*Note: This article may contain trigger warnings, so please read with caution. Any names that have * next to them imply a false name in order to protect the identity of the individual mentioned.
I thought I could stick out four years of this, and I thought things might get better. But, everyday I am somehow able to be shocked more and more by his actions and his words. The phrase “you only really care when it happens to you” has never been so true to me until this point in time. I care about helping women, I care about representation of all peoples, I care about justice for all religions, races, and cultures. It truly bothered me when people of a specific religion were banned from coming into our country; it bothered me when people of a certain ethnicity were labeled as rapists, when in fact they were not; it bothered me when he admitted to grabbing women by the pussy, yet received no consequences and was later elected as President of the United States.
What really, really bothers me though, is the most recent act of bullshittery going on in the White House. On October 16th 2017, there was a social media movement where sexual assault survivors would use the hashtag #MeToo. Obviously, it isn’t going to change bills overnight, but it does show just how many people have been sexually assaulted. Not even 24 hours later, a tweet circulating social media around 8:15AM saying how these stories were “totally phoney, 100% made up by women (many already proven false) and pushed big time by press.” Not to be dramatic or anything, but my jaw dropped and I started shaking from anger. Now, I’m not usually the victim of sexism and racism, probably due to my white privilege and people not knowing I’m both Latina and Jewish (unless I told them). But, once I told people, I noticed I was treated a little differently. I remember in elementary school, someone made a joke to me:
“Why do Jews love baking cookies so much?”
“Because they love getting pushed inside ovens!”
My eight year old self didn’t really understand the joke, but I knew it wasn’t a nice one. I told my mom about it when she picked me up from school that day, and the next thing I knew, that girl who told me the joke was in a lot of trouble. Fast forward to middle school, where literally every student was either Italian or Irish, and I was made fun of for being Latina. I was very enthusiastic in my Spanish class, always raising my hand, always wanting to read out loud, and always knowing the answer (muchísimas gracias para enséñame, Abuela). At lunch one day, these girls all stood up and shouted at me:
“HOOOLIAAAA GO BACK TO CUBA, YOU COMMUNIST!”
I cried on the bus ride home and never raised my hand in class ever again. Fast forward again to my days in college, and it’s an entirely different response to my cultures. Sometimes people will say “Oh wow, you’re so lucky you’re Jewish because Chanukah -am I saying that correctly?- is like a really long Christmas, right?” If I’m at a party, a guy will start talking to me, find out I’m Latina, and then think it’s acceptable to start calling me “mamí,” and tell me “I always knew you were Spanish because of that gorgeous ass of yours.” Cue eye-roll. Even though it bothers me, I manage to play it off. I downplay what I’ve been dealing with because I feel like what I go through isn’t “bad enough.” But I do know that people of color and people with different faiths are facing huge injustices, so I stand by them and empathize with them when I can.
As a woman, there are even more instances than I can count for when my sex was used against me. Hence why I had such a visceral response to that awful tweet in response to #MeToo. I’ve lost elections for positions in student government to incredibly underqualified boys (I mean seriously, this kid won the secretary position yet couldn’t even spell the word); I’ve had immense pressure to do my makeup perfectly and straighten -aka fry- my hair in order to get a job at my local shoe store because the manager “only hires pretty girls,” even though I couldn’t stand liquid eyeliner and loved my curly hair; I’ve been told by guys that I’m pretty good at tennis “for a girl,” while I held an undefeated title at first doubles since I was thirteen. It’s kind of wild to think that these were just silly things in the grand spectrum of my life as a woman.
In eighth grade, waiting at the bus stop before school, there was a group of students, lots of guys, a few girls, but nothing crazy. The boys were always doing something stupid like running into the middle of the street, playing makeshift hockey on the icy corners of the sidewalk, or seeing who could make the weirdest noise with their mouths. As the girls, our job was to roll our eyes but laugh along with them, because it made us cool. One frosty morning, this boy named *Tony had been particularly annoying. He was always getting in trouble at school or getting yelled at by the bus driver to sit down or cursing or making sexual references to things. Everyone just considered him the bad-boy class clown, but I always thought of him as a pain in the butt idiot. Anyway, Tony was seriously bothering us girls, talking about his testicles. The other girls followed the unofficial rules to just laugh along with him, but I was getting grossed out. I really did not want to hear about his testicles. So I told him that. He did not take it well, and proceeded to drop his pants, pull out said testicles, and start chasing me around. Now everyone, including the boys, were laughing at my expense. I was sufficiently embarrassed, and told my mom about it later when I got home.
Next thing I know, my mom was making phone calls to the school. She got him suspended for a week and prohibited from riding the bus. The following morning at the bus stop, I was receiving cold glares from all the boys, and some girls, who were supposed to be my best friends. They were mad at me for getting the “funniest guy ever” in so much trouble, and I was a “stuck up, prissy buzzkill.” This baffled me because who seriously wanted to see Tony’s wrinkly little balls? From that point forward, I started keeping things secret from my mom, because obviously, telling her was ruining my friendships.
