Aziz Ansari, and many other men

I know I’m not the only woman who’s been reliving unpleasant memories ever since Babe’s story about Aziz Ansari surfaced. At first, I honestly just felt shocked at the level of detail. I was having flashbacks to being raped because of the sexual descriptions in the article. I wasn’t the only one; the support group I started was overrun with pending posts about the article and how upsetting it was to read.

Next, the comments started overwhelming my feed on nearly every form of social media. “This is stupid”. “She could’ve just left”. “This is disrespectful to REAL victims of sexual assault”. “She should’ve said ‘no’ more”. “What was he gonna do, hit her?”

Uh yeah, actually, maybe. My mind immediately flashed back to an incident where I had given a firm “no”  when a male friend told me he wanted to have sex with me, and promptly got a black eye. I thought about the boyfriend when I was young who had grabbed me by the hair and tried to force me to give him a blowjob. I thought of a boyfriend who would insist “just give me 5 more minutes” when I would start protesting. I remembered the time I just laid there, frozen, while a guy I had agreed to go on a date with (but didn’t agree for him to bring me back to his house alone) had kissed me and felt around my body; I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. I just was hoping that he wouldn’t rape me.

In fact, it’s pointless to try to list all the times I’ve been in this situation. I’ve been in this situation so many times that I remember how shocked I was the first time I dated a guy who actually wanted me to be interested in what we were doing. I remember the first time we were kissing. He had started to progress further, and I flinched – and he just stopped. “Sorry,” he said, “maybe next time.” I was blown away. I remember telling him eventually how crazy it felt to have someone who actually cared whether I was involved in what was happening. And I still remember his response: “thanks, but that’s how everyone should treat you”. It was the first time that I realized that maybe it wasn’t normal to feel like you only have two options: either you have to physically fight your way out of a sexual encounter; or you just sit there, you “let” them take it to a certain point, and you aren’t allowed to feel bad about it. Maybe, just maybe, there were guys out there who cared about whether I wanted to participate or not.

So I started exploring that. In fact, I learned that I could actually insist on it. I started paying attention to how men I went on dates with acted at the end. Did they lurch forward at the end of the date with unfocused eyes and try to hurl a tongue down my throat? Disqualified. I still struggled with being rude in the moment. I was scared of being insulted, physically hurt, or worse. But I was finally paying attention. I still encountered uncomfortable, non-consensual situations like this along the way, but I was starting to validate for myself that these men were actively choosing to ignore me when I tried to speak up. That’s not how physical touch had to be. I married a man who loved me. Like, actually loved me, respected me, and cared about my boundaries. It was incredible, and still is.

Then I read Grace’s story this week. My initial instinct while reading was that I was becoming upset, but that this was just “bad sex”. I thought to myself that I should give Ansari the benefit of the doubt. But I kept reading. And then I read it again. I took note of every time that she mentioned that she had expressed discomfort. I took note of how often he ignored her. And I realized that I had to publicly put my foot down.

People send me messages frequently about how I am a “real rape victim”. I have scars, he’s in prison, he had many (many) victims, therefore it is “real”. I’ll obviously agree that I was “really” raped. But if that’s where you’re putting your bar for what counts as unacceptable behavior from men, it’s time to talk. Because what Ansari did was wrong, despite the fact that no one is calling for him to go to prison or register as a sex offender. Grace says that she was sexually assaulted. And really, that’s not up for debate by anyone else. Whether or not it meets a legal definition (which most victims never have validated for them), she left the experience feeling upset and traumatized. She describes it in the headline as the “worst night of my life”. Her account very clearly leaves no room for consent. In fact, it doesn’t sound like he ever explicitly asked at all. She verbally protests, she moves away, she freezes, and doesn’t know what to do.

I can look back now and say that I know that I would be stronger than I once was if something like that ever happened again. But would I? Our responses aren’t always up to us. Most of us can recognize, for example, that we’re better at giving advice to other people than we are at doing the best thing for ourselves in the moment. Until you’re actually there, in that moment, you have no idea what your response will be. Writing an article about how you “know how to call a cab” isn’t helpful, and you don’t even know if it’s accurate. You weren’t there.

The bar for what consensual sex should be is not “she didn’t fight me on it”, “I stopped once she started crying”, or “she was laying pretty still, but it’s not like she told me to stop”. Sex is not a game that you try to win. Consensual sex is not about only one person’s desire. Teach all of this (and more!) to your children (absolutely not just the girls). Push your schools to start education about healthy relationships and consent at a young age. Remember that men are fully capable of understanding the word “no”, and every other polite variation of it, and they should never be treated as if they don’t understand. Every single one of us can play a role here, and it doesn’t have to be a negative one.

