Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Room

There is a part of my mind that is still in that room.  I can see it so clearly, two single beds, one by the window, one with its head against the wall.  Black out curtains on the window so no sunlight could sneak in.  As I remember it there wasn’t much else in there, no posters on the wall, maybe a dresser? I’m not sure.

But it's not just the room.

The bed, the shorts I was wearing (since shredded ceremonially), his face, his hands. His hands, where they had no right to be.  Where they had trespassed. My face turning to the side, looking away unable to stop it, unable to say no or to move his hand yet again.  And I remember how it felt, physically. I remember that my body first betrayed me, and then it hurt.  I remember feeling defeated.

The house is still there, the house where part of me died a slow death.  I try to not look at it but I can’t stop myself, every time we drive by.

But that room, that room has moved. That room has found a new home in my head.

And there is part of my heart and my mind locked in there, crying on the bed, wishing he would just get the fuck off of me.

Song of the day: Long way to happy by P!nk

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where the boys aren't

Ever since I was nine or ten I’ve gotten along with guys.  In high school most of my friends, especially the ones that hung around, were guys.  I don’t know why except that I never really related to the way so many of the girls acted with their friends.  I wasn’t into the New Kids on the Block, I didn’t watch 90210 and I had a foul mouth and a dirty mind.  While other girls were pining for Jason Priestly and reading Sweet Valley High I was watching Chopping Mall and listening to the Dead Milkmen.

All I know for sure is that I had some amazing friendships with straight guys in high school.

Of course I also had a lot of male “friends” turn into emotionally and sometimes physically abusive assholes. I can think of four off the top of my head who either threatened me with violence or actually hit me.  Others spread slut-shaming rumours about me.  Others would only talk to me on the phone, not willing to be seen talking to me in public.

Still, I miss having straight male friends.

But this last few weeks of witnessing the vile, hateful and abusive things (here and here) that have been said to and about women I respect, admire, and in some cases consider to be friends has driven home how I got to a point where I no longer had male friends.

Because you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the bullshit that sometimes comes out of their mouths.  Part of the deal was always that you didn’t call them on every sexist thing they say, besides, to do so would be exhausting.  So I pulled back.

As I was reading all the hate and vitriol on Twitter this past week all I could think was, “There’s no way to tell which guys walking down the street think this way”.  There are truly no signifiers of who is safe.  As any woman in the activist community will tell you, lefty beliefs and proclamations of feminist ideologies is no guarantee that a guy won’t shut you down with misogynist epithets or rape you after he gets you back to his place to check out his collection of feminist essays.

And I know what you might be thinking, what about the queers? I’ve heard straight women say things like “just hang out with gay guys!” but being gay is not some magic bullet to shedding all your misogynist baggage. In some cases it’s just more open because, unlike straight or bi guys, gay guys don’t have to worry that they won’t get laid if they piss you off.  I’ve been forced to hide out in a bar bathroom because a gay male “friend” was trying to physically intimidate me because I was upset with his friend’s sexism.

So what’s a girl who likes to hang with guys to do?

There are many amazing, open, and thoughtful guys out there but the problem is that it can take so much time and work just to find out if any given guy is “one of the good ones”.  There are friends I had in high school that I still wonder about.  For various reasons I lost touch with pretty much everyone but I still miss some of those guys, especially the ones with whom I spent a lot of one-on-one time. I miss my friend Ryan who’s only reaction to me coming out as bi was to shrug and start talking with me about who we thought was hot, and who promised me that if I ever died he wouldn’t let anyone eulogize me by talking about how “pretty” I was.  I miss my friend Jay whose only reaction to finding me crying in his bedroom at one in the morning was simply, “what happened?”

But at this point in my life as a married mother in her thirties the door on new guy friendship feels closed to me. Because as far as I can tell, straight (or bi) guys don’t make close friendships with married women, especially when the only men I meet these days are married fathers.

So I miss those old friends, and I wish I still had that kind of friendship in my life but Goddamn if I know how to find it now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This week in rape culture…

I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to blog about this, I wasn’t going to tweet about it. But after seeing the attacks being made on someone I consider a friend who has chosen to take on Daniel Tosh and his defenders I need to say this.  If you haven’t heard, the comedian Daniel Tosh, in response to a woman who “heckled” him by telling him that rape is never funny, declared to the audience “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got gang raped by five guys right now?”  This after witnessing the horror that has been unleashed on Anita Sarkeesian because she had the nerve to even consider talking about sexist tropes in video games. But I digress.

In the ensuing online shit storm a bevy of men, many of them comics themselves, have rushed to his defence.  Because apparently heckling a comedian is the worst possible sin, deserving of any vile or threatening reaction the comic can spew forth.

So, to the point.

