A few weeks ago, when the disgusting Harvey Weinstein story broke and the #metoo movement was in full effect I posted #metoo on my Facebook, with no further context. I probably typed it and deleted it half a dozen times before posting it. I hesitated for a number of reasons. For one, my stories are not “the worst” and I didn’t want to receive the sympathy that so many others deserve more than me. But mostly, I was embarrassed to admit a 6’2,” 220-lb. semiprofessional rugby player that smiles at the challenge of taking down a large, angry samoan man on the pitch could ever feel weak, in any scenario. But that’s exactly how I’ve felt a number of times. Ironically, in one situation (more on that in a bit) it was due to my physical stature that I felt weak. In short, I decided to share for the same reasons Terry Crews, one of the leaders of the movement, did. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.
The first time I was harassed I was 17 years old and working at Arby’s. I made a joke about wanting to cut my finger on the meat slicer so I could go home early. I said this to a male, older, homosexual coworker of mine. His response was, “I’ll take you home early and show you some real pain.” I was shocked. I just continued working in silence until my shift finished. It did not hit me until later, when I was older, that that was a clearcut case of sexual harassment. Fortunately I did not work there for very long.
The second time was definitely when I felt the most powerless. I was at a bar, and an older drunk woman was obsessed with me. Following me around, kept telling me what things she wanted to do to me. I had been dating my girlfriend long enough to know she was someday going to be my wife (and she is!) so my responses were again and again, hard nos. At one point, she had me cornered. I was raised never to put my hands on a woman, as we all should be, so I didn’t know what to do. This may have been a case for the exception. But recently I had heard a story about a friend in a similar scenario. He was trying to remove himself from a situation and when pushing past the woman knocked her over. He was grabbed by bouncers and made to look like a woman-beating asshole. With that fresh in mind, plus having past cases of not knowing my own strength, mixed with the fact that the woman was so drunk a slight breeze could have knocked her over, I was afraid to even try to gently move her so I could get by. In the end, I gave her what she wanted. I made out with her long enough that I could use my patented spin move (thank you, rugby!) to get out of the corner. I was amongst friends, but what guy in his 20s doesn’t want a little bar make out sesh? No one thought anything was out of line.
I felt terrible, like I cheated on Cristen to a degree. I cried when I told her what happened, apologized, even though I didn’t know what else to do at the time. In rugby, I’ve been lifted clean off the ground by other, larger men in the middle of mauls (non-rugby folk, think: tug o’ war, but the opposite, with the ball replacing the rope). It’s not a great feeling to just be dangling there in the middle of a fight for the ball. But that pales in comparison to how powerless I felt in the situation with that woman.
The third time was similar to the second, though not as traumatic. Again, bar. Woman. Drunk. Older. This time as I gave the same speech I’ve given again and again over the years—”I appreciate the offer but I love my girlfriend very much”—the woman ran her hands up my shirt, feeling my chest and pecs. For some reason that didn’t bother me as much. Probably because I didn’t have to reciprocate anything, and was just happy her hands went up not down. Again, it didn’t hit me until later that that was sexual harassment. A couple of days later, I thought, “if that was me running my hands up a woman’s shirt without invitation, I’d be in jail right now.”
There have been probably another half-dozen times women have aggressively offered/asked/or demanded sex. These other women didn’t touch me, they went for verbal assaults. They insulted a man in the most personal ways possible. “Oh, your dick probably isn’t big enough anyway,” or, “You probably can’t even get it up.” My favorite was probably, “you know you’re an asshole right?” To which I responded, “I’m an asshole for NOT cheating on my girlfriend?” I suppose she thought I was leading her on. I just thought I was playing beer pong and being friendly.
Only once was any sort of “justice” brought upon any of these harassers. The situation was nearly identical to my first one, at Arby’s. This time I was just out of college and working at Potbelly while I tried to figure out some sort of career path. A strong sexual remark was made by a homosexual coworker. This time, I reported it to a manager. The remark didn’t bother me that much but —again, I thought of the double standard— if I’d said this to one of my female coworkers I’d have been fired, if not worse. I did it to stand up to these double standards more than anything, expecting a verbal reprimand and a strong warning to the coworker. They fired him the next day. I was proud of myself and proud to work for a company that took sexual harassment so seriously. (Though maybe I should avoid sandwich shops. Fortunately, I think my sandwich-making days are over, ha).
So why am I sharing? I’m not looking for sympathy; if you’re reading this, please keep your “sorries” to yourself. Again, like Crews, I want to show it can happen to anyone. And especially spread awareness to anyone who has been harassed or worse: it’s not a sign of weakness to share your experiences or to prosecute if necessary. (Even as I write this part of me is afraid to post it. That some will think I’m weak or say “boo hoo women wanted to bang you.” It’s an irrational but completely real fear). It’s a sign of strength.
My other reasons are pleas to society and an attempt to give it a transparent look from a different perspective. Sexual harassment is not a man/woman/straight/gay problem. It’s a human problem. There are a lot of shitty people in the world, regardless of demographic. There are a lot of great ones too. If you find one of the great ones, as a friend or partner, never let them go. To those of you in relationships, don’t risk love for a night of fun. You’ll regret it when you get caught, and you will get caught.
In that vein, not all men are looking for an easy hookup. Something that seems common could be completely out of line. Not all straight men want to do things with women. No matter how she looks it may be unwanted contact. Many of us love and respect our girlfriends/fiancees/wives enough to remain faithful, believe it or not.
My plea is this: We need to change how we treat other. I think we’re headed in the right direction, with so many predators’ deplorable acts finally coming to light. Making a change this big is like trying to steer a ship the size of a city block. It will take time, but I’m hopeful. In order to fix a problem you have to admit you have one; I think we have finally gotten there as a society. Now we have to work to make things better.
Let us respect each other. Let us not enable predators. Let us not be scared to do the right thing. Let us look out for each other. Let us protect each other. Let us love each other.
Thank you for reading my story.