Recently there’s been a great amount of courage from women with #MeToo. I imagine hundreds of thousands of men rolling their eyes, dismissing, avoiding, and in fear of being called out about this. I choose to face it. I appreciate what women are doing and I encourage more to come out as I expect at least 9 out of 10 women to have been sexually harassed in their lifetime. Likewise, I encourage men to minimally acknowledge the unsafe world that women live in and how we and the cultures we rule make it that way.
Part of my empathy comes from my very own behaviors contributing to this culture. For me, I’ve seen personally what young boys can do to little boys, what little boys will try with little girls, and how young boys can violate young girls. I have no doubt what those young boys are capable of when they grow up to be big boys and grown men. They genuinely need healing and I believe that healing begins with acknowledging how we’ve violated women in big and small ways that they themselves can work through their pain and anger and grief to move forward whole. I was a perpetrator of sexual assault.
I grew up in housing projects in Columbia, SC. Youngest of three children (maternal)- brother four years older and sister five years older. When I was in elementary school somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, there was a morning we were out of school but I’m pretty sure it was during the school year. A neighbor who was close to the family and around the age of my brother and sister invited me to come play video games. We were poor, didn’t have a video game set, and I liked playing. I was glad to go play. He let me play and he played the video game as well. Then there was touching and he said that if I wanted to play more I had to stroke his penis. He pulled his penis out and said I had to touch it since I already played his video game and he didn’t have to let me do that. He kept prodding and suggested I couldn’t leave without touching it. I did. His demands continued from touching him, to him touching me, to me giving oral, to him penetrating me. I didn’t want any of this and deserve any of this. I left lost and confused and hurt and afraid. I expected my family to not believe me or blame me or for him beat me up or for everyone in the projects to know or whatever goes through a child’s head whose been molested.
This happened again. Except this time, it was a weekend morning and my mom told me to go to their house to get some clothes that they were gonna pass down to me. Although we all lived in the projects, compared to us (my family) that family was well off and they regularly passed down clothes to us. I went there and the mom wasn’t there and I ended up waiting in his room to try on clothes. I wanted to throw up from the smell of the apartment. He told me to wait there and play video games. Then it all played out again. When I left there was a box of clothes for me to take home. Sometime later I would hear some of my friends joking about who got “pumped in the butt.” They joked about “fags” and laughed about knowing that it had happened to each other and denied that it had happened to them in a “I can’t admit that this happened to me” kind of way. I knew I wasn’t the only one he did this to.
Something happens every three to five years that brings this back to mind… Catholic priests, Penn State football coach, something in the news… And I watch how the victims are further questioned, slandered, and blamed for how they handled being a victim in these situations. After wondering about the facts of the case I then find myself stuck in empathy for their situation based on my own personal ordeal which I’ve still not had the courage to confront the accuser and share broadly without personal shame. I know far more women deal with this than men and I smelled the apartment.
Not long after this time or even during, we young boys were infatuated with “hide and go get it” in the evenings with the young girls. Being gay was considered somewhere between wrong and strange to hellish and disgusting. I knew I wasn’t gay but this violation of my body seemed to suggest that I was. So, it was my duty to prove otherwise by engaging with every female possible. I remember thinking that if somehow, I could dry hump enough girls that I could maybe eliminate the harm and disgust acted on my own body and soul. But it didn’t go away and I didn’t stop. I maintained a high compulsion for sexual indulgence with females in hopes of getting the feel, smell, and displeasure out of me. And instead of having an avenue to come forward to deal with my own pains I simply shared my pain with these girls through my actions and pressure on them. I could still smell the apartment.
Awful choices shifted my approach on my behavior and made me think more about my actions but never really equipped me to get to the core of why I was doing what I was doing. The first reality check came a few years later when family was visiting from out of town. An older cousin was sleeping in a room and I attempted to pull her panties down slowly. She adjusted and moved as I violated her. After several tugs, attempts, and failures I stopped and let her be. I awoke to seeing her, not knowing if her movement was out of awareness from being awake and knowing what I was disgustingly doing or just regularly movement when feeling things when sleep but no consciousness of what was felt. I was disgusted with myself because this was family and our family was close. I always struggled to get below the surface in conversations with this cousin. She’s an amazing and beautiful woman and until this letter I never admitted my action to violate her. Just buried it.
My next awful choice came one evening when I was around 12 years old. I decided that I needed sex from an ex-girlfriend which whom I had been previously sexually active. I waited until I knew her parents weren’t home. Proceeded to climb to their upstairs apartment leveraging an electricity tank, utility meters, and pulling myself up a balcony by the railings. From the balcony I snuck in a backdoor and made my way to her room and sought sex. I remember screaming and there was a struggle and I ran and escaped the same way I entered. The police were called and there was lots of chatter in the neighborhood. I don’t recall anyone ever naming me specifically but I’m pretty certain she knew it was me. But nothing was spoken of it that I remember. Though I never faced the law for this, I learned a lesson to never assume someone else will want sex when I wanted and to never use force or deception of any type. Most disgusting was I was essentially behaving like the violation that occurred to me. And I could smell the apartment.
From then on sex was always consensual. But I still couldn’t get rid of the abuse that happened to me and I couldn’t talk about it for the fear of being considered gay. None of this changed me knowing and the feeling that I needed to make sure I consistently prove I wasn’t gay by having sex with women. So, I learned to charm the girls or as we’d say in the ‘hood, I developed “mad game.” But I was wary of using my game much throughout middle school and high school as sports, school, and jobs kept me busy. And the desire to be in a relationship with a girl often got in the way of being with as many girls as possible unless the assumption of monogamy was ignored. And I learned to ignore it well as I smelled the apartment.
I became that thief who made girls die inside, lose their breath, and stole hearts but couldn’t be arrested as Lauryn Hill sung about in “Manifest.” I learned to get the girl, cheat on her, move to the next, and repeat. No one could call the cops and I couldn’t be arrested. This lead to children out of wedlock and even contributed to an episode where I was once falsely accused of domestic violence which lead to an evening in jail for something I didn’t do. But it was probably karma considering my crimes of the soul. I’d pay the cost of divorce, loneliness, child support, and having lots of kids without both parents on a daily basis. And I could still smell the apartment.
Thanks to my own evolution, maturity, and exposure to gays and lesbians, I’d also get over my outward fear of being gay which drove much of my behavior. Equally important was to forgive myself and that young boy who violated me. I was angry at the injustice of what happened to me and that it emanated from him, but I also realize there’s an unearthly amount of inner pain, despair, and hurt for a child to impart such actions on other children. I’ve grieved for how that changed me, hurt me, and the man and husband I imagine I would’ve been were it not for this in my life and I’ve learned to love every bit of who I am despite what I’ve experienced and done as a result of this. Most importantly, I owe my own progress to lots of counseling which is often rejected by men of all ages. And I thoroughly expect the voice of a counselor to be a norm throughout my life.
As women bravely face their realities via #MeToo and so many other means, it’s easy for me or other men to play victim or rebel in silence. This story isn’t about the hell that happened to me and its effects on me. The focus should be on how the failure to talk about and heal from my hell became a hell for many women as I smelled that apartment. All too often our society (men and women) abandon those women and remove their voice which ultimately denies their healing. I choose to be a safe place for those women. I apologize for how I’ve contributed.