[Content note: All the trigger warnings for this post. However, the worst part is front-loaded, and brief.]
Ten years ago today. That’s when it happened.
I didn’t consent.
He never asked for my consent. It was of no concern to him. Although he pretended later to have been clueless, he also actually demonstrated his ability to recognize that things weren’t okay: he briefly stopped, right in the middle, and said, “Why do you look like you’re going to die?”
And then, instead of stopping right then and there to re-evaluate his entire life, he continued.
That’s all I wish to say about that.
* * *
It’s been more than ten years since Tarana Burke originally created the #MeToo social media campaign—on a Myspace page, in 2006. That’s a lot of time—a lot of time that this campaign spent not getting any kind of mainstream recognition, until finally it got some celebrities’ attention last October.
Why? Why did it take until now? Why did it take celebrity participation and famous perpetrators for people to take notice, and why has the focus been so much on them that Tarana Burke was excluded from the cover of TIME’s Person of the Year issue?
These are rhetorical questions. I know why. I don’t like the answers.
I keep seeing people call this “the #MeToo movement,” and treating it as if this single campaign has been the sum total of all anti-sexual violence/anti-rape culture activism, as if there weren’t people fighting this for decades before it was even created. As Lindy West said, “The notion of affirmative consent did not fall from space in October 2017 to confound well-meaning but bumbling men.”
This one campaign isn’t the whole movement. It is only one facet of it, and right now it’s the most popular and visible one. It won’t be the face of the movement forever. There are many more so-called “moments” of reckoning yet to come.
So please don’t call it “the #MeToo movement.” I’d rather people just call it #MeToo—that feels more neutral, less erasing and ahistorical.
As this international conversation re-ignited last October has progressed, certain narratives about it have set in. These narratives are a barrier to my participation.
Right now, people tend to automatically associate every survivor speaking about their experience with the #MeToo campaign, and assume that all survivors share the same goals and have the same focus. Mostly, the focus is taken off the survivors and their well-being. With so many traumatic stories going around, a lot of survivors are having more difficulty healing as their wounds are continually being reopened.
I don’t want to join in.
I don’t want to share my story and have it be read through the lens of the specific narrative that has been constructed around #MeToo, and then watch it be repeatedly dissected and dismissed, to the detriment of other survivors around me as well. No amount of proof will be enough to stave off the victim-blaming bullshit. Is sharing my traumatic experience really the best way to move forward?
I am critical of the way that these conversations have been framed by the media. I am glad that people are speaking up about their experiences, and of course the conversation has to start somewhere, so at least some progress is happening. But it really has a limited focus—it’s about the perpetrators, not the survivors. It’s about celebrities, not common folk. It’s about accountability and punishment, rather than healing.
It doesn’t feel empowering to me.
This is not the kind of environment conducive for me to tell my own story. I don’t want people going into it with the assumption that I’m talking about it because I want anything to happen to my perpetrator, because I really don’t. I mean, I’m pretty sure no one would care about him anyway because he’s not some famous dude, and since as far as I know he lives in Japan now, I really doubt there’s any possibility he would face any consequences at all.
But what really put me off the idea of talking about it is all of the blowback against “Grace” for sharing her experience with Aziz Ansari.
If this is what happens when someone decides to talk about sexual assault in the context of a casual date rather than in the workplace, which prior to this story had been the most dominant strain of #MeToo discussion, then how is there any room for a story like mine?
A lot of the pushback against Grace was by people who were “apparently the victim sexual assault” but never thought of it that way, and had a hard time accepting that it could be.
I was someone like that, once.
It took me at least two years to accept that yes, my experiences do indeed count as sexual assault. I could not call it rape for even longer. I was sure that he had no idea what he was doing, that he simply did not know that you cannot just assume consent has been given and proceed. Because he had demonstrated restraint in the past, I thought he really didn’t mean to harm me, that he must have genuinely misunderstood. He was following a social script, and that script did not account for people like me (asexual people), so I had to fill in the gaps in his understanding.
Every attempt I made to disrupt this script and explain what I really wanted ended with him either totally ignoring me, or arguing that everything I was saying was wrong, Vulcan-style, with bad logic inappropriately applied. I was advised to just talk to him, honestly and openly, and I tried so many times, but nothing worked. Because honest communication requires the participation and cooperation of both parties.
Of course, these arguments were spaced out in such a way that in between them, things eventually went back to “normal” (none of this was actually normal), calming down enough that it seemed like he was making progress, and gradually beginning to accept my asexuality. But then it would start again, and he would cling to ignorance, refusing to be educated so that he could continue to claim that I was delusional. He acted exactly like House, a character I made the mistake of introducing him to, a character he idolized. (He thought I really liked House, but actually, my favorite character on that show was always Wilson.) He was never as brilliant as he thought he was.
The asexual community at the time was filled with people talking about “compromise,” and the notion of compromise too often meant capitulation—maintaining a relationship by giving in to a partner for their sexual gratification, with no regard for your own well-being. A sacrificial endeavor. Because of deeply ingrained compulsory sexuality, at the time I expected that sex would simply be required of me from my eventual long-term partner, full-stop, so I tried to “acclimate myself” to it. I did actually want to try it and see if it was tolerable to me. So some of my experiences were things that I chose to do, in a sense. But I never wanted it to happen that way. It was always too much, too soon.
I don’t claim that every experience I had with him was non-consensual. But even those times when I actually made a decision—it was easier to say I made the decision, you know, even when he never asked if it was what I wanted and I really never expected him to take it that far—even then, even if we call it “consensual” in some moments where that label is dubious, can you really say that there was no harm in it? When I was consistently disrespected, disregarded, and treated with contempt? When all of this unfolded within a system of intense pressure, both culturally and interpersonally, when all was not equal?
Consent or no consent is not the only part of this story. There are also the gray areas of sexual experience where all these nebulous factors combine to create an experience which feels wrong to blame the other party for, because so much of it is about cultural expectations, but at the same time it’s still very painful. Some kind of harm has been done, but it’s difficult to talk about because there is no clear wrongdoing. Blame is beside the point.
I want to create a world where the standard is much higher than “it was consensual,” where we can expect our sexual partners to treat us with care and respect.
This kind of expectation is still largely missing from the conversation surrounding #MeToo. Accountability is important, of course, but we must take it farther than that.
So it’s difficult for me to say #MeToo—but since I’ve already been open about being a survivor for years, I don’t really see the point anyway.
I wrote a draft of a memoir about my experiences a while back, but the time is not right for it. I don’t think I took the right approach. I don’t think it captured all the complexities, and I think that too much focus was on the perpetrator. I also don’t want my own narrative to become so dominant that other ace survivors find that theirs are overlooked. So I choose not to tell the whole story, for now.
So many people feel that they can’t say #MeToo: queer people, Muslims, incarcerated people, people with female perpetrators, people who aren’t women, and so on. I think it’s important to consider who feels excluded, and why, and what we can do about it.
Notice: Linking to this post is perfectly fine, but just please refrain from linking it in a context like a public political argument about asexuality (e.g. whether or not asexuals are oppressed), especially on Tumblr. Engaging with “Discourse” is usually not going to change people’s minds anyway (reasons are for reasonable people, after all), and I’d rather not get dragged into it, thanks. Other ace survivors on tumblr typically suffer splash damage when people do this. For more on why using survivors’ stories in an argument is harmful, please see Queenie’s Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices series.