Tag Archives: Voices

Embracing Patriarchy to Escape Patriarchy, and Yourself-Sacrificing Coordinators

It’s Friday, and I’m walking back from KSG to the spot from which the bus will pick us up. I’m working out a budget in my head. Who I still need to buy gifts for, where we’ll be going over the weekend, what I owe people, the ride to the airport. Will I extend my stay? That’s money. Is it worth it? Will it affect my job? Being worried about money sucks (thinks the American walking out of the slum).

My thoughts are interrupted by one of my coordinators, who suddenly jumps up beside me and clenches my shoulders.
“No, stop, stop, he’s really scaring me!” she cries, which would be startling enough if she wasn’t also suddenly pushing me into the path of an oncoming man.
“I love you!” He is slurring his words and yelling, arms reaching. “Why are you leaving me all alone?”
I try to get out of his way, only to realize that my coordinator is wrenching me in place. She’s using me to hide, pushing my body toward his to block hers. Or as a trade? Is she trying to give me up to save herself?
“BABY! Dn’t leave me, ALOOOONE!”
The man is getting closer, still yelling. My coordinator is still pushing me toward him. Residents are watching us and laughing. Having got me into this slightly dangerous situation, she clearly isn’t going to save me. So I have to save her? Fine. I shove her along the path, trying to move away as quickly as possible. I can’t decide if it’s safer to ignore him and keep moving, or to tell him to go away. Looking around for help, I see Jake behind us.
“Will you please do your job as a man and make him go away?” I ask, but he doesn’t understand. As a trainer for the teachers, he’s only been with us a few days, and it’s clear that no one has let him know about the level of patriarchy here. He doesn’t get that right now, what will be safest for me is for the man to think that Jake is in charge of me, my coordinator, and the rest of the female volunteers.
“Hey, man, why don’t you leave them alone?” Jake says, weakly. Yeah, that’s a real stay away from my property warning. The man ignores him and keeps coming, shouting his ‘love’.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Esther, the angel, our saviour from SHOFCO Youth has showed up. She says a few words to the man in Kiswahili, then turns him around and pushes him back down the path. Thank you. We’re okay.

I’m feeling weird about having embraced the messed up gender structures, if only for a second, in an attempt to save myself. Especially when it didn’t even work out. It seems I’ve been conforming a lot to things that are against my beliefs, just to get by here. I keep biting down on things that I’d otherwise proudly be saying. It’s part of the reason I wouldn’t be able to stay. My feminism is too radical here, even at KSG. I feel like shit for thinking this, and for being able to leave, as I currently walk out of the slum for the day. There it is, though. I like to think that I’ll find a way back to Kibera for a bit, but it still wouldn’t be permanent. I’m lucky enough not to have to stay here, yet.

And my coordinator, what is she doing? She’s finally let go of me. We are no longer struggling with each other. She’s gone.
I look behind me, at the line of white volunteers. She’d come from the back, running around all of them. Why did she choose me? Was it my race? Was it random? Why did it happen at all? She’s supposed to be in charge, protecting us. It is not supposed to be the other way ’round.

What the fuck was that?
She pushed me into his way.
She pushed me into his way.

You Go, Girl

My friend is filing charges against her assaulter. The same friend for whom I wrote my previous post, is finally finding her voice, and I could not be more proud of her. I wish that I could find mine, beyond a webpage.

I know that it’s too late for me to do anything about my own situation. Something that happened over the summer, that has already been forgotten, couldn’t be brought up now. It would seem, what? Petty? Irrelevant? It would cause too many problems, and it would be awkward. He stays with the woman who used to babysit me. He’s on a football career track. I don’t even know if it would mess up his life, but I do know that it would be an annoying complication, one that would be too stressful for me to even begin.

“You know what’s weird?” I told my friend, after she told me that she was going to go ahead with charges. “You have so much power, you almost seem powerless.”

It’s true. It seems like women have a history of hiding their powers, knowing that for them to be exposed would only cause more problems. If you’ve been assaulted, you should have all the power. With the right litigation and timely action, you could make your perpetrator’s life hell. You could mess up his record, his scholarships, his schooling, his work, you could do damage. Damage that he would deserve. The only problem is that you’re generally too nice to do all these things that wrongly come off as “mean.” Who really wants to seriously complicate someone else’s life, especially if that someone else is a friend? It probably isn’t you, and he probably knows that it isn’t you, which is why he chose you in the first place. So you’ll let him get away with it, and blame yourself, and he’ll either keep doing it to you or move on to do it to someone else.

