Me Too: What Happened At the Con

Me Too: What Happened At the Con

CW: description of sexual assault, internalized victim-blaming, rape culture

Today my news feed was filled with Me too. I’ve scrolled past it from countless friends and acquaintances. Post after post reminding us that almost none of us haven’t been affected by sexual harassment or assault.

Me too.

It took me three years to talk about what happened to me. It then took until the second time I ever spoke about it to admit that it wasn’t just a bad joke gone too far. Still even now I don’t want to admit that it was an assault.

I still think about the events that led up to it. I think about the days after. I think about the three years that I spent trying to forget it ever happened to me. Tried to convince myself it wasn’t that bad, it could have been worse. It wasn’t rape.

It was five and a half years ago. It was the first time I attended a popular convention with a group of friends. We were all broke so we booked one hotel room for all eight of us. There were only two beds and we were cramped in. I wore a dress that day. I had met my partner through the planning process and we had only been seeing each other for a month at that point. It would be the first time we’d spend an entire weekend together. I wanted to look pretty for our first day there.

We settled into the hotel room. My partner was in the bathroom. There was only one woman in the group, apart from me. The rest of the room was filled with men I considered my friends. Most of them were at least a year older than me. I was eighteen at the time, coming out of first year.

I can’t tell you exactly how or why it started. But it was a joke. He was a friend. At one point, I had even liked him and had wanted him to like me back. He made rape jokes a lot. And so it didn’t seem strange when I was pinned down to the bed. It was funny fighting against him. It was funny as he tried to pry my legs apart. When he stuck his hand inside my underwear. It was funny when I was struggling so hard the strap on my dress broke. I was struggling so hard I even peed a little. When I stood there was a wet spot on the bed. I remember being embarrassed.

I was in a room with six other people. No one moved. No one helped. Everyone was laughing in some way. Because they thought it was funny, because they were uncomfortable and they didn’t know what to do. One of my best friends thought it was hilarious.

My partner came back into the room and it was just a joke. I was let go because my boyfriend had come to claim me. I hid in the bathroom as I changed out of my broken dress. I spent the rest of the con attached to him, never leaving his side again.

That night, the same friend who pinned me down thought it would be funny if he shared the bed with me and my partner. And so he spent the night “playfully” groping at me and my partner all night. I spent it practically hanging off the edge as my partner used his body to shield mine.

He spent the con dressed as pedobear, running around and hugging cosplaying girls around the convention.

We stayed friends with him for a while. I didn’t talk about what happened for a while. I didn’t talk to him about it ever. Eventually I couldn’t handle the rape jokes in the comments. Even as I downplayed what happened to me, every interaction was tainted by the realization I had on that bed. Maybe the men I trusted couldn’t be trusted at all.

I remember thinking to myself as I changed out of my dress that I had thought wearing it might be a bad idea as I got dressed. I knew the friends I was hanging out with. I knew there was a risk in wearing a dress and I did it anyways. And I held that to myself for years. It was so normal to think that if I gave them the chance and they took it, it was my fault.

The first time I admitted it, it was after another friend had come to me with their own story. We were talking about victim-blaming and they told me how they thought it was my fault. I had shared what happened to me and it was the first time I let myself think of it as anything other than a joke. It wasn’t until I would be several pints into an evening with another friend that I’d admit it was assault, holding back tears.

“Do you think he cares what he did to me?” I remember asking. “Do you think he’s sorry?”

“Would you want him to apologize to you if he was?”

I didn’t. I still don’t. I want to forget that he existed. I want to forget that I felt like I deserved it, that I asked for it, that I should’ve been different. I want to believe that there weren’t more people like him in the world. All that I could do was get away from all the people who made me feel like I deserved it.

I don’t have friendships with many of the people I shared that hotel room with. Only one person talked to me about it after, apologized for not knowing what to do. I knew the conversation was hard for them to have, there’s a lot of responsibility in being witness to something you know has hurt someone. But they knew it was hard for me to go through. They let me talk about it when I needed to, held space for me.

