Do not brush it off
Dillo Day is rained out and we’re chilling at a friend’s apartment with leftover alcohol (“The Contingency Plan”). I’m waiting in line for the bathroom when this tall guy shows up. He asks me if I’m in line. I say yes. He says “you can go ahead of me” even though I’m already ahead of him. I can tell that he’s drunk from the way he’s unsteady on his feet, swaying slightly and slurring his words. I use the bathroom, wash my hands, and walk out. He asks for my name (I give him my name) and then he says “you’re beautiful” (I thank him awkwardly). As I try to sidestep him in the narrow hallway to go back to the party, his movements are no longer uneven, but calculated and quick.
It feels like it’s happening in slow motion. I see his face descending and try to move my face out of the way. That’s when he grabs me by the shoulders, backs me against the wall, and won’t let me go. I can feel his teeth and mouth and tongue and I’m beating my hands against him but he’s much taller and larger and I can’t get him off. I can’t even keep him off of me long enough to scream. I have never been more terrified in my life. I keep saying “no” and “stop” and “get the fuck off of me” as I struggle against him but he doesn’t stop. After repeated pushing and shoving, I finally escape. I stumble back to the party, dazed. It’s the first time I have had to vocalize my “no” and it’s the first time that “no” was not enough.
I tell my friends Bo and Sarah as they sip cappuccinos on the couch. “Some guy just kissed me.” I don’t know why, but I initially leave out the fact that I wasn’t willing until Sarah asks me if I’d been into it, because I’ve made it sound like just a hook-up. It’s almost as if I have to double check my gut feeling. Maybe alcohol threw things off balance and something had gotten lost in translation. But I immediately remember his unyielding grip on my arms. If I’d been into it, I wouldn’t have been trying to physically push him off of me. I hate that that is my first feeling — that I may have somehow had some role to play in this. Was it me? Was it the alcohol? I don’t think about the fact he said all of ten words to me before kissing me without my permission or that he didn’t let me go even when I tried to dodge his face or that I was actually struggling to break free and I’ve never had to do that with any guy in my life. I tell them that it was not a consensual hook-up. Sarah asks me if I’m okay and Bo, who’s just woken up from a nap, is ready to fight and asks if I want him to go punch that guy in the face.
Bo and Sarah ask me who it was, to point him out. (I don’t see the guy again, he just disappears from the party.) What surprises me is that I tell Bo not to make a big deal about it. I don’t want to make a scene because it’s Dillo. Everyone is supposed to be having fun and getting sloppy drunk. Besides, it’s a medium-sized party and I only know a handful of people. I can’t help but think in the back of my mind that things could have been worse. That kiss (if you can even call it that) didn’t even last all of five minutes. It happened in the hallway with my friends in the next room. I got away. Why make a big fuss about it?
It honestly feels like a default reaction, treating it like it wasn’t a big deal. I brush it off as “he was drunk” and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As I’m saying these things, protecting my assaulter’s identity and placating the very justified rage my friends feel for me, I am torn. I consider myself well-read and well-educated on consent, rape culture, the patriarchy, etc. I’m vocal about it on Tumblr, I read Jessica Valenti and Roxane Gay, I discuss it over wine with my girlfriends. Why did I now feel the need to be silent? Why was I trying to place what just happened to me on a continuum of sexual assault, as if that lessened its terror or diminished its importance? Why was I the one to feel ashamed about a stranger touching me without my consent? All I can say is, no amount of essays and articles and discussions about rape culture can prepare you for the self-doubt that accompanies the aftermath of saying “no” and having that “no” ignored.
And somehow I still feel weird talking about it and saying “it’s not a big deal.” When it is a big deal. I think about how the social context influenced my decision. I boiled it down to a really awkward (unwilling) mashing of mouths. In the moment, I told myself that it wasn’t worth making a scene over. That just because I didn’t want to call out that guy in front of everyone or get confrontational didn’t mean I condoned his actions. But I wonder whether my reaction would’ve been the same if it hadn’t stopped at a forced kiss, or if the guy wasn’t a stranger but someone I knew (or with whom I was friends). How much would I have debated with myself about that? Would I have stayed silent then?
I now know that this rationalization is harmful. When I read Alex’s piece on “owning your no,” I realized that the silence and self-censorship is damaging. Owning your no is difficult. It can be scary. There will be moments in which, unfortunately, your safety will outweigh the action of owning your no. But your voice is powerful. Make a fucking scene if someone touches you without your consent. That person who ignores your “no” does not deserve your protection or politeness. Call them out. Own your non-consent. Do not brush it off.