(I am publishing this article in spite of Donald Trump’s election victory. Our focus needs to be on combating all prejudice that he stands for and it is my intention to begin with a statement on sexual assault)
Look at yourself. Take stock of yourself. What have you been doing to limit sexual assaults in your community? Stop joking around, quit chasing the endless high that is your life, and pose that question. If the answer is nothing
You ain’t shit.
Three women in my life have recently shared their sexual assault stories with me. Their confidences have spurred further conversations, conversations that have made one thing abundantly clear: If you don’t know a sexual assault survivor, you have simply not been trusted with that information. “It happens more than you would ever know, Collin,” they keep saying. Well I am naïve and unconditioned; it makes my vision narrow in fury and all fury, as I have come to find out, burns hottest when born out of hypocrisy.
I offer up my own story as a case study. I offer it because we must find a way to break our silence, even if our words are of consequence to our reputation. I offer it because I think some of you will find it a familiar tale.
I ask that you share this with the men in your life and encourage them to talk about their experiences and the stands they can take to do better. I must do better. We, as men, must do better.
Before I continue I want to thank one woman in particular. Her name is Kennedy and she is my friend. She is a survivor and a total badass. Kennedy, your post provided the tipping point for these words. Thank you for your inspiration. If you would like to read Kennedy’s post you can find it here.
As it was, I liked a girl in high school. ‘Spitting game’ never came easy to me, doing nice stuff did, so I went with what felt right.
1. I once walked two miles through Plattsburgh, New York in February to deliver a single rose to this girl’s house on Valentines Day. I was 16. I wanted to ask her to the Sophomore Dance. It was fucking freezing. I had to run I was so cold. When her mom discovered me at the front door, purple lipped, holding said rose, I think I melted her heart. I drank some hot coco with said crush, asked her out, and we went to the dance together.
2. Still crushing on the same girl junior year. I knew I had to pull out all the stops for prom. This time I constructed the word ‘prom’ using toothpicks and mini marshmallows, planted both with a trusty barista at a local coffee shop, and scooped her from basketball practice for a date. When our hot chocolate was delivered I told her to read her drink. We went to prom together.
3. Same crush senior year. We had not so much as kissed (why did I do this to myself?). Thinking that another over the top romantic gesture would change her heart, I went even bigger, this time implementing a pulley system to get a candlelight dinner set up into my tree house. Bottle of sparking cider on ice, a row of candles leading to our dinner bungalow, I unveiled the scene after we had cooked up some grilled cheeses. I told her that night that I wanted us to be in a relationship. She said she wanted to be just friends.
I remember the pain clearly that evening in bed. I was weeping. I was 18. Never had a girlfriend. No girl to pal around with. No cuddling. No affection. Nothing. I was 18 and I was crying in bed because I was lonely.
The next thing I remember feeling was an awesome cynicism. Being nice and good had gotten me nowhere. Time to start being indifferent toward women, my relation to them, and my own emotions. I’ve seen the other boys do it and it works for them.
So began the most terrible experiment.
First, I made it my aim to feel no emotion and remain confident. We want what we can’t have, so I became elusive. I carried a chip on my shoulder from that girl’s rejection. Bitter, it was not long before I became comfortable in my new skin. I lost my virginity, I fell in love (momentary lapse), she broke my heart, I started dating someone new, and broke up with her – all in that order.
I remember being in a bar for the first time at 21. An older guy that I looked up to brought me aside and asked me if I was going to have a girlfriend senior year. He grabbed me by the collar and lifted me onto my toes. He made me promise him to stay single during the school year. ‘Fuck as many girls as you can,’ or something like that.
By my senior year of college I was fully compromised. I cared nothing for the girls that I was romantically involved in. I bragged amongst my friends about who I was hooking up with. I prowled. There were more than a few awesome women in my life at that time that I threw away. In comparison to my 18 year old self I was no longer lonely, but what I had become was a mangled mutation, a piece of garbage human being. I rationalized that what I was doing was natural and convinced myself that I was a good person. It is abundantly clear to me now that I was not. Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I knew that what I was doing was wrong. It’s that itch you get in your heart that you grit your teeth through. It was the women in my life and their patience with me that is responsible for the loosening of my jaws, the finding of my voice, my vision to see this plague for what it is. It all began with one person in particular.