But I lost a deeper friendship. And I tried to keep it, cling onto it. I stayed friends with him for years. He was my best friend. We traveled together. He’d been there through my breakups and I had been through his. But no matter how much effort I put into keeping that friendship, I couldn’t change the fact that he never asked me if I was okay. He never acted like anything happened at all.

But it was that friendship that caused so much hurt and confusion in my life. It was that friendship where my sexuality became a joke to share at parties. I didn’t realize how unhealthy it was until I was out of it. I couldn’t connect the dots. I didn’t want to see a pattern in how he let his friends treat me just because I wasn’t a man.

He was always joking about my sex life at parties. I tried to act like I didn’t care who knew who I was having sex with and how often. But he never stopped another friend from asking for blowjobs every time we spoke. It never stopped him from creating an entire scene in an RPG campaign to get my character to have sex with another female character, not because I wanted to have a gay character, but because it was funny to him. It didn’t get him to ask his friend to stop making rape jokes after shoving his hand into my underwear. Hell, the last time I saw him, he was encouraging me to make out with his friends at a party I got too drunk at.

As long as we were friends, close friends, I blamed myself for my body being violated. I came to expect that the men around me would take advantage of me if they could and that it was my fault for giving them the opportunity. I felt like the only way to be fun was to use my sexuality as everyone’s entertainment.

And that’s why it matters. That’s why it matters to stop making rape jokes. To stand up to your friends. That’s why it matters to say that things aren’t all right. That’s why it matters to hold your friends, your acquaintances, your coworkers, your family members to higher standards. To hold them accountable.

Because I shouldn’t have had to worry about what I was wearing that day. And it shouldn’t have taken me three years to talk about it. And it shouldn’t take another two to feel like I have a right to call it violence openly.

And because I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting my friend to be there for me instead of the friend that assaulted me.

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When Performing Whiteness Still Can’t Keep You Safe

When Performing Whiteness Still Can’t Keep You Safe

CW: detailed description of public harassment by a visibly mentally ill person, racism, ableism, sanism, police violence

Yesterday I woke up deep in a depressive episode. I skipped my second class for the week, a tutorial I still haven’t shown up to it. There was a hopelessness that I’m so familiar with. My body wasn’t in as much pain as earlier in the week, but my mind was exhausted. But as tired as I was, I still had to head to campus to interview a group on campus for a feature I’m writing. I had already rescheduled once and I didn’t want to do it again. So I did everything that I could to feel good about myself before I left. I dressed in my favourite jacket, I shaved my undercut, I smoked a lot of weed. I was starting to feel comfortable in my body by the time I got on the subway.

And then I got on the streetcar. When I get on, I saw a woman in a unicorn hat sitting in the priority seat by the door. She was mumbling to herself, so I understand that she was probably mentally ill and without access to medication. So I took the open seat across the aisle quietly and tried to keep my focus elsewhere. I was sure she’d dealt with stares all day and there was no reason to act as though her behaviour was anything more voluntary than a sneeze. But out of the corner of her eye, I could see that she was staring at me now. In the reflection of the window next to me, I could see that she had almost completely turned in her seat to stare. She was still mumbling so I started to pay more attention to what she was saying.

“…too long in our country. These people have been here too long in our country.”

She was staring at me, I was the darkest person in the area. A few people who were standing around us were all white or white-passing. People who were standing near us start to edge away, walk further along the streetcar to find some other place to sit. I stared down at my crutch, thinking to myself, Why do I have to put myself in pain to get away from this?

Then she started to say the ‘N’ word. She was still staring directly at me. I was just trying to keep my eyes ahead and dismiss it as mental illness. Reminding myself that coprolalia is a symptom of conditions like Tourette’s, making people say profanities and vulgarities they don’t mean. I kept telling myself, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. But still I willed the white man standing directly in front of me to turn, to move between us, to do something. But he didn’t.

Then she began to mumble again. The only words I can hear are, these people, our land, too long, separated by quieter whispers and swears.

