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June 30, 2009

An Open Letter to Every Man I Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 9:16 pm

Here’s an excerpt of a thing I wrote. Like I said before, it’s a small thing. The ways I’ve been sexually traumatized in my life are miniscule and unremarkable compared to the kind of rape, assault and abuse faced by millions of women around the world.

That being said, this still happened and it still shaped me. And similar things have happened to so many girls and are happening to so many girls right now, and I’m not going to continue keeping it under the rug out of fear or shame about how this happens to “everbody” and I should just “get over it”. I’m going to help myself actually get over it by talking about it out loud.

I need to tell you about something.

When I was sixteen and just starting to learn about myself and my body, there was a boy who was infatuated with me. Bad. He wanted to make me his girlfriend. He knew that we were meant to be together. He brought me gifts and wrote me love poetry. He thought about it all the time every day. When I told him that, while I liked and cared about him and even found him quite attractive, I wasn’t going to date him because I already had a boyfriend who I was in love with and we had agreed not to get romantically involved with other people, he decided variably that I had rejected him because a) I didn’t really know what I wanted; I thought I wanted my partner but I REALLY wanted him; I just didn’t realize that yet; he was going to show me, b) because all women are bitches who are out to hurt men and I was a manipulative liar and a terrible friend who didn’t even like him, but primarily c) because he was cursed; a horrible, ugly, hopeless cretin who was in no way attractive to me or to any other woman and never would be. (Also: Nobody understood him.)

At no time did this boy consider the possibility that the REAL reason I wouldn’t date him was because I already had a boyfriend who I was in love with and we had agreed not to get romantically involved with other people. Instead, he made sure I knew all of the stuff above. Through teary, heartfelt, late night talks about how much he hated himself; through regular arguments about why my feelings were wrong – about why my partner was bad for me and how I didn’t know what was good for me; through angry passive-aggressive side comments under his breath; through other people who wanted to “make sure I knew just how much he liked me” and how much I was hurting him by being attractive; through forgiving friendliness followed by unexplained shutdown and withdrawl; but mostly, constantly, silently, through brooding, glowering, angry, hurt, glaring daggers at me from across the room or simply staring morosely off into space, mired as publicly as possible in his self-loathing… He made sure I knew that I – and specifically my refusal to have the kind of relationship with him that he felt entitled to (by fate!) – was the source of all his self-hatred, pain and suffering.

Now, try not to imagine the boy you’re seeing described above. Realize the person I’m describing here was not – to me – some annoying self-involved socially-awkward teenage boy desperate to get laid. Remember that this was at the height of my issues with my mother, my passionate devotion to my new friends as if they were family. To me, he was a close friend, a loved one, someone whose happiness and well-being was REALLY REALLY important to me and who – I honestly believed on some level – was apparently having his SOUL DESTROYED by the fact that I wouldn’t be his. It hurt so bad to watch him suffer. I felt SO BAD. Sometimes I questioned myself – WAS I wrong? Maybe I didn’t really know what I wanted? Maybe I really was supposed to be with him.

I felt especially bad because it didn’t seem like there was anything I could do to convince him that my decision not to be with him wasn’t a reflection on his failures as a human being or his lack of desirability. That it wasn’t ABOUT him at all; it was about me and my already being in a relationship with someone else. One that I took very seriously then and, after more than ten years together, still do.

Eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t handle it anymore and – combined with constant proximity, my general teenage curiousity about sex, and my total naivete about human behavior – I somehow got it into my head that while I couldn’t give this boy EVERYTHING he wanted, maybe if I could just push past my own boundaries enough to give him SOME of what he wanted, it would make things better and prove that my rejection wasn’t personal, and he would stop hating himself so much, stop feeling like he was a gross monster who repelled girls, and lay off the twisted mindfuck guilt-trip that made it all my fault.

So, one night we were at his house watching movies, and I agreed to blow him on the couch in his parents’ basement. It was the first time anyone had ever gone down on him. It was the first I’d ever given to someone outside my relationship. And, afterwards, I still wouldn’t be his girlfriend.

This did not make everything better. In fact – shockingly! – it made things worse. Not only did the everpresent guilt-tripping continue and intensify but – I found out later – he also started talking to my friends behind my back, telling them I was a coldhearted cunt who didn’t care about him and used him for sex and…I don’t even know what else. Apparently he said some things about me in front of his own parents that were so nasty his brother won’t even repeat them to me years later. He became the doughty standard bearer of the Rebecca is a Heartless Slut (Because She Won’t Sleep With ME) Brigade that followed me all through highschool and still haunts me sometimes to this day.

