#MeToo Has Made Me See Anyone Is Capable Of Sexual Abuse—Including Me

Unsplash/Maru Lombardo
Nearly everyone of every gender has the potential to be both the violator and the violated.

When I first read Babe.net’s now-infamous account of one woman’s violating sexual encounter with Aziz Ansari, I thought back to the frat boy who pressured me into giving oral sex in college. And the date in New York who took my shirt off after I told him I just wanted to kiss. And the one in San Francisco who grabbed my boob out of nowhere in Dolores Park.

Only after days of mulling over these stories and thinking about how every woman has one did I think back to the time I wanted to have sex with my ex and he wanted to play his guitar and call it a night. “I just feel like relaxing tonight,” he told me as I ran my hands over him. With my hopes crushed and my ego bruised, I strategized: I would take off my clothes and lie on the floor naked until he’d feel too guilty to refuse. It worked. I convinced myself I had turned him on, but in the morning, he told me he’d done it for the reason I’d secretly anticipated: He didn’t want me to feel bad.

And then, only after that, did I think back to the time my first boyfriend expressed reluctance to have sex with his parents in the next room, and I said “I’ll be quiet” and got on top of him. Or the time he said he didn’t want to have sex while I was on my period and I (dishonestly) convinced him it wouldn’t get messy. To be honest, I don’t remember the details of these encounters, like what specifically he said or whether he eventually said “okay.” But that just goes to show I wasn’t paying attention.

And only now, as I’m writing this, am I thinking back to the time my current partner said he was too tired for sex, and then I touched his penis until he changed his mind — but did he really change his mind, or did he just want to appease me?

Yes, I see myself in Grace. But I also see myself in Aziz.

When the conversation around the #MeToo hashtag moved from morally unambiguous sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein to self-described feminists like Aziz Ansari, some took the opportunity to discuss how rape culture is so ever-present, nearly every woman has been violated, and even “good men” have violated women. But more and more, I’m realizing it goes even further than that: Nearly everyone of every gender has the potential to be both the violator and the violated.

Soon after the #MeToo movement broke out, a friend told me she couldn’t get herself to use the hashtag, despite being a sexual abuse survivor, because she’d once had sex with a guy who was passed-out drunk. I’ve used the hashtag myself, but I couldn’t fault my partners for using it in reference to me. My right to say #MeToo is predicated on a standard of consent that gives them that right as well.

As man after man has been taken down by sexual misconduct accusations, I’ve gotten more and more nervous about what the sheer prevalence of predatory behavior means for my own relationships. Is there any man out there who is not capable of sexual assault? “At least I can trust that, say, Aziz Ansari wouldn’t do that,” I remember saying in one discussion. “At least there are some good guys.”

After the Aziz Ansari accusations came out, I panicked: If he wasn’t one of the “good guys,” who was? Were there any good guys? Could I even be sure that my partner was one of the good guys? But once it fully set in that not even I was one of the good guys, I came to believe the whole concept of “good guys” is made up. It’s a way to deny what’s becoming more and more evident: Rape culture affects everyone. And not just guys.

I’ve used the #MeToo hashtag myself, but I couldn’t fault my partners for using it in reference to me.

There are gradations of violations of consent. They’re not the same, but we need to talk about them all. There are deliberate perversions of power like Harvey Weinstein’s. Then there are the things nearly all of us have done because of the toxic messages and lack of information rape culture gives us.

For men, these messages look something like: You are entitled to women’s bodies (the assumption that all men are attracted to women is its own toxic message). “No” is a challenge for you to push harder. You are uncontrollably horny and aggressive by nature. You can’t help it. For women, these messages look something like: You aren’t capable of sexually assaulting anyone. You are weak and unthreatening. You can’t assault a man because men always want sex, and you can’t assault a woman because women aren’t attracted to women, and you can’t assault a non-binary person because they don’t even exist.

These messages play out in different ways for different genders, with a misogynistic culture leading us to normalize male violence against women while completely ignoring the possibility of female violence against men or violence that does not follow a heterosexual, cis-normative dynamic. Sexual violence against women and non-binary people is more widespread, with 33.1% of women and 39.1% of transgender, genderqueer, questioning, or non-conforming people (compared to 8.6 percent of men) experiencing unwanted touching by their senior year of college — and it’s part of a larger system that keeps men in power and people of marginalized genders living in fear. I don’t mean to draw a false equivalency.

However, there are certain messages we all get: Silence is consent. You don’t have to ask before having sex with someone. Talking ruins the mood. The victim is asking for it. It’s not a big deal. People of all genders who have grown up with these messages are prone to violating others’ consent.

And we are all victim to a lack of information. We don’t learn about affirmative consent in school. We don’t get told to ask our partners what they’d be into before we do anything with them. We don’t learn about the different forms sexual abuse can take, from unwanted ogling to verbal coercion.

As I’ve come to terms with the fact that our culture leaves all of us susceptible to sexual violence, #MeToo has come to serve a dual function for me. As a survivor of sexual harassment and coercion, it has helped me see that these behaviors were not okay, no matter how much they’ve been downplayed. But as someone who has been sexually coercive, it has also led me to see that my own behaviors were not okay, even though the friends I confided in about them said things like “but it’s different because women are less threatening.” Downplaying my own actions would also function to downplay others’ actions against me. And this movement is about taking all such actions seriously, no matter who perpetrated them.

It’s difficult to hold both these truths at once: I deserve compassion for the times I was violated, but I don’t deserve to be let off the hook for the times I was the violator. These are the truths we all most reconcile. This is not an occasion to self-flagellate, nor is it an occasion to clear ourselves of wrongdoing. It’s an occasion to become more conscious of how we treat others.

For me, this means that if someone expresses any hesitancy to have sex with me, I will not push it. It means I won’t assume consent from anyone just because they’re a man or we’re in a relationship. It means I will respect someone’s “no” without questions even if their reason for saying “no” (e.g. not liking period sex) seems regressive to me. It means I will not be invested in viewing anyone, including myself, as one of the good guys.

I will keep saying #MeToo, but from now on, it will carry multiple meanings: “I, too, have been violated. I, too, have violated others. I, too, need to do better.”