And then this woman felt the need to make sure I knew she was talking about me. She reached her arm over, almost about to touch my leg. I turned my head abruptly, feeling nearly sick at being touched by someone who had spent an entire stop calling me the N word. Her hand stopped as I gave her the attention she wanted and started to point towards my window.

“Is that your lands?” she questions me.

I nearly bit my tongue to hold back myself asking this white-faced woman if this land was hers. I didn’t need to though.

“This is my land. I’m the queen.”

I looked away again. My heart was pounding in my chest, I was struggling not to panic. One more stop. Just one more stop.

She continued to mumble staring at me, but I stared straight ahead. My neck hurt, my jaw hurt from clenching.

And then she got up to walk further down the streetcar. My stop came, I got off, and I went to my interview. I was still shaking even as I sat in a tiny, tech-component filled office and interviewed a group of students.

All I could think about as I walked back to the same streetcar that it first happened was that I didn’t even look that Indian. A tactic I had built up when I was younger, when I was filled with self-hatred and internalized racism. I only spoke slang that was associated with white people, I rejected the accent that crept up from spending afternoons with my Guyanese grandmother. I stopped listening to hip-hop, soca, calypso, reggae. I dyed my hair unnatural colours that offended my relatives but thrilled my white friends. I listened to the whitest men in rock music. I refused to get my nose pierced because my mother said it would make me look too Indian.

And despite the fact that the hate has lessened over the years, and I’ve grown to love my mother’s accent and the smell of curry in an apartment hallway, the look I have was built on performing whiteness. An attempt to gain acceptance. An attempt to find safety in a world built for whiteness on the backs of my family’s history.

It made me think of every South Asian man who has tried to convince me that white people aren’t all that bad, every brown kid that looked down on their own culture while listening to Led Zeppelin and Metallica.

And it made me think about how I sat there, willing someone to intervene because I knew if I spoke back, it’d be my fault when it escalated. I could remember all the years where despite being inches under five feet tall, when people first saw me, they were scared of me. I was only ever told this by white women from my high school. Apparently if I don’t smile, I have a face that looks like it could kill you.

I also remember all the times that I have tried to stand up for myself against white women, against the people that defend them, I have had their mental health thrown in my face. They’re depressed, they’re anxious, there’s a reason they don’t have to try as hard. But my own depression, anxiety, my own oppression isn’t enough to let me treat people however I wanted.

I also thought about if that woman hadn’t been white. If she had been an Indigenous woman telling a white woman to get out of her country, or if it had been a Black man who had reached across an aisle to get the attention of someone he was berating. And the truth is, they may not have survived the encounter.

Would that white man have tried so hard to keep his back to the both of his, standing as close as he can to the door and away from us? Would the others have moved further down the line? Would someone say something? Would someone agitate them? Would the police have been called?

I think of the Pickering man with mental illness, Reyal Jardine-Douglas, who was shot by police after his family called them out of concern. They just wanted him to come home safe, and then he didn’t come home at all. I think about the unending pattern of mentally ill people of colour getting killed by police.

My face alone is reason enough to feel threatened. If I had spoken up and something would have happened, words like provoked, engaged, threatened, menacing, could be used against me. And if anyone looked at me, what would they have to say anything different.

This was the first time anyone had been so openly hateful towards me. While my skin is dark and some white folks seem a little confused at the concept of darker skin not meaning black, this was the first time I had the N word used against me. And I knew that at twenty-four, that’s a pretty good track record. And I knew that that wasn’t true for the Black people in my life. That wouldn’t have been the first time, or the last time, to have that word thrown against them. To have their own oppressed history thrown in their face to demean and dehumanize them. To have to sit there and let it happen in order to protect yourself from death or arrest.

Why should they have to put up with racism to avoid being called a bully to a mentally ill person? Why should they allow mental illness to be an excuse for the white people who attack them? Why should they allow mental illness to be an excuse to kill them?