Then you’ll be left feeling like your body isn’t even yours, like you don’t own it. And it’s not as if anyone else owns it, either, but rather as if it’s just out there for the public to use at will. I think about this a lot, especially if I’m at a party and forced to dance with a guy with whom I don’t want to dance. Whoever came up with the “bitch” idea was a genius, because running away from that label has chased me into a number of unpleasant situations.
“Bitch” isn’t the only label that seems to keep power in check, and it doesn’t only apply in cases of assault or harassment. There are the “shrew”s, “bossy”s, and “ice queen”s, and the dreaded future label of “old maid”. In addition to not wanting negative labels, we’re also afraid of being alone, and have come up with a whole set of behavioral rules to avoid this.

I was at a bachelorette party that had a segment set aside for “advice”.
“We get married to stay married,” was the idea behind it, and there were rules for the bride to follow in order to ensure that this happened. One was, “You must never tell your man ‘no’ — even if you are angry, or upset, or tired.”
I was not feeling that rule. I knew better than to voice my opinion on the matter, but also that I would never want to follow this piece of advice. If I want to say ‘no’, I will, I told myself.

But will I? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. I’ve gotten better about sticking up for myself recently but I can’t forget the summer, and I know that a husband would be harder to deny. Of course you want a marriage to last, don’t you? And given the culture of surrender with which I’ve grown up, I haven’t seen many expectations for men to make sacrifices when it comes to preserving relationships. I think that’s partly why I’ve chosen to stay single for so long, and why I’m not crazy about the idea of getting married in the future. I don’t want to be alone forever, but the way I see things, women always have more power until they end up with a partner. I’m not sure if I’m ready to sacrifice what power I do have yet, even if by social standards I’m only allowed to tap into a minimal amount of it.

Yet here comes my friend, about to kick hers up a notch. I hope the guy gets fried. He deserves it. I hope he gets fried, and I hope she inspires a wave of empowered women. Examples, like ideas, like flames, are catching.

Over the summer, I was sexually assaulted

That’s a really scary thing to put out there, especially from someone as private as myself. I don’t like to bring other people down with the things I’m thinking about; the things that are bothering me. Something like this is serious. It’s also embarrassing, and I know that it shouldn’t be, but I feel shame in sharing the story. I’m only doing it now because a similar thing happened to my friend.
The way that we tell stories, especially ones like this, they seem so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh at them. Your audience laughs with you, and they go away thinking everything was lighthearted and fun, and you’re stuck realizing how extremely unfunny the situation is. It’s depressing, and scary, and the worst part is that no one else really understands what you’re feeling, because they weren’t there with you when you were terrified, and they don’t realize that what they are hearing are the laughs of a person who is traumatized. I see my friend, and she seems traumatized. I don’t know how to help her, except to support her. I want her to report what happened, but I understand that doing this will put her into a very vulnerable position. So in an effort to give her, and anyone else in a similar position to hers, support, I’m going to put my own vulnerable details out there.

He was a friend.
Not a close friend, and looking back now I realize that he probably didn’t think that we were good friends. To me, he was an idealized friend. When I was in eighth and ninth grade, he and two other friends of his used to hang out around the corner from my house. They all played football for the Catholic boys’ school, and they stayed with the family of one of their coaches over the summer and at different points during the school year. My friends from across the street and I would go around the corner every night to hang out with them.
The first time he met me, he said I was his girlfriend. We were young and stupid, and I knew that he was only joking around, plus I didn’t want anything of that nature to do with them. This was before I had defined asexuality, but the feelings were absent anyway. Over the course of two years, I developed crushes on all three of them in turn, him lastly. Then we only saw each other briefly and intermittently until my senior prom.
He started popping up more frequently after that, I guess because at this point I had matured enough so that he really liked the way I looked. We hung out; we hooked up; I didn’t like it; I told him that, and we stopped. In addition to being asexual, I realized that I wasn’t romantically attracted to him at all. We were operating in different areas, with our minds interested by different things. My cousin had just killed himself and I was trying to find meaning in my life. He was still obsessed with football and although I found it shallow, it reminded me so much of those summers before my life absolutely went to shit. Being around him, hanging out, made me feel like I didn’t need to worry about things. I was safe with my childhood friend. We hung out again at Thanksgiving, and nothing happened.

