Because I thought it was just “boys will be boys.”
And I thought, well it’s normal. It’s just what happens. I asked for it, somehow. Didn’t I want his attention? Wasn’t I (shouldn’t I be?) grateful just to get the attention; I mean after all, I am fat.
The night I decided to lose my virginity I was on a New Jersey beach with my on again/off again boyfriend Jamie*. I was 17 and he was 18. We’d first begun to date the summer of 1989, when I was 13. Our relationship was fraught with drama, right from the start. He was the first boy to kiss me, on a dare. He told our friends I was a terrible kisser. I remember his mouth tasted like I imagined an ashtray would if I were to lick it (I was a non-smoker, he was a smoker). I was so surprised to be finally getting my first kiss (it seemed my friends were all miles ahead of me) that I couldn’t really react. Besides, it was all awkward tongue and braces (his, not mine).
Honestly? It was a truly horrible first kiss. And frankly, it wasn’t even my actual first kiss. That had happened years earlier, with a female friend (and was a much more pleasant experience).
Fast forward four years. I knew early on that summer that this would be “the year.” I was ready to take that step. Unlike so many of my female friends I was not giving into the pressure of sex before I was ready. I’d come close, with Jamie, the past two summers in a row. The truth is, had he ever truly wanted to rape me, he could’ve… and easily. We were very close and he stopped when I asked. Which isn’t to say he never pressured me, because he did. I just ignored the pressure. If anything, the more he pressured, the more I resisted because I wanted it to be my decision.
That night on the beach, I’d already decided I was going to say yes this time. I knew he had the whole “sex on a beach” fantasy going. It was a warm, sultry August night. It was a quiet, secluded beach (especially by New Jersey standards).
Sure enough, we got to that point in the night and we were making out. I hadn’t yet said yes, but Jamie, expecting another no, said in a frustrated voice, you know I could just rape you.
Now, maybe it’s because Jamie was 130 pounds and I was 325 pounds, so I felt pretty confident it wouldn’t be that easy. Maybe it was just that I expected boys to say things like this. But for some reason, the only thing it made me do in the moment was laugh, albeit a bit awkwardly.
When I finally said yes — because, oh yeah, sadly I did still say yes after that comment — he was so stunned he couldn’t get it up. I remember him getting increasingly agitated, saying that it had to happen because I’d change my mind. I pointed out that I wasn’t one to do that, and that we’d have another chance at another time. Eventually we awkwardly gave up. I am very grateful, in retrospect, for his performance anxiety, because my first time should not have been on a beach with a guy who had cavalierly announced that he could “just” rape me.
It would be another week before I would initiate, on my terms, in his apartment and the deed would be completed. While I can’t say I’m necessarily thrilled to know I still chose to have sex with a guy who said that to me, at least I can truthfully say it was 100% my idea when it did finally happen. It wasn’t a time when he expected it (I’ll share the story another time, because in it’s own ways it’s still really fucked up) and it wasn’t a situation where he thought it was going to happen. I controlled the narrative that summer night, thankfully.
Yet, it took me years to realize how utterly fucked up his “I could just rape you” comment was. In the moment, I was the fat girl with the hot boyfriend and no one could understand how I had gotten him. Nevermind he was a compulsive cheater and often belittled me (you’d be so hot, if you only lost weight was a constant refrain from him). Nevermind he had serious mental health issues and a whole slew of his own issues (including being the victim of sexual assault himself, at the hands of a man whom his mother would marry despite the abuse). The truth is, in many ways, we were both fucked up kids.
But it still does not make his comment okay or acceptable. Rape is not a joke. It’s not a leveraging tool. It’s not, oh have sex with me willingly or I’ll force you to do it.
Or at least, it shouldn’t be any of those things. In sharing my story I am not out to make Jamie some monster. Yes, he had moments of being absolutely horrible. He also had moments of being sweet and even thoughtful. But this was one of the most horrible moments we shared, and in the moment I didn’t even recognize that because I’d been taught to dismiss it. I’d been taught to hear a comment like that and just think “boys will be boys.”
That’s not okay. I don’t want girls today to think this is an acceptable thing for their boyfriends to say to them. I am tired of seeing things be dismissed because they happened in 1982 (looking at you Brett Kavanaugh) or 1998 (you again, Brett) or any other year. Well, that’s just how the culture was back then. Oh, really? Then how come every boy who grew up then wasn’t assaulting girls? Or were they (for the record, I do not think they were)?
