position mixed martial artists call the “Mount,” wherein weight on the midsection synergizes with the position of the knees to remove all of the opposition’s leverage. Most professional fighters, when mounted, seek to protect their faces and hold on for the end of the round — as I’m not fighting, I don’t bother.
I don’t realize what’s happening. By now she’s manic, and there’s a hand wrapped way too tightly around my crotch, yanking it just about out of its socket.
“Mike, you have to like me!”
I push my arms out behind me and bend my torso up to meet her. We’re almost face to face, but in this configuration she towers several inches above me. For someone used to looking down — only literally — on the world, the sudden vulnerability is jarring.
“No! No! Mike! Let me! You have to let me!”
“No,” I say, “What are you –”
But now she’s already dug her nails into the side of my head, her thumbs jutting into my eyes and forcing my head back against the mattress. I let out a little yelp and it surprises me. It’s possible she’s just trying, and overdoing, the ‘rough sex’ thing. She’s familiar with my writing, and so she knows I don’t mind that sort of thing, that I’ve got some experience there — but then there’s usually some amount of preparation involved in all that: communication, boundaries, safe words. This is not the way to go about it.
“Look, this isn’t how—”
“Like me! Like me and kiss me and let me, Mike!”
I feel her rolling herself onto my crotch, and I take the opportunity, while her weight is shifted, to get some leverage, to rocket up on my palms and try to grab hold of a shoulder or something to bring me face-to-face again. I want to communicate, I want to figure out why this is, why –
She releases my crotch and sends both hands at my face.
Her fingernails are so sharp, I think. She rakes them across my face and I actually yell, out loud, at the pain. I am a man who wears his pain tolerance as one of very few sources of legitimate pride. To hear myself shouting out like this—
“You want it!”
Her nails come straight into my face now: one into my mouth, into the corner of my eye –
I push my eyes shut as she claws frantically at my face, leaning into it hard now, creeping her knees higher up my chest and using the improved position to leverage me down against the bed. She extends one arm into my face and the other reaches back for my crotch again.
“Let it happen!”
This was the moment I realized what was actually happening. Prior to this, it was a series of errors, a tragicomic attempt at roughhousing, something we could look back on and laugh. Prior to this, she was maybe too caught to realize I wasn’t enjoying myself, that I didn’t want this. But there, with her hand in my face, her tiny frame perfectly positioned in some Hélio Gracie-level exertion of maximized leverage, and me beneath her, yelling, forcefully non-consenting in my deep, masculine but faltering bass — No! Stop! Seriously, stop! Stop everything! I don’t want this! Get off of me! Let go! Let me go! Stop scratching me! Fuck! Fuck, stop it! — there, at that point, she’d made a decision.
I remembered an article I’d read a while back. It was comparing the fear men have of being violated in prison (since they are surrounded by people who can physically dominate them) with the everyday life of the vast majority of women (who, on average, are more likely to be less physically intimidating than men). The article aimed to illuminate for men some of the ways in which they might be taking their privilege for granted. Lying there with a sharp gold ring in my eye, I’d never been so thankful for a Y chromosome.
Because I knew what would be happening if the roles were reversed. And it would be horrible. And there would be no escape. Right now, someone is grabbing my genitals against my will and using it exclusively for their pleasure. They are doing it without my consent. And they are using violence to maintain it. My brain splits in two: part of me says, hey idiot, if someone is forcefully using you for non-consensual sex, then you’re being victimized right now. But then the other, more macho side chimes in: hey dumbass, you’re way bigger and you’re a guy and guys can’t be victimized by tiny girls because you’ll never really feel threatened. Both sides seem to make sense, but—
“Shut up. Just shut up!”
I try not to focus on the condescending language of my brain. With her still clawing at my face, I use my secret weapon: the one thing she can’t ignore.
“My face, babe, come on,” I mumble through her palm. “I can’t go in for job interviews with… my face all bruised up.” She knows how hard I’ve been trying for a job. She knows I’ve been getting close. She knows that the reason nobody is the girl is because I just can’t afford it right now. A job is an opportunity; any setback there is equally destructive to her long-term aspirations with me. She’s not going to sabotage a future for whatever petty stolen sex this is. I know that.
