When the #metoo hashtag began after the outing of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein as a serial, and apparently unrepentant, sexual predator, I added my voice to the growing tidal wave. I’ve been sexually assaulted numerous times, harassed, catcalled, objectified…you know, the usual.
I’ve done a lot of work around forgiving myself for the worst instances of assault. I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, to convince myself that these moments were not my fault, but the fault of the people who assaulted me. It might sound simple to those who haven’t lived it, but nearly everyone I know who’s been sexually assaulted knows that blaming oneself is natural in a climate where sexual shame pervades every action and decision.
Oh, and by the way. All those people I know who have been sexually assaulted? They’re at least half of the people I know. Definitely more than half of the cis women and nonbinary and trans folks—maybe three quarters of them have experienced assault, often outright rape. And at a third of the cis men I know, too. I don’t believe for one second that the “1 in 4 women” statistic that gets thrown around is accurate, because those numbers come from the instances that are reported. Most of the ones I know about never were.
Because the idea of reliving your own assault in order to report it to police and then to a lawyer and then to a jury and a judge, over and over, with the near certainty that you won’t be believed but will be blamed for what happened to you, is exhausting. Mucking your way through years of trauma afterwards, with or without reporting, is exhausting. Trying to learn to trust people again…and then being assaulted again when you do…and then trying to learn to trust again…and again…and again…is exhausting. And so is living with the weight of the truth that victims know but somehow has remained a secret—that sexual assault is not an exception, but a rule by which so many of us live—is soul-crushing.
It’s all exhausting.
I welcome the news that this secret is no longer a secret. I am here for finally holding abusers and rapists accountable for their actions. I am here for pointing out the glaring truth that so many have ignored for so long: that the fact that cisgender men have so long held so much of the power in the world puts female-identified, nonbinary, and trans folks in an impossible position in almost every important interaction of their lives. I am ready to talk about the power dynamics and realities that I’ve been living with for years.
I’m so ready that I wrote about my status as a victim of sexual assault, openly, in my book. I wrote about the assault I’d already experienced when the book begins in 2007, and I also wrote about the public assault I experienced at an adult industry convention at the hands of one of porn’s biggest names. I’ve been interviewed about this experience a few times, and I’m used to talking about it. So, last week, when I was contacted by a journalist writing for a major American magazine about it, for a story about this man’s long-standing, long-well-known, often-public predatory behavior, I talked to her about it.
I was hesitant, though. I am a bit wary of what some people are calling a “witch hunt” being carried out against any man in any position of power who’s ever done something stupid to someone, sexually. I don’t want this to turn into a free-for-all of calling people out and shaming them. As much as calling people out is important, what’s more important, I believe, is to have a healthy dialogue that acknowledges the prevalence of this kind of behavior and seeks to educate everyone about how to not be a predator. How to not assault people. How to not think that assault is a normal part of human sexuality.
But calling people out is a first step. And it’s one that can’t be sidestepped. Witch hunts aren’t great, but I do think that in the case of the millions of people who have been made victim by a base understanding that people in power are able to harass, abuse, and assault those without, it’s important to expose the perpetrators to a taste of their own medicine. Welcome, folks, to feeling powerless, overwhelmed and exhausted.
So I gave the interview. I’m not sure when the article will drop, or if it will be online or in print. But I’ve been exhausted ever since. This whole thing is exhausting. Probably for everyone. But I think particularly for the millions of people like myself, who have lived with the reality that sexual assault is so prevalent it’s nearly universal for our whole lives. It’s not surprising. We have been harassed, assaulted, raped, doubted, blamed, shamed, guilt-wracked, traumatized for years. And so have our friends, our families. And it’s exhausting to live with that burden on us, lying like an invisible carcass across our shoulders, which we have been telling everyone about for years. But nobody was willing to see it. Nobody was willing to listen. And so we’ve borne it because we must, simply to keep living. And we have spent our energy, day in and day out, bearing it.
And now we find ourselves, in many ways, vindicated as the tide of public opinion begins to shift. We are terrified by the lightness starting to creep across our shoulders, but we are also electrified. Finally, the rest of the world is beginning to see this monstrous snake that wound its way around our necks. But still, we are exhausted. For now we are hearing, every day, about the details. We are reliving our experiences. We are experiencing the suffering of the millions with whom we have borne this burden.
I’ve been so tired the past few weeks. I’m going to bed earlier, having more trouble getting up. I’m feeling malaise, indifference, flat-out exhaustion. I have headaches. My trauma is being writ large. And it’s good,I think. This is a growing pain, I hope.
But it does hurt. All of us. And none less so than the people who have been preying upon us for years, decades, centuries. They’re confused. They are terrified. They don’t know how to proceed. They are afraid that they will never again be able to safely engage in sexual behavior, and they are frozen with terror. (Or, sometimes, given to lamenting their fates in half-assed, badly written “apologies.”)
Welcome, predators, to being a person without much power in this world. Welcome to being on the lighter side of the see-saw, where you don’t have control of the narrative about who you are sexually. Where the word of someone you might hardly know or barely remember has more power than what you say to the world. Where the court of public opinion has already condemned you. Welcome to how we’ve felt every time you raped us and we knew that going to the police would likely result in more trauma because nobody would believe us and we’d be dragged through the mud for being “slutty.” Welcome to being afraid of being alone with someone in the dark, because they might do something that could ruin you. Welcome to every fucking day of our lives.
The fact that the power seems, even the smallest bit, to be shifting from your hands into ours feels like the entire world has been thrown off its axis and we are spinning away into space, doesn’t it? It’s discombobulating, disconcerting, nauseating. Imagine that this spin continues for years, decades, centuries, until we have the power, the money, the reins over your careers, bodies, lives. Imagine that you’re in a world where you must appease us to get literally anywhere worth getting. Let your imaginations run wild, down the scariest corridors of your dystopian future, and realize that this is literally the world that we live in right now. Except you are the bad guys. We are the disbelieved, shamed, repressed, fearful, abused. And we. Are. Fucking. Exhausted.
But, you know, give us some time to catch our breath. Once this nausea abates, the exhaustion subsides, we’ll take a deep breath. And then we’ll really start to speak.