There’s a big difference between pushing to have sex when someone isn’t ready and backing off, even if you’re a jerk about it… and pushing someone to the point where it’s sexual assault. Nothing Jamie ever did to me qualified as assault. Not even close. But he wasn’t the only guy to speak to me this way, and there was a boy who definitely crossed a line.
I was 15. It was, yet again, summer. I was babysitting. We were technically homeless. My mom was pregnant (and an addict, though at the time I didn’t recognize she was addicted to anything — major denial on my part) with my baby sister. We were sleeping on the couch and floor of a friend of my mom’s and in exchange, I babysat her three kids. The oldest was about 8 and the youngest was probably 2.
I had had a crush on this boy — Joshua* — who was, to be absolutely blunt about it, a total asshole. I’d had that crush for years and years (or so it felt) by then. I first encountered him in the 7th grade. He — at that time — talked about how hot my mom was (the bane of having a mother who was only 17 when you were born). I was mortified, on so many levels. For one, I wanted to be as pretty as my mom. For another, this boy I liked who, like me, was 12, LIKED MY MOM, who was like… old. Okay, oldish.
He’d say really crass things about her and I’d hang up on him. I can’t really remember anything specific in detail, just that I was horrified. I was jealous. I hated being fat and ugly and awkward and unwanted.
We lost touch for a time. He had hooked up with one of my friends at some point. We reconnected when I moved back to the town he was from. That’s a pretty big town (at least when you’re a kid without a car and a lack of public transit) and before we’d been miles apart. This time it was a few blocks.
He came over once, before we got evicted from our apartment. He kissed me (he was a terrible kisser, but he was still cute so I tried to get over it). He tried to get me to have sex or give him a blow job and I declined both offers.
He left, in a bit of a huff.
When, a month or so later, we next spoke I was babysitting for the kids. They lived in a multi-apartment building, with an old wide staircase. You had to be buzzed in. Josh told me he was going to come over and I said he couldn’t, that I was alone with the kids and not allowed to have anyone over. I pointed out that we had no place else to live and we couldn’t piss off my mom’s friend.
He came over anyway, and somehow he managed to connive his way into the building. When I realized he was there, I closed the door and went in the hall to talk to him, to try to convince him to leave. The two younger kids were napping and the older girl was watching tv.
He didn’t want to leave. Didn’t I want to see him? Wasn’t I happy he was there? I mean, he rode his bike (yeah like a mere five blocks) and everything, just to see me. Didn’t I feel special?
No, not really. I felt annoyed. I felt a bit unnerved, though I didn’t really know why yet. I had specifically told him I couldn’t have a visitor — especially a boy — and here he was anyway. Oh, yeah and I kinda had a boyfriend at the time (kind of as in we were dating but hadn’t quite yet used the words, though I still felt it was an exclusive thing). So no, I wasn’t really happy to see him.
When it became clear to him that I was not in any way amused or pleased by his presence, his sweet veneer completely disappeared. I was going to give him a blow job if I wanted him to leave, he announced, pulling down his pants.
I’d never done that before. Ever. I didn’t want to then. Especially then.
His erect penis was out. I remember it was big, which made the entire situation somehow feel more threatening. It was only the third or fourth time I’d even seen a penis. Interestingly, the size disparity I mentioned earlier between myself and Jamie was about on par with the weight difference between me and Joshua. Yet Jamie never felt like a threatening presence, even in that awful moment. Josh, however, very much did.
He told me he was going to start shouting. He’d get the neighbors out of their apartments. I knew at least one of them was home. I knew they’d open the door.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped and cornered on the staircase, as he stood there with his erect dick in front of my face. I panicked.
I did it. Sort of. Not to completion, but I don’t think that’s what he was after. I think he just wanted to control and humiliate me, and both of those things he accomplished before I somehow managed to convince him to leave.
I never spoke to him again, but if someone today told me Josh raped them I’d have zero difficulty believing it. In fact, I’d be more surprised to find out he hadn’t escalated into rape. He was calculating and manipulative and his behavior from a young age was disturbing.
For a long time I didn’t view this as an assault. I mean, I caved, right. I gave in. I could’ve said no. I should’ve said no.
But then I think about it. I was 15. I was relatively inexperienced. I’d been taught to be grateful if any boy was interested in me because fat girls don’t get guys. I’d had a crush on him for several years. I was fucking homeless, living in an apartment that was my mom’s friend’s. I knew that if I screwed up we could wind up on the street, and she was pregnant. And Joshua knew all of these things, too. He had power in that situation. I was manipulated into doing something I did not want to do at all because I wanted him to leave before he cost us a place to sleep, before I wound up with one of the kids seeing a boy in the hallway half naked, before a neighbor caught on to something going down in the hallway… I was scared. I was acting in fear.
