I'm a man who was assaulted by a woman.
Years before the existence of #MeToo, I had an unwelcome encounter of my own.
At any point in history, a man crying "rape" doesn't seem to carry much weight—particularly if the alleged aggressor is a woman.
There is, of course, the old argument that a man, physically, is incapable of being raped by a woman…after all, there are certain actions a man's body must take in order for anything to "happen." Surely, if a man did not want to have sex at a given point in time, he simply wouldn't be erect, making the act of intercourse an impossibility and, thus, preventing (one type of) a rape.
There's a phrase used to describe this issue: "biology does not equal consent." That is, just because a male is erect does not automatically mean he wants to have sex. Yes, we have some degree of control over our erections, but the penis isn't like a leg or a finger—it's much more subconscious, like trying to lower one's blood pressure.
Multiply all of this by the fact that, in my case, my "aggressor" is someone I actually liked. We had been friends for a short time, and we had had sex before the incident took place. Given the circumstances around the situation, it took a couple years for me to even recognize that what happened to me was the textbook definition of "rape." I've never shared this whole story with anyone before now; the reasons I'm deciding to speak up are two-fold:
- Despite repeated attempts, I haven't been able to get in touch with the woman (let's call her "Tina") so I am unable to share "my side" of events with her.
- I'm tired of blaming myself for something that I know was not my fault, and perhaps by sharing my thoughts with all of you I can not only stop that, but maybe even prevent someone else from falling into the same pattern of shame and guilt.
At the time Tina and I met, we were both court-ordered to attend outpatient substance abuse rehabilitation. (This is warning sign #1.) We both had issues with everything—if one could be addicted to it, odds are that Tina and I had been abusing it at some time in the past. The biggest struggle for both of us, however, (as is likely true of most addicts in early recovery) was alcohol; I can't speak to all of her demons, but I also had a wicked hankering for painkillers (or, really, opiates of any variety. After so many years, one stops being picky).
In our outpatient recovery group, we became quick friends. Being a single guy who had just relocated to Seattle, I was looking to meet people; as a recovering alcoholic/addict, I thought it best to start with the group of people in recovery with me. This is generally encouraged, though it gets tricky in an "all newbie" outpatient group, as a rule of thumb (for reasons that would later become obvious) is that "sober newbies" should not spend most of their time with other "sober newbies"—without someone who has some "clean time" (generally 9 months to 1 year, or more) in the friendship mix, the odds of relapse increase significantly for all newbies involved. (If one is going to follow any of the 12-step programs to recovery—AA, NA, SLAA, etc.—this also underscores the importance of finding yourself a sponsor as soon as possible.)
Tina was also relatively new to Seattle, having relocated from Nevada. This gave us more to bond over during our (frequent) smoke breaks held throughout our thrice weekly, 4-hours-per-session outpatient meetings. (Both of us also had full-time jobs, of course, having just relocated to one of the most expensive cities in the country to live. And, fun fact: she was literally born the day before me.)
I quickly developed a crush on Tina…soft-spoken, but certainly not a pushover, with a great sense of humor (she laughed at my stupid jokes, so…that's how I judge.) And gorgeous. Honestly, she wasn't tall (even for a woman…again, I haven't seen her in years, but I'm going to guess ~5'2"), but if she had been eight-or-so inches taller I honestly would have expected her to be a model. In fact, one of the reasons we probably developed such a good rapport without me freezing up (as I traditionally do around such intimidatingly beautiful women) is because I assumed she either had a boyfriend or otherwise wouldn't be the least bit interested in me. As a result, I didn't feel any impetus to "show off" or be "attention grabbing" or any of that stupid alpha-male crap that isn't really me but I still try anyway because I'm an idiot. I just acted like myself, and—surprise!—that apparently got her attention.
Even within the context of the "newbie" outpatient group, like virtually all support group meetings we were encouraged to share our contact information with others within the group—the idea being that if any of us is in a "bad place," we can call someone at least somewhat familiar to us to talk it out before we do something we'll regret (like take that next drink or drug.) For the first year of your recovery, it's encouraged that men generally stick with men and women generally stick with women. When you're on the receiving end of the phone call, though, you don't exactly get to make that call…
Months into our treatment, Tina skipped a meeting. This was very much unlike her, and concerned me, but I knew I should leave it to the professionals running the program to "track her down" and that when she wanted to be found, she would be. I hoped. Well, I didn't have to wait long, because I soon received a call on my own phone clearly coming from Tina's phone number. When I answered, she hung up immediately, so—concerned as I was—I called right back. It was clear she was under the influence of something, but she just kept insisting that I take her to the hospital. I couldn't calm her down at all over the phone, but I got her to admit that she was at a certain location, so I promised to come pick her up so we could get in touch with her sponsor and/or roommate (whom I knew was also in recovery)…most importantly, I didn't want her getting back on the road.