For every person defending anyone’s right to make rape jokes there is a woman who just locked another door. In her house, in her car, in her mind.

When I was fifteen at least half of my female friends had been raped or sexually assaulted.  One by her older brother when she was still a child, she worried that because of the assault she’d never have children.  One by a guy in an ally with a knife. One never told me the details, she just asked if that meant she wasn’t a virgin anymore.  Everyone in the school knew that a certain guy had raped a certain girl, when her boyfriend went after him the rapist stabbed him.

When I was in grade twelve a girl in my school was stalked, raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

When I see these people defending the funniness of rape jokes I feel that much less safe in an already unsafe world.  I know that there are real people on the other end of the keyboard who, at the very least, I could not trust to defend my safety if I were openly threatened in a public setting.  More likely they would tell me that I was lucky that someone was paying me any attention at all.

I start wanting to lock doors in my heart and my mind that I have been trying oh so hard to crack open.  Part of me wants to never leave the house again.

I want to not feel nervous every time I hear a bunch of white guys laughing among themselves. I want to not fear for my safety just because I don’t want to give some guy my phone number. I want to remember what it’s like to not fear sex.  And right now, more than anything I want to wrap my arms around those women who literally put their safety on the line by directly challenging the terrifying onslaught of misogyny on Twitter and in the gaming world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


 Slut. Whore. Tramp. These are the names so many of us live with. Whispered under the breath, like a cold rustling wind that follows us through the hallways or down the streets.  This is a letter to those girls in school right now who have been labeled and slut shamed for the sin of being a girl. And make no mistake – that is all it takes to be at risk for this brand of bullying.

Wear short skirts? Slut.
Hang out with guys? Slut.
Dated the wrong guy? Slut.
Wear baggy clothes? Slut.
Live on your own? Slut.
Wear heels? Slut.
Goth? Punk? Slut.
Listen to hip hop? Slut.
On the pill? Slut.
Have a single mom? Slut.
Get along with a male teacher? Slut.
Popular guy likes you? Slut.
Unpopular guy likes you? Slut.

There are a million reasons why someone might call you a slut but they all come down to this: All girls are fair game. While boys are kept in line by the threat of being labeled “fags” girls are forever at risk for a big fat serving of slut shaming.

When it happens it’s so easy to say, “No honey, you’re not a slut. You’re a virgin/you only slept with one guy/ you have a boyfriend.” But this misses the point.

This is what I need to say to you. It is never okay to call someone out as a slut. You’re body is yours and only you get to decide when, how and with whom you want to have sex. No one has the right to tell you that you are deficient or depraved because of your sexuality.  So long as we accept that it’s okay to call a girl a slut if she “really is one” we are giving implicit consent to those who use the word as a weapon against all girls and women.

I don’t care if you’re having sex. I don’t care who you’re doing it with and I don’t care how often.

I care that you only do it when you really want to. I care that you take ownership of your sexuality and talk openly with your partner(s). I care that you take care of yourself and use protection. I care that you don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘less than’. I care that you don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re wrong or bad for being a girl who is comfortable in her own skin.

So no honey, you are not a slut. None of us are.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fatal Attraction or how I learned to fear men

Dedicated to the memory of Racquel Junio, and every other woman or girl who has died for the sin of being female.

[trigger warning]

I was thirteen when I learned what a dangerous world it is for women. And not just because of my personal experiences with abusive boyfriends and sexual bullies at school.

The year was 1989 and on December 6th of that year Mark Lepin went on a shooting rampage at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He was angry at “the feminists” for taking up spots in a school that he thought rightfully belonged to men. He killed 14 women. Those events quickly came to be known as the Montreal Massacre.

When I heard it on the news I cried. I still cry every time I think about it. Not just for the women who died or were terrorized on that day but because I understood in that instant just how dangerous it could be to be a woman.

Plaque commemorating the victims of Mark Lepin

In 1992, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy were abducted and killed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, it was later discovered that Bernardo had also been the Scarborough rapist. As a teen girl living in St. Catharines this was constantly on my mind. I had friends who had known Kristen, I knew someone who had known the Homolka family. The tension in the air was palpable. Those of us who were living in St. Catharines at the time all bear a collective scar from those years.

In 1993 Kara Taylor, a student at my school, was raped and killed by an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. Once again, I had friends who had known her, some of whom had begun escorting her to her car in order to protect her from her ex.

These events, partnered with my own experiences with abusive men, shaped my understanding of what it means to move about the world as a woman.

If you’re a trans woman, belong to a racialized group or have a disability you’re at even greater risk.

Do you think that Robert Pickton could have abducted and killed women for so long if his victims had been white, middle class women?

Do you think the McDonalds staff would have been so indifferent to the beating of a cis woman?

