The first time, I was groped and molested by a peer one year older than me while WEARING OVERALLS and long sleeves. I was sitting beside him, in a place with many others around us, a place I loved to be. He put his hand inside my overalls, then my shirt, into my bra and would not take it out, while I begged and pulled on his arm. I was 11. I was not wearing whatever else outfit you use to justify people’s lack of self-control and need for power over a female body. I was wearing OVERALLS. 90s overalls. The clothes are not. the. issue.
At 12 and 13, I would be forced into situations and moments I look back on in horror. My kids are almost this age. MY KIDS ARE THIS AGE.
In high school I was called “Jugs” and that was my only name by multiple male peers for years. I never dated one male from my school my entire high school career. The way they looked at me, grabbed at me, talked to me was sickening. I don’t know how many comments were made about my breasts, in appreciative and in jest and in disapproval, how many times one was grabbed as I walked down the hallway, how many hands squeezed my hind end without permission. Countless. A girls body is not.the.issue.
Countless moments. And while I could list many of them by name right this moment, the hands and voices who harassed me, I was never spoken to by them by my actual name. Never acknowledged as a person with thoughts and ideas and feelings. Just Jugs.
Is it a wonder I hated high school?
Eventually, I dated older males while in high school, who were not in my school, who might have not called me Jugs but looking back, I think the motivation was the same. My most humiliating and awful moments come from that experience, from one person I dated a long time who I felt trapped by. What was expected of me and done to me while I froze in moments with him still haunt me to this day. I can’t talk about some of those yet. I tried to write about them even today and I can’t. 19 years later.
But the freezing makes me maddest at myself. What if I had been braver?
Is that even really fair to 15 year old Rachel? That she didn’t know how to fight back? How to stand up for herself? How to make her ‘no’ louder?
My naïvety was not. the. issue.
Then I was date raped by a male who I knew well for a long time and while I lay in my dorm room bed crying and saying no and stop, yelling at his face, I thought is this really rape? Can I even call it that? Because I know him. The whole stranger in the bushes thing, it wasn’t that: I know this guy. I let him in my room. I’ve been kissing him. But I’m saying no. No. No. No.
Then I smacked him hard enough to get his attention. He spent the next hour crying about how bad he felt about it.
As if I were to comfort him.
He said he just wanted to get me pregnant so I would be in his life forever.
My kissing him was not. the. issue.
When I told a friend, she told me her ex forced her often and she eventually just put a pillow over her face at those moments. This was normal to us and something we accepted as part of the deal. Part of what deal?
Part of the deal of being a girl?
Of being fun?
Of having nice legs? Boobs?
I look back and cry for those girls we were, thinking we weren’t better, that we didn’t deserve respect. A choice. A voice.
A review of pictures of my life shows the shift from carefree to aware: being just 12 and starting to wear clothes over my bathing suits to hide my chest. Fully covering everything I could every time. After those first few experiences, I always dressed modest. Insecurely. Not out of a moral obligation, out of shame. Trying to control what I was known for and how I was seen.
How much could I cover? This was my motivator for so many many years.
I think on times I’ve frozen up when I didn’t want to. When no one has done anything wrong and I blame these moments, this is the aftermath of these other experiences. Regrets run through my head of how I’ve handled moments that weren’t this. I wish I could tell you, I’m sorry, I would have ordered a redo. You were not the issue. What I never was sure of in my college years was if any of you liked me for me. It wasn’t until someone was willing to wait that I thought maybe it was even possible to be wanted for more than my body.
I’m not responsible for others choices but I carry the burden of them.
Some of you do, too.
#metoo is not a joke.
It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not something someone made up to make a point to your favorite politician.
It’s a sea of voices telling you, telling me, they’ve had this same experience. They are saying it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. They are saying, your story is real. It’s valid. It’s yours to tell if you want to and we are here beside you, saying #metoo. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too.
This is 35. Bolder. Braver. Stronger.