When I told my friend I was suicidal, a strange set of societally pre-determined actions were forced into motion. There were a series of things my friend had to do. He had to call my parents. He had to tell me to go to a therapist. He had to call me, regularly, to make sure I was ok.
Part of me acknowledged the necessity of these actions, and that they came from a place of love. And, another part of me felt the distance of these actions.
In a way, my friend wasn’t my friend anymore. He was “society.” He was the embodiment of “reason” — he did the things he was supposed to do. He did the things “anyone” would do in his position. He did the right things. But also, in one of the loneliest moments of my life, my friend slipped away from me.
It had to be that way. I get it.
I get it.
Later, we reconnected as friends and regained our lost intimacy. But, I also get why people kill themselves. I see how you can get so trapped in that lonely land of personal disconnection, and no one can reach you anymore.
When you’re suicidal, the people around you get so scared that they don’t act like themselves. They turn to societal consensus to inform their behavior, and suddenly you find yourself longing for connection but surrounded by robots.
I’m prone to becoming a robot too.
When I wrote a piece on being sexually assaulted, I included a link to the national sexual assault hotline because I basically had to do that. That’s what responsible people in our society do, right, when we write about sexual assault? We include a link to some societally approved “help” organization?
But, it’s not like I ever called that hotline myself. It’s not like I can personally recommend them, or that reaching out to these mysterious highly regulated INSTITUTIONS ever helped me in any way.
The biggest thing that helped me is religion, but I can’t really say that. That’s a faux pas. RELIGION is a personal choice, I can’t recommend it as a generic choice for people who are suffering. And anyway, isn’t it taking advantage? Isn’t it taking advantage of someone to recruit them to your religion when they’re suffering, even if it would save their life?
To recommend religion seems predatory, so I didn’t recommend it. I gave the number to a hotline I never used, because that seemed sensible.
(If you’re curious, my religion is Zen Buddhism.)
Anyway. Now all these people are going “me too” on the facebook and twitterz, because “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
So, ok, great. I guess now I have to write “me too” because that’s like, what reasonable people do or something. But, it also makes me so fucking angry for reasons I don’t fully understand, but are related to my personal hatred of feeling like I have to do something. In fact, feeling like I have to do something is connected to why I was assaulted in the first place. I went back to my male friend’s place because I felt like it would be impolite to say no. Reasonable people trust their friends. Why did I feel weird? I must be being unreasonable.
(Spoiler: I was not being unreasonable.)
There’s this quote I like, that is often credited to Lilla Watson, but she prefers to credit to Aboriginal activists group in Queensland, Australia. The quote goes like this:
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Anyway. Now also trending on the internets is #IWill with people saying all the things they will do to help with sexual assault or whatever.
And like… I keep thinking of that “if you have come here to help me” quote.
When I told people about my sexual assault, a lot of people were like, uhh… what can I do? Listen? Do you want me to listen?
And I guess like, sure, listening is fine or whatever. It’s definitely the THING we always tell people to do. But, really, you can’t help someone who’s been assaulted. Like, you can a little bit, but… getting over sexual assault and trauma is — unfortunately — mostly a personal process. The main thing I wish people would do, when encountering people’s sexual assaults, is consider similar influences in their own life.
I was trying to explain sexual assault to a male friend, and he goes “I can’t imagine what it’s like.”
And I responded, “I think you could. It’s this really normal thing. We act like it’s exceptional, but it’s not. You could imagine it if you wanted to.”
Then he responded “I’m on too many drugs to do this now,” so we didn’t finish the conversation, but I’ll finish it now. We do this thing, where we act like sexual assault and harassment is this STRANGE thing that WOMEN experience and men don’t. But it’s not. It’s a common thing, that is similar to other common things in our society, and can be explained with analogies.
Well, first off, a lot of men are actually sexually assaulted and harassed. We don’t acknowledge this enough, and this is sort of a “women’s” hashtag movement, but it really shouldn’t be. Many men can understand what it’s like to be sexually assaulted because they have experienced it.
However, even people who haven’t been sexually assaulted often have experiences that are similar. Have you ever been forced to do something you didn’t want to do?
Were you bullied in school? Were you ever physically reprimanded for your behavior by a caretaker? Have you been forced to do things in your job that you didn’t want to do because you needed the money, or because your immigration status or something depended on your compliance? Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been forcibly drugged or sedated in a hospital? Were you ever physically restrained so someone could perform a painful procedure on you, even if it was ultimately for “your benefit?” Have you ever served in the military? Have you ever dealt with someone acting racist toward you, and you just absorbing it because you were not able to respond or correct their behavior?
We live in a culture that is *designed* to force people to do things that they don’t want to do. I believe this is mostly because we live in a colonial culture, and the primary function of this culture is to exploit the many for the benefit of the few. The majority of us — even white people, even men — are exploited for the benefit of the few at the top. The majority of us spend most of our lives doing things we don’t want to do. We spend our best years creating more money for CEOs who already have millions, instead of spending time loving our friends and families. How deeply fucked is that? Who would want that?
Why did I go back to my friend’s house that night? Because I was so used to doing things that I didn’t want to do that ignoring my internal compass just felt normal. I was used to doing work I didn’t like doing in my job. I was used to being forced to be in school, and being bullied, and being unable to escape. I was used to being forced to hide my real emotions so the people around me wouldn’t get upset at me.
We look along this one dimension of when we force people to do things — when we force women (and, we do seem to be prioritizing women here) to be sexual when they don’t want it — and we demonize it.
And, I agree. It’s not ok to force women to be sexual. It’s also not ok to force men to be sexual.
However, in my worldview, it’s also not ok to ever force anyone to do something they don’t want to do in any situation. Yet, as a culture, we do it all the time. So like, of course we’re going to have a problem with sexual assault. Of course people who are themselves constantly forced to do things they don’t want to do are going to in turn force their will on others.
Entitlement to the sexuality of another comes from the belief that sexually exploiting another is the only way to reduce your personal suffering. If you want to reduce sexual assault, explore your own suffering. Explore the suffering of others. Find ways of reducing suffering without exploitation.
And, if you want to consider what it’s like to be sexually assaulted, consider the times that you were forced to do things you didn’t want to do, or were trapped in situations you didn’t want to be in. Think about how you internalized that, and how it affected you. Think about any long term lingering fears and paranoias you have from being forced to do things you didn’t want to do. For me, being forced to do something I don’t want to do often leads to feeling “frozen” (which is why I chose that particular title image.) I feel emotionally numb, I often feel cold, and I retreat and become very cerebral.
I don’t mean to imply all these events are similar in magnitude, simply similar in quality. I don’t mean to say that being sexually assaulted is “just like” having to work late one night to avoid getting fired; I’m just saying that they spring from the same root. And, examining that causes and societal conditions of that root won’t just help sexual assault survivors; it will help everyone.