Fast forward to this past summer. I am more depressed than I had been the year before. That’s the thing no one thinks to tell you about grief. It doesn’t go away in a week, or a month, or a year. It stays, long after everyone else has forgotten that you should even have a reason to be sad. I am not over Person One. I will never be. And there are times when the grieving just completely takes over and makes me feel like I can’t ever move again.
That’s how I was feeling when I got a text from him, saying he was in the neighborhood.
My friend was back! I remembered those summers. I remembered safety. I remembered his protective self, and our conversations. I was happy to see him and we took a walk, and I even let him start kiss me on the footbridge.
That’s when it fully hit me that we had nothing to talk about. Not a thing. During the walk, I’d be talking about things that I was passionate about, and realize that he wasn’t even interested. He’d just be looking at my body the whole time, making comments like “that’s crazy,” or “wow” in the entirely wrong places. So eventually I’d stopped talking altogether, trying to work out why I’d been excited to see him in the first place.
“Is it even worth it to hang out with him longer?” I wondered, as I went through the motions of kissing him. But that was a silly question. It was him, and I still had his practice jersey that I sometimes slept in when I wanted comfort. “Of course it is,” I decided, and when he asked if I wanted to go to “his” room to watch a movie I said yes, happy that I could just be in his presence without any other expectations.
He put the movie into the DVD player, and then he was on top of me. At this point, I didn’t think he was assaulting me, because even though I didn’t want him on me I was kissing him back. He thought I was into it, even though I completely wasn’t, and was instead trying to figure out how I could get him to stop without ruining our friendship.  Then all of a sudden my pants were off and so were his and he was getting super close. For a second, I considered letting it happen just to get it over with. But then I decided that I really didn’t want it to happen, and who was he anyway, just showing up and expecting to have sex with me in under an hour? What was I to him? I stopped him when he was about a centimeter away from me.
“Wait,” I told him. “I don’t want to do this.”
“You’re still a virgin, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “But it’s not just about that. I don’t want to have sex with you.”
At first he was nice about it, and said that it was okay. Looking back, I probably  should have just left, but at the time I thought that would be awkward, and I didn’t want to make him feel bad. He didn’t seem to worry much about my feelings, because his compassion lasted for all of half a minute before he started pressuring me again.
“I’ll be so good,” he told me earnestly. “You’ll come so many times.”
“But what if I didn’t?” I asked him, knowing full well that I wouldn’t, and he was being ignorant.
“Didn’t what?” he asked, confused.
“Didn’t come,” I told him. “I won’t feel anything, remember?”
“So what are you saying?” he seemed offended. “Are you saying you don’t think I’m good?”
“I don’t care if you’re good or not,” I told him calmly, making sure I didn’t laugh. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t feel things that way, and I haven’t seen you in a while. If we had sex, I would be disappointed, and I would probably never want to see you again.” He was thinking about it, trying to understand what I was saying. I could see that he wasn’t going to accept it, so thinking quickly, I told him, “If I have sex with someone else first, I’ll have sex with you later.”
This seemed to momentarily pacify him. I’d pulled my pants back on, but his were still off. His dick was free, and he kept poking me with it as I tried to ignore him.
He wouldn’t stop, though.
“We don’t have to have sex, but we can do sexual things,” he told me.
“Like what?” I asked him, not at all looking forward to his answer.
“Like, we can give each other head,” he said.
This wasn’t something I wanted to do at all. I’d never sucked a guy’s dick before, and doing it just so that I wouldn’t have to have sex was not an ideal introduction to me. I want to point out that at this point, I felt like I had to do something. It was beyond simple pressure and seemed more forceful. I felt obligated to him, this guy who had once seemed like a protective big brother, that I somehow still saw as and still wanted to be my friend. I kept kissing him, trying to delay what I was more and more beginning to think was the inevitable, when he pushed me onto my back and slid my pants back off.
