I want to tell you my #metoo story. I feel trepidatious about this, as I’m sure many of you may have as you bravely revealed your stories of both traumatization and/or victimization in the realm of sexual assault, abuse and harassment.
On the first day #metoo launched, I automatically shared the original post, “If all women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed would write ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” This was immediately met with a comment along the lines of “well you know, transgendered people and men get abused too.” Ah yes, this is true, I think, so I quickly edit my post without thinking too much about it, only slightly annoyed at the land mine of a gray area that now exists between omni-considerate inclusivity, powerful activism and intense political correctness.
Then the stories poured in. Some too heartbreaking to read in full, some laced with anger, some deeply in mourning, some empowered, some fatalistic and cynical. I had to skim some of them because it felt like too much for my brain and heart to deal with. You know, in other words: traumatizing.
Let me be clear, I think it was a brilliant movement, well-timed and well-executed. And after about a week, I was feeling kind of strange about it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but then one of my teachers, David Cates, explained it well…
“My FB newsfeed has gone from a tsunami of #metoo revelations, to something more fiery. Arguments are breaking out, between men and women, between men and men, women and women, and beyond the gender binary. What’s the best way to respond to this vast public process of exceedingly personal and vulnerable shares? ‘Just listen.’ ‘Share in solidarity.’ ‘Wait your turn.’ ‘Trans people are/aren’t welcome.’ ‘Confess your complicity.’ ‘Don’t pose as a good guy.’ ‘Women abuse men too.’ ‘I’m not that guy any more.” I’ve seen all these positions taken, and argued, often explosively, both for and against…
I can’t help noticing that people are in different stages of their healing process. This is by no means a complete list, but it helps me to see these emotional positions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Yes, I can find all of them.
And in each stage, as we try to juggle our fragile personal process against an overwhelming systemic blindness, we fight to defend our position. And often, we fight to insist that others agree with us. Anything to keep from slipping back into benighted darkness…There is undeniable power in solidarity, in joining voices to reveal what’s been too long hidden, the depth and breadth and complexity of these abuses.
But for myself, I’m retreating from the un-nuanced, disembodied, limbic-triggering, reduced-to-words conversations taking place on social media and in public forums.
Arguing on Facebook seems to only entrench our positions. My heart breaks when we splinter and divide. If we, who agree there is a problem, fight with each other, how can we hope to change a whole society, or change the people who don’t even see a problem?
For me, the social fabric must be rewoven one thread at a time, in personal conversation and personal healing and personal commitment. In personal relationship, where I can nuance the other, respond to them as they are, where they are. Where I can feel your heart, and you can feel mine. Where words are not made to carry the unbearable weight of all this pain and confusion. Where trust can be restored, and chaos sifted, in a container of presence and mutual caring.
This healing, for me, is grassroots. In person. In relationship. In community.
One person, one body, one breath at a time.”
As I read this, I finally felt a huge sigh of relief in knowing I wasn’t the only one who was getting a bit frustrated with the direction the #metoo threads were taking. And with that layer of my psyche softened… a bigger can of poisonous, flesh-eating worms presented themselves and asked to be opened.
Should I write a #metoo post? Would that be of service to others or myself? What stage in the healing process am I? Hmmm, not sure. I’ve been blessed to have relatively low amounts of sexual trauma in my life, but alas, I am a woman, so there are some. And then, an even more puzzling thought: will people judge it as not enough to write about?
My other coachy friends are hosting #metoo discussion groups, and I’m not even sure if I should post? Am I in denial? Avoidance? Was I raped in a former life and in some sort of multi-dimensional existential crisis?! (Just kidding on the last one.) My conclusion was: no, I don’t think I have anything meaningful to add and I don’t want to deal with the fallout if someone is offended… but then… something happened.
I was speaking to a good friend on the phone and in our typical new age-satirical rapporté. I say, “Look, I have three #metoo stories that might be worth sharing, but they aren’t that interesting, do you want to hear them?” He says, “Yes.” I quickly describe them, concluding with “Aaaannd you know, the most traumatizing one was the time I got flashed.”
He’s silent for a bit and says, “Well you know, I learned a huge lesson this year about this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I flashed someone. It ignited a shit storm and I learned so much. I’m so grateful it happened because I am completely changed from it.”
Now, for context, as you may or may not know, I can be somewhat of a rebellious troublemaker, so I do enjoy people that like to push the edges of societal norms, and this guy is definitely that. He’s also incredibly sweet and ridiculously smart (and quite young), and because of this, I’m utterly unsurprised that in a flash of poor judgment he decided to flash someone his genitals. I don’t condone it, but I’m not surprised.
And like him, I can instantly see why this situation was crucial to learning a powerful and needed lesson: our actions have an impact. The impact lives in a different universe than our intention. It lives in the universe of whoever was impacted and everything that occurred in their life before the moment of the incident. In this case, a non-consensual penis revelation — one that was not kind or inviting, but also not consciously meant to be threatening.
