The #MeToo stories have come like a flood, like a Tsunami. My Face Book feed is overflowing with them. It seems nearly every woman I know there (and her friends, and her friends’ friends) has one. Some are brief, even just the hash tag with no detail, and some are long lists of many instances, starting as an early age. In that latter category, something stands out to me. It is how often there comes a point after repeated abuse and assault, at which the person (its not limited to just women) describes no longer seeing “No” as an option in any sexual situation, having learned that their needs, wishes, desires, and will are not relevant, that it is their place only to comply with whatever is suggested to them, asked or demanded of them, even in situations where that may not necessarily the case.
Noticing this, I have been stirred to review my own history with women and ask: Could it have been that in any of those encounters and relationships (not a very large number really) that what I took for free and unconstrained consent was actually that sort of compliance? Did she say “Yes” or did she only not say “No”? In most cases as I remember them, the enthusiasm for the project expressed by the other person seems to mean the “yes” was real, that they were not just going along. I can’t, now, think of any about which I’m in significant doubt. Still, the possibility bothers me and I can’t ask. I only have any contact now with one former partner, and she was abundantly clear in communicating what she wanted, when, where, and how (and, being one of the first, helped show me the advantages of an enthusiastic partner). Of the rest, I know at least three have passed beyond asking, and I’ve long since lost track of where the others are and what they are doing. So, I don’t expect I’ll ever know for sure.
What can I take away from this? The only way to know is to know the other person’s story. If it is a #MeToo kind of story, to be present for it, to listen, to ask how to help, to advocate, and to care. And, if need be, to be patient with the healing process.
I wrote what’s above last night. This morning I find I have two incidents I do wonder about in this context, realizing I don’t know what was really happening and why those two women in those situations did what they did. Here, I find I don’t want to go into intimate detail. It seems not the place for that. Suffice it to say it involved oral stimulation that I did not request, demand, or expect. In one instance as a substitute for penetrative activity, and in the other as (functionally unnecessary) foreplay. I realize, as I did not then, that I don’t know if they or either of them did that impulsively, or because they enjoyed it, or because they thought it was somehow required of them whether or not they liked it. Those unanswered questions will almost certainly remain so, and remind me that without knowing the stories, I can’t just assume. My truth is that I don’t want, and never have wanted, someone to do anything sexual with me that she doesn’t freely want to do, or allow me to do anything she doesn’t want done, and I don’t like being in any doubt of that in the present or the past.
Often, people don’t want to discuss their previous experiences with a new partner, or to hear about the other person’s. That seems to be true regardless of whether those experiences were good or bad. We like, it seems, to imagine that we can come to a new relationship as a clean slate and that love will make everything happen as it should, but, we are our stories. For good or ill, we bring with us our learned and accumulated expectations, our maps of how it is supposed to work, our desires and predilections, our established habits, our hopes of what we want to gain and what to avoid. This is true of the abused and the un-abused, the abuser and the non-abuser, the predator and the cooperator.
The #MeToo stories matter at every level, from the most intimate and personal, to the macro social and political. Yes, they can be uncomfortable, even triggering, but that really is the point beyond the individual release and possibility of healing by telling them. As a society, a community, we need that discomfort and those wacks up side of the head and heart to think this stuff through, to feel the meaning, and to make change.