“We can’t — don’t fuck up the face,” I say. I feel pathetic but this is my livelihood here. I’m not trying to get gashed or blinded. She pulls her hand off my face and I throw my palms back and launch up into her chest, nearly face-to-face, one last time. Our eyes meet for a moment, and—
“Don’t fight it then,” she says.
And she drops her jaw.
And she thrusts her face forward.
And she takes a huge, full-mouthed bite out of my face at the lower left jawline — her top teeth pressed hard into my cheek, her lower teeth on my neck — and she locks her jaws like a pitbull. Like a maniac. Like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
I hate her for this. I hate her because the only way out is to start swinging at her, and it’s not until I’ve connected with three solid palm strikes to the side of her face that she finally releases her bite. I hate her because I’m a gentleman, because I was raised to treat women with the utmost respect, because she’s forced me to engage her like a sociopath rather than the friendly, charming girl she seemed to be. She was so sweet! She was so nice! And now she’s forcing me to choose between non-consensual sex and disfigurement. I hate this. I think I hate this more than I’ve ever hated anything.
As she staggers left, still mounted, I loop my ankle around hers and pull her right arm down into my chest – I’m using an MMA escape in real life because I’m being sexually assaulted by the female Hannibal Lecter — this is my life, I think, as I throw her weight over my shoulder and into the wall. She lands with a thud.
It’s very quiet all of a sudden.
She is breathing heavily.
I can hear my own heart. I don’t know why. I tell myself it wasn’t genuine fear. I was always fine, and cool, and never worried. Because I’m a big guy and I grew up in a tough neighborhood and I’ve taken plenty of knocks and a guy can’t be victimized by a girl anyway. That burning in my face is inflammation. It isn’t shame. Or if it is shame, it’s because, for the first time in my life, I had to slap a girl. It doesn’t feel good. I don’t feel good.
What even just happened?
“I just had to — you made me… why?” I speak and she peers up at me with drunk, vacant eyes. I measure my words and enunciate, as if someone’s taking dictation, as if to spite my drumming heart. “Why? You could have caused damage for — for forever. And I told you. I couldn’t be any more clear. And you just kept going? If I couldn’t throw you off, you…” I stop and really consider the next sentence. I want to get this right. It feels important.
“You were going to hurt me if I didn’t have sex with you.”
She looks away, down and to the side. She stares through my bed.
And then, meekly,
That’s the last thing she says. She passes out on the spot. She sleeps for hours. I go for a walk. I take a shower. I alternate between saying it’s no big deal and hating the type of person who would say it’s no big deal. It kind of is a big deal. Right? No?
I mean, if someone tried to pull this on one of my female friends I’d be furious. The idea is you say something whenever this happens, because that lets the abuser know that This is not tolerated. That’s the ideal, right? So why do I feel so weird about this?
I guess I figure this was just some freak thing. I mean, it didn’t feel premeditated. It felt like a friend of mine got high on some sort of drugs then got drunk then got out of control and tried to have sex with me.* No big deal.
But arrrgh! It feels so slimy overlooking that asterisk. If it was anyone else I’d say that asterisk was too big to ignore. But it’s not anyone else. It’s me. And I have literally nothing to gain and everything to lose by acknowledging it. What if it’s not really that big a deal because I’m physically stronger? Will people accuse me of being sexist or some creepy Men’s Rights douche if I acknowledge this? Does this detract from the legitimately scarier issues women face? What if there’s retaliation? What if she claims it never happened and tells everyone I’m just The World’s Worst Human?
What do I do now?
What am I supposed to do now?
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A | A | A
It is so much more simple to say, “Stop caring what a man thinks, ladies, you’re beautiful as you are,” than to address all of the myriad reasons why that likely doesn’t apply to her.
These discourses, these models of life, are insidious, egregious, and soul crushing.
I cannot see the middle of a relationship at the beginning, but I can see the end from the middle. I know that there will be an end. There has to be. This is just a stop on the road.
I could walk to Celebrate Brooklyn all summer along. I’d learn how to start running. I’d eat meals of happy chickens at the commune across the street.