This whole Aziz Ansari situation has opened up a door for me to say some things I have been holding in for years. I didn’t necessarily want to, but the narrative has deafened all other thoughts while the words gathered and churned loudly in my mind.
To start, there are some people who will read this and learn about something deeply embedded inside of my soul and wonder why I didn’t tell them. While I am not sorry for doing what I needed to do in order to find healing and protect myself, I am sorry if it upsets you to be reading this instead of hearing it directly from me. I don’t want people to act differently around me. I’ve also held it in because I worry that speaking out will somehow negate my opinion on certain topics. It’s almost like I can hear some people’s thoughts, “Oh. That’s why she’s fighting for women’s rights. She hates men because of what happened to her.” Please hear me. I do not hate men. I do hate how society is structured for situations like what happened with Aziz Ansari to be normalized. That’s what I want to change.
(Also, true feminism is not at the expense of men’s rights, in case we need to clarify that. If you want to chat more about feminism, let me know.)
Years ago, I was hanging out with a friend. Well, he was more than a friend. We were definitely interested in each other, so I had a conversation with him. I told him that I was a virgin and that I planned to keep it that way until I was married. He assured me that it didn’t matter and that we could continue as we were. Later that week, as I lay on a bed unmoving, paralyzed by what I can only ascribe to as being shock, I stared at a lamp while he went back on his word and changed the course of my life in a mere 30 seconds. Afterwards, I cried and he held me tenderly. It was weird. As he was leaving, I made a joke about not being a virgin anymore and laughed (bitterly), because humour is my defence mechanism and what I resort to in awkward moments. We spent a lot of time together in the weeks following. I was confused. I was hurt. I hadn’t said no in the moments leading up to what happened. I hadn’t had a chance, it had progressed so quickly. But I also hadn’t expressed to him that I felt differently than I had in our previous conversation. The thoughts and questions were numerous and flooded my brain more quickly than I could process them.
I had been clear in our conversation about how I felt about sex, hadn’t I?
What had I done for him to interpret that I had magically and silently changed my mind?
I liked him. So, I must have wanted it, right?
Who takes someone’s virginity violently, aggressively and without checking in with them, without even asking if they were ready?
He’s a nice guy. He wouldn’t do that unless he liked me, so I’m probably just being sensitive because my plans for my life have changed.
It goes on and on.
So, I spent a lot more time with him. I tried to “redeem” the situation. Maybe we would date. Maybe I was so into him subconsciously that I really had wanted that to happen. Maybe it was his intense feelings for me that led to that situation. Every time I came to that conclusion, I immediately knew that it wasn’t true. Because men are more than just wild animals with no control over their actions. I felt anxious and trapped by the thought of being with this person, yet I couldn’t understand why I kept spending time with him. I felt like he owned me. I felt cheap, dirty, and used- but I figured that was all I could get, now that I was a “slut”.
I also was determined to not let what had happened affect me or my life. I decided that I would take this secret with me to the grave. No one needed to know. Obviously, this doesn’t work.
As time went on, the right people came into my life at the right time. The healing process began. One night, I told a brand new friend what had happened in a weird moment of desperation and trust. That was the first moment I acknowledged what had happened and was even able to accept the word “rape” in my vocabulary.
Another new friend gave me a book, “Dear Sister“. I cannot fully express the freedom I experienced from reading words written by strangers that seemed to come from my own soul.
Sometimes it is easier to share your darkest moments with complete strangers. It won’t change their perception of you. You can walk away from having shared that secret and never have to talk about it again.
I could tell very easily from social media who would be supportive and who would not be. (It’s interesting what your Facebook comments say about you.) So I either built up walls to protect myself from hurtful words unknowingly directed at me as a victim, or cut out interactions with those people altogether.
Time went on. Later, I was hanging out with a different guy; another friend- someone I trusted- someone I liked. I was trying to be honest and have a clear conversation, once again; this time about how sex was traumatic for me. After I had finished sharing what had happened to me, he tried to initiate sex with me multiple times. I had to tell him no more than once. It triggered an anxiety attack, which seemed to surprise him immensely.