During senior year I would meet a woman who would end up changing my perspective. At first I kept her at arm’s length, ignoring her in the light of day and meeting up only at night. We grew to know each other a bit better and fell into a clumsy relationship, forever overshadowed by our beginnings. Her boyfriend in title, I did the bare minimum. But as we spent more time together, a shift occurred, the rust began to show. I was around, but I wasn’t present. She was intuitive, outspoken, a survivor of sexual assault. She saw the complacency in me, the elusiveness, the coldness, and she called me on it. I still carry the scars of trying to unpack that with her. Ultimately, I broke up with her, unwilling to do the hard work that it takes to be worthy of someone else’s trust.
I left her, and she left me with a head full of doubts. She transported me back to that lonely evening when I was 18 and called into question the basis for that life changing initiative.
That turning point was born out of male entitlement, pure. I was certain that girl in high school owed me something because of my gifts and efforts. I had been nice to her and by right I expected her to return the favor in feelings. That type of thinking is perhaps the aorta of American rape culture. Bought her a drink at the bar? She owes you nothing. Picked her some flowers? She owes you nothing. Paid her a compliment on the street? Keep your mouth shut from now. In general. Just don’t speak anymore. The ‘I can change her mind’ persistence is terrifying. I know because I’ve felt it. It is single tracked libido fueled dominance aimed fixation.
This sentiment on male entitlement appears so simple and obvious when written down, but in practice, is misunderstood by most men. The assumption that we are owed anything for our efforts is completely false and we must knock down this rooted pillar to both limit assaults and find peace within ourselves. We must embrace that sometimes two people – both with their distinct idiosyncrasies – are simply not meant to be together. Yes, that is in spite of your attraction to them. No words, gesture, or gift can change that.
These past months have been a time of reaction, instead of action for me. I have found myself shaking my fist at the sun and moon and it’s doing no good. My aim right now is to locate the root of this plague and rip it from the ground. The root of this problem is impressionable young men. The hands that help them up are mentors who can coach them to stand beside their morals with conviction. I know that a good mentor may have been the difference when I was 18 and I never want another boy to repeat my mistakes.
We just elected Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States of America. We just elected a man who brags about sexually assaulting women to be our leader. Roughly 60 million people in this country are fine with this. All the 45+ men, you know, the ones who have been overt or undercover misogynists their entire lives? They are emboldened by this. They see it as getting the free pass they deserve. They don’t get a free pass. And it’s on you to make sure they don’t get it.
The older men in my life would warn me against sharing this online, saying something along the lines of ‘you don’t know who will see it,’ or, ‘you want to get that job, don’t you?’ When I think of that I feel as if I am waking out of a bad dream, realizing that silence, not advocacy, is what we teach our men. Silence is what we must focus on now. If you are shrugging your shoulders after this election and you are going back to life as usual then you are condoning sexual assault as well as xenophobia, racism, ableism, and homophobia.
Most of the work we can do starts when women walk out of the room. It begins with an opportune word. Most of the time you will have only one second to react, and trust me, it will be easier to say nothing, to let it pass, to play it down. That is the root. If you say nothing then you are watering rape culture and helping it grow. You may be laughed at, asked to leave the team, made fun of, fired. Ask yourself, is your silence and your safety within that moment worth a woman being raped? 60 million people in this country think yes. Be one of the ones that make those people think twice about the affect their words, thoughts, and actions are doing to their community.
It’s all hands on deck. Men, we are at war with our own kind. Take aim with your words. Make them count. Your personal legacy, and our legacy as a country rely on it. We need every last man we can get to break their silence, to become an advocate, to become a soldier.
Run with me to the front line.