Assuming immunity of perpetