yagathai: (Rocketeer)
[personal profile] yagathai
Heartfelt disclaimer: Let's get this out of the way: What went down with that Stanford swimmer kid (three months?!) was a travesty of justice. I'm not trying to apologize for or minimize what he or any other rapist does, nor am i trying to say that they should get away with it because they didn't know any better or anything like that. They hurt people, and it is important that they be punished for it. Let nothing I say in this post cast doubt upon that assertion.

Also I talk about consent issues here, so if that's not your thing, tap out now. Ok? Ok.



When I was fourteen, I did a terrible thing. I called another kid at school a faggot. My reasons were petty: I was insecure, I was as angry as any other abused kid, I was trying to look cool in front of the other kids. (It was also a word I heard around the house a fair amount -- you might call my childhood home "politically incorrect", or to be less politically correct, "wildly bigoted".)

Anyway, whatever my reasons, I regretted it as soon as it left my mouth, and it was the first and last time I ever used that word in the pejorative sense. To this day it fills me with intense shame, but I did it and I will forever have done it. If you want to judge me for it, well, that's fair. Just try to remember, it was twenty years ago and I was a child.

Whenever I see a teenager nowadays use bigoted language, or parrot hate, I try to remember how insecure fourteen year-old me felt, and temper my self righteousness. That doesn't mean I don't think we should hold them accountable, just that I understand the misplaced priorities driving their casual hatred. I would guess that many of you may have been equally awful in your youth, and understand as well.

Couple years later, I would have been sixteen, I basically complained my way into bed with my girlfriend. She didn't want to, but I wouldn't shut up for probably about an hour (I remember because it took basically the entire length of X-Files episode, I think it was the one where Mulder and Scully are in the woods with chameleon people) and eventually she said yes and we did some sex things. It was a shitty thing to do, and I regret it deeply, and if you want to judge me for it, fair play. I did it.

Now I don't think, as some have suggested, that whining my way into a handjob (or any other sexual act, though in my case hand stuff was the extent of it) makes me a rapist. On the other hand, if you want to call it sexual harassment, I'd cop to that.

Here's the thing: unlike my unwarranted use of hate speech towards a high school friend, I wasn't immediately seized with remorse. At the time it seemed pretty benign - only years later did I reflect that badgering a girl into sexual activity was actually really fucking creepy. I am someone's terrible experience, and it haunts me to think of how it might have affected her. (For the record I apologized to her a few years later. It was an excruciating experience for both of us, and if it did anything at all it probably made things worse.)

At the time I had a pretty good idea of what I thought the rules were: You can't physically force, you can't threaten, you can't assume consent if she's unconscious or way too drunk, and you probably can't trick her into it (i have to admit this last one was a bit hazy. Was it okay if her boyfriend was a jerk and you were wearing a Darth Vader mask a la Revenge of the Nerds? What about the old "cut a hole in the bottom of the popcorn bag and stick your dick in it" routine? (which is from La Boum which we actually watched in French class Junior year)). But everything else: cajoling, flattering, badgering, guilting, debating, taking advantage of a moment of emotional vulnerability, just plain wearing down by stalker-like persistence, that was all fair game as long as she said yes.

And look, with hindsight it's easy to see how fucked up that is. But at the time, my more or less permanent teenage erection and I saw no issue with it. I really had no idea about the concept of enthusiastic consent, because at no point was that ever discussed -- not at home, not in school, not in the media, nowhere. It was literally years later before I even heard of the concept. And as simple (though personally humiliating) it might be to think that I was an outlier in this regard, if anything my understanding of consent was more nuanced than average, not less. There were plenty of guys in high school and college whose idea of rape started and ended with "well I didn't have a gun to her head..." Plus, I know I'm not the only guy reading this that ever badgered his way into a handjob -- and I hope if you're one and you're reading this, you're ashamed as I am of it.

I'm not saying this to try to excuse my or anyone else's behavior (see heartfelt disclaimer). It was wrong then, just like it would be wrong now. What I am saying is that when I see all of these cases of high school or college sexual assault at a party in the news, I can't help but think "well, what do you expect?" Boys literally aren't taught any better. I also can't help but feel some level of compassion for those guys -- they're being punished for something that, on some deep level, they were taught was okay. (Also I have a deep sympathy for their victims. It's possible to feel compassion for both victim and criminal, though obviously in different ways and in different measures. Also also, please see heartfelt disclaimer again.)

Every time I see an outraged post about the latest case, I'm reminded that while the warm glow of a Facebook torches-and-pitchfork mob feels good, yelling about it with people that already agree with you doesn't do diddly shit to actually address the root of the issue. I'm not an educator and I'm not a parent, but I know some of you are, and even if you're not you might interact with young adults on a regular basis. If you are one of those type of people I encourage you to TALK TO YOUR TEENAGERS, boys and girls both (but let's be honest, mostly boys). Talk to them about consent. Talk to them about rape culture. Talk to them directly if you can, write about it if you must, but talk to them. Save them from being someone's terrible experience.
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