Today I had reason to think being called cute might get me raped or murdered. “You’re cute,” the driver told me. My “cuteness” inspired him to go on detours instead of just taking me to my address as per usual commute. Going through dark intersections and avoiding the highway because of “traffic”, he would repeat “you’re cute, you’re cute”. Then he stopped by a hotel parking lot and went on to suggest that we have drinks or dinner. I would have liked to think it was friendly, but the situation and time of day was suspicious enough. I was disgusted though hardly found it so strange anymore. But the familiarity did not make me think less of the probability of the incidence of god-knows-what. And then I asked myself if I wore the right clothes. If my clothes were what he meant by cute.
Last week, I was walking down the block when a drunk neighbor followed me. He insisted on a getting-to-know. Asked for my number. My name. A smile. ’Cause you’re pretty, darling, he said. If I became aggressive what would happen? You could not reason with this person because alcohol fueled his confidence. I computed the probability of the incidence of god-knows-what. Then I checked if I was wearing the right clothes. Is it my fault? Is it my fault?
A Christmas ago, I was living with relatives for a time. They were a kind and generous family. But my uncle, he was something else. I asked myself at first if physical clinginess is their way of love language in the family. But when at the dinner table the said uncle would brush his foot against mine, I got my answer. I gave myself a tally of the probability of the incidence of god-knows-what. And I thought I should maybe not be so laid-back with my clothes because it was not my home. I convinced myself this was reason enough.
Two summers ago, when I was in a big strange city and had nowhere to stay in for a time, a guy offered to help. He said I could stay with him until I could get by somewhere. It sounded like hope. Like kindness. But he took me to a hotel that same night. And that night the probability of the incidence of god-knows-what was too high for me to take. I broke down in a panic attack and can’t be sure what saved me.
The first time there I ever learned to cross my tiny fingers for an incidence of god-knows-what not to happen, I was 14 years old. I was wearing my favorite plaid skirt and a clean white button-down blouse. I remember being with my friends just getting out of class, and a man offered me a ride home. You need to understand this was a man to trust, a father-figure. A man who watched me grow up. As a child, I used to watch him go on the podium to speak every Sunday. This man’s image was next to holy. A man to trust until he never did take me for a ride home that day. He drove and drove to the outskirts of town. I watched him be consumed by the guilt of his righteous ways prior to that goddamned afternoon. It must have burned.
I was able to make my way out of these situations before drastic measures could happen. But that’s beside the point I want to make here. Sometimes I would tell my closest friends. They would say, at least they did not do it right? Nothing really happened, no? Rape is something else, right?
Let me tell you a few things about this something else, this other thing, thisalmost rape. It will make you doubt again and again and again your retention of what happened, each of the time it happened in order of gravity, most likely on days when you have been catcalled, when a random person writes a comment on your photo to “compliment” your tits, when you say no in various loudness but it is still judged as playing hard-to-get. You better have a dark chocolate bar, a pink teddy bear, a yoga mat nearby for when anxiety is as strong as the trauma you could have had if it were a full-on sexual violence. Nobody is going to say, this darkness that you feel that clouds your view of the world and yourself when you remember, is itself the same violence, discrimination, harassment, attempt, crime, sin, every name they recognize it by. It feels the same. There are no degrees to it. There are no excuses. The forced gropes, unsolicited caresses, and dirty jokes were there. The fiery repulsion was not less real, the threat to life not less felt. That it only almost lead to rape is not a consolation in any way.
If you are like me, if you have been made to feel unsafe due to male sexual aggression even in the vicinity of your own home, or among people you thought you could trust, or even with a person you love, or if you understand what I’m talking about from news you hear, do not dismiss it. Please, please speak up. I know there have been many nights you shut the world and kept it to yourself, locking the door in your room and arranging yourself in a hug, because you were not sure if your version, your experience counts. I know that it is not less painful, not less defeating. But it is more important that you do not let it break you. You do not let it mask your sexuality with fear. You do not hide in clothes that make you feel like shit just to shift people’s gaze. You learn to to say no more pronouncedly. You talk not to be pitied, but for the plain truth that these things happen and must be brought to light, be it ugly or painful — counting on an old saying that says there’s freedom in that. You take time to heal, you take what you deserve, until it is obvious. Until it is obvious for you and the other girls and women we know of whose stories we can only hope to empathize with. Neither you nor them are not less women, not less yourselves, for the mistakes done to you. I am also letting myself learn this, in between the many moments I get sad and exhausted of this sickening setup of society.
Starting in little spaces I swear to create things that do not allow talk to be cheap, however hardly audible it is at first, however it may sound like a cry or bargain. And so, woman, do not be apologetic about raising a question or comment or a whole damn revolution that speaks your truth because, hell, that’s what’s a life and experiences such as these must be worth of.
This article was originally published on Medium.
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