When it comes to Ansari specifically, he can choose do better. He can learn and change. The many men who have sent me questions asking why this behavior would qualify as assault can also learn to change. Because we deserve more. Those of us (while mostly female, but really of any gender) who have experienced that publicly-determined “gray area of consent” deserve to not encounter people who don’t care about what we want. We deserve to have an actual say in whether we’re being touched. We deserve to help create a world where our future children aren’t recreating our mistakes. If you disagree with those statements, I probably can’t help you. But if you read those statements and agreed, even if you don’t know how to help everyone get there, I’m glad you’re on board. Start listening to us.

surviving a sociopath

The following post is not something that was written lightly or without thought. The following post is a result of the mental wrestling I’ve been doing since November 8th, 2014, and likely just part of the start of my thoughts and feelings around this topic. It will likely be triggering for some, and I apologize for that, but I will steer clear of details. This post is about surviving a sociopath.

I should clarify before I start that I am not a medical doctor. I am not a psychiatrist. I cannot diagnose anyone with anything. I am simply using the term to not only summarize what I have been told by people who encountered my attacker in the justice system, as well as the experiences of myself and his other victims. If Daniel Drill-Mellum is not a sociopath, I don’t know who is.

I’ve been struggling with this for over 3 years now; the way that the world completely changes when you encounter someone who not only outwardly enjoyed harming you, but someone that you instantly knew would have no moral problem with killing you if you didn’t comply. I remember stammering at the hospital, after I had explained how I tried to negotiate with the man who attacked me. The detective had asked a follow up question: “why couldn’t you just say no?” This might seem like an obvious question to anyone who wasn’t in my shoes.

I can’t explain the feeling that instantly hits you when you realize that you’re in the presence of someone who doesn’t give two fucks about whether or not you’re scared or in pain. Your mind narrows very quickly into whatever choices appear for you; one of my first instincts was to try to physically get away. It didn’t work. My second instinct was to negotiate. I remembered something I heard once: if you cooperate with a kidnapper, they’re more likely to let you live. I realize now how likely untrue that is, but it was the first thing that popped into my head at the time.

I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of another human being gleefully laughing because you’re crying. I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of seeing a person’s face and demeanor completely change into something unrecognizable, even inhuman, within moments. I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of feeling that there was no escape, and that these were my last moments alive. I haven’t found a way to express that I don’t talk about this for pity; but because it’s just the reality. There’s something that became comforting about reading up on the history of other violent sociopaths; understanding their escalation, and feeling more grounded in my new reality. This new reality often comes with pessimism.

I’ve often heard in the context of bullying and interpersonal relationships that it takes five positive interactions to make up for one negative interaction. I try to apply that to my life now; I hope that with every positive and wonderful person that I meet, I will become one step closer to trusting humanity. I’ve realized over time, though, that this may not happen. I can’t count this as one negative interaction, but rather as seeing the black hole of sociopathy and evil that one human being can be. I’m sure that these words would feel very hurtful to someone who knew Dan personally, and that’s half of the problem. How do you know if someone in your life is a monster who tortures and rapes women behind closed doors? He purposefully chose women who were unlikely to report; women that were not known to him, women that were of a lower socioeconomic standing, women who were drugged and couldn’t identify him. He usually didn’t hurt the people in his life who found him to be a fun and positive presence. He purposefully sought out separate outlets for what was truly inside of him. He manipulated everyone around him into seeing him as the real victim. And it will eternally trouble me that I could have been one of those people. I could have trusted this man, I could have been his friend, I could have implicitly encouraged what he did by vouching for him to others.

The real question is how you just choose to go on living somewhat normally after this. I have a perspective now that I can’t shake; one that is conflicting for me when others confirm it. “You caught a future serial killer”, people will tell me. I feel validated and terrified at the same time. I’ve been told by multiple other victims of his that “he’ll definitely kill us or someone else when he gets out”. The fact that other women who encountered him have this same feeling is both reassuring to me that I’m not wrong, and also a reality that’s incompatible with any sort of genuine or continuing peace. I have an internal countdown to his release date ticking in my head, and I have to consider what my path will be when it happens.

There are no easy answers here. I often tell myself that I’m just being jaded; that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. That I’ve had enough misery and trauma for one lifetime; I can focus on happiness now and move on. The truth is, though, that I can’t completely do that. While I’m completely committed to finding happiness in my life, it will never be pure or without a healthy dose of skepticism again. I experience now what so many survivors do; I get nervous watching people I love go out in public, go running alone, go on blind dates, or brush off the idea of carrying some form of self defense. And, while not necessarily in the same context as this post (although it definitely has plenty of overlap), I know how dangerous the people we intimately trust can be as well. I could see this as simply a terrifying way to live, or I could continue channeling it into helping other people learn how to be active bystanders in a world that, for some in it, will be horrifically unsafe at some point. It’s really all I can do. I’m going to continue thinking of the people out there in the world who haven’t encountered their sociopath yet. I’m going to try to figure out ways to prevent them from experiencing what I do now. “A life lived in fear is a life half lived” is probably true, but I’m going to use that other half to fight like hell for something powerful.