In 3rd grade we would play the “kissy game” on the playground. The boys would run after the girls and try to kiss them.
One day I decided it was my turn to actually play the game, so I ran after the boys. (I didn’t realize that’s not how the game works.) The boys got angry and one of them pushed me, so I punched him in the nose.
We both got sent to the principal’s office, and I remember saying the boys started it but thinking it was really my fault, and then just feeling guilty.
After my grandfather’s funeral, my uncle came into our hotel room to say goodnight to me. I was laying in bed reading, maybe 9 years old, and I remember him putting his hand on my chest heavily and just leaving it there while he talked to me. He lingered for several minutes.
I didn’t quite know why I was afraid, but for the first time I felt that tightening feeling in my chest that would never really go away.
When I was 11 or 12, I began to notice men staring at me. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was an empty, penetrating stare, like a dog when it’s deciding if it’s going to lick you or bite you. It embarrassed me, mostly, so I began looking down when men made eye contact with me.
By middle school, the boys I’d done karate with for years started punching harder when they’d spar against me. A couple of them would smile while they punched, and I remember thinking they hated me because I was the best and I was a girl.
When I was 16, I worked at Baskin Robbins. The owner, a middle-aged man, started telling me that his son had a crush on me. His son was in college and he’d stop through the store sometimes and talk to me from the other side of the counter.
I didn’t like him and I didn’t want to date him, but I knew I could never tell him or his father that, so I’d smile and try to make conversation when I saw him.
That summer, a group of older college guys started hanging around with us. We all made out one night, but after that they ignored us.
Throughout high school, girls began cautiously trading stories about the things boys were doing to them, and none of us knew if those things were really bad because we were told boys could do much worse things.
By freshman year of college, I was accustomed to men lying to get me to do the things they wanted. I’d come to expect it in a way that would never leave me. I began to feel betrayal like a deep, constant pocket in my stomach.
On campus, girls were warned to be alert, to not walk home too late, to not get too drunk, to say “no” because otherwise it’s not rape, to know where all the alert posts were on campus in case you needed to get to one because someone was running after you trying to rape you.
I’m not sure what boys were being warned.
I can’t remember all the nights in college I made out with someone I wasn’t at all interested in. It eventually became an obligation, the path of least resistance, literally. They’d put in the time and felt they deserved it.
So you’d grit your teeth and get it over with, then laugh and cringe with your friends the next day, and all of them would immediately get it. It wouldn’t take more than a you know… and a look and all the girls understood, because they’d experienced it too — being made to choose between giving in or apologizing.
Once, I woke up in a guy’s bed after blacking out. We knew each other. I had a crush on him. I wasn’t sure what had happened. A day or so later, I started feeling uncomfortable and sick to my stomach. It wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I’d had a tampon in, and he’d pushed so hard inside of me that it had gotten stuck.
Junior year, my friends took me to the ER because I wouldn’t stop bleeding, and the male doctor told me I had PID from having “too much sex.” He told me I had to take a pregnancy test even though I told him I knew I wasn’t pregnant. (No female gynecologist has ever told me I had to get a pregnancy test.)
He came back in the room with the results, but made me sit for 20 minutes while he explained that I may not be fertile someday if I continue to have irresponsible sex. When he finally told me I wasn’t pregnant, he said, “I can tell you, based on the results, it LOOKS like you’re not pregnant TODAY. I can’t tell you that you’re NOT pregnant, because you could very well still BE PREGNANT.”
A week later, I saw my gynecologist. She told me that nothing he told me was accurate — I had a simple infection.
I worked at a bakery senior year and an older man who seemed unstable lived in the house around the corner. The female owners told us to call the police if he ever came in and loitered. He came in a couple times while I worked there. He would ask us questions about ourselves and tell us we were pretty. We never called the police because we sort of felt bad for him.
After college, I had a meek, awkward coworker who would just hang around me all the time. I was nice to him, but dismissive. I’d make a point of walking away from him when he lingered too close.
Sometimes when he got drunk he would tell me he was mad at me for having a boyfriend, then he’d act sad, like I was supposed to comfort him or something. More than once, I had to push him away because he tried to touch me or dance with me.
One time, when I was drunk, I screamed at him in front of my coworkers because he was hovering behind me. The next day I felt bad for overreacting.
In my early 20s, I was learning to embrace feminism in a way I never had before. (I grew up around boys and men who made fun of that sort of thing. You had to agree with them to fit in, to be a cool girl, and everyone wants to be a cool girl.) My boyfriend told me I “should tone down the whole feminist thing.”
Once, in the Mission, I was waiting for him outside a store while he ran in for napkins and an old guy started hitting on me. 10 seconds later, my boyfriend came out and saw me standing there, arms crossed, looking away, with an imposing but harmless man talking to me.
When the old guy saw him, he said, “Is she yours?” and put his hand up to high-five him. I looked at my boyfriend, expecting him to get mad, but he high-fived the guy and laughed uncomfortably. We didn’t talk the rest of the walk home.
My first week in San Francisco, I got stranded at the corner of Market and Van Ness at 1am. I’d just finished work, my bus had cut its route short, and Lyft and Uber weren’t really a thing yet.