Then I flash to my flasher… “You ever seen a dick this big, little girls?” He’s creepy. He’s super tall with short, tan 70’s shorts and shaggy dusty blonde hair and a worn out white t-shirt. In my failing memory, I can’t recall if he was lunging for us or not, but it felt like it. I couldn’t tell you if he said anything else, or how long it took for me to break out of “freeze” mode and into “flight.”
My girlfriend and I were playing tennis by ourselves in a long row of interconnected courts. I dropped the racket and turned to run in the opposite direction of him out of a side gate. Just as I do that, I see my friend take three steps and then fall and now she is crying. I look at the man, I look at her. He’s twirling his dick around with some sense of menacing glee. I grab her off the ground, take her by the hand and start running. We are out the gate now, in the expansive greenway of the park, and now I am running and yelling “help! help!” I spot an old lady with a dog in the distance and run to her gasping for breath.
I can’t remember what I said to her. I wonder how does an 8-year-old explain what just happened, but the next thing I remember, we are at her house a few blocks away. She is calling the police and our parents. The only thing I recall after that is the police saying something about how there was one more complaint of a guy with a similar description at the liquor store near my house. The only memory I have after that is being quite scared to walk to school or to the park for tennis lessons by myself or go anywhere near that liquor store, but only temporarily. A few weeks after that, I was back to my freedom-loving adventurous self.
I have zero recollection of how my parents handled it, or how my friend’s parents (strict Mormons) handled it. I don’t recall talking about it with my friend afterward, and I certainly don’t recall talking to a professional about any potential trauma. I imagine that everyone was just so relieved that we were okay: no harm, no foul. And there is no doubt in my mind that this was a traumatizing sexual assault. So, #Me too.
My other #metoos were college era events. One was with a guy friend of mine who I often partied with. We didn’t have sexual chemistry, but I had made out with a friend or two of his on occasion. This night it was just us, I blacked out. I woke up next to him with no pants and my bloody tampon about 4 feet away on the floor. Hmmmm… did it get in his way? Did I remove it? If I did remove it, I wouldn’t have likely thrown it onto the beige carpet no matter how drunk I was. But I had no memory of it. I don’t remember talking to him about it afterward. Our friendship didn’t last more than a few months after that. #Me too.
The last one kind of sucks because it was one of those situations where it was like five years later and I’m sitting in some group of people, probably a self-help workshop when the alarm bell went off in my head, “Oh, shit… that was rape!” The situation was this. I was with my first love and serious boyfriend. We lived in a studio apartment in Mexico. My friend came to visit us for the weekend. We gave her the bed and we were sleeping on the floor. In the middle of the night, he insisted on having sex with me. I said no, he pushed. I explained why I didn’t want to, he kept trying. I eventually gave in with silence. I wasn’t proud of it. #Me too.
As I’m writing this, one last story is coming to mind. It isn’t my story, but it might be the most traumatizing in a way. I was 19. I had a summer job at a big corporation. I was in my cubicle. A good friend of mine had been date raped. She was invited by a friend to his house. After a drink (that was drugged), she blacked out. She woke up in a haze of paralyzed fear and non-consensual sex. I encouraged her to report it to the police. She did. They found many packages of valium at his house. Apparently, though, this wasn’t enough. I was in this cubicle on the phone with a detective crying and yelling in disbelief that he couldn’t or wouldn’t do ANYTHING. This was in the nineties, so it’s hard to say which it was. #Her too.
So there you have it, my stories. I feel relieved and proud to share them and there is also this little part of me that is wondering… do you think less of me because I’m not more traumatized? Maybe you think I’m less in touch with women or not an effective coach because I haven’t lived through enough of the most common and unifying problem facing women in the world. But even as I say that. I know I have.
In this burgeoning culture of vulnerable activism, there is a shadowland of coaches and teachers building their careers around their trauma. Of course, this is often extraordinarily helpful to their survivor students. But I’m curious what this is like for the teacher who has to repeatedly talk about the deepest shadows of her pain in order to viscerally connect with and enroll thousands of people. What stage of the healing process are they in? What happens when they get stuck? I think about Psalm Isadora, and I wonder.
I know that the stories I shared were something. They shaped me and they sucked. But most of all, I can say that I’m so grateful that these are my stories. And I’m so fucking grateful that SO MANY people came forth to bravely tell their own. And more than anything, I am so fucking grateful that I have a relatively low amount of sexual trauma in my past and I can own that this is precisely what makes me able to do a lot of the work I do for people. I’m often helping people heal their sexual trauma, perhaps in ways that some people who have more trauma may not be able to. And the odd thing about this is that I have more shame and fear about what you will think about me for saying this than I do about my own #me too stories.