I'm amazed at how many bad things that have happened to me are (supposedly) my fault.
When I was three years old and overcome with terrible temper tantrums, my parents thought I was crazy or evil – even calling me the "devil child" – when it turns out I was almost blind, and had high functioning intelligence without the verbal skills to express myself.
When I was sexually assaulted by my neighbor in my own dorm room, the college disciplinary board blamed me for letting the guy into my room in the first place.
When I woke up to a guy having sex with me while I was asleep – clearly unable to consent – I was blamed for letting him spend the night in my bed, though I'd only done so because he'd passed out there and was too drunk to go home.
When I was being sexually harassed at work, I was blamed for "not being friendly enough" when I tried to maintain a professional decorum and resisted being sexually objectified and interrupted in private and public meetings with double entendres and a round of wink-wink-nudge-nudge.
I have permitted too many things to go too far in my life, and I've learned from that. It shouldn't be this way, but in some circumstances, you may not be "asking for it" per se, but you're engaging in risky behavior that just increases your chances of being hurt. You can have all the faith in the world in people, but many of them don't deserve it.
And many times, I've waited too long to walk away. I guess I can be blamed for that.
So I've built up my walls, a tough exoskeleton to protect myself from my soft, naked core. I don't trust anybody anymore. And I don't like to be touched by strangers.
This has become a major point of contention in California, a state full of people who love to hug and kiss strangers, and who get offended if you don't welcome it. I can't tell you how many times I've ended a business meeting and a man I've just met has swooped down to hug me. At first, I'd taken to saying, "Are we there yet?", but they would invariably inform me that we were, indeed, there, so now I just have to refuse the physical contact as politely as possible. But there's no great way to say, "Please don't hug me. It makes me uncomfortable." Besides, they never seem to ask for permission. They just go for it.
Business meetings and casual daytime acquaintances are one thing, but nightlife encounters are a bit more traumatic. Drunk people love to hang all over you, manhandle you, grope you, and then feign ignorance when confronted. I can't tell you how many times I've declared, "That's my boob," and some guy has argued "No it's not." Are you kidding me?
There was one night at Jones Hollywood that a drunk guy got so bad, and wouldn't stop putting his arm around me despite my repeated protests, that I raised my voice and threatened to punch him in the face. The bartenders just stared blankly at me and kept drying the washed glassware. They rolled their eyes as they turned away. The bouncer kept his position at the door. I was all on my own, forced to defend my own personal space, forced to try to convince people why it should be protected, and why I should be able to decide whether my own body was touched or not.
How is this even a question?
Last night, I was back at Jones, and sat at the one empty seat at the bar. The guy next to me looked familiar, but then again, I've seen a lot of that restaurant's patrons before. I asked him how his day was. He said, "I remember you, you don't like to be touched."
"That's right, I don't like to be touched – by strangers," I said.
He offered an outstretched hand to shake, which I thought was ok, but when I grasped it, he held on too tight, squeezing and rubbing his thumb along my hand. "Don't be creepy," I warned, and snatched my hand away.
He then proceeded to tell me how he loved hugging people and how he was a "toucher" and he'd made it his goal to convert me. "I'm going to hug you tonight," he said.
"That sounds like a threat."
I started to get freaked out. I couldn't figure out if he was being intentionally ridiculous for comedy, or if he actually was a dangerous person. The bartender came over to say hi and I told him that this guy was creeping me out and kept trying to touch me, and the bartender said, "What? He's a great guy!" and then walked away.
I thought I would reason with my potential assailant. I said, "You have to understand, when you meet women of a certain age, it's very likely that they will have been molested or assaulted or raped or otherwise harassed at some point in their lives. I've had multiple of those things happen to me. Acting like this is going to trigger them. You have to be respectful of the boundaries they set."
And then he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and he said, "Those are the buttons I'm going to press tonight."
And then I had my answer. In the choice of flight or fight, I'd tried to fight, but it was time to fly. But before I went, I lit into him and unleashed my wrath, calling him a "sick bastard" and "rapist" and warning him to never speak to me again. I stood up and towered over him, somehow becoming twice my normal size, as you would to fight a bear or a mountain lion.
And he just smiled and snickered at me.
The bartender came over. "Are we screaming?" he asked, giving me the side-eye. "We're not screaming right? We're just talking?"
And I knew then that there was no one there to help me, so I removed myself, thinking I would just change my seat, but finding myself in the ladies' room to have a good cry and try to put myself together. But it was too late: I was wrecked. This guy had torn me down.
And then the worst thing happened: the manager of the bar told me that I couldn't stay, that he would call me a cab and I would have to be the one to leave. I recited our conversation to him, and he kept asking, "Did he really say that?" The manager then said he interviewed the people sitting around us and the bartender, and all they saw was a guy trying to shake my hand and me freaking out on him.
"You didn't hear the things that weren't screamed," I said.
"Well, all I know," he said, "Is that you sat next to him."
I then confronted the bartender for selling me down the river, and he said, "What's going on with you? Why didn't you tell me there was a problem? Why didn't you just move your seat?"
Oh, okay, it's all my fault. Except I did tell him I was getting creeped out. And he didn't believe me. He didn't listen.
I was hiding in a dark corner on a bench for quite some time before the manager came back to check on me again. He said, "Do you want me to kick him out? If you tell me to kick him out, I'll kick him out."
I said, "If I were you, I'd kick him out for what he did."
So the manager went back and talked to him again. And then, here's the kicker: he returned to me, and said, "OK, I've asked him to leave, and now I've got to ask you to leave. I can't have you here."
No apologies for a bad experience, no comfort that they were here to keep an eye on me and protect me, no assurances that this was a safe place. Instead, I'd caused a problem, and I had to be removed.
I felt punished for standing up for myself. Again.
I don't want to stay where I'm not wanted, so I tried to gracefully bow out. But I don't know how I can go back there, to a place where I thought my friends were looking out for me, but where they actually permit inexcusable behavior to happen, and I'm expected to as well.
Too many horrible things have happened to me as a result of me being nice and not wanting to be rude. Of me putting other people's wants and needs ahead of mine.
And I'm damaged forever because of it. The only thing I can do is try to prevent any further damage from happening.
And this is what I get.
Dispatches from My Soft, Naked Core