Over the weekend, we went to a good friend’s birthday party. It was a huge get-together, filled with many people from many walks of life.
One of the many people was a guy I’ve met before through a totally unrelated group. This guy and I had a brief conversation, he made me uncomfortable, and I moved on to talk to people who didn’t make me uncomfortable. I later found out that he’s something of a sexual troll – he gets involved in groups and then tries to make it with as many of the women as possible without anyone finding out. He’s not very good at the no one finding out part, but seems to be fairly successful at the other part. But he’s creepy and sleazy and makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
Seeing him at the party this weekend was pretty hard. I was pleasant to him, because I’m not one to make a scene at a big party. I tried to shake his hand, but he wrestled it into a hug and I found myself hugging him and being really uncomfortable with it.
Later, he was blocking the only path back to my table and the safety of Pace and our friends. I stood and waited for him to move for two or three minutes, but it became obvious that he was oblivious to my plight, so I walked up and said, “Excuse me, I need to get by.”
He shifted – barely – and said, “Be my guest.”
I took a deep breath and started to squeeze past him. I’d barely taken two steps when he stepped toward me, closing off the tiny distance between us and throwing me off balance. I stumbled and kind of bumped into him and instinctively apologized. He grinned a very leering grin and said (in a sleazy supposed-to-be-sexy tone), “Oooh, no problem. You can get even closer than that,” and started to wrap his arms around me to pull me to him.
I just about all-out panicked. I threw up my hands and said, “Uh, no thanks,” and darted past him as fast as possible and scrambled back to my chair. He attempted to make eye contact with me some ten times or more throughout the rest of the party til I got too uncomfortable to stay there any longer, and we left.
In the car, recounting the tale to Pace, she said, “Woah, any time something like that happens, you can tell me and I will punch him in the face right away.”
I giggled, but then I got mad. This guy violated my physical and emotional boundaries, and I didn’t stick up for myself. I let it go and squeaked by and ran off because I didn’t want to cause a scene at a friend’s party – but my friends would want me to defend myself if I needed defending!
Now, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I did emit a weak no and stepped back. There was a time when I would have let him wrap his arms around me and then I would have been silently flipping the fuck out. At least I didn’t do that.
But I still let him get far too close for my comfort. I felt violated. I felt afraid and slightly ashamed. I didn’t even tell Pace til hours later, when we’d left the party – I wasn’t comfortable talking about it until then. I was so upset I was nearly shaking, and I kept it a secret because I felt guilty and afraid.
This is the kind of behavior that leads to rape.
We spend most of our lives learning to sit down and shut up. Learning to demur and take the blame. Learning not to defend ourselves even when directly threatened. Learning that fierce equals violence and violence is bad.
If I’d’ve hauled off and decked this creep, he could have pressed charges on me – and “he made me feel uncomfortable and violated my boundaries” isn’t seen as a defense.
If I had said something more like, “Dude, I’m gay,” I could have passed off his unwanted overtures as inappropriate – since he knows I’m gay, having been previously informed of such.
If I had said something like, “Back off. You’re making me uncomfortable,” I would have gotten my point very clearly across and probably wouldn’t have had to deal with him making furtive attempts at eye contact for the rest of the party.
But all I could manage was a meek squeak and darting away as fast as possible.
I’m frustrated by that. I’m afraid for myself, because in different circumstances, that could have gone much, much worse.
We are sacred. Our boundaries are sacred. Our experiences are sacred. Talking about our experiences, good or bad, brings that light to the darkness. It brings us together when we feel the most alone – because we are never alone. When you stand up for yourself, you stand with all the power of all the people in your community.
Because we’re taught to be meek, because we’re made to feel ashamed, because we often believe we are alone, the only cure is being open, fierce, and banding together to learn and teach and shout from rooftops: regardless of the circumstances, it is never okay for anyone to violate any boundary we hold.