Hey, Aziz — I Was Date-Raped and I’m Just Fine!

Yeah, I heard about that awful date you had with “Grace.” Duuuuuude. Now there are think-pieces ABOUT THE THINK PIECES and it’s a virtual Escher’s painting of think pieces, so who cares about mine, right? Well, I care about mine because here’s the point, which I know would be more powerful if I built up to at the end, but I don’t want anyone for even one second to miss it while they are reading this piece that bears my name.

It’s called EMPATHY, people.

With so many fine, upstanding, educated and influential women coming to your defense, I wanted to make sure you knew I also think date-rape is not that bad! OHMYGODIAMKIDDING PEOPLE (see above POINT!) Caitlin Flanagan is over at the Atlantic defending your honor — I mean what is a grown man to do when faced with being rejected, but stay the course, amirite? She caught me off-guard, though, with that adorable attempt at racial allyship at the end, though — that really took the focus off the internalized misogyny she was spewing for a minute, there! Well-played.

Then there was Bari Weiss in the New York Times…claiming the date was doomed because “Grace” wasn’t allowed to choose which wine to drink. Way to be reductive, Bari! Impressive maneuvering. Obviously, if “Grace” had just exercised more agency alone in Aziz’s apartment, she’d have not had to go through that awful night with him pawing at her, you know, demanding fellatio and handjobs and such. Cue tears in the cab home. “Fin,” says Ms. Weiss. Ohmygod, Bari, you are so WORLDLY and intimidating… I shrivel in your journalistic presence.

My favorite thing about Bari’s piece, though, was how she’s all, “Grace” will be the downfall of the #MeToo movement (!!!) which — Bari announces with the Appropriated Authority of the Whitest of White Feminismiest White Feminism in the Land of White Feministlandia — first stood for “the same movement that brought down men who ran movie studios and forced themselves on actresses, or the factory floor supervisors who demanded sex from women workers.”

Oh, Bari. No. Please read your own newspaper.

First of all, *…paging Tarana Buuuuuuuuurke…*

Tarana Burke, a Black woman working with sexual assault victims and survivors, began the Me Too movement in 2007. For all victims and survivors. For anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harrassment. It is not for only people whose jobs are on the line if they do not (forgive me) perform. And it certainly did not first begin with bringing down Weinstein, to protect white actresses. Just because Aziz wasn’t in the position to “fire” her doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to LISTEN to her, PAY ATTENTION to her and control himself if that is what she repeatedly requested.

But, hey, Aziz! I wanna make sure you don’t feel TOO bad — you make great TV, and you have the option of not being a complete douchebro, here. Your texted apology to “Grace” showed promise, but your “official statement” placed you squarely in victim-blamey-rape-culture territory. Terisa Jusino over at The MarySue does a great job mapping that one out…and so does Angus Johnston on Twitter…you aren’t cancelled for me yet. Redemption awaits.

So, lemme tell you my story about date-rape. It happened before I knew date-rape existed. Back then in 1986, I was seventeen and in the first week of my freshman year at Hopkins. At a frat party I said the word “No” at least twice to Herbert*, the large guy on top of me after willingly fooling around with him up until that point…I didn’t want to have sex with him, though. No condom, for one thing (I was on the pill — not worried about pregnancy, but STDs)…for another, well, why the fuck do I need a reason to not want to have sex with someone?

1986 — Off I go to find my dorm room —
Look at that power stance! Don’t I look confident?

Anyhow, either I wasn’t convincing enough or whatever, but he proceeded undeterred, shall we say. I didn’t fight him or scream or anything — I just kind of rolled my eyes and lay there until he was done and was like, “great, can I go back to my dorm, now?” I mean, I had other options, I guess — I could have asserted myself that first week of college in that situation with that large junior 3 years older than I was and found my way through the mess of drunk frat boys at the party and tried to figure out how to get back to campus…but hey…it was easier to lie there. I wasn’t afraid he’d hurt me, I was just doing the cost-benefit analysis, and frankly — as is too often the case in these situations, my will was the cost.

It was upsetting, but not super-traumatizing. I felt gross and mad at myself for not putting up a fight. I disliked myself intensely for a few days. I moved on, though, and dove into my studies and developed a cool social scene and life was pretty good. Herbert wanted to get together again after that. I said no, and I didn’t really have any problems with him from then on.

Not too far into the semester, though, there was this seminar/forum-type of thing held, though. It may have even been mandatory for freshmen, and only for girls — can’t really remember — but a lot of us went. The topic was date-rape and sexual assault. I gotta say Hopkins was way ahead of the curve on this one. This was 1986, remember. I had never even heard the term “date-rape.” Imagine my surprise when the description of my experience with Herbert was recited practically verbatim as Exhibit A.

