I was ten years old when I realized that I was a girl. Of course I knew before I was ten that I was female, but I didn’t REALLY know. I hadn’t yet grasped what that meant. That it was different than being a boy. That is was more than just anatomy or genetics. This realization came to me suddenly one afternoon walking home from school. My friend and I always walked home together. We didn’t live very far and it gave us a chance to gossip and laugh about the things that happened at school that day. We were supposed to take the direct route, following along the marked streets, and crossing at the stoplights. This route always took longer and we thought we were old enough and wise enough to know better. So we took the secret route. This route cut through the woods between the school and the retirement home. We weren’t supposed to go through the woods but we figured nothing bad had ever happened before so why would today be any different? I remember walking through the trail, laughing about something that someone had said to my friend at lunch, when IT happened. We heard a noise up ahead on the trail. We stopped laughing. “What was that?” my friend asked. “Probably just a squirrel,” I replied. We kept walking and after we rounded the curve, we saw what THAT was. We froze in our tracks as our brains tried to process exactly what we were seeing. There was a man – an older man. He held himself and jerked his hand about – all while staring right at us. Two ten year old girls. Two little girls who had never seen that part of a man before. Two little girls who had just been giggling about some boys at school. And here was a MAN. A man that had taken it upon himself to violate the innocence of two little girls.
I was thirteen when I realized that anatomy did matter. I was thirteen when I realized that being a girl was anatomy and genetics. It was the first time I realized that my anatomy wasn’t my own. It was the first time I realized that a man could claim it as his own. I was thirteen and I was smitten. There was an older boy that had shown me the time of day and I ate it up. We texted and talked all night and I swore I was in love. But he was older, more experienced. And I knew I wasn’t ready for anything serious. I had a feeling from our conversations that he wanted something from me, something that I wasn’t ready to give. So I started to push him away. I stopped answering his texts and ignored his calls. He must not have liked that. It was a few days later when IT happened. Softball practice had just ended and I was heading to the locker rooms to change. I saw him in the hallway headed towards me and put on a smile. Even at thirteen I knew I should be nice. Because boys like nice girls. He came over to me and cornered me against the wall. I looked around but there was no one in sight. He grinned at me and whispered in my ear. “You’ve been avoiding me,” he said. I laughed nervously and tried to brush him off. I felt his hand on my thigh as he made his way up my shorts. He touched me down there and said, “You shouldn’t avoid me.” I tensed up and whispered, “I’m sorry.” A few seconds later he removed his hand, smiled at me, and walked away. I never heard from him again.
I was sixteen when I realized I was a woman. I was sixteen when I knew that I could be someone’s property. That I was available for any man to take as he wished. There was an older guy at school that I thought was so cool. He asked me on a date and I was giddy. My mother approved and we had a great time. We went on a couple more dates and I thought he was a good guy. I thought we were friends. I went to a party with a girlfriend one weekend. I drank a little too much and I wanted to leave. I searched everywhere for my friend but she was no where to be found. I left the house and started to walk home. I quickly realized I couldn’t find my way home in that state and called the guy I had been seeing. He came to my rescue. My knight in shining armor. I got in his car and asked him to take me back to my friend’s house. I couldn’t go home – my parents would freak out. We head to my friend’s house and she isn’t there. I call and I call and begin to panic. This guy tells me I can sleep in his car; he’ll take me home in the morning. I get a bad feeling but I ignore it and agree. My parents would be so mad so I can’t go home. He parks his car in front of his house and heads inside. The next thing I know, he’s on top of me. My mind tries to make sense of what is happening but before I can he’s off of me and out the door. My mind drifts off. I wake again to find him sitting in the car. The hair on my neck stands up and my mind starts racing. I’m trying to figure out how to get out of this. I’m trapped in his car on the other side of town and I don’t know where my phone is. He smiles at me and asks how I’m feeling. I don’t say a word. He stares at me as he plays with himself. He asks me to “help him out” and I don’t know what to do. I feel trapped. I do as he asks and then he tells me to lay down. I close my eyes as I feel him climb on top of me. Before I know it, it’s over. He’s gone and I feel numbness spread as I go back to sleep. The next morning he takes me home like nothing even happened. I question him about it the next day and he tells me, “We had sex. It was no big deal.”
I was ten when I realized I was a girl. I was thirteen when I realized my body wasn’t my own. I was sixteen when I realized I was a woman and what that could actually mean.
I’ve lived my life encountering many men who viewed me this way. Countless catcalls, whistles, inappropriate jokes, and more. This constant flood of harassment has become so common that I hardly notice it anymore. But these lessons have taught me a lot. They have taught me to stand up for myself. They have taught me that these things that have happened to me do not define me. And they have taught me that I can use these experiences to help others.
I have volunteered for five years now as a victim advocate. I help survivors of sexual assault get the help that they need. I help them get medical assistance, I help them get counseling, and I help them through the legal process. I help them realize that they can stand up for themselves. I help them realize that what has happened to them is not their fault. And I help them learn that what has happened to them does not define them.
In honor of the #MeToo movement, I encourage everyone to share their stories. I encourage everyone to reach out and help in any way they can. And I encourage everyone to know that they are not alone. #MeToo