Last summer there was this boy, and I thought I was in love.
I mean, I was in love. I was in love, but I was alone. I was in love, but I didn’t deserve him, and that is something both of us agreed on.
I thought, this is love, so maybe somehow it will be okay. I told him I had never had consensual sex before with a man. I told him I had been raped a few years back, and since then sex of any kind hurt. I told him I hadn’t dated anybody for ten years, which was an exaggeration, but not by much.
Yeah, I trauma-dumped. I committed all those cardinal sins that women are not supposed to do when there is a boy, and it’s summer, and we are outside and he seems interested in something more than friends. I treated him like maybe we really could be friends, like maybe he could care about me. I treated him like I desperately needed somebody to talk to, about how he was making me feel. I treated him like maybe he was someone I could trust with that information. That was, as you might imagine, a mistake.
He was nice about it. He still hung out with me. He said we could just be friends. I did not want to just be friends, but I said I did. That’s what girls like me say in situations like that — me in my barely-survived-an-eating-disorder body, surrounded by girls in thong bikinis. Me, trying to smile, while he organized a game of chicken in the pool that I was too fat to participate in.
The next day, I was hanging out with this other guy. I needed somebody to tell me I was pretty and let me hug them because I was overflowing with affection and that boy I loved didn’t want it. Not from me. In retrospect, I guess maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But at the time, I thought..well, our social status is scripted for us at birth, in so many ways. I’m a not particularly white passing Jewish woman whose community regrets me. I take awkward political positions like fighting for Palestinian human rights. I’m a queer person in a community that believes having Jewish babies will cure anti-semitism. I’m The Enemy.
So I hung out with a guy I didn’t like. And when he put his arms around me and pulled me to the floor and pressed against my backside, I froze. I didn’t push him away. I didn’t say anything at all. I went somewhere else. I vanished.
And then he put his hand on my breast. I moved it. He put his hand down my waistband a few minutes later and I moved away but not before he’d touched beneath my underwear and not before I felt like somebody tossed a pile of fertilizer over my open grave.
I pulled away, and that man, he told me I was prissy and frigid. Too damaged to know what I wanted. I let him yell at me. I hugged him good night after.
These are the moments that define our lives, as women. Sometimes. When we’re very unlucky. Or when our communities teach us we are nothing and our parents teach us to shut up and take it and the boys we trust become men who think they can grab whatever they want. Like we are an open-door pantry. Like why would we stop them. Like who cares if we try to stop them.
That first boy, the one I thought I was in love with. He asked me later if I’d been sexually assaulted. I told him no but the truth is, somebody touched my body in a way I did not want them to. I didn’t stop them, but I tried to say no. I tried, but not loudly enough. And no one was listening.
I said I had not been sexually assaulted, and later, I said it was consensual. It was not consensual. But I didn’t say no. I guess I didn’t realize I needed to say the word out loud, ‘no,’ for someone to know I didn’t want them to finger me in a public place. I guess I thought that was common sense. I guess I thought those boys were my friends. I guess I thought maybe I mattered to them, enough to not fuck me when I did not want to be fucked.
I guess I forgot that boys like to talk about girls who put out. Or don’t put out. Girls who ‘let themselves’ be touched. Girls whose ‘no’ is slow in coming. That boy I liked still wanted to flirt with me but he didn’t want to fuck me, and I said okay to that, but then he said how dare you ask me. Because women are not supposed to ask. Women are not supposed to want sex, when we want sex. Women are supposed to lie back and let it happen. To let ourselves be seduced. To let ourselves be fucked. It is our job to be pretty and cute and if possible innocent of the knowledge that sexual violence even exists.
Men treat sexual violence like it is rare and unusual and a tragedy. Instead of something that happens every day. Something they allow to happen, every time someone makes a rape joke and they laugh or say trigger warnings are hysterical or say women have to be this thin to be treated like human beings. Every time they can’t distinguish between consensual sex, and sex women agree to because we don’t think we have a choice or we’re drunk or stoned or tired or sick of saying no. Every time men assure themselves that so long as they have not physically forced a woman, they’re one of the good guys.
These things have consequences, sometimes. I spent months of my life texting that boy I thought I was in love with, after he decided I was crazy so he didn’t have to keep listening to me talk about sexual violence. I know I shouldn’t have done that. I thought if I could convince him I was worth something, I would believe it too. I was trying to get back something that second guy took from me. I never got it back.