A man followed me back and forth across the intersection until another man walked over and asked if I was okay, then told the guy to leave me alone. He did. I’d asked him to leave me alone multiple times already.
On May 23, 2014, when I was 2 years out of college, my alma mater was terrorized by an egomaniac — a sick excuse for a human being — who sought retribution on the women who hadn’t given him the adoration he felt he deserved.
About a year ago, I was finishing up an afternoon run, walking home from the Panhandle. A smallish man on a bike started cruising slowly next to me, asking me what I was doing. I made polite conversation and avoided sharing any personal details. (Is that instinctive, or some common defense we’re taught in elementary school?)
When he’d followed me for 2 blocks, I began walking faster and ignoring his questions. I wasn’t scared. I was mostly annoyed. When I turned onto my block, I walked past my apartment so he wouldn’t see where I lived. I looked back and didn’t see him, but I kept going, down to the grocery store.
I walked around and grabbed a few things, and when I was in the checkout line, I heard someone say “hi” behind me. It was bike guy. I told him firmly to stop following me or I’d call the police. He said he wasn’t following me. The women in line all gave the quick, sharp look I’ve seen on so many women’s faces — the another woman is in danger look.
The woman in front of me asked me if I needed a ride home, but I thanked her and told her I’d be okay. I paid and sprinted home, then checked the window every 10 minutes for an hour to make sure he hadn’t followed me.
I could devote novels to my dad. Someday, I might. He made me act in a film throughout my childhood and adolescence that was basically an alternate version of our lives, where he was a down-on-his-luck boxer who discovered he had a child with his ex, who died tragically in a car accident.
In the movie, I was in foster care, shy, he had to fight to be in my life, he heroically won. He wrote lines for me emphasizing how much I loved him. I suspect he did that just so he could get me on camera affirming it.
I never wanted to do it. I hated acting, but I was good at it. Really fucking good, because I’d spent my whole life acting for men, putting on the right mask to avoid hurt or shame or something worse.
I don’t talk to my dad for reasons I don’t have to share with the Internet, though I still feel the need to say: no, as far as I’m aware, my father never physically abused me. That doesn’t mean he didn’t abuse me.
Over my 4+ years in San Francisco, one of the most progressive cities in the world, I can’t estimate how many times I’ve been touched on public transportation, told to smile, physically imposed on, called slut, whore, fucking bitch by men I’d done nothing to but ignore.
A man once walked by me and burped in my ear because I didn’t return his hello.
Another time, an older man at the bus stop called me “an ugly fucking whore” because I didn’t respond when he told me I was beautiful. When I yelled back, his friend joined in.
They were both on drugs. It was 8am. Several people were waiting around me. And the men continued yelling at me. No one at the bus stop said anything. The men got on the same bus as me and stared at me from across the aisle the entire ride.
Once, after a particularly bad first date, a guy tried blocking my path “jokingly” because I told him I was going to go home. He wanted to get another drink and tried physically pulling me into a couple bars.
I told him my bus was coming and I needed to run to catch it. He came with me. He lived in the opposite direction. For 5 blocks, I couldn’t look him in the eye, so I turned away and he stood there behind me. When we were one stop away, he tried to pull me off the bus. I asked him what he was doing and told him it wasn’t my stop. When my stop came, he tried to get off the bus with me, but I said I needed to leave. I made up excuses. I was still being polite.
I’ve carefully worded countless “let’s not…” texts, crafting the perfect excuse to preserve a guy’s pride but get me out of the obligation of ever seeing him again. I sent bus guy a polite text.
This past Bay to Breakers, I was walking a few blocks home from a friend’s. I was waiting for the light to change and a guy crossed the street. I had my headphones in, my sunglasses on. He waved to get my attention, so I took out an ear bud.
“Hey, I had to cross the street to talk to you,” he said. My immediate reaction was confusion. Is there an emergency, or…? He asked me to take my glasses off, and I began to feel the feeling. For whatever reason, I did it. I took my sunglasses off. He said my eyes were beautiful.
I started walking away, trying to keep it cool and just avert the interaction. He told me he’d just moved from New York and experienced Bay to Breakers for the first time. He was a DJ. Do I go to shows? Could he get my number?
I told him I wasn’t dating. He told me we could just be friends. I told him I didn’t need any friends. He told me we could “just go for coffee, with the possibility of anal sex.” I snorted loudly, said “fuck you” under my breath and walked away.
So you see, I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been raped. But it only took me about 2 hours and 2200 words to say all this, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If I had days, I could fill a book.
And I don’t think of myself as a victim of sexual assault. I still cringe a bit when I say I’ve been “sexually harassed.” I consider myself one of the lucky women who’s made it this far without a serious assault.
I still feel the need to gently correct men when they make assumptions or tell me about my own experiences and quote loose statistics they think they heard on the Joe Rogan podcast or maybe read online. I still have to firmly scold family members for their blatantly sexist comments.
I still have to try so fucking hard to say “no” as loudly as I can, because it’s new to me.
So, ya, me too.