I found her at the aforementioned location (I didn't—and still don't—own a vehicle, so I was renting a Zipcar to take this trip) and, not seeing anywhere her car was parked, asked about the location of the vehicle. "Is it anywhere we have to move it? I'm happy to pay for parking in an overnight lot, take you home, and then we can come get your car tomorrow."
"No," she insisted. "The car is fine. It's not going to get towed. Just take me to the hospital!"
So, I started heading in the direction of one of Seattle's many hospitals. As we were driving, I tried to ascertain what exactly was the matter—what it was that made Tina believe she needed to be in a hospital. Because she was so drunk, I could just imagine the hospital strapping her down to a bed and hooking her up to an IV drip of water. Because we'd had a previous discussion about health insurance, I knew that would be an awfully expensive drink of water, so I did what I could to try to talk her down. "On the way" to the hospital, I made sure to stop at a number of different parks so I could try to understand what was going on. At no point did she seem to be in imminent danger (aside from how very drunk she was, which is why I didn't want to let her out of my sight, much less make a decision about going to the hospital unless it was for a medically necessary reason I could actually discern or she could explain to me.)
I eventually figured out why she was so insistent on going to the hospital…
After playing "entertain the drunk" for a few hours or so, hitting up various parks and generally doing things that seemed to take Tina's mind out of whatever dark place it had been, I finally got her to agree to eat some food, after which she promised she would let me take her home to her roommate. She insisted on good french fries, so (being still new to the city) I recommended the only late-night burger & fries joint I could think of: Li'l Woody's. This restaurant just happened to be across the street from my own apartment, which is why I knew it so well.
At some point while we were eating, Tina revealed to me that she had no intention of going back to her place that evening. She explained that her roommate was very "serious about her sobriety," and thought that if she showed up in her current state she might legitimately be kicked out of her apartment. I thought that sounded unreasonable and unlikely, but having never met her roommate I couldn't rightfully make that call. So, thinking about the problem at hand (by this time at about 3-4am) and knowing my own apartment was just across the street, I made a completely platonic suggestion that I thought would work for everyone: I knew I wouldn't be getting much sleep before work the next day anyway, so I told her she could take my whole bed to herself and I would sleep in my Ikea POÄNG Armchair.
The deal was that I would go to work the next day, and she could spend the day at my apartment recuperating, calling whoever she needed to call, smoothing things over with her roommate, etc. For some reason, I thought this would work out just fine. (Remember, I was still in early recovery, too…)
Things didn't go quite as planned. That night was fine, but I think it was around lunchtime the next day that things really went off the rails.
When I left for work the next morning, I explained to Tina that I was taking my apartment building access fob with me, meaning she would have no way to re-enter the building if she went outside to smoke or anything, so if she had to do that she could just call my apartment from the front-door callbox, which would ring my cell phone and allow me to buzz her in, even while I was at work. I thought this would give her the "freedom" she would need to get through the day without feeling like she had to lie to me about anything.
I only lived a short walking distance from work at that time, so I opted to walk home for lunch and see how Tina was doing. I don't remember specifically what had happened, but I remember walking into the apartment and finding a pot of Velveeta basically overturned on the stove, with noodles and cheese all over the place. I assumed this was a hungover mistake (given the fact that she probably weighed 105lbs. at the time—at the most—and how drunk she was the night before, I expected a wicked rough hangover. That's most of the reason why I opted to come home and help her with lunch.)
I believe it was at this point Tina informed me that she "couldn't" go back home for a "couple more days." I certainly didn't mind having this gorgeous woman on whom I had a huge crush staying at my apartment, so I took her at her word: she needed a ride over to her apartment to pick up a couple days' worth of clothes and things. I tried to come in to meet and speak with her roommate, but no one was home when we were there. I asked her once again about her car, and she assured me it was safe and there was nothing to worry about. Once we got back to my apartment, I helped her unload her things hurriedly as I had to get back to work.
That night (or, more likely, late afternoon—knowing Tina was alone in my apartment made me feel both guilty and nervous for leaving her alone. Even though there was nothing in my apartment for her to find/drink/use, I knew she could easily leave and come back. Of course, given how obviously drunk she was the night before, I thought I would recognize if she'd been drinking again.) I came home and found Tina playing music on the computer, wearing one of my sweatshirts, and we got to talking. I admitted to her that what I'd done (or, was doing) for her was definitely not something I would do for "just anyone." She admitted why she'd called me in the first place. She kissed me, and while I couldn't taste any alcohol on her breath, I asked if she had anything to drink that day, just to be sure. "Absolutely not," she replied, "this is something I've looked forward to for some time. I only hoped you felt the same way."