Of course not.

Every time I hear about a woman being killed by her male partner it feels like a punch in the gut. For every murdered woman there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are daily subjected to emotional and physical abuse. From partners, from employers, from friends and family members; we watch our backs as we walk the streets at night but deep down we know that it’s not the strangers on the streets that pose the greatest threat.

Statistically, we are told, a woman stands a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in her life. My experience is that more than half of my female friends throughout my life have been victimized in one way or another.

In the aftermath of the Montreal massacre there was a lot of heated debate over the significance of the fact that Mark Lepin targeted women. Some made the point that it was an extreme example of the misogyny and violence that rests in the hearts of so many men. Others said that he was just a deranged madman, as though that precluded his delusions from being shaped by the dominant culture’s antipathy towards women. In the midst of all this, some men decided that it was high time that men take on the responsibility for ending male violence against women. Of all the things that Jack Layton did in his life, this is the one for which I am most grateful.

We often talk of the negative impact on girls of being inundated with images of women as sexual objects. But we forget that they are also absorbing the much more visceral lessons about what it means to take up space as a girl or woman. Walking through life in a heightened state of vigilance, worrying about being called a slut, a tease, a whore. Hearing boys and men brag about “hitting that” in yet another conflation of sex and violence. Watching as friends or loved ones take hit after hit (physical or emotional) from abusive partners.

I don’t have any pithy comments. I don’t have a stunning conclusion. I only have this: If I’m rude to a man who makes a pass at me it’s because I have learned that a man showing interest in me is one of the most dangerous things of all.

Some stats on violence against women in Canada

Related posts:
Padded bras and victim blame: it’s always your fault

Silence means no

And at my other blog: Sexual harassment is bullying

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dirty Little Freaks: The curious incident of the teeth in the tea towel

[I've been thinking for a while about sharing some of the more....unusual stories from my adolescence. I'm calling this series, Dirty Little Freaks]

When I was 17 I was living in second floor walk-up with my best friend and his boyfriend, let’s call them Shane and Alex. To christen the apartment we did what any self-respecting independent teens would do and threw a house warming party.  As with any group of friends, our group had “that guy”.  You know the guy, the problem drinker who gets so hammered that he just sucks the fun out of any party he goes to?  Well in our group that guy was…let’s call him Allan. 

We really hadn’t planned to invite Allan but of course he heard people talking about the party and assumed he was invited and said he would bring some beer so, what could we do but just smile and nod. 

Now let me tell you a little bit about Allan’s trademark trajectory when he would get wasted.  First he would start out yelling for anyone to hear about exactly how wasted he was.  You know, things like “I’M FUCKIN’ SKUNKED!!!!!” and the like. Next he would corner some poor girl in the kitchen (or whatever room was reasonably empty) and tell her about how miserable his life was and how miserable he was. By the end of this monologue the poor girl in question was usually wishing he would just drink himself into a coma already. Just as she was thinking escape was imminent his hapless victim would be subjected to another twenty minutes of his most sincere and heartfelt, albeit slurred, apologies for boring her with his troubles.

On this particular night he followed this little number with pissing off of my roof –and frankly, he was lucky nobody pushed him off – followed by hurling all over my bathroom and finally passing out in the middle of the hall. He spent the remainder of the evening as a tripping hazard.

Such is the life of a party animal.

This of course is nothing new to any party, and certainly not to any party Allan attended.  No, the interesting part comes the following morning (okay, full disclosure, we were a messy lot and we didn’t actually make our gruesome discovery until Monday afternoon).

Monday afternoon we were cleaning up and I picked up a tea towel from the kitchen floor only to find that there was something wrapped in it.  When I opened up the tea towel I found a souvenir that I never could have imagined. Hidden in the tea towel there was a set of partial dentures, nicotine stains and all. 

What. The. Fuck.

Me: Shane! Alex! Holy crap look what I found!
Shane: What the…that's fucking gross.
Alex: Ewww where did you find them?
Me: Whose could they be?
All of us: They must be Allan’s

So we did what anyone would do and we put the teeth in an empty cream cheese container and took them over to our local hangout.  As we showed them around and asked if anyone knew their provenance we all came to the same conclusion: Only one person was so drunk that he could have lost his teeth and not noticed and only one person puked, ergo they must be Allan’s right?

So I went to the payphone and called his house only to get his mother on the phone.

Me: Hi, is Allan there?

Her: No, he’s out right now but can I take a message?

Me: Um….well…can I ask a weird question?

Her: ….Okay.

Me: Does Allan have any false teeth?

Her: No, definitely not.

Me: Okay….Thank you, bye.