 

Driving Me Crazy and Keeping Me Sane: This Just Might Be a Love Story

Driving Me Crazy and Keeping Me Sane: This Just Might Be a Love Story

I have been in a relationship with my partner for a long time. We’re at almost five and a half years. But in that five years there were a couple months we had broken up. My mental health was failing and I couldn’t care for another person. The breakup was messy and painful for both of us. In our time apart, I was constantly falling apart and I hated it. I didn’t want anyone to see it. So I talked a lot of shit, I acted like I didn’t care anymore, and that I didn’t want what we had again. We’ve been back together for over a year now, but I still haven’t shut that part off.

This post is mostly for me, I have a lot of things I need to say. But this post is also for my partner. Throughout our entire relationship, it was easier for me to only be affectionate to him when we were alone. As soon as we were with friends or family, the only affection I would show would be teasing even though he was very much for holding hands, cuddling, and generally just being affectionate. I had my own reasons at the beginning: my only relationships at the time had been with someone I could only be with in public spaces but that grossed our friends out, and one that was very hidden and my affection had been used against me. But after our time apart, I didn’t want to go through the pain again if things ended up the same way. I stopped showing my love for him, it was like it was a secret. I could talk about what ways he let me down, but I couldn’t talk about the ways he made me the person I am today, a person I’m incredibly proud to be.

So now I’m saying it. I’m going to open up to the world and be honest with you.

I spend a lot of time saying how much I hate white guys, and I also spend a bit of time talking about how hard it is to date a white guy. But the truth is, despite the fact that sometimes he forgets his privilege and says things that I would leave any other white guy for, he’s the one that helped me become more aware. And while sometimes he screws up and I think I’ve just about had it, there’s an entire context of growth and learning and love that I can’t separate it from.

I started getting into feminism through the sex positive movement. I followed Laci Green pretty religiously (back when she was a little more subtle about her transphobia), but I wasn’t really in any communities. I wasn’t one for extracurricular activities and I didn’t really join clubs or groups. But one day I found myself defending a campus group I hadn’t even heard of before because an event (centered around safety) at a sex club was being diminished to a scandalous orgy. A part of the event was a workshop on consent in public settings like a sex club, along with consent in kink settings whether in private or in a dungeon. That was something I could get on board with.

Then my partner asked if I wanted to go. I hemmed and hawed for a while, but he promised he would be there with me the entire time and we could leave whenever I wanted. So I went. He brought us there early so we could get in and see the space before it got crowded. I was anxious the entire day leading up to. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. But when we arrived, all my partner did was get to know all the organizers who were there. He asked questions about the event, he got us a tour, and we ended up learning about group he would later convince me to volunteer at.

This is when he did the biggest thing he could do for me. At the time, I kept my disability a secret. It was a habit I was in since childhood. It was something I could hide so I hid it. I didn’t want to think of myself as disabled. It took me a month to tell him about the disability, and after that I told him I didn’t want him to tell anybody, and I didn’t want him to bring it up. But while we were volunteering together, the group organized a speaking event featuring a couple talking about disability and relationships. I knew it was something I should probably attend but that would mean admitting being disabled, and I wasn’t ready to do that. But once he saw the event, he was determined to go.

This event ended up being life changing for me. Tim and Natalie Rose spoke about their relationship and Tim spoke about his relationship to sex as someone with cerebral palsy. I was fascinated and I was validated. I remember feeling less ashamed about my body and the things it couldn’t do. After that, I started to talk about being disabled more. I started to use the word disabled for myself for maybe the first time ever.

And this wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time that he would force me to see myself without shame. There’s a lot he helped me come to love. My brownness, my masculinity, my fluid gender and sexuality, my mad and neurodivergent brain. There hasn’t been a part of me that I haven’t dropped at his feet that he didn’t already love. Even for things I had been denying about myself all along.

Almost two years ago, my partner finally got an official diagnosis for his Tourette’s, OCD, and ADHD. Part of him entering my life again was for him to start dealing with those issues. As he did, he started to bring what he was learning about himself to me. And then one day we were sitting together and he absently says, “You know, you do a lot of these things too. You probably have some of these too.” But it was something that I had dismissed as a possibility for myself a long time ago.