Right now, my impulse is to clarify that when someone shares their story of sexual abuse, they do not want to be comforted by sex with you. The fact that I even feel the need to clarify this weighs heavily on my spirit. Part of what is so upsetting about assault is the violation of trust. The fact that someone’s desire for sex can supersede their ability to acknowledge another person’s pain and vulnerability is extremely distressing. In fact, I considered that experience to be a more profound and piercing violation than the first.
If you are in a position where someone has placed their trust in you, respect that, and listen to them. If you are not sure what they want from you, then ask them. Respect that they know what they need, and ask them to tell you. If you are too distracted by wanting to have sex with that person to listen to what they are saying, then it’s probably a good time to remove yourself from the situation.
Now, both of the men in these stories would be considered “nice guys”. They are well-known and well-liked. They are kind, funny, talented, and people enjoy being around them. I don’t think either of them meant to be inherently selfish or destructive in either of these situations, in the same way that Aziz says this wasn’t his intention. However, lacking the intentionality to confirm comfort and reciprocation from both parties indicates that they are clearly products of a society that hasn’t been properly trained in the language and culture of consent.
Consent is not the absence of a “No”. Consent is the confident and eager articulation of a “Yes”.
The reason I shared this post is because I think my stories are more relatable than I wish they were. I know that there are some of you who have experienced a moment that sounds similar to mine. I also think that there are some of you out there who are lucky enough to not have experienced something similar and therefore don’t believe it happens as much as it does. Maybe my story will somehow show you the truth.
Needless to say, the Aziz Ansari situation shines a light on the problem: Consent should never be assumed, and is something that can never be negotiated or induced. I would venture so far as to say that the only assumption we should ever make about consent is that we do not have it until we definitely have it. How do we know that we definitely have it? Because someone says yes, and then says yes again, and then again. As adults having sex, I think it’s totally sexy to actually check in to A) See if your partner is still in it to win it and B) Actually enjoying whatever you’re doing together.
How to know if someone wants to have sex with you:
1) If you are attracted to someone and want to have sex with them, it should be assumed that they don’t want to have sex with you unless they explicitly say that they do.
2) If someone has told you that they don’t want to have sex, it should be assumed that they don’t want to have sex unless they explicitly say that they do.
3) If someone has said no to your request for oral sex, or anal sex, or any other kind of sex, you don’t have to repeat your request. They know that you want it, and you should assume that they still don’t want it unless they explicitly say that they do.
The other reason I’m sharing this is because sadly, I think that some people believe that girls are just “making stories up” to get guys into trouble.* For every girl who has the courage to come forward, there are sixteen** holding tightly and silently onto their truths and reading your comments. I don’t share this to incite anger towards perpetrators, because there’s obviously a bigger issue at play here. To say that every “perpetrator” is evil or intentionally harming people is not hitting the mark. We have to be dissatisfied with the rate in which these things are happening. (1 in 4 women, 1 in 4!) I actually care about creating a better, safer society for everyone.
One of my amazing friends summed this up on her social media recently,
“I care about this person thinking consent is “blurry” when it is absolutely clear that anything short of “hell yes!” is no. I care about this person caring more about having sex than asking if their partner wants to have sex, and “risking” them saying no. Because why the hell else wouldn’t you ask? Would you not want to know, for sure, that the person you want to have sex with is actually into having sex with you? I care about this person thinking that “no” means “keep trying” or “convince me.” Because it absolutely doesn’t. I care about this person thinking that because the victim flirted, she consented to something other than more flirting. Or that because she didn’t leave, she consented. She didn’t. I care about this person hearing you questioning the victim and, in their next sexual interaction, thinking “who knows what she wants! She should be more clear,” instead of “who knows what she wants! I should probably ASK HER and make it clear that i’m Ok with whatever answer.” And then actually being ok with the answer.”
So, while this post is partially about me finally being able to relay part of the narrative that has been missing from my story over the past few years, I desperately hope that it’s more about initiating change. Let’s shift our views about sex and consent.
To my dear ones out there who are listening to the deafening sound of your heartbeat racing to match mine because my story sounds too familiar: You are not alone. It’s not your fault. You ARE worthy of love and greatness. You are NOT defined by your pain or by your anger. How you feel is valid and you do not have to convince me about your truth. I believe you. And #metoo.
There is purpose in the pain, join me in the journey.