Her: Goodbye

So the question now is, how the hell does someone who’s not utterly wasted lose their teeth and not notice? That’s some fuckin’ expensive dental work, and the chewing! Weren’t they missing chewing?

So I took the dentures back to the apartment and tried to forget about it.  But before I did that I went back to the cafĂ© and told everyone that the teeth weren’t his after all (see how conscientious I was?).

Later that day we heard a pounding on the door. When I answered it, Allan was standing at the top of the stairs looking irate.


At this point of course I’m still thinking that this is all hilarious and of course he’ll see the humour in it all.

“Well we found some in the kitchen and you were the only one drunk enough to lose teeth and not notice. Besides I didn’t tell anyone that, it’s just what everyone assumed.”

From there everything went sideways and he started saying anything he could think of to hurt me. Did I mention that we had at one time been very close? I actually walked away and went to the living room but the screaming didn’t stop.  We devolved into a volley of character assassinations that took the form of “Well at least I don’t (insert embarrassing behaviour here)!!!”

Before I go any further I’d like to give you a better sense of Allan. If this were a sitcom the screen would be going all wavy and you’d hear some random harp music (although in his case I suppose it would be the Grateful Dead).

Flashback – a year and a half before:
I was sitting at my locker with some friends and Allan walked by with something clenched in his teeth.  My friends started speculating as to what it was, the consensus was that it was a pen cap. I was the only one who noticed the drop of blood on the back of his hand.  I jumped up and ran after him.  When I reached him I nearly tackled him and made him give me the razor blade he’d been carrying in his teeth. Let me repeat that. 

He was walking down the hall with a razor blade in full view and blood dripping from his hand.

I took him to the nurse and he told her about his substance abuse problems and she got him registered in a detox program.

Flashback – a few weeks later:
Before going into detox Allan planned on having one last big acid trip.  He was going to go camping with a buddy and drop some acid while his buddy watched him to make sure he didn't freak out.  Before his “big trip” Allan gathered some of his closest friends at his apartment and made a big speech  “just in case I don’t come back”. He passed around a goblet (I’m not shitting you it was a fucking goblet) and had each of us spit in it. Then he drank our spit.

I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

He then proceeded to give us each a meaningful item (I was so hoping for his copy of Sandman by Neil Gaiman).  Mine was a book about the pitfalls of atheism and as he gave it to me he held my face in his hands and said in his most dramatic and condescending voice that he hoped that one day I might see the light. This from a guy who’s about to go acid camping.

To answer your question, I don’t know why I stayed friends with him for as long as I did.

Flashback – about six months later:
I had taken Allan and some other friends up to my parents place in the country while they were away.  We were all sitting around the dining room table – sober I might add – when Allan started writing something on a piece of paper and then got up and walked out the back door.  We were all a little perplexed so we read the paper and it was a poem about suicide.  At this point I was honestly done with his dramatics, six months earlier I might have gone after him but not anymore.  I just rolled my eyes and we kept talking amongst ourselves. A little while later he came back unharmed.

As some of you may know from reading my other blog I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression and at one point I tried to kill myself.  Most of my friends didn’t know about it, but Allan did.  So when he pulled these overly dramatic stunts it wore on me.

Now, let’s return to the fight at the top of the stairs.  After a few minutes of screaming at each other, Allan yelled, “WELL AT LEAST I DON’T CRY SUICIDE AT THE DROP OF A HAT!”

At that point I completely lost my shit.

Now I’m not talking about yelling a little harder or slamming the door in his face. I’m talking flailing arms and legs, roommates holding me back, completely lost my shit. Now of course because my roommates were holding me back and because Allan promptly grabbed my wrists, I didn’t lay a single blow.  As he was safely holding my wrists he said to me, “Now now Kristin, let's not be violent, remember you’re a pacifist!” with a nasty little smile.  Then he reached around behind my head and clocked me.

Later, when he was talking to a mutual friend he said, “I didn’t hit her, if I had I would’ve drawn blood.”

Flash forward about five years:
I’m talking to a friend who’s still hearing news from the old ‘hood and she tells me that Allan has been sent to jail for beating his roommate to death.

All I could think was, “Wow, I guess I really dodged a bullet”

Eighteen years later and I still don’t know who left their teeth in my kitchen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Let’s talk about race

This is going to be a long, and sometimes hard, one. I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts about race and racism lately, all of them great and all of them by women of colour. In particular I’ve been reading Mochamomma’s blog in which she’s discussed the unicorn cake debacle, and the “ask a black girl” phenomenon.

One of the things that has come up again and again is how rare it is for white women to blog about race and racism. I go.

Race and racism have been at the front of my mind for most of my life. As a white girl who grew up in rural Ontario the only people of colour I knew as a child were the Japanese boy in my class and the Trinidadian fruit pickers who worked on a nearby farm.