Later on in college, I’d be subject to more intense forms of sexual harassment. The first party I ever went to was at Temple University in some basement. I went with my roommate and some other random people I didn’t really know, but it didn’t matter because it made the Uber ride cheaper. I had maybe one cup of beer from the keg, but I wasn’t really drinking it because it tasted like cheap urine. I was dancing with my roommate when a body came up behind me and started pulling me towards them and walked us backwards to a wall. My roommate cheered me on because I “got a guy,” and so I went along with it because it seemed like the right thing to do. Then he became a little more aggressive, grabbing my hips and trying to turn me around. I looked over at my roommate, panicking because I didn’t know what was going on. She came over and whisper-shouted in my ear that he was trying to make-out with me. I was appalled. I didn’t know this guy! What if he had herpes? What if he drugs me? Or worse, what if I was a bad kisser?! I ended up just walking away from him totally grossed out about his intentions.
As I started going to more parties, I realized this was a regular, normal thing that happened. Except, when there were more people at parties, guys would get more comfortable with touching me. “Just passing through, excuse me,” they’d say, while sneaking in a quick ass grab, or stroking the small of my back. Sometimes they’d even go as far to grab my breasts for a fleeting moment. Eventually, it was just something I’d get used to, and brush off as nothing. Plus, even if I wanted to report this stuff, it would be moot. There were just so many guys, it was dark in the basements or apartments, and they were so quick about it that I wouldn’t even be able to point out who did it. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about how these moments contributed to my sexual assault/harassment history until recently. I don’t even think I considered these instances to be sexual assaults.
I’ve been able to brush these moments off for years, except for one. One thing that happened to me was probably one of the top 5 worst moments of my life. It happened the summer I turned 21. I was single, ready to go on dates, maybe find a boyfriend, who knows. I matched with some guy on some dating website, thinking he was cute. He was charming, funny, sweet, and my mom would’ve probably loved him because he was Jewish. We agreed to go on a date, just grab some drinks and get to know each other. I drove to his house, and he drove from there to the bar. Made sense in my head.
We both ordered glasses of wine and talked for a little bit. I could tell already that I didn’t like him: he corrected the way I pronounced “Moschino,” told me he didn’t support Black Lives Matter, but rather All Lives Matter -but don’t worry, he’s a feminist!- and he kept ordering me more and more glasses of wine, but jokingly called me an alcoholic, which wasn’t really all that hilarious considering alcoholism runs in my family. I felt obliged to keep drinking the glasses of wine he bought for me, because he was paying for them, and because I was feeling awkward. When we got up, I realized I was definitely not sober, and wouldn’t be able to drive home. He suggested I watch some TV for a little bit to sober up before I went home. I agreed.
We were in his room, on his bed, watching John Oliver, when he reached over and started kissing me. I thought, well, I guess I know where this is heading, even though I really didn’t want it to happen. Long story short, he was so rough with my body, tossing me around like I was some rag doll, making me cry out from the pain. I remember being coiled up, weeping to myself, him stupidly asking me if I wanted to keep having sex. I quickly put my clothes back on, grabbed my keys, and promptly walked out of his house and into my car. Before I left, he came out and told me to text him the next day. I blocked his number before sobbing the entire drive home.
The next morning, I woke up sore everywhere. It hurt to sit, stand, walk, bend down, everything. I cried the whole day, save for when I had work later that afternoon. My best friend was the only one who knew what happened. I didn’t want to talk about it because it made everything so real. A few days later, when I was learning how to brush it off like every other offense that’s been done to me, I noticed big yellow bruises all over my breasts, in the shape of fingers. Back to square one, and I was crying again. My mom noticed I was depressed, and asked me if I was okay. I pretended that I was tired from studying for my GRE. How could I have let this happen to me? I’ve had casual sex before, I should be fine. The problem was that there was literally no consent. I couldn’t consent because I wasn’t sober, and even if I was, I did not want to have sex with this man. He touched me without my permission, invaded my body, stripped me of all I had.
I was afraid to post #MeToo on social media because I didn’t want my family to find out that I had been assaulted. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of what happened. I could only imagine what my mom would think. Would she blame me, or him? Would she tell me I should’ve done something else to prevent it from happening? Would she open up a sexual assault case with the police, and get this guy jail time? I don’t know. I didn’t want to find out, either. I also didn’t feel like my case was as bad as others. There comes my “not bad enough” gene again. So I elected to not use the hashtag, but continue to support people who had. But then I saw the tweet.
I read it, screenshotted it, and cried. I cried out of remembrance for the physical and emotional pain I endured, I cried out of anger that he could tweet something as vile as he did, cried because he raped people himself, and cried that people really supported this monster. I’ve never reacted so emotionally to something he’s said or done, but circling back to the “you never know until it happens to you” phrase, what he said was atrocious. No one really understands what it’s like to be hurt in such an intimate way, unless it has happened to them. I am one of those people. I hate that it had to happen to me in order for me to give my 100% support to women instead of the 99.9% I had before. I don’t want this to ever happen to anyone. For the President of the United States to say that I am lying about my story is so utterly damaging and repugnant, it’s a no-brainer why people don’t come forward about their stories. Dammit I’m mad at you Donald Trump, for continuing to be a sexual predator, and for attempting to invalidate the stories of sexual assault survivors.