That is not consent. Acquiescence and acceptance of your fate in a situation like this does not mean you consented. It does not mean you wanted it. It does not mean you deserved it.
It means you were doing what you could to survive the moment.
And yes, there is a big fucking difference.
Six months after I first had sex with Jamie I was on the bus on my way home from high school. I was a senior. I call it a bus, but truth be told, it was a minivan. Noah was also a senior. He’d been dating a girl a year older for the past six months. I’d had the biggest crush on him since we’d been in 8th grade together. He was cute, smart and funny.
And for some reason, during my senior year, he seemed to notice me. My friends noticed him noticing me and asked what was up with it all. I said nothing, he had a girlfriend. I had to be imagining his interest. They said I wasn’t. I didn’t believe it was possible he could have an interest in me. Not when he had a girlfriend who was in college and who was much thinner (though not thin) than me.
We had a major flirtation going on. He’d sit on the seat next to me, in the back row of the minivan. I’d play with his hair, he’d lean his head on my lap. His girlfriend hated me and she’d never even met me, which lead me to believe he talked about me a lot.
My senior year I had decided I was going to get more daring with my wardrobe. No more cutesy pink teddy bear t-shirts for me. I bought my fat girl clothes from Lane Bryant and had these long, ribbed skirts that had side slits up to the thigh (it was 1993–1994).
One afternoon, we were riding home from school. He ran his hands over my leg, and I just raised an eyebrow at him. He said he was just feeling the fabric. I remember having goosebumps, in a good way. He did it again. And again.
The ride home took about an hour. At some point he said, “Jules, can I molest you?” Yes, those were the actual words he used.
Maybe it was the odd choice of the word “molest.” Maybe it was just the lack of self-esteem that someone like him could be interested in me. Maybe it was that he had a girlfriend. Maybe it was all of the above. But at the time, what I was sure of was that I had to be misinterpreting it. He couldn’t really want to mess around with me because he was cute and I was, well fat. He had a college girlfriend and I was socially awkward.
I remember laughing awkwardly and saying something like, thanks Noah but I’ve been molested enough.
But when I got off the bus I immediately raced across the street to my best friend’s house. She and Noah had history. She was his first. I could get her insight on the topic.
Nessa was pretty damn sure he was coming on to me. Neither of us questioned the use of the world “molest.” She called him, and as girls are wont to do, acted like I wasn’t there. He point blank told her, “I tried to molest Jules on the bus today.”
Later on, I’d call him myself. He apologized and said he’d been with his girlfriend for six months and just had a moment of feeling… I guess trapped? By the monogamy? We never spoke about it again.
The next day at school, in hushed tones, I told my friend Savannah what had happened. Savannah was really sheltered and naive, and I honestly suspect — in retrospect — that she had her own unhappy stories of actual assault/sexual abuse. She was truly horrified that he said molest. She kept bringing it up, and I kept telling her, you don’t know him like I do. It was just a joke. He didn’t mean anything bad by it.
She was adamant that it wasn’t an okay word to use in that context. I remember thinking she was such a child and so inexperienced and I was wiser and older and knew better. The truth couldn’t be more wrong. She was very right. It was a totally fucked up word for him to have used.
When did I finally realize how right she was? Probably the day my friend removed me on facebook. And why did Noah remove me? Because I posted — angrily — about then candidate Donald Trump’s having been caught on film saying it was okay to go up and “grab ’em by the pussy” because he was rich and famous. I said, if you can still vote for this man after this, feel free to remove yourself from my life.
Noah replied to that post with a wave and removed me.
In that moment I realized just how right Savannah was when she was horrified by what he’d said to me all those years earlier. I realized how deeply saddened I was knowing that Noah is a father to a little girl who will be raised by a man who finds this type of behavior acceptable to the point where he’d vote for a person for president, knowing he’d made casual comments about how he could essentially get away with assault because of the size of his bank account and his fame. Noah wasn’t a “boy” anymore. He was a 40 year-old man voting for someone who boasted about his ability to abuse — one could even say molest — women simply because he had power over them.
