[Content Note: Descriptions of sexual assault; rape culture.]
It was one of the best moments of my 15-year-old life. The boy on whom I had a crush had noticed me. Really
noticed me. We had spoken before, but only because we were both on the school newspaper, so he had to talk to me. But now, at an overnight party thrown every year by one of our teachers, he was lying beside me in a dimly lit room, both of us under a brown plaid blanket, facing each other, deeply immersed in what felt like a profound conversation about astral projection.
I felt as though I were wrapped in electricity. He had finally seen me and was listening to me, this brooding boy with his dark clothes and his black eyeliner and his philosophy books. I was lost as much in his green eyes as I was in our conversation.
And then, as I was talking, I felt him take my hand. To a dorky, earnest girl like me, I thought it was the most romantic thing ever to lie in the dark and hold hands while having a serious conversation.
But he didn't want to hold my hand. He wanted to put my hand on his hard dick.
I stopped mid-sentence. He told me to go on, but the panic that seized me had stolen my voice altogether. I was frozen, but he didn't care. His hand firmly placed on top of mine, he manipulated my hand to rub himself. I pinched my eyes shut and turned my head away from him, and, with just that small movement, I became unstuck.
I pulled my hand away and told him I needed to go find my friend. He emitted a great, heaving sigh and looked at me with disgust. Or maybe just disappointment. What I remember more is the sound of that sigh, and how it conveyed so clearly that he was annoyed with my noncompliance. That I had wasted his time.
Later, I would date a friend of his, to whom he introduced me. That boy would rape me.
* * *
I haven't thought about that night under that blanket for a very long time, but it came back to me as I read the account of Grace
, a young woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari and spent a harrowing few hours being pursued and coerced and assaulted by him.
There are already a number of reprehensible thinkpieces in response to Grace's account, to which I won't be linking, and an outpouring of rape apologia and victim-blaming, predominantly along the lines of demanding to know why Grace didn't leave — despite the fact that she did,
and, if she hadn't, the story almost certainly would have ended much differently — and/or mischaracterizing the events she details as "a bad date" or "a date gone wrong" or some other equally minimizing euphemism that makes it sound like Ansari spilled soup in her lap.
Suffice it to say, I find the (entirely unsurprising yet thoroughly enraging) defense of Ansari cruel and unwarranted. Many of these defenses don't even bother disputing the details; instead, the defenders simply say that they don't constitute anything worth a public accounting.
That apologia, however, necessitates ignoring one significant detail
that reveals what's described isn't just "a misunderstanding." It's here, in the juxtaposition of these two moments:
Grace says she spent around five minutes in the bathroom, collecting herself in the mirror and splashing herself with water. Then she went back to Ansari. He asked her if she was okay. "I said I don't want to feel forced because then I'll hate you, and I'd rather not hate you," she said.
Ansari instructed her to turn around. "He sat back and pointed to his penis and motioned for me to go down on him. And I did. I think I just felt really pressured. It was literally the most unexpected thing I thought would happen at that moment because I told him I was uncomfortable."
Soon, he pulled her back up onto the couch. She would tell her friend via text later that night, "He [made out] with me again and says, 'Doesn't look like you hate me.'"
When I read Grace's story, I remembered all the calculations I had to make in a moment, when a person I liked did something I hated, and how difficult they were to process as my brain was overwhelmed with vibrating alarm: Do I want this? No. Can I stop it? Yes. Can I stop it safely? Not sure. What should I do? Don't know. Do I still want him to like me? Yes. No. I don't know. Can I move? No. Maybe. Is he going to get mad at me? Probably. Is he going to hurt me? I don't think so. Not here.
I was 15, and I already knew deep in my bones that women who disappoint men are at risk of being harmed.
It wasn't until many years later that I considered how much he
had disappointed me.
And it took much longer still to believe that my disappointment mattered.
I don't know if, among the many things she is feeling and has felt, Grace feels disappointed. If she does, I hope she feels like that disappointment matters. It certainly matters to me.
I am disappointed, too.
* * *
I published that tweet in May, after I watched the second season of Ansari's critically acclaimed show Master of None,
for which he just won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Series (Musical or Comedy).
I'm disappointed that I even have to have
a Please Don't Turn Out to Be a Fucking Creeper list, and I am disappointed that Aziz Ansari is just one of many men who have been on it, only for me to find out that they are terrible to women.
They are men who explicitly invited my trust, who often said the right words about seeing women as fully human, and who leveraged the trust those words engendered, my trust and the trust of many others, in order to hurt women.
They are politicians — John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner. They are entertainers — Aziz Ansari, James Franco, Louis CK. They are members of the media, and professional athletes, and writers, and chefs, and "woke celebrities" of every iteration. They are men who are "internet famous," or men who aren't famous at all — the men who insinuate themselves
as The Good Stepfather, The Caring Priest, The Cool Teacher, The Male Feminist, someone who cares, someone who is special,
and who use the good faith they've been afforded to make their victims doubt themselves when they inevitably abuse them, and then exploit that carefully cultivated doubt to protect themselves from accountability.
I am disappointed — and very, very angry — that so many men have appealed to my trust in order to harm other women.
Aziz Ansari let me down, like so many other men before him, by betraying my trust. And he broke my fucking heart by using my fondness for his work, for the feminist words he said,
to protect himself from having to live up to the expectations he invited me to have.
I am tired of men making me an accomplice in their abuse, because I trusted them.
* * *
It is horrendous when a man I don't even know breaks every boundary of basic decency
to sexually assault me. But mostly the men who have abused me, and scared me, have been men whom I trusted
— men who leveraged my trust in order to
And that is even worse.
Between the men who have personally harmed me, and the men who have made me an unwitting accomplice in their harm of other women, I am profoundly reluctant to trust men at all.
I have had my trust in men exploited for harm too many times.
I have encountered too many men who insist that they are Good Guys, or who implore me to believe that they are by the things they say from their very visible platforms, who are not Good Guys at all, but men who betray my trust and and break my heart.
Even, and perhaps especially, the men who most loudly insist that they are Good Guys prove quickly and unmistakably that they are not, if expected to actually behave like a guy who is good.
And yet. If I say that I cannot trust men, easily or at all, I am immediately deluged with men (and not a few women) who demand to know why I hate men, who tell me that I'm the problem, who accuse me of misandry, who call me a cunt.
It is always on me to keep trusting men, and never on men to make themselves trustworthy.
* * *
I don't want
to not trust men. To the absolute contrary, not trusting people forces me to act in opposition to my nature. I am constitutionally trusting, and I am a person who wants very much to like
It does not come easily to me to not
trust men. Even after 43 years on this rock filled with disincentives, my trusting nature overpowers all the very rational reasons I have to withhold my trust.
But I cannot do it. I won't. Because I am exhausted from being hurt, and because I see clearly how my trust is misused to access other trusting women and hurt them.
"Good Guys" have disappointed me into chronic distrust.
I can imagine that makes some men very angry. Oh well. Imagine how it makes me feel that constant betrayals of my trust obliges me to behave in a way that is contrary to my nature; turns me into someone I am not naturally and don't want to be; requires energy I can ill afford to expend.
Trust that I don't want to be a person who reads an interview or hears a song lyric or watches a film or reads a book, and finds something valuable, and decides to keep it to myself, because I can't be sure that my public fandom of a man won't be exploited by that man; because I can't be sure he isn't an abuser who will trade on his celebrity to hurt women.
That is not the person I want to be. But it is the person I have become.
And if any man feels affronted by that, they can take it up with the men who have made it impossible for me to be any other way.