But, I also grew up with a Quaker hippie mom (of the social justice and political action variety rather than the pot smoking free love variety). I had a strong awareness of the existence of racial bigotry but had yet to witness it.

All of that changed when I was thirteen and spending my summers in St. Catharines with my best friend.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I would tell the whole truth here. I realize that I am opening myself up to some serious judgment and anger. All I can say is, I was thirteen and I only had one friend so where she went, I went.

This is what you need to know about St. Catharines in the 80’s and 90’s: It was a breeding ground for neo-nazi skinheads. The teenagers were all neatly divided into their little boxes, especially the freaks. You had boneheads (distinct from the anti-racist skinheads), mods, hippies and punks. I was none of the above but I was definitely a freak. I also had no idea how to meet new people on my own. My best friend, however was a striking mod chick much admired by many . When she started dating a nazi punk I wound up spending a lot of time around him and his friends. I hated it but I didn’t know how to avoid it without alienating someone who meant so much to me (to her credit, the boyfriend in question gave up his Nazi ways in the time they were together).

For the most part I left the room any time they started talking their bullshit. Occasionally I took them to task only to be dazzled by the bizarre twists of “logic” they offered in defence of their views.

Eventually I was able to make other friends and stop spending time in the company of boneheads. But, honestly, I can’t say I regret that time because it taught me something about hate and hate groups that I don’t think I would have otherwise understood. Sometimes it’s good to spend some time behind enemy lines.

One thing I learned from that experience was that these people are people, they’re not monsters. Making them monsters makes it too easy to distance our selves and society from their beliefs and their actions. When we recognize that they are people we have to also examine how they came to be that way, because they sure as hell didn’t just spring from the head of Ernst Zundel like Athena from Zeus.

When I was sixteen I left home and moved to St. Catharines to finish high school. There were still plenty of boneheads but my new friends were very vocal anti-racists who had had the shit kicked out of them more than once by boneheads. I saw how ineffective it was to piss them off and I felt the fear of being chased by them. I even had them move in next door to me. After that my best friend (a different one by this time) who was Filipino refused to come to my apartment, and who can blame her? If that’s what they do to white people, what might the do to her? I had to call the cops one night because one them was pounding on my door screaming “Fucking faggot!!” at my friend who was visiting.

Most people’s experience of racism is not so dramatic. It’s the systemic racism of the criminal justice system or the unfair hiring practices of a workplace. It’s the subtle shifts in attitude when a person of colour walks into the room. It’s the throw away comments that people don’t think twice about. It’s the luxury of “not seeing race” because you can’t “see” your whiteness. It’s the wilful blindness of white people when they talk about how inspiring and heart-warming the latest edition of the white saviour trope was.

I still come to tears when I remember how volatile it was back then. How much a fabric of our daily lives it was that one of us could get beaten down at any time. I was there when my friend was attacked by five guys in steel toe boots and I was there to watch him get twisted into his own brand of hate, indiscriminately accusing people of being nazis, and even terrorizing their families.

I learned what unfettered hate looks like. And I understood that this was a natural consequence of the much subtler and more pernicious kind of racism that was a part of the very fabric of our culture. And aren’t those radical neo-nazis a perfect distraction from the much more insidious racism that affects people of colour on a daily basis?

You know what? I can identify a nazi skinhead in my sleep. I know how to tell a nazi punk from the rest of ‘em, no problem. You know what that means? It means I know where I fucking stand. It means that when I see those white laces and the iron cross on your jacket I know not to make eye contact and steer clear.

But when my coiffed middle class (white) boss at my minimum wage job starts talking about “chinamen” that’s a hole other bag of shit. That’s a blind side from someone in a position of authority and I am left speechless, because I need this job.

And when my university professor says “us” in reference to white people and “them” in reference to any people of colour – even when there are people of colour in the class – he is not only contributing to the othering of POC, he is effectively erasing those who are in the room.

One of my favourite profs in University was Andrew Winston whose research focuses on the role that social science and science have played in perpetuating racial stereotypes and racist policies (that’s a simplification but you get the gist). In intro psych we were assigned a book called “The Race Gallery” by Marek Kohn which outlined the history and the flawed science of race based research, particularly in the area of racial classification and intelligence. My take away from that book was that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact. However, and this is the important part, just because something is a social construct doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Race is real because it affects the identities and realities of everyone. Not just people of colour, everyone. Whiteness is not a blank slate, it is not the de facto absence of racial identity any more than maleness is the de facto absence of gender. The issue, for any thinking white person, is how do you inhabit and experience your whiteness? What does it mean to you to hold a racial identity that comes with so much privilege? What can you do to recognize your privilege and address it in a meaningful way? And if you answer that question with anything that sounds like, “Well I’m X so I’m oppressed too” you’re missing the point. Identity is a complicated and ever shifting thing. If you engage in the “more oppressed than thou” game everyone loses. The point is to think consciously and openly about what kind of privilege you benefit from and what that means.

