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?

 

Who Gets To Police Language?

Who Gets To Police Language?

I was in an uncomfortable situation a few weeks ago, and every time I think about it, all of these hurt and upset feelings come up.

I was in a group chat with my partner and his friends. This group chat is predominantly white; I was one of two people of colour in it. We were having a conversation while my partner was asleep and I mentioned I disliked someone for using the word “ratchet”. And then someone, a white person, helpfully shared this definition from Urban Dictionary.

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I’m uncomfortable. I can feel the racist undertones in the erasure of black slang and culture. I can feel the white supremacist and elitist undertones of mocking the language and vernacular of a marginalized population. But I’m in a chat with people whose only connection to me is my partner, and he’s asleep and I don’t know what the consequences of my anger would have on his friendships. I don’t want to alienate him, I just don’t think it should be left unsaid.

My compromise: “Well, it’s AAVE so none of us should use it. And she is definitely way too white to be using it.

I figured it would be subtle enough. One of them is an editor so I assume they’re familiar with the terminology since it’s used in those academic circles. And if not, the acronym has been around for years and there’s enough resources a Google search away on it for it to be effective.

Boy, did it backfire.

I was scolded for using an acronym that people in the group may not understand. I explained that it stood for African American Vernacular English. Then they proceeded to call me elitist. I countered that erasing the roots of black slang was elitist (although what I wanted to say was racist). Apparently this made me seem defensive, which seemed strange to me considering how defensive they were over not knowing something. This is also two white people who consider themselves educated and intellectuals.

At this point another of my partner’s friends, the only other non-white person in the group, and points out that they could understand my meaning just by using Google and that it would have been faster to just ask or search it than to create a big fuss.

They then proceeded to say how it wasn’t the point and how I should have just answered them or explained in the first place.

Except, I already had. I had done exactly what they were yelling at me for. There wasn’t any reason for it to have been drawn out the way it was. And it was clear I was uncomfortable in the situation. I hadn’t spoken for the majority of their scolding. I waited until my partner woke up and could discuss the situation. We agreed that if I felt uncomfortable I could just leave the group quietly. I was too tired to educate, and enough time had passed that I didn’t want him to bring it up again. I wouldn’t be comfortable in that group again. It was more important for me to be out of that space than to educate. It was enough for me to see that I wasn’t going to be respected by these individuals and I wasn’t going to be heard.

There was a clear dynamic that was playing out in this group where I was the only one who didn’t have years of intimate friendships connecting me to anyone in the conversation, and there was also a dynamic that the two people of colour weren’t allowed to express opinions or disagreement.

And what bothered me most was that they probably left that conversation smug in the belief that they were more socially conscious. But really all they had done was create an uncomfortable – if not unsafe – space for a person of colour. They created a space in which they claimed moral superiority. And then they demanded that I produce the intellectual labour, since they may not be able to figure out what is reliable information on the internet and what’s not.

This is almost funny to me, considering the individual is a university-educated editor, who when I had previously asked for advice said that I wouldn’t get work in the field without a degree and basically spouted off the advice you can get from the top search results on Google. To me that says they lack the basic critical thinking skills that are essential as an editor. Especially when they were given context clues (like bringing up that a white person, or that anyone not black, shouldn’t be using AAVE) to guide them to the correct results.

So not only were they going to define what elitism is in this conversation, but they’re also not going to put in any of the work. It shouldn’t be up to me to educate in that kind of setting. And if you want to ask, go ahead and ask politely. I’ll respond in turn. I respect questions that come from genuine places of learning.

But if you have the ability to search and you have had access to postsecondary education, maybe put in the work. Think to yourself, what is my privilege in this situation? Why do I feel that I can define how oppression works? Asking someone who has had this conversation for the umpteenth time shouldn’t be your first move.

You may not think that you have racial bias – but it’s there. It shows in your actions and in the ways you justify them. You may not consciously realize it, but you’re participating in discrimination. You are silencing us. Undermining our voices. We notice when our voices are silenced in favor of white voices. And we definitely notice your condescension.

Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity

Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity

Today I had planned to write a fun blog post about my gender. It was going to involve a photoshoot and outfit changes. I’m genderfluid, so I often find myself identifying along different parts of masculinity and femininity – often at the same time. I’ve coordinated my wardrobe, my hair, everything about how I present to allow for this constant shifting. But the more I thought about letting people in on that, the less I wanted to share.

Continue reading “Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity”

Staring Outside the Bubble: Reflections on the Orlando Shooting

I live in Toronto. Toronto has a bustling and queer community. Toronto is multi-cultural.

I live in a bubble.

Last night I went to sleep thinking about how I wish I went out to more queer events, that I was more a part of the community. Last night I wished I could just be gay instead of bisexual. Last night my biggest concern about my queerness was whether or not other queers could identify me.

I woke up today to realize how privileged I am. I feel safe shaving my head and checking out cute girls on the subway. I’m not afraid to go to LGBTQ+ events because I’m afraid of being outted or harassed, but because I’m worried no one will flirt with me.

With guilt, I find myself wishing I could go back to feeling that. I also find myself guilty knowing that eventually I will, because I live in this safe and happy bubble. I have a Facebook feed that is decrying islamophobia right along with homophobia. I’ve cultivated a very safe community. I’ve surrounded myself by people who will stick up for me when I can’t handle it on my own, even if they barely know me.

As I type this my heart is hurting for all the people that do not have what I have. I left my house today, and I was safe, and there are places in this country where that isn’t true. And I hate it and it hurts and I can’t change it.