But he wasn’t wrong. After that, another friend pointed out to me that maybe I had ADHD. Once I finally could get an initial assessment from a psychiatrist, they ran through a series of symptoms and I found myself going, “Well only sometimes. Yeah I do that a lot. I don’t do that anymore, I’ve gotten better with it.” It was almost anti-climatic when he finally concluded that it seemed very likely that I had ADHD.

And ever since my partner has been reminding me to take my meds, reminding me to eat when my meds affect my appetite, on top of physically carrying me when I’ve overdone it physically. He’s the person who when I’m weak and falling apart and I don’t want to do it anymore for the hundredth time, he says, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I love you.”

So yeah, sometimes he drives me crazy. But most of the time, he’s the person that reminds me I have a reason to live after all.

No, I Don’t Want to Hear How Great Your Dad Is, Thanks

No, I Don’t Want to Hear How Great Your Dad Is, Thanks

Today is Father’s Day. It’s a day in which we are supposed to appreciate and celebrate fathers. But not everyone has a father, and not everyone has a father who loves them. For those of us who fall in the latter category, today is just another day to dread. There’s nothing sweet or kind about this day. It’s a hard day, a shameful day.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed today, I’ve seen loving posts thanking their dads for their love. Some reminisce about good memories they have of their fathers, some list off the ways they were supported, some just joke around because that’s who their father was.

I have very few good memories of my father. There was the time he followed an ice cream truck in his car to get me some ice cream. And that’s probably the only memory that isn’t tied into a lot of sadness, anger, or loneliness. Every time I try to drag a good memory from the recesses of my mind, try to brush the cobwebs off, I’m confronted by the spiders hiding in them.

I don’t think my father ever really wanted to be a father. He didn’t really seem to have any connection with my brother and I. Most of the time he was at work, and when he wasn’t, he was watching TV or falling asleep in front of it. There weren’t really trips or outings. He didn’t even really try to get to know us. And I lived with him for twenty years.

The issue is, it wasn’t just that my father was absent. He was around, he was always there. It was that he still wanted to be head of the household. With the bigger paycheck, he thought he was better than my mom. It was him who paid for the house, the cars, our every need and desire.

Except that’s not quite how it worked. My mother made less than my father, but she still worked full time. And whereas my father came home at the end of the day and disappeared into his basement, my mother would come home and cook, clean, and take care of us. I remember my mother as buzzing. She was always moving, always tidying. There were even times where she’d still try to sneak studying in whenever she returned to school. And she was the one who handled all the finances; she made sure the bills were paid on time, the Visa was paid off, and that we had enough clothes for school.

But we were supposed to obey my father. He was supposed to be the ruler, the breadwinner, the king of the castle. And he convinced my mother that she was the bad parent and that she was bankrupting us. I watched him blame her for every mistake my brother and I made. I watched him put her down every chance he could get. And he didn’t stop with just my mother.

My father made me into the person I am today: hard, insecure, and alone. I didn’t have a father that told me that I was beautiful or wonderful or smart. I was only as good as my accomplishments, and my accomplishments were only accomplishments if my cousins didn’t do it first. If I couldn’t be compared against my cousins, I wasn’t worth a thought.

And unlike some folks who have had their fathers turn around and apologize to them, my father has only hurt me more. I have had to cut my father out of my life completely. I had to block his number.

I told my father that I had an eating disorder on a visit one day. He had commented on my weight loss and how I looked much better. After I told him, he just shrugged and said, “Well at least that must be easier on your legs.” And I remember the way he blamed my mother’s weight for her excruciating joint pain — pain that she worked through, cleaned through, silently. I walked out of the house without saying goodbye.

The last time I talked to my father after that, I had asked my father for help with rent. It was the first time we had spoken in months. My mother was struggling with her own bills, but every spare cent she had went to help me. It had gotten to a point where I couldn’t ask her for more help, so I turned to my father. I explained that I had no money at all, that I was late on rent, that I didn’t even have money to eat. And this was after I had told him about the eating disorder. I had just started new meds, and I had to pay for my pain meds on top of that.