Talking about race is hard, for everybody. But the difference is that white folk have the luxury, or shall we say privilege, of not thinking or talking about it. If you, as a white person, don’t notice that everyone in the room/film/book is white it’s not because you’re so progressive that you’re colour blind, it’s because you’re simply blind to the ways in which people of colour are simultaneously erased and problematically defined by those representations. If everyone in the room is white, why is that? How does that change the nature of the discussion? How does that affect the way people behave to one another? All too often an all or mostly white space is seen as a safe space to say ignorant or flat out hateful things.

So this is me, talking about race in the only way that I can, through the lens of my experience. I actually like talking about race and racism, just as I like talking about gender and sexism and homophobia and every other element of the kyriarchy (still getting used to that word). I most like talking about race with people of colour because talking about it with a bunch of white people is like talking in a vacuum and frankly, I’m more afraid of hearing some racist crap come out of another white persons mouth than I am of being called out by a black friend.

Update: I've since written a follow up post on why it matters that white people talk about racism.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Silence means "no"

Get ready 'cause this is a long one.

When I was thirteen I had a bad boyfriend that changed everything.  I spent years telling the story of K__ to any friend that would listen, I processed until I was blue in the face.  As an adult I don’t talk about it.  Like an old wound, it’s the scab that I don’t want to pick.  I am scared that if I tell that story one more time it will open a crack and that crack will become a chasm.  This is not okay.  This is not healing.  Out of fear of rumination I have locked that confused, hurt thirteen-year-old in a cage.  Just thinking about writing this makes my heart clench and my tears flow.  I don’t want this 21 year-old wound to have this kind of power over me anymore so for the first time, I am going to write it.  I apologize in advance for some of the language but these are words I haven’t let myself say in twenty years, this time I won’t shy away from them.

K__ was my second ever boyfriend.  I was in grade 9 and still not used to the idea that boys might actually find me attractive.  Both he and his best friend E__ wanted to go out with me but I chose K__.  From the beginning I was very clear about my boundaries, I told him that nothing was going to happen below the belt.  I spent every lunch hour and every weekend with him, mostly at E__’s house.  Because I didn’t live in town I would spend the whole weekend, sleeping at E__’s house because his mother was never around and we could do whatever we wanted.  In two months we never went out anywhere, no movies, no hangin’ at Tim Horton’s (kind of like Dunkin’ Donuts for all the Americans out there), not even the pool hall.  All we seemed to do was make out. 

Before I started dating him I went to every dance.  The one time I went to a dance while I was dating K__ he refused to go and threw an all-out passive aggressive temper tantrum.  He even had E__ and his girlfriend ganging up on me about what a horrible bitch I was to go the dance.  I though I was so empowered when I went to that dance.  I had my small victories, like when he tried to tell me I couldn’t have male friends.  I told him that he didn’t get to tell me who to be friends with.  I fooled myself into believing that I was “not taking any shit.”  I knew enough not to let him tell me what to do, but I wasn’t prepared for the more subtle and insidious kinds of control. 

One incident that sticks out in my mind was one of the most baffling and surreal fights I ever had with a boyfriend.  His best friend E__ had a crush on me, he had since before I started dating K__.  This one day E__ was particularly mopy about not having “got” me and complaining to K__ about it.  So K__ got mad at me.  Seriously, I’m not shitting you.  My boyfriend got mad at me because I didn’t “like” his friend.  What the hell can you say to that?  In everything K__ ever did that was manipulative, hurtful or controlling E__ was his sidekick.

Throughout all of this I was sinking into a depression.  One day, when the four of us (me, K__, E__ and The Girlfriend) were walking to E__’s house I became so overwhelmed by it that I just stopped dead and sat down on the sidewalk.  Nobody knew what to do, it took about ten minutes for them to get me up and walking. 

K__ was always testing my boundaries, he’d try to get his hand in my pants, I would move it away.  He’d put my hand on his crotch, I would pull it away.  One time, when I didn’t want to touch his dick he badgered and whined, “just this one time, don’t you love me, come on are you going to be a virgin forever?!” then he moped and E__ and girlfriend hounded me for the next half hour.  I don’t really know how to convey the atmosphere of relentless pressure, it was exhausting.  My mother, my friends and even one of his friends kept telling me that he was treating me like shit, that I should leave him. 