I remember processing with my best friend at the time, Gina* after the seminar. Is it possible what happened to me was date-rape? I told her what had happened that night, hurt, upset, and resisted at every turn the possibility I was a victim. I had told him no…more than once… but he didn’t threaten me…I wasn’t afraid…he even asked me out again after that — how could that possibly be anything that had the word “rape” attached? Doesn’t rape happen between strangers? People who aren’t nice to each other?

She insisted it was. Because I’d said “No.” Because he didn’t listen. Because he did it anyway — without my permission. That was date-rape. I remember her jaw clenching and her lips tightening in anger in defense of me. She was ready to march me down to counseling or the clinic or whatever I needed.

But, I’m okay, I insisted — how can it be date-rape if I’m okay??? Wouldn’t I not be okay??? She softened up a little, but was still furious. She swore that if I wasn’t going to do anything, at the very least she would spill beer down his shirt on my behalf whenever she saw him at a party. I agreed, and true friend that she was, she kept her word. In the end I was more embarrassed that I took ANY of my clothes off for a guy named “Herbert.” I moved on and was fine.

But here is what you will NEVER see me doing. You will never catch me victim-blaming Grace. I will NEVER expect someone else who has been date-raped or sexually assaulted, or even sexually PRESSURED to be fine simply because I was lucky enough to be. I will NEVER say, “Well, I dealt with it, why can’t she?” And no one — NO ONE ELSE has permission to say that, either.

I understand not everyone reacts to things the way I do. I understand that what simply sucks ass for me might be traumatizing or soul-crushing for someone else. Not everyone has the same advantages or my particular emotional make-up. Others may have histories of abuse. Parents who’d react much differently. A boyfriend who’d beat the shit out of them, or friends who’d blame them and leave them alone when they needed company.

Aziz, “Grace” got into that cab and cried all the way home. Something went horribly wrong for her. Who the fuck am I to judge her? So many are saying she could have avoided the situation by leaving, but YOU COULD HAVE AVOIDED THE SITUATION BY LISTENING TO HER AND RESPECTING HER WISHES.

You already know one of the worst things that can happen to you if you DON’T stop when she says “no.” What is the worst thing that can happen to you if you DO stop when she says “no?” You might be frustrated, but she would have been relieved and maybe no one would know about the “Claw” ohmygod. Maybe you could even talk to each other about what boundaries work for you both. Restraint and respect can be SEXY, Aziz. Sex is not supposed to be a “Shoot now, apologize later” kind of thing.

But apologize you must. Do better. Who was it that said the only true apology is changed behavior? Stand up for “Grace.” Tell the people defending you “Thanks, but no thanks.” Acknowledge your immense privilege and power, here. I’m not saying she had zero power…but it’s disingenuous to claim it’s easy for most women and girls to just grab our power and assert it in moments such as these. Don’t make it harder for us. Don’t make it harder for “Grace.”


As for me, for over 30 years, over these many public and private discussions of date-rape I’ve wondered if that’s what happened to me, and always decided, “Nah.” I get to decide, right? My level of trauma determines it. How I define it. I’ve also resisted calling it date-rape because it felt like it minimized the experience of folks who have endured worse. It always was in the back of my mind, though, scratching at the door a little.

Then I read KatyKatiKate’s amazing piece, “Not That Bad…”

And that’s the thing: we do get to pick how to decide to tell our stories, at least to ourselves. I’ve dated a few Dr. Lecters, and like Clarice Starling I escaped with a few tears, a few shivers of disgust, and a few stories that I rarely tell. I decided not to call those encounters assault. I decided to make those nights the bad-date montage in act one of the story of my happy life.
That’s how I moved forward.
Grace’s story is common. It’s so common that I don’t have to imagine it because I remember it. I laugh about it without smiling. It’s the story of so much bad sex. And when I hear that bad sex described as a sexual assault, it forces me to reexamine my own history. And see, I just started feeling strong again.
I believe her; I don’t agree with her.
I’m telling you this not because I think she is wrong,
but because I think I am…
Women have already taken enough of a painful personal inventory to be able to say #metoo; I am not eager to go back over what I’ve come to comfortably accept as “crappy hookups,” or “shitty sex,” and come to realize that yes, that was sexual assault too.

So, here I am re-examining my own history. Wondering if when I refuse to call what I experienced “date-rape,” I minimize the experiences of people for whom the same event may have been that very thing. Maybe I’m making it harder for them to be believed and receive support. Maybe my own reaction to that experience was the exception, not the rule, though maybe not.

If there is one thing I know about the way the world is heading, we need people making room for more empathy, not less. And not for the guys who can’t take no for an answer.

*names changed for privacy, but “Herbert’s” real name was equally dorky.

Read more of Aliza’s writing at her blog, The Worthington Post.