Instead I started having sex for the same shitty reasons women have sex sometimes. That guy I went down on without a condom. That guy who came on my tits and could not have cared less about my orgasm or my feelings.
The first time I had consensual sex with a man was a few months ago. I decided if I couldn’t have love or romance or any of those things I forgot I wanted until I met someone who didn’t want to give any of those things to me, well then, I might as well stop waiting. So I had sex with a man who was ten years younger than me and I don’t remember his name. He was sweet and said nice things. It was enjoyable. I’m not sure where my soul was at the time. But someplace else.
I’m still asking the universe ‘why.’ In case anyone is wondering. I’m still trying to understand how that guy I thought I loved could cry in my arms one day, then walk away when I needed him most. Why Jewish people more white-passing than me treat me like I’m their nursemaid and mommy but hope when they’re done with me, I’ll just fade away. Why men think I get off on meeting their needs. Why men I trusted think I’m a bad person or at least a bad woman for thinking I should have the right to say yes when I want, and no when I want, about what happens to my own body.
I don’t understand why men look at my body like it’s a script they can read better than I can. Why some men act like if I ever want sex with any man at all, I must also be willing to have sex with them for the right price or with enough pressure. Why men can’t tell the difference, or claim not to be able to tell it, between seduction and coercion. Why men truly don’t care if I want to or not, and so they don’t take the time to find out.
Sometimes I talk about sexual violence in my life and some white woman, because she is always a white woman, tells me I need help. I’m not sure what this means. Why do white women think individual therapy will cure misogyny? Why do these women think that if I try hard enough, I can have the life experience that they have, in spite of the way my additional marginalized identities impact me? It seems to me this is a scare tactic. “I don’t like what you’re saying, ergo you don’t have the right to say it.” “I don’t want to think about these things, so you must be in the wrong for talking about them.”
I strongly advocate for therapy. I also know full well that therapy is not going to cure sexual violence. The problem is not my personal understanding that sexual violence exists. The problem is that sexual violence exists.
The problem is not how victims of sexual violence do or do not deal with sexual violence. The problem is that sexual violence happens at all.
Sometimes I dream the boy I thought I loved is going to come back to me. I dream he is going to apologize to me for abandoning me when I needed him. I dream he is going to tell me that he was wrong, that he didn’t mean it, that he just did not understand.
I am sure that’s what happened. I am sure he just did not understand.
The choice to understand or not, to dole out labels like ‘crazy’ or ‘violent,’ to express empathy or leave that emotional labor to somebody else, those are choices that privilege makes. Those are choices that power makes. Power does not have to understand the other person’s perspective, because power assumes the other person has no voice. Most of the time, power is right.
When girls accuse boys of hurting us because they have hurt us, even when those girls are women and those boys are men, sexism says that we are always to blame. That by speaking publicly about this private shame, we have exposed our own complicity, our own brokenness. We must have some hidden, secret motive. Attention. Fame. Or perhaps we only want to hide the social crime of daring to want sex at all.
I don’t know what I want, in telling the truth. I try not to want anything, anymore. It’s easier that way.
I only know that the truth is the only friend I have who has always stuck by me. I have not always been as good of a friend back as I should have done. I am trying to do better now. I think if I can do that, someday, I will feel worthy.
All of the boys/guys/men in this story are just fine. In case you were wondering. They were always going to be fine. Whatever I said or did. This world was built for them. My Jewish community was built for them. I was always an afterthought. Someone who had to pay extra to get into the party.
Women like me are never fine. The rules of every one of my communities are set up so I can fail. And so that the men around me can punish me for failing.
I blame myself for failing, anyway. For not saying ‘no’ sooner. For being there in the first place. For not just staying home, where I belonged. For not asking the boy I loved to save me from every other boy on that trip, like I wanted to do. But I blamed myself for needing to be saved.
I am not a martyr or a victim or a fool. I don’t need some man to save me. But when it comes to sexual violence, I need the men in my life to save me. Because I can’t save myself.
Because the only thing I ever did wrong was be born into a body my family and my community and my society do not believe is worth protecting.
And when I disagree, they call me crazy.