One day we were making out at E__’s house, as usual, and he tried to get his hands in my pants, as usual, but this time I just didn’t have any more resources to say no.  I was worn out, worn down.  It was not a “yes” it was defeat.  When he finished I said, “you promised you’d never finger me” and he said, “I didn’t.”  And I believed him.  I fucking believed him because I didn’t know any better.  Then he asked if just this once he could kiss me “down there”  “I promise I won’t eat you out” he said.  “Fine” I said as I turned my head to the side.

Later, I ran into a friend of his who told me that K__ said he’d eaten me out.  I was angry that he’d talked about it but I was also confused.  Who had he lied to?  Me or his friend?

The next day I raided my mother’s closet for an outfit that would be too hard for K__ to get his hands into.  When I think about that, it’s like there were alarm bells ringing in my head but I didn’t know what they meant.  That day K__ and I got in a huge fight because I was upset that all we ever did was make out.  It ended with a lot of yelling and swearing and me dumping him for the third and final time. I don't remember the details of the first two break-ups but I do know a few things.

I know that the first time I dumped him he wrote me a letter with veiled suicide threats, “if you don’t take me back I may as well kill myself.”  I knew it was manipulation and yet I went back. 

I know that the second time I dumped him I wrote a poem* about how badly he treated me, and yet I went back, hiding the poem from him to protect his feelings. 

I know that he cheated on me more than once and I continued to trust him.

I know that he forced me to watch porn.

When I left the house that day I had nowhere to go.  I walked straight to the house of a guy who had been nice to me at the dance.  He seemed so nice and understanding, he listened to me and I told him what had happened.  He promised never to pressure me.  The next day when I wouldn’t let him in my pants he told me we were “moving too fast" and we shouldn't go out together.  It was like a brick to the face.  I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for his “understanding guy” routine.  I walked out of the house and sat dead in the middle of the intersection.  I sat there for twenty minutes while he yelled at me.

Sometimes my depression made me seem batshit crazy but I honestly didn’t know what else to do, I was literally stopped dead in my tracks.

After that last time I broke up with K__ I swore I wouldn’t go back, but then I started to weaken.  The only thing holding me back was the thought of what my mother and my friends would say.  Still, I was on the verge of taking him back when I found out in an unceremonious prank call that he had cheated on me.  Not just with hickey’s this time, no, he had fucked R__.  It saddens me that everything else he did wasn’t enough to keep me away.  It saddens me to think that I was only thirteen.

Not long after, I had a major emotional break down.  My parents were away on business for the night so I had the house to myself and I lost my shit.  I mean breast beating, throwing myself at the walls, shrieking, wishing someone would strike me dead.  So I called K__.   He was so freaked out that he told his mother who told the cops who came to get me and take me to his house. And that is how I wound up crashing at my asshole ex-boyfriend’s house talking to his mother until 3AM.

I never told her about how her son had treated me, but I think she knew.  She told me his story of abuse.  It was horrifying the amount of abuse that boy had taken.  It didn’t make it okay but over the years it helped to have some understanding of why he may have been the way he was.

Over the next couple of years I stopped talking to him and he and E__ spread all sorts of nasty rumours about me.  I was labelled a slut just for having dated him. 

Three years later, after suffering from the rumours he and E__ spread about me and his occasional attempts to become my friend, I saw him at the pool hall and decided that it was time to confront him.  I told him that he had sexually coerced me and made it clear how much damage he’d done.  I thought he was going be defensive, I thought he was going to tell me to “fuck off bitch!”  I said to him, “I know you’re probably not even listening to me.” And he said, “I’m listening.”

I think that was as close to “I’m sorry” as he was able to get.

After that I was able to find forgiveness for K__.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forgive E__.

In reading about depression recently I came across a description of one’s first depressive episode as being triggered by a catastrophic event.  When I look back at my first “major depressive episode” I can see that it started when I was with K__.  So while I know that K__ is not to blame for every problem and every depression, it is clear that that catastrophic relationship pushed me to the brink.  In two months he damn near broke me.

That experience cast a shadow over every relationship I had after that.

So let me be perfectly clear, in case you haven’t picked this up yet, just because no physical force or threats are used doesn’t mean there’s no assault.  Nobody talks about coercion.  Nobody takes it seriously.  When I tried to get a youth support worker to help me work through this and I told her I’d been pressured into doing things I didn’t want to do she dismissed it saying, “Oh every girl goes through that.”

She’s probably right.  And that scares the shit out me.  So, to all the parents out there, what is the most valuable thing you can do to prevent your boys and girls from falling into this trap?  Teach them to talk openly and honestly about their sexuality.  Teach your boys that it’s okay to not want sex, teach them about respect for themselves and their partners, teach them that sex is something that is shared, not taken.  Teach your girls that their sexuality is their own, teach them to talk about what they don’t want and what they do want, teach them to use their voice.  And if nothing else, teach them all that if you can’t openly talk about it, you’re not ready to do it.

