Easy to Remember Instructions for Clueless Guys

This post is filled with triggering stuff about sexual assault.

Okay, so there’s this guy. He’s about my age, from my home town, and in 1984, the summer before I started high school, he was up in my bedroom while we goofed around listening to Pink Floyd and wondering what to do. The upshot here is that our long friendship collapsed in a sexual assault and after he left to walk home, I was left wondering what the hell had just happened.

I took a very long shower. I told nobody about it, but that fall, some part of me asked the guidance counselor if I could join the women’s group therapy meeting. She didn’t ask me why, just said yes, and there I was, holding my uniform skirt to my knees and listening to the awful things in the lives of my peers, wondering why I was there. Repression is a strange thing. I’d blocked out most of what had occurred in my bed the summer before, but close friends asked if everything was okay. I’d picked a high school (I was in the parochial system, not in public school) that most of my friends hadn’t selected, so it was up to me to make new pals and to keep in touch with my besties from eighth grade. As with other people my age in the mid-80s, the phone was my constant companion. I had a cord that stretched down the hall, and luxuriously enough, I had my own number and a phone in my own room (thank you, elder sisters, for paving the way for me).

The story of what happened to me (as opposed to the reality of what happened to me) warped inside my mind, as objects will when submitted to extreme pressure and stress. I told people I’d lost my virginity willingly, I used food to cover up my fear and anguish, and believed that adding another 20 or 30 pounds would limit my appeal to other people. Instead many boys figured I’d be the easy play, so I became more choosy about which after school clubs I should participate in, and which friends would be safe. (Read: Not many men made the cut.)

In response to living in the same house my entire life, my trauma, and my belief that the world outside East Windsor, New Jersey, was far more interesting, I made plans to move away for college. When I was free of my epilepsy medication, my intelligence took off, ecstatic to be free.

The guy in question never called after his conquest of me, and I didn’t call him, either. I wiped him off of the map of my consciousness, even if the pain of the experience continued to fester under the surface. Before I knew it I was in university, negotiating unexpected homesickness, an entirely different level of coursework and expectations for studying, and square zero of making friends. I made many, many mistakes, but by the end of my first year, I had found my feet.

The entirety of that afternoon in ’84 came crashing back to me while I was at home on a visit from university. Looking for an extra blanket, I rediscovered the one from my bed that I’d hidden at the back of my closet. Oh. Oh no. I sat on the floor for a while, whimpering and feeling grotesque all over again.

And then I got angry. I was older, and though I was only minusculely more confident than before, it was enough to get me back into group therapy, and then one-on-one therapy. Along the way I uncovered so much else about myself–and yes, I understand that a decade-long introspection is an extreme privilege–regarding my orientation and my gender identity, so much so that those topics, instead of the trauma, became the focus of my conversations with my therapists. In this way I understood that sexual trauma often acts as a stunting agent–locking survivors into a grossly inadequate sense of self. I pushed myself, worked to eliminate my mass quantity of self-doubt and self-hatred, slowly learned to insist on better relationships and people in my life.

At some point, Jeff Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and invented Facebook. I took no notice of this, but joined FB because I wanted to see pictures of a friend’s birthday party. By this point I was working in the nation’s capitol and enjoying my new found happiness after a break up. I’d been through some long-term relationships, had a sex change, gotten married, moved across the country, become a dad.

It took a few blinks to believe that the guy from 1984 had emailed me. How had we grown so far apart, he wondered on the screen. He never heard from me anymore. I checked the calendar. Yup, it was 2011. I groaned at the computer. I wondered if I was feeling anger or depression . . . but nothing rose to the surface. I suppose that’s what years of therapy will do for a person.

I wrote him back. No, you don’t hear from me, I typed, and that’s on purpose. I reminded him of what had happened the last time we’d spent time together. Then I said I wished for no further communication. Absolutely would I not accept his friend request.

One month later, he emailed back, reporting that he’d been so upset by my note. He didn’t remember any of that. He — he was sorry, he wrote, and he was distraught that I’d thought him a bad person all of these years. He’s not. He’s a good person, he said. Please, is there any way we could reconnect?

Now, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by any of this. Who wants to walk around all day feeling like a total raping asshole? Perhaps this is where all of those lines about “When does no mean no” really matter, because it’s in the disclarity of “NO” that men who sexually assault others can save their sense of themselves. Only sadists actually enjoy the sensation of being a monster. So great, he’s not a sadist. Let me find my reward for that.

Oh wait. There isn’t one.

Several months went by and then he felt the need to send me another note on Facebook. I blocked him, wondering how I’d forgotten to before. But this time he was less aghast and more insistent. Our voices deserve to hear each other again. (Note: Voices are emanations of sound made by one’s vocal folds, and have no receptacles for hearing, nor any other sense per se.) He really would like an response from me. We had been so close, after all.

So here is my response, Guy in Question, only instead of writing it to you, I’m writing it to young men, middle aged men, old men, and anybody else confused about how to engage with people when you are feeling like you want to stick a body part into them:

1. When someone says no, accept that. About anything. Carrying her groceries. Going out to a movie. Having them open a body part for you. Nod and move on, walk away, thank them for their time, but under no circumstances do you get to argue with that person. You would demand the same in return.

2. If you have not accepted the statement of no and instead force yourself onto that person, you are no longer a “nice” person or a “good” person. You are an asshole. You need not remain an asshole for forever–some of us believe in redemption–but certainly, on this issue, for this person you’ve just invaded, yeah, you’re a complete douche. And your authority to be held in anyone’s high esteem is gone.

3. If you have not accepted the statement of no, understand that the person in question does not want you to keep talking. You’re an asshole, period. There’s no arguing the point. Shut up and go be an asshole by yourself.

4. If you insist on keeping talking, pick up the phone to the closest police precinct and tell them all about your raping ways. They will be happy for you to keep talking.

5. If you insist on talking to the person you assaulted, understand that s/he may not respond to you. They have great reasons for not wanting to have a conversation with you, especially about how good you are of a person.

6. If they do not respond to you after you keep talking about how good you are as a person, do not continue to pester them with more comments about your goodness or likability.  In fact, you’re kind of proving the antithesis of that. Yes, right now.

7. If you insist on hearing back from them, do not be surprised when they take to their popular blog and lambaste you for being an incorrigible raping asshole.

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