I’ve been feeling lots of anger recently – because I feel like I am “always” taken advantage of – and I let it happen. I get pretty down on myself – like ever since my earliest years I have been conditioned to submit to abuse and therefore have been used in every other way as well and have no control over what happens. Last week I blew at 3 or 4 different times (very out of character for me!) when other people were demanding that I give in to their lack of planning and responsibility and wanted to make me take the brunt of it and accommodate them at great inconvenience to me. I didn’t “go postal” and I still have my job, but I know I need to work on more controlled and appropriate ways of expressing myself instead of either totally stuffing and acquiescing OR unleashing the “Incredible Hulk”! There must be a middle way... right?
Well – in thinking about this, why I “always” let people do this to me, I just remembered TWO times when I said “NO!” to unwanted sexual advances:
the first - I was probly about 14 – a foreign student in a new school. I was trying my best to fit in after having moved a year before and then moving up from the middle school where I’d started to a larger high school. I was starting to feel safe after leaving behind a situation where I was severely bullied and sexually abused at the previous school in the U.S. I didn’t know many people well yet and desperately wanted to be accepted and liked. Being a foreigner was both a blessing and a curse – i was interesting because of the novelty factor, but i was not as likely to be included or have the similar background to be as easily understood.
There was a boy in my class who lived near our house. Often there would be a group of us who would walk home together after school and different ones would drop out along the way as they got to their own homes. I lived the farthest from school so had the longest walk. One day there were only two of us left at the point where there would normally have been at least three of us.
The other boy made his move then. He asked me if it was true that all American males are circumcised. I was immediately on alert and starting to get anxious. I tried to keep cool and said that not all – but many are. He said that in his country, very few are circumcised and he has always wanted to know what it looks like and feels like. I did not respond. Then he followed up with a more personal question – “Are you circumcised?” I was very uncomfortable with this turn in the conversation but stayed objective. “Yes…” Next it got even more intrusive. “Let’s go into the woods here and you can show me.”
My heart was racing and I didn’t know what to do. I had been conditioned to always comply with every desire of the abusers before. Always before, the perp had been much older, bigger, had more authority, or I had been out-numbered. I had always complied either because of force or threats or intimidation or fear. This felt the same. BUT it wasn’t the same. It was ONE boy the same age and size as me. I didn’t have to give in, no matter how strongly I felt pressured to.
I said “No.” He argued and tried to persuade me. I knew I was taking a chance. He could tell everyone that I had initiated the incident. That sort of thing had happened before – me being blamed for another’s misdeeds and my name being ruined. An accusation is more likely to be believed than a denial. But then, I thought of what might happen if I did what he asked… How far would it go? That scared me too. Was this just “innocent” curiosity? Or would it lead to ever-escalating involvement that I definitely did not want?! I could be under the power of a blackmailer for an indefinite period. I was very afraid.
I stuck to my guns. I took the chance on doing what I wanted to do – or rather, NOT do – and said - "NO, I have to get home." Neither of us ever mentioned it again, to my intense relief – though I had an anxious wait until I realized he wasn’t going to bring it up again – and of course – neither would I!
The second was in college. I was visiting my cousin at another college for the weekend and had been hanging out with him at an informal drop-in center at a private home where people got together and had coffee or a drink and talked and listened to music.
I met a guy there who struck up a conversation with me and we had a lot in common. Both lousy childhoods, etc. It was unsusual for me to "click" with a stranger so easily. Then he told me he had just come out about being gay to his immediate family and a few close friends. He was rejected by his family and had mixed responses from friends. I was sympathetic. He invited me to go back to his room with him. I got really nervous about that and tried to turn him down gently. told him i could sort of identify with his feelings of rejection, tho i had'nt had exactly that scenario. He came on stronger – we had a connection – he could tell I could really make him feel better – and he would make me forget the problems I’d told him about – no strings, no obligations, etc… I said “NO, I don't see myself as gay.”
I could tell he felt bad, so I did agree to meet him the next day and go to one of his classes with him. It was a speech class and he was speaking – and we both had an interest in drama and public communication. That felt safe. However, once i got there and he began to speak, i discovered to my surprise and horror that his speech was a coming out announcement. I was very embarrassed and felt used by him to unwittingly support him. I respected his wish to speak out and to have a friendly face in the audience. But I knew that every person in the class thought that I – the only visitor – and who had obviously entered with him – was his partner or at least a friend of the same lifestyle. I didn’t make a scene or speak up, but I said good-bye immediately after class and left as quick as I could.
(S#@t - I thought that last one was a *positive* memory until I wrote the ending and realized how it turned out. Ugh! Sometimes other people’s perceptions are almost as tough to deal with as actual events!)
At least it turned out half-way the way i intended!
"That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. . . What will your verse be?" Robin Williams as John Keating in "Dead Poets Society"