[Serious trigger warning for survivors of sexual assault. You don’t need to read it. The important bits will be requoted in what follows.]
I didn’t want people to know. More than that, I didn’t want those things to have happened.
But they did happen. I did those things. And if it’s taken this long for me to human up and acknowledge them, well, that’s on me, too.
I could make excuses. I was young, dumb, and full of cum. I didn’t know any better. I came of age in the ’80s, when rape culture was just culture. Men were supposed to want sex, and anything shy of actual or threatened violence was on the table for getting it, be it deception, cajoling, or just getting her drunk enough to let you take her panties off and do what you wanted. I was a product of my environment.
Those excuses are bullshit. Basic human decency isn’t hard to grasp once you admit to yourself that other people are people.
[For the record, I still don’t want people to know, I still don’t want those things to have happened, those things did still happen, and I’m still sorry. Like then, I am still terrified of hitting ‘publish’ when I get to the end of this, because even though I don’t think of myself as a good person, I still prefer that other people do.]
Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men took that watershed moment to reflect on rape culture and their place and participation in it, either personally or politically. Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men are taking the opportunity now. But some are. And while I don’t know how many of them are in a position to make a public confession the way I did, in the wake of #metoo, I can’t help but think there are a lot of men doing some serious reflecting. To be blunt, there’d fucking better be.
For those men who are taking this opportunity to re-evaluate the water we’ve all been swimming in all this time, I thought it might be useful to recount my experience of writing it, and what happened as a result.
If you are, like me, a heterosexual man, I’m going to guess the first thing you want to know is how the women in my life reacted. So I’ll start with that. As any sane person would expect, lots of them were hurt and angry, and lost some or all of whatever esteem they once held me in. It was painful, and emotionally exhausting, and the external recrimination I justly received set off round after round of internal recrimination and revisiting of the terrible things I have done. It was not a pleasant experience, though I can hardly complain since I earned it by my own actions. Never mind the suffering I put others through.
But much to my surprise, the negative response was outweighed by the positive. I heard from lots of women, both publicly and privately, how glad they were somebody was finally ripping off the scab and trying to at least start the conversation. Which if you think about it tells you a lot about how big the problem is. I mean, I did some fucked up shit that damaged people, but these women were so hungry just to have the conversation they were willing to look past what I did and give me a high five just for copping to it. There were so many who wanted to talk with me about it that I didn’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to be available for all of them.
[If you are one of those women, I apologize.]
In the end, yeah, I lost some friends. And some respect. Which I expected. What I expected less was how much more authentic some of my friendships — especially with women — became. Not only because now these women knew more of my truth than they did before, but because they felt better able to be authentic with and around me. I had shown some tiny, preliminary glimmer of awareness of how pervasive rape culture and the culture of toxic masculine entitlement is, and the struggle and danger of negotiating it in a female body. I’ll leave it to others to decide how woke I am, or not. But I’m at least not asleep anymore. And I’m willing to listen, and hear. You’d be surprised how far that gets you with most people.
I have also, as a result of my confession, begun to have a more authentic relationship with myself. It’s not that I feel I’ve been absolved, or, worse, absolved myself. The shame is not less than it was. Nor the damage I did. I still carry the weight of my bad actions, and will til I’m dead. But secrets have their own weight, too. Their own pressure on and inside you. Get used to carrying it, and you don’t notice how heavy it’s gotten til you’ve set it down.
When no one but me and the people I did bad things to knew, I didn’t have to do the work of coming to terms with it. In fact I couldn’t do that work. Now I’ve confessed, I can. And while that work won’t ever be finished, it feeds my humanity to plug away at it day after day. I’d like to think it’s working.
One reason I think that it might be is that the more I look around, the more aware I am of just how pervasive and damaging rape culture is, how foundational it is to the world I grew up in and the world I inhabit now. To borrow a phrase, it’s been a real red-pill kind of experience. And let me tell you, the rabbit hole goes so deep I couldn’t tell you where the bottom is, or if there even is one. This shit is everywhere. It touches everything. And even though I’ve been lucky enough to have more amazing, powerful, intelligent, wise women in my life than I likely deserve — women who’ve deemed me worthy to put in the emotional labor to try and wake me from my privileged slumber — it took me waaaaaaay too long to let the things they’ve been telling me penetrate to my core self.
It can be frightening, because once you let those things in, you can’t just go back to the way things were. Because the way things were — the way they are — has to fucking change. It’s built on a rotten foundation, and the rot goes all the way through. I mean, shit, it’s not like rape culture is all that good for men, either. Not if you want to be an authentic, well-rounded human being able to have authentic relationships with women. Or other men, for that matter.
But more than that is the simple fact that this shit isn’t right. It isn’t fair, it isn’t just, it’s not ordained from on high, and it’s doing us all more harm than good, both as people and as a society. It’s on all of us to change it, but it’s on those of us who’ve reaped the unearned benefits most of all.
As I said just over a year ago:
I may not be a good person. But I can at least try and do the right thing. If we, as men, are going to do something about rape culture, we’ve got to look inside as well as out. You can’t fight something you’re not willing to face.
There’s a lot of work to be done. It’s hard work, and painful, and there will be mistakes and missteps along the way. It’s going to require not only action to change how the world works, but a lot of internal work, too.
It’s worth it.