*Used (1990)

I don't know where my mind is
I think I've lost my heart
I think I've lost my everything
you've ripped me all apart.
I don't know if you love me
you always say you do
but often you just treat me like
I'm just another who.
I wish I knew my feelings
I lost them with my heart
it seems to me that I'm to you
another little tart.
You may have never noticed
but I have feelings too
I tried to understand,
I pretended I was you.
I know you were confused
and I know you lost your head
but don't say you lost compassion
I know that I've been led.
Around your little fairground
of mind destroying games.
I don't want to see you
I don't want to hear the names.
I know they call me slut and bitch
I know they call me wench.
I also know who started that,
I know who was their hench.
I appreciate your caring
I appreciate your love.
Those last two lines are bullshit,
you just aren't good enough.

And I still took him back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shaking the demons and a Thanksgiving message

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post. Every time I try to write about my early high school experiences I get bogged down in the details. I feel like I need to describe all these incidents to get across what it was like. I feel that if I don’t tell certain stories no one will believe that it was as bad as I remember. And worst of all, deep down there’s this voice telling me that I’ve made a big deal out of nothing and I’m just a wimp who couldn’t hack it.

So let me get a few stories out of the way before I get to the point.

Late in grade nine I came to my locker to find a defaced picture of myself taped to the door with the words “DIE BITCH” written beneath it. It didn’t even occur to me to report it, even though I was pretty sure I knew who had done it. I just ripped it down and went to class. When I walked into class one of the guys snickered, “nice picture.” I later found out that my former best friend, whose parents had declared me a bad influence, had been involved.

On several occasions I had complete breakdowns, or “flip outs” as I liked to call them. Sometimes it happened at school, often it happened at home when my parents were out. One time it happened as I was walking from the bus stop at the end of my driveway to my front door. Halfway up the driveway I just collapsed into a sobbing, hyperventilating mess. This was one of the few times that someone sincerely tried to help. Eric made the bus driver stop and came running over to me to see if I was okay. For that I want to say to Eric H., thank you.

My time in that town, at that school was the hardest time in my life. I faced regular sexual harassment and out right bullying, I was often being warned that some girl or another wanted to beat the crap out of me. Aside from one or two guys that stuck with me consistently I was regularly being dumped or shunned by people who had been close friends. Between the bullying, the isolation and the fall out from an incredibly unhealthy relationship, it’s not at all surprising that by halfway through grade nine I was suffering from some pretty severe depression.

I went to a school where the administration wouldn’t intervene until someone got hurt. I had friends who had problems with alcohol and drugs. I had friends who had attempted suicide and friends who cut themselves. I had friends who were beaten at home and friends who had been sexually assaulted. I feel lucky that I didn’t have any friends die. There were so many broken people and sometimes I feel guilty about leaving them all behind.

At the end of grade ten I went to my mother and told her that I couldn’t take it anymore. She cried at first but then we found a way for me to move away, back to where my grandmother lived and where my old public school friend went to school, three hours away.

I thought that escaping the situation would be enough, and to this day I know that it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I still get angry that I was driven to leave home when I was fifteen, leaving a loving and supportive home in order to escape a miserable school. But I left, and I made new friends and my circumstances, while no less crazy, were immeasurably better.

The following Christmas while I was visiting my family I tried to kill myself. At some point in my first semester at my new school I realized that, even though I had left behind my tormentors and started a new life, the pain and the depression were still with me. I realized that escape is not that simple and I could see no way to escape the darkness and the demons. It felt like they would follow me anywhere and never let me go.

I didn’t plan to kill myself. I got in a stupid fight with a family member and ran up to my bedroom, once I started crying it brought all of the pain to the surface and it was excruciating. I blasted Nine Inch Nails and wrote in my journal. The last thing I wrote before I swallowed all my painkillers was, “I don’t even have the balls to kill myself.”

So here, finally, is the point. Bullying is cruel and vicious and can make a kid’s life a living hell. But it’s the depression that kills you. So yes, we need to stop the bullying. But, unless we find ways to reach out to those who are targeted and help them to pull themselves out of the situation and the depression, we will continue to hear about these tragic suicides and helplessly ask ourselves, “What could we have done?”

Just because there are no bruises doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell.

Postscript: To those who showed some compassion and liked me for who I was, thank you.

To Ollie, thank you for being there for my late night crying jags and thank you for caring enough to be angry at a certain crappy boyfriend.

To J, thank you for being completely un-phased when I showed up at your house in the middle of the night crying. You could have been angry, embarrassed or even flustered but you just looked at me and asked, “What happened?”