I don’t mean to say Toronto isn’t perfect. It’s not the safest place on Earth, but in all my years of living in and around Toronto I’ve never been called a Paki or a terrorist for being brown. The majority of the people around me know there’s a difference between Muslim and Hindu cultures. But there are people who won’t like me, and I get dirty looks just getting on the streetcar, and there are people in my own city who are going to suffer more for this than I am.

I know as I walk down the street that I’m not being called a terrorist as I’m conforming to the whitest counter-culture trends. I don’t have to plan my day around when and where I’ll be able to pray. My grandparents all converted to Christianity so even if I wanted to display some aspect of my cultural background, it’s not going to be in religious traditions.

Today is a heavy day for me. Today I’m reminded where the anger and the rage comes from. Today I’m reminded why I need intersectionality to keep me safe. Today I remember that I live in a bubble, and it can so very easily burst.

Intro to Intersectionality

There is a lot of tension between some activist groups because they don’t believe that they are working together, but against each other’s goals. It’s like it’s some kind of game where each person they convert can only have one strong cause and they’re trying to take over the whole board.

What they don’t realize is that one oppression isn’t the supreme suffering that takes precedent over the other. These different differences and struggles overlap and interplay all the time. Many activist groups are trying to remember this idea and the concept was coined intersectionality.

So What Does That Mean?

Well you know how there are a lot of –isms out there? Like racism, sexism, ableism, I don’t really think I need to continue. Well unfortunately, those –isms are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone out there identifies with marginalized group, that doesn’t mean they are not part of another marginalized group.

This is important to remember if you’re going to speak up for a large group of people. Just because they identify with your cause, doesn’t mean they are not affected by another. For example, if speaking up for all women, you can’t forget that among that group are women of colour, women with disabilities, queer women. Their lived experiences may be different because of their other identities.

You can find examples of it everywhere. In the body positivity movement; in the kink community; within animal rights movements, pretty much everywhere. We are becoming more aware that there are marginalized groups within marginalized groups. It’s like a meta-oppression.

It’s not that one oppression is greater than another. That’d be like comparing the issues between a white man with a disability and a straight woman of colour. Trying to compare them is futile because the experiences are just different. They are affected in different ways, that you can’t imagine unless you’ve lived it before.

Why Does It Matter?

We can try to pretend that these oppressive power structures don’t overlap and feed into each other, but then we would be losing powerful weapons and allies in the process. By working hard to be inclusive in our movements, we need to understand that by speaking over top those other lived experiences, you are shutting entire groups out of your movement.

How good is a movement about equality if it’s exclusive?

Marginalized groups within marginalized groups often face elevated rates of violence and harassment, often inside their own movement. If you are not prioritizing marginalized voices from the beginning, what happens is when one of them does speak up, they are spoken over and dismissed.

Women of colour often have a difficult time finding feminist spaces they feel comfortable in because when they speak up about their own history, if it doesn’t speak to the white experience they are often questioned, dismissed or harassed until they eventually leave the space.

If you’re not preventing this to happen within your movement in the first place, you’re not helping your movement move forward. You have to raise up even the most silenced voices in the movement, and amplify it when no one else is listening.

How Can You Put It Into Practice?

If you want to put intersectionality into action, the word ally becomes very important. It’s important to know how to be an ally if you want to open up your movement to be more inclusive.

Francesca Leigh put together an awesome video that really gets to the heart of what it means to be an ally:

 

My Talent is a Privilege

I had originally intended my first blog post to be more jovial, however sometimes you have to address a certain issue while the fire is still burning. I think there is a moment in time for every activist where their eyes widen and they suddenly realize they have been carting along some privilege they weren’t aware of.

I had this moment today.

The Realization

I found myself completely enveloped in an online argument. I spent all day is a whirl of comments and replies. Terms like privilege, racism, and tone policing were debated and discussed. There seemed to be an insurmountable resistance between arguments.

I was poised above my keyboard like a snake ready to strike when someone finally said, “You’re the first person who ever explained that to me in a way that made sense.”

I paused. I hadn’t said anything new. I thought I had just been echoing sentiments so many people had already described.

It then occurred to me: I knew I always had privilege as someone with a formal education, yet I didn’t realize that I had also been holding the privilege as someone who has been immersed in communication theories. Writing came before my activism.

Unpacking Privilege

So now I know that I have privilege, where do I go from here?

I have to understand my privilege and really explore what it means to have privilege. This privilege comes from how my brain works, how I take in information and how I can combine information from different mediums to address specific concerns. This is not easy for everyone.

Learning disabilities can affect a person’s ability to comprehend written, auditory or visual information.  Because I have the ability to understand information from written, oral, and visual sources, I have an advantage. I also have an advantage because I am able to articulate that information in my first language.

It’s not enough to know where my privilege comes from, it’s more important to know how I benefit from it. By being able to use language to frame my arguments in an approachable and authoritative manner, I could end up becoming the megaphone in an argument.

If I represent myself as an articulate and educated person through my work, my stance on a matter might be taken more seriously than through those who may not express their ideas with grammar and tone at the forefront of their minds.

Using Privilege

So I understand what my privilege is and how I benefit from it. Do I now give up my writing to avoid becoming a figurehead of movements I don’t belong to?

Not quite. I need to pay attention to how much space I take up and whether my experiences take priority. I need to know when to take a step back and allow others to speak up in their own way and not talk over them. I need to know when I am clarifying a point and when I’m taking credit for a point.

Just because I can offer information in digestible forms, doesn’t mean I should be the one to do it. I need to know the difference between offering my help to amplify and prioritize marginalized voices, and offering my services to serve my own agenda.

I need to use my privilege as a support for the movements I follow, not as a spokesperson or an expert.