According to him, my mother and I, both disabled, are leeches on the system. I have been waking up with pain everyday for years now. But I went to school and then eventually started working full time. I worked for two years, up until the point where I found myself throwing up on a weekly basis from pain. I stopped eating. I spent all my days off in bed. I was calling in sick at least once a week because my head would hurt so badly that I couldn’t see.

After I stopped accepting his calls, he emailed me an e-transfer. Even though I wanted nothing to do with him, I reluctantly accepted it. I needed to pay my rent and I couldn’t be picky how I did it. I wouldn’t survive another month. And then a few days later, he starts to demand the money back.

After that, I found out he had been telling our entire family that he’d been footing the bill for my rent and that he was so broke after having to pay my mother spousal support. Except he had been doing neither. That was the first time I had asked him for help in nearly a year.

There were no moments in my life where my father was there for me. There were times he called me selfish, he called me a bitch, or times where he would tell me that if I kept talking back, I’d never find anyone to love me. There were times he mocked my facial hair, or when I started to gain weight. There were times he told me he couldn’t help me find work before helping my brother get a job. And then there was the time he asked me to work for free and then told me to never ask for help looking for work again when I refused.

So no, I don’t want to hear how great your dad is. I don’t want to hear that he grew a lot, how he came through when you really needed him. I don’t want to see photos of you smiling together. And I don’t want to see posts congratulating fathers just for being dads.

Not all dads love. Not all dads grow. Not all dads are good.

Fuck you Father’s Day.

Our Future Is Queer: On the Varuna

Our Future Is Queer: On the Varuna

Today – right now in fact – there is an exhibit being put on by the Multi-Faith Centre at UofT, displaying science fiction and fantasy art pieces exploring futures and realities where the systems of oppression that hold us back today weren’t in place. I have a short story in a paper zine form on display, a prototype of a zine I hope to continue publishing into the future.

Due to financial reasons, I wasn’t able to print off enough of these zines to allow for visitors to keep. Since the short story is definitely not one that can be read to completion quickly, I’ve decided to make a digital version available, for free.

On the Varuna follows Arya as they begin an internship at a new, state-of-the-art underwater research facility. They are a disabled nonbinary character living in a world that refuses to hold them back or limit their opportunities. This is an excerpt from a novel I am writing that will continue this story across more themes to do with race, gender, and ability.

This is the first time I’ve written a nonbinary character before. I had a lot of anxiety sitting down to write this character, a pressure on myself to keep the character female and cis. But I knew I would be letting myself down if I didn’t even try. And once I started writing it, it felt so right. At times the pronouns were difficult to navigate, but not more so than writing a story about queer women.

I purposely chose a gender neutral name that had roots outside of Europe. I was tired of nonbinary or androgynous characters with names like Avery, Sam, Charlie. I wanted a name that would fit on my skin, in my culture. I also named the facility, the Varuna, after a Hindu god of the ocean and the underwater realm. There are enough allusions to Greek and Roman gods in literature.

This is the first piece of science fiction I have written in nearly a year. In it I got to explore marine biology in a way that welcomed my body’s limitations, and gave me hope that one day I could once again pursue that dream. I learned that diving can be a very fulfilling and less limiting activity for disabled people. For so long I thought the partial paralysis in my legs would keep me from ever diving. But the water is more forgiving than the land, and there are courses and equipment and companion divers to make it possible.

Writing this story gave me hope. It gave me hope that stories about people like me would be interesting and captivating. It gave me hope that there exists a future where being disabled doesn’t mean that you’re incapable.

I hope it gives you hope too.

My Body and Me: My Relationship With Food

My Body and Me: My Relationship With Food

Today I’ve been struggling a lot. My motivation is low and so is my self-esteem. And the first conversation I had for the day was about food.

There’s some background information on that last sentence which connects it to the rest.

I have an eating disorder. I doubt I’d be medically wrong if I called myself anorexic. But this isn’t something that came from body image issues. I loved my body. I don’t know who I am anymore when I look in the mirror. My clothes hang off me and I hate this shrinking skeleton I’ve become.

If I love food, and I loved my body at my biggest, why do I have an eating disorder?

Continue reading “My Body and Me: My Relationship With Food”