Like last night, when some friends and I walked into a bar downtown…and there he was, sitting at a table, still giving me dagger looks – more than ten years later. And because he was sitting at a table with a girl I know, she boisterously shouted across the pub at me until I came over and talked to her, which meant physically going THROUGH this boy and having to give each other incredibly awkward public ‘Hi, How are you? Nice to see you. Yeah…’ hugs in the process.

Thing is, it wasn’t just him. I am dumb about a lot of things and only learn them the hard way. It took similar situations – although, thankfully, never to the same degree of sexual interaction, duration, naive emotional rawness, or downright nastiness as the first – with three or four other friends, for me to finally get it through my skull. And it didn’t help that they all ganged up in their spurnedness. I remember, once, telling one of these “friends” in confidence that another had done something that made me feel violated – and his response, as a friend, was to yell at me: “‘How dare you use that word? Violated! He’s your FRIEND! You NEVER EVER tell a FRIEND they made you feel VIOLATED! Do you have ANY IDEA how much it would HURT HIM if he heard that!!?”

Did I have any idea how much I would hurt him by admitting that the way he’d touched me made me uncomfortable?

How much I would hurt him.

And so I didn’t tell him. Because I didn’t want to hurt him. I just let him keep touching me.

And this is the lesson I finally, ultimately learned deep down in my adolescent bones: Some men will stop at nothing to fuck you – or, sometimes, to help each other fuck you – whether you want to or not, no matter your reasons for saying ‘No’. And if one of these men is someone you care about, he will even use the fact that you care about him and that it hurts you to see him suffer to coerce you into doing things you’re not comfortable with. And then, after you’ve compromised in hopes of helping your friend and saving your relationship, he will HATE you for it. And he will try to hurt you more.

There are a lot of guys out there who hate themselves – and who use women, sexually and emotionally, as an instrument of their self-loathing. And I used to be very attracted to men like that. Because I didn’t know any better. Because I thought I could save them. Because I was self-destructive myself. Because it took me years of experience getting emotionally blackmailed by their mixture of self-hatred and self-righteous egotism to learn to see what was going on and discover how completely turned off I was by it.

But, after years of dealing with it from “friend” after “friend”, guilt-trips, emotional blackmail, me-vs.-you antagonism, passive-aggressive coercion around sex has the opposite effect on me. And, at this point in my life, I’m hypersensitive to it. Even from the people I love most and am most attracted to – perhaps ESPECIALLY from those people – any hint of it, even a subconscious possibly paranoid whiff, freaks me out, shuts me down, makes me want to put on my panties and run for the hills.

Which sucks too, because that’s exactly the way that most of us, especially boys, are taught to approach sex. Men are taught to believe they’re entitled to it and that their job is to convince women, who are the gatekeepers, to give it to them – and we’re all taught to believe, deep down, that when someone says ‘No’ or even ‘Not Right Now,’ it’s a rejection of us personally, proof positive that the person doesn’t like us, doesn’t love us, isn’t attracted to us, and that perhaps that means we aren’t likeable, loveable, attractive, or worthwhile period.

And it’s not really anyone’s fault. This stuff is written in deep and it’s so hard to get it out of our systems. It’s not that boy’s fault that he was a douchebag at sixteen. Pretty much everyone is a douchebag at sixteen. But that doesn’t change the fact that the way his formative teenage self treated he treated my formative teenage self fucked me up a little sexually and emotionally, possibly forever.* It doesn’t change the fact that, ten years later, every time a guy I’m friends with tries to use our friendship to coerce me into sucking his cock, it tears that slow-healing wound open again…

And I need you to not be that guy.

I need YOU to not take my sexual choices about my body, and make them all about you and how they’re hurting you and making you feel bad about yourself. And I need you to not do it to any other girl either. And I need you to teach your friends and sons and little brothers how not to do it as well.

And I know that, as simple as it sounds, that’s a really, really difficult thing. That we don’t have many models for healthy ways of expressing attraction and desire – and that the models we do have are ones you probably don’t come across very often in your daily life.

So if you are making an effort to seek out and share those alternatives and to not to be that guy – not to me or anyone else – then I appreciate you more than you know. Keep up the good work. And thanks.

* And I’m willing to countenance, given his reaction to me still, that he probably sustained some similar damage from his interaction with me. And that sucks a lot, too. But it’s a very different story.

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