Doing What Needs to Be Done in an Era of #notokay

Estimated read time... 6 minutes

A month ago I started a new course on Chinese Medicine and one of our first assignments, in addition to reading, learning acupuncture point names, locations and functions, and a few other tasks, was to contemplate what the one thing we could do or change in our lives that would have nothing but a positive experience in ourselves and those we interact with. At first my thought was to follow my “gut” instinct more. But my teacher countered that maybe the voice one needs to listen to isn’t the one you think you should! It was quite a brain teaser. I let the contemplation question simmer away in the back of my mind, figuring the answer would reveal itself when the time was right.

(Trigger warning: sexual assault and sexual abuse are talked about in this post.)
Then I was groped on my commute to work, transferring subway lines at a very busy station. Not only was I groped, but another woman was groped by this same person seconds later.  I contacted the MTA and NYPD, as they have a very easy online reporting system. I have been cooperating with the very busy NYPD department that handles these cases, and hope to be making some semblance of progress after my visit to the station where I looked at hundreds of mugshots. We will see what happens, either way: I did something. I said something. I took responsibility for what happened to me by reporting it to the police so that it is on file. While I cannot change what happened, I can be in control of my response to what happened. It made me feel better about what happened, it gave me a sense of closure and also gave me the opportunity to feel like I may have contributed to making my commute safer for other women.

Then I saw a car accident, where there was clearly an at-fault driver. I hopped out of my car to tell the driver who was not at fault that I saw what happened, and gave him my contact information so I can make a statement for the insurance company. The at-fault driver was trying to blame the other driver on what happened! The exchange between both drivers and myself took place over the course of two minutes, but the driver whose car was hit was grateful that I spoke up and offered to help him.

Then all of this brouhaha with the election, leaked footage, investigations, and various sundry information about potential elected officials came out and started a movement on twitter that overflowed to other social media outlets with the hashtag #notokay. Women have been sharing their experiences of being touched inappropriately, being grabbed, groped, abused, assaulted and so on, some in more detail than others.

After sitting on a contemplation for almost a month and waiting for an answer as to what I can change in myself and those around me in a positive way, it seems that my contemplation question has revealed its answer: do not remain silent (in voice and action) on the things that matter and can possibly help another person.

I think we can all agree that in our society, more women than not have had to endure some kind of sexual abuse or assault. As uncomfortable as the topic is, as much as we want to deny it or ignore it – more women than not have been in situations where they have been forced upon by another man.

To wit, it is disheartening that the boys/men and everyone within the LGBTQIA community have endured the same mistreatment, and get little to no recognition when discussing sexual abuse and assault. When most speak of sexual assault or abuse, boys, men and LGBTQIA community members are treated like a footnote or an afterthought. At most we hear singular stories of clergymen abusing members of their parish, or young LGBTQIA persons being assaulted, or worse.

Since I’ve been going through my own type of vindication and subsequent triggering with the MTA/NYPD regarding my recent subway groping, this is all pretty fresh in my mind. Not being able to commute from home to work on public transportation without having to be aware of being groped, rubbed against, or jerked off to (yes, this has happened to me – it is vile) is something that the majority of men (heterosexual, cis-male) have never had to experience first-hand.

The majority of men do not think twice about walking home after dark by themselves, having to remain on high alert for any erroneous activity. The majority of men do not have to remain aware of how they interact with their “friends”, men at work, guys in bars or at parties. The majority of men do not have to be concerned with who they go out on a date with, what their date may do to their drink while they go to the bathroom, or any other number of scenarios that women have to consider in order to remain “safe” in this world. The majority of men do not understand that this is “normal” for women: to live in a state of alert. In many instances, women and those in the LGBTQIA community are still seen as figures that men are entitled to have – for the man’s pleasure or as vessels to receive that man’s hatred.

As a woman who has endured sexual assault and abuse that ranges from my aforementioned commute troubles to other more serious incidents, the fact that the sexual abuse and assault of women is being talked about more openly is a double-edged sword that opens avenues of relief and healing as well as old wounds for anyone who has suffered any kind of sexual abuse. The trust within oneself and how one navigates the outer world becomes compromised.

Many, if not all, of those who have endured sexual abuse or assault are blamed for their “role” in the event, many are treated as if their “story” of the event is made up or otherwise untrue. Many are treated in patronizing or condescending tones, stating blatantly or passively that one could have avoided the situation if one were “strong enough”. No one wants to be abused or assaulted – no matter how drunk, how “dark alley”, how “alone”, how naive, etc., one is or one’s situation is (or was). No one that I know who has gone through this has “asked for it”, or “made it all up”. Abuse and assault can leave one feeling ashamed, fearful, doubtful, hopeless, ineffectual, full of a sense of brokenness or irrevocable unlovable damage. It can set up life-long relationship hurdles (within oneself and with others), impact a lot of life choices (consciously and unconsciously), and it over-archingly is a terrible and heartbreaking thing to have to endure and survive.

My heart goes out to all of the women, men, intrasex, transsexual, and asexual persons, and everyone in between and beyond, who have suffered sexual abuse or assault. My heart especially goes out to those who are now seeing many stories of sexual assault or “lewd acts”, and may be having a lot brought up (triggered) by all of this information flooding the airwaves and internet. It’s a reminder to reconnect with trusted loved ones (friends, family, community, pets), to remember that you are stronger than whatever adverse event(s) have occurred during your life, and maybe to disconnect from the Internet and social media for a few days. The best way that I find to remember that I am strong is to keep on doing what I know I am supposed to be doing and working towards – no matter what.

If you are reading this, if you have endured these life events, if you have struggled to rise above
or have risen above but feel that you could drown in it all at any moment:

You are not alone.

You are gorgeous, full of love, and hope, vibrancy and wholeness.

There are vast parts of you, tremendously infinitely huge parts of you, that have not been impacted by life.

You may have been a victim once, but you are not a victim. Remember that: you are not a victim.

You have power, strength and courage that wells forth to allow you to do great and beautiful things in this world. What matters most is what we choose do do with our power, strength, courage and gifts after going through something terrible.

You are here to bring to fruition that which you have been called or destined to do: for some that is to create music, others make art, write, feed communities, raise and be a part of loving families, have cozy homes, build and improve communities, teach or help others, participate in activist work, care for loved ones or animals, etc.

Go out and do those things, make the world a better place.

It may feel like a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made from infinite drops.

All it takes is that one pebble to start an avalanche of change over mountains.

Let’s all be a flood of drops and pebbles changing the world into a more beautiful place.

Because of what we’ve been through, we know how important this work is.