At 20, I met a guy on a dating line (phone dating, yes it was a thing and it’s how I met my husband). We’d had phone sex a few times. He wanted to meet up. I lived in a condo with a big courtyard, in an apartment shared with my father, stepmother and brother. John didn’t know which apartment, so I told him we could meet in the courtyard. There was zero chemistry, or so I thought. He was getting ready to leave, and asked if he could use the bathroom. I’d spent the past 90 minutes talking to him. The conversation was never intimate, he never touched me… it was like talking to a friend. So I said yeah. It was a first floor apartment with a patio, so I let him in through the patio doors.
I was standing in the kitchen, getting a drink when I heard a weird noise from the bathroom. Shit, he said. I think I broke your sink. I groaned. My father was going to have to deal with the landlady and she was a nightmare. John told me to come over to look, so I went, expecting to find a damaged sink.
Instead I found John with his jeans and tighty whities around his ankles, erect dick in his hand as he stroked it. I was immediately distraught. He laughed and said something about having some fun. Instead, I grabbed the cordless phone, walked out onto the patio and told him loudly to pull his fucking pants up and get the hell out before I called the cops. Thankfully, he didn’t test me. I’d have called but I didn’t want to answer all those awkward questions. He pulled up his pants, called me a name (I no longer remember what, but it was akin to him saying I was a tease because we’d had phone sex) and, mercifully, left. I never heard from him again.
My #metoo moments are, compared to so many others, mild. Benign almost. Except they shaped me, in ways I didn’t even realize. They made me feel dirty, especially where Joshua was concerned. For so many years I have blamed myself for what happened that summer afternoon, not realizing that I was definitely a victim and he was definitely an assailant. Could it have been worse? Of course. Why? It can always be worse.
Of course, there are millions of women with much worse stories, women who have been through things I cannot even begin to imagine… but, there are also millions of women out there with stories like mine, stories they think don’t count because it wasn’t bad enough, or because they feel like the somehow invited or asked for it.
But that’s bullshit.
My stories being less awful than those of other women don’t mean they aren’t still awful or valid. My examples of what happens when we accept — for even a moment — the argument of “boys will be boys” are, I’d argue, actually really important in the current landscape of these discussions. As I write this the night before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is set to give her testimony to a committee that will determine whether or not a man who has now been accused by four different people of sexual assault/harassment/attempted rape should be on the Supreme Court of my country, I keep seeing the excuses about the time period, about it being the early 80s, about how all teens do stupid shit… yes, but not all teens attempt to rape a girl while they’re drunk at a party.
We wonder why women don’t come forward. Why they don’t speak up sooner. Or ever.
Why would we? So many of us already know we’ll be told we’re liars. We asked for it. We did something to deserve it. We pushed too far. We were dick teases. We didn’t outright say no, so we must’ve meant yes.
Fuck. That. Noise.
Dr. Blasey Ford has had to move out of her home with her family because of death threats. She has security guards. Her work email was hacked. Deborah Ramirez, another of Kavanaugh’s accusers has also been getting threats, as has a domestic violence shelter she works with.
It has to stop. These conversations about how things were different in “those days” have to stop. They aren’t acceptable excuses for this kind of behavior. They don’t make assault, attempted rape or rape okay. Ever. They are encouraging this type of mentality to continue.
I want better for the girls in high school right now. I want better for the boys, too. I want them held to higher standards. I want them to know what consent really is, what it means, what it feels like, sounds like, looks like.
I want girls to feel like they can safely come forward when they are assaulted, without it turning into the hell of being called names, being accused of being a liar, being told they’re ruining some promising young man’s life.
I don’t care if it happened yesterday or 36 years ago. If a man is capable of this kind of behavior — and I believe Dr. Blasey Ford and the other women who have come forward against Brett Kavanaugh, especially when you add in the disgustingness of his high school yearbook — he has NO RIGHT to be in a lifetime appointment on the highest court of the country where he will make important judicial decisions about women’s rights and freedoms.
I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to share my own stories. Tonight I finally reached a point of enough fury that I felt I had to, even knowing my stories are not nearly as awful as so many other women’s.
They still happened. I dismissed them.
It’s time I begin to recognize them for what they were, for the behaviors that were unacceptable. Otherwise, I am complacent. I am part of the problem. I continue to carry the burden so many women have carried thinking it was just “boys will be boys.”
No. Not anymore. Not ever again.
Don’t settle for this excuse. Don’t allow your sons or daughters to settle for this excuse. Demand more of our boys. Educate your daughters. Teach them to fight, physically if need be, to defend themselves. Arm them with information so they recognize what consent is, what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.
It has to stop somewhere. This seems like the time for that to happen.
*Names have been changed.