"I can't believe this is happening…" I remember saying. "Since the first day of class, you caught my eye, and I never thought someone as beautiful as yourself would ever be interested in a guy like me." (I don't know why I always believe gorgeous women will "never" want to date me…every girlfriend I've ever had—average relationship length measured in years—is, frankly, a knockout—both at the time we were together and, as far as I know, today. Not that I'm bragging—well, maybe a little—but my point is I need to learn to be less self-deprecating…)
"Well, take notice, because it's happening."
I let Tina take control of things, because I didn't know how far she wanted to go, but the fact is that I didn't have a fully furnished apartment, so we started making out on the bed without many other places to go…I never said "no" to anything (why would I? I wanted the same thing.) But this was only the first night.
I asked about Tina's car repeatedly, and was consistently assured it was "safe." That turned out not to be the case. She eventually came clean to me and admitted the car had been towed, and it would now cost ~$440 to get it out of the impound. She was afraid of losing her car, but knew I paid to use Zipcars on a regular basis, so she asked if I would be willing to pay to get her car out of impound in exchange for borrowing it for a month, since she eventually assumed she'd have to go back to inpatient rehab, anyway. I figured this made sense and was beneficial for both of us, so I paid to get the car back. Of course, she drove away several days later and I never saw that car again.
I don't remember exactly how many nights went by before I asked Tina about what her roommate must be thinking, or whether she was going to come with me to our outpatient rehab class. She demurred, saying that she had been in touch with the facility we were attending and that they were going to let her return a couple classes late. Based on the intensity of the program, I knew this wasn't a good sign and that Tina was at risk of having to repeat classes we'd already taken, but I couldn't convince her to come with me. After a class or two, I was making excuses with Tina, treading on thin ice for successfully completing my class (as happened to be required by the terms of my probation…but that's another story.)
You see, after a few nights or so I came home and found Tina asleep on my desk. I started to pick up around the apartment and found several airplane-sized bottles of flavored vodka. I did the math, cleaned up, and waited for Tina to wake up so we could have a talk.
By the time she was awake, I already began to regret the series of events that had taken place. Given that I was lied to about the drinking, I felt like it would be best for both of us if Tina were to finally go home. I didn't know if she had been intoxicated during any of the previous nights, which made me feel extremely guilty. However, as I was explaining this to her, she insisted I had nothing to feel guilty about. I was helping her out, she appreciated it, and (in her words) she was "falling for me." As much as I felt elated by this, I also didn't know how much I could trust it—I didn't know how drunk she was at that moment, or whether she'd been drunk all week without me noticing—so I started to feel like I was the one "taking advantage."
Things quickly changed when I eventually (days later) mentioned to Tina it might be a good idea for her to go home. She started to come on to me, but I knew she was at least somewhat intoxicated at this point—and, to my horror, knew she may have been intoxicated at points over the past week or so when I assumed she was sober—so I flat out said, "No, this isn't a good idea, I don't want to do this right now." I tried to physically move her off of me (not something that should be terribly difficult given the size/muscle discrepancy), but she just reasserted herself. I tried to move elsewhere in the apartment, but I lived in a 570-square foot studio that wasn't even fully furnished.
That didn't stop her from going through the motions. No matter how much I knew I had the ability to physically stop her, I didn't want to do anything to hurt her. More so, she was talking sexy, looking sexy, acting sexy…so no matter how many times the words "No" or "Stop" left my lips, it was countered by my subconscious biology yelling "Yes!"
In the interest of keeping this piece a reasonable length, I'll wrap up by explaining that it took me a full two years to recognize that—despite my clear assertions of "No," "Stop," "I don't want to do this," etc.—I never thought of myself as a victim for two major reasons:
- I'm a man.
- I didn't use my physical strength to, at any time, put an end to things after they were in motion.
However, I'll again repeat that biology does not equal consent. The fact that I was (and, probably, still am) physically attracted to Tina—on a level of consciousness over which I have no direct control—is the reason for #2. Had my non-consent been taken seriously and she stopped pursuing me, I would have been able to prevent anything further from happening. Now, maybe you'd argue that by this point in time, that didn't matter…to which I'd say: you neither know the entire story (there's more to it, and it gets a bit worse with the full context) and also don't recognize the fact that just because someone gives consent once does not mean they are giving consent always.
Regardless of your gender, you always have the right to say "no" to anyone at any time for any reason.
I'm not going to get into the politics of why the whole "#MeToo" thing made this a lot more difficult for me to admit (in therapy, much less to anyone I actually knew) in this piece, nor am I going to discuss any of the more salacious details of the story at this time—if ever—because, while they have a point of their own, it's entirely separate from the point of this article.
No, the point of this article is that no matter who you are, you always have the right to say "No." And if you clearly and affirmatively tell someone "No," "Stop," etc., it's reasonable to expect them to stop, no matter what social constructs society has placed on how our human mating rituals "typically" work.