In 1998, I was a 16-year-old junior in high school and an aspiring artist/emcee/poet. I was extremely insecure about my body so I “dressed like a boy” as much as I could. I would describe my look at the time as semi-androgynous. I never have had much sense for fashion, but I certainly didn’t dress that way because it was an expression of my personal style. It was because whenever I dressed “like a girl”, it drew way too much negative attention from boys and grown men.
I took advantage of the fact that girls wearing baggy clothes was en vogue at the time. I tried to not draw attention to my large breasts and flat ass by wearing huge t-shirts and baggy jeans. I wore my hair in a very short fade and changed my hair color often (as I still do).
I’ll never forget that day. I was walking down the crowded hallway. I remember how boisterous the transition between classes was as kids laughed, shouted and palled around. But this day was different. This day I wasn’t wearing my baggy armor and I was sexually assaulted at school in a hallway packed with kids by a male student I didn’t even know. As I walked, I felt someone’s hand slip between my legs and I felt foreign fingers rubbing between my labia through my jeans.
I was horrified.
I felt violated.
I got angry.
I pushed him.
I didn’t even know his name.
I marched straight to the principal’s office to report this drive-by-fingering and sat nervously waiting for her to talk to me. I just knew that she would do something about this. There is no way that my school would allow a young man that I didn’t even know to just walk up and stick his fingers between my legs in a crowded hallway. She was a woman, after all. She would understand how severe of a violation this boy had committed.
After she heard my story, her words were: “Boys will be boys.” Nothing was done.
This is the same excuse that she gave to me when I found myself in her office again later that year after two boys were wrestling in the hallway between classes while I was passing and my head got slammed between them and the wall. One of the boys was one of the biggest kids at our school and was well over 6 foot 3 and at least 250 lbs. I yelled at them telling them to watch what they were doing and the big guy called me a bitch. I had a migraine for 2 days after that incident. Boys will be boys. Slamming a 5 foot 2 girl’s head against a wall under the weight of two people and then calling her a bitch is okay because haphazardly horsing around is what boys are allowed to do.
Just grab ‘em by the pussy, right? It sounds funny when you say it. It rolls off the tongue like a motivational slogan: “Just grab life by the pussy...” It’s just feeling someone’s genitalia without their permission. You don’t need permission to know what in between someone’s legs feels like, right? I reluctantly recall being grabbed by the pussy. And it wasn’t funny then and still isn’t funny now.
Because of this and other instances like it, I am very physically guarded today at 35. I don’t like being touched, especially by strangers. That three seconds in the hallway that day changed the way I saw life as a woman. I realized at that moment that my black body was not my own. Any person can walk up and touch me without my permission with no serious consequences, which has happened countless times since then.
-Like the time that creep-ball customer, who had developed a crush on me, came up behind me and snapped my bra strap while I had my back turned fixing myself a cup of coffee.
-Like that drunk guy on the bus that slipped his hand down my leg all the way to my crotch. I immediately jumped up and cursed him out. His reaction to me confronting him was to call me a bitch. Not one person stood up for me or helped me. No one wanted to get involved. The driver didn’t even kick him off the bus. I rented a car for a month because I was afraid to be on the bus.
-Like the time at the gas station that a man walked up and grabbed my breasts and told me, “I’m sorry. I just had to. They are perfect.” And then walked away.
-Like the time that guy who was waiting on the bus stop with me pulls out his wallet and shows me his penis because he thought I was a prostitute (never mind I was wearing a work uniform). I screamed and ran.
-Like that lady who started feeling my legs because I was wearing tights while I was working without asking.
-Like the strangers and co-workers who used to reach out and run their fingers through my hair without asking a few times a week until I started wearing earrings daily instructing them not to.
I recall this story from 18 years ago, I can still feel his hand between my legs. I remember his face and how he smiled when he saw me get angry. It still disgusts me to think about it. It still makes me angry he did it with impunity. It still makes my blood boil to hear people make excuses for our president-elect saying it and allegedly doing it to women. It’s not locker room talk. It’s joshing around about sexually assaulting a person. Trump, your apologies aren’t enough. It’s time for people like you to stop “being boys” and keep their hands to themselves without expressed permission.