When I was 19 I was travelling solo in India, and I met a guy who worked at a restaurant in this little jungle beach town called Vagator. He was the only white guy who worked there, about twice my age. Over the course of a few days he paid for touristy things for me, which I was grateful for, and then one night he provided me with alcohol all night which I served myself until I was almost falling over. Then I accepted his offer to sleep at the restaurant with the staff instead of walking back to where I was staying.
In India it's normal for people to sleep on the floor in one room, and I'd done this before. So lying down next to him and about six other people who were already asleep isn't the weirdest part of the story. But what happened next was the most random, out-of-the-blue thing that had ever happened to me. He removed some of my clothes and started arousing me, without asking. I was barely conscious, but I woke up enough to get up and leave. He didn't try to stop me.
I've been watching this national discussion about sex assault, how it's reported, the reasons it goes unreported, and how we judge women who bring public accusations. Most of the people who endure this kind of assault are women, and most of the work in gender theory has gone into understanding how women are oppressed in patriarchies.
But I like feminism because it's kind of like crypto-zoology: you could be looking for something that may be trying not to be found, if it exists at all. Part of the research is seeking to uncover hidden experiences of sex-based suffering in places you wouldn't expect to find them. I'm a straight, white, English-speaking guy, so I have all the privilege and advantage there is to have. And it happened to me anyways.
Men have a different set of cultural expectations that keep us quiet about this. Women are burdened with stigmas around sexual purity, desire, and family honour that men aren't. But I was socialized to believe that men can't be victims, mostly from entertainment, and that's the main reason I didn't report it; I didn't believe I'd been assaulted. I wasn't traumatized, I wasn't injured, and I went back to the restaurant the next day to meet some people, knowing he'd be there, not really worried about it. He just looked embarrassed and shy, and I thought maybe I'd been giving him signals I wasn't aware of, and it was just an honest misunderstanding. I felt that no great transgression had happened. Ironically, it's the bad assumption that men can't be victims that protected me from feeling any real shame or guilt at the time.
And I didn't tell anybody about it for eight years because it was just a non-issue. It came out pretty much as an afterthought in a conversation with a woman I trust, and she had to convince me that I was assaulted by showing me the legal definition of it, because I was plainly disagreeing with her.
Then I shared it with a female friend who had been drugged at a bar before, and so many of the details of her story were the same, down to the guy acting sheepish about it the next day, that I understood for the first time that it wasn't a misunderstanding. I understood that I was targeted by a predator who spent days grooming me for an assault. It was probably one of the most dangerous situations I've ever been in. I was really just lucky I wasn't harmed more.
I'm fine, but I can only speak for myself. If I had any shame about it I wouldn't be writing this. And I don't think I'm personally courageous for sharing this publicly. Courage is when you're afraid of something and you do it anyways. I'm not afraid of the consequences of writing this because it happened a decade ago on the other side of the planet.
Listening to the stories of women who have recently come forward with allegations, I completely understand the thinking they used to decide not to report their assault. But they are judged differently than how I would be judged. Let me show you what I'm talking about by applying some common statements I'm seeing made of the women to my story, to see how they sound:
"If it was really assault, he would have said something at the time."
"if it was really assault, he would have some injury."
"if it was really assault, the guy would have tried to stop you from leaving."
"if it was really assault, you wouldn't have gone back to the restaurant again."
When it's me, a straight guy, and the assault was outside of my sex orientation, these statements are ridiculous. The majority of people will have no doubt that I didn't consent, probably in large part because of widespread cultural homophobia.
But when a woman is assaulted within the bounds of society's most acceptable form of relationship, male-dominated heterosexual couples, we somehow feel like these assumptions are valid. I'm telling you they're not.
I don't think my experience was worse because it was outside of my sexual orientation. What I share with these women are the feelings of complete surprise, of confusion, and of doubt. My feelings and thinking are almost indistinguishable from theirs. These judgements we make of women have no bearing on whether consent was given or not. Even though women and children bear the greatest amount of this abuse, it's a universal kind of abuse that can happen to anybody. If you wouldn't judge me this way, then don't judge women like this either.
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