His tongue was inside me. I tensed and lay still, waiting for it to be over, but it was taking too long. I guessed that he was waiting for a reaction from me. Even though I’d tried to explain asexuality to him, he obviously didn’t believe it. I tried to fake pleasure, but I was too drained to do much more than breathe heavily. It was all so sad. Here he was thinking that he was doing something good for me, when all he was doing was making me feel dead, and numb, and guilty.
When he finally stopped, I knew that I was going to have to suck his dick in order to leave. The entire time in his room, he hadn’t stopped saying things like “I know you want this,” and, “Just let me dip it in and take it out. That’s all.” Kissing him hadn’t stopped him, reasoning with him hadn’t stopped him, and now he’d given me head. It was expected of me. I knew it. And I didn’t know any other ways to say no.
Isn’t it funny how much the fear of awkwardness, and the fear of offense, moves us to do things we know we shouldn’t? I physically could have walked out of the room at any time. Mentally, though, I felt locked in. Emotionally, I was too tired to fight any more. I lowered myself to my knees, robotic, and took him in my mouth.
Here’s the beauty of asexuality: it doesn’t matter what I’m doing; if I have no emotional attachment to the other person, I will always feel the same thing: nothing. Before I’d started sucking his dick, I had been disgusted with the thought of having it in my mouth. Disgusted. With all of it. Once it was happening, though, I had the same out-of-body experience I almost always do. I actually forgot what was going on, and got wrapped up in my thoughts. I wish I could pinpoint what I was thinking about, but it was like my mind was moving through clouds and I wasn’t actually anywhere.
What brought me back to the present situation was his moaning. He was lying back saying things like, “Ohh, that feels good, don’t stop…” and the whole thing seemed so ridiculous. He suddenly seemed stupid, like a joke, and I realized how vulnerable he was. It made me want to bite his penis off. Instead, I just stopped, and left him to finish by himself as I sat there texting. I was angry. For all of his telling me, “I know you want this,” he didn’t know shit. He thought that the only reason I hadn’t wanted to have sex with him was because I thought he wouldn’t be good, and that I was saving myself for someone better. How shallow and stupid was that? He didn’t actually know, believe, or care anything about my own mental state.
“Whoever gets this will be lucky,” he said, referring to my body and not my person.
“I know,” I told him, and then realizing that absolutely nothing was keeping me in the room anymore, I faked a yawn. “You know what?” I told him, “I am tired. I am tired. I should go home now.”
“Okay,” he told me. He had no reason to want me to stay, as he knew he wouldn’t be getting anything else from me. “I’ll walk you home.”
He walked me three houses down to the corner of his street, leaving me to walk alone up mine. I let him hug me goodbye, and I endured the last kiss I would ever allow him to give me, then turned and tried not to sprint away from him.
“You work that walk now!” he called after me as I made my way up my hill. “Mmm mm mm!” It was official. In that moment, I had no agency of my own, and I was only on the planet for him. Everything about me, my body, my walk, existed for his personal enjoyment. I had never felt so much like nothing before. I went home and tried to wash him out of my mouth in the kitchen sink.

One of the worst parts in looking back is realizing that none of this would have happened if he was a stranger. When I told this story to other people, especially my guy friends, the overwhelming response was one of incredulity, not at his actions, but at how I could have been stupid enough to allow them to happen.
“Why would you go to his room in the first place?” I’m used to hanging out in friends’ rooms.
“How could you believe him when he said he wanted to ‘watch a movie?’ He’s a guy!” And yet, I’ve watched many movies with my guy friends.
The thing is, if it had been a stranger, I never would have been taking a walk with him in the first place. When strangers invite me to their rooms, I say “No” and surreptitiously put as much distance between them and myself as possible. I trust my friends.
“How could you stay after what he tried in the first place?” I stayed for our friendship. I didn’t want to throw away some of the few memories I had of undisturbed contentment by making a scene and walking out. In exchange for my loyalty, I was stomped on and disrespected. He didn’t care about our friendship. He didn’t care about me.

I don’t know what the moral of this is. I don’t know if it has a moral. I hope that one day I can tell my story without feeling ashamed, or afraid of being judged. And I hope that my friend, along with everyone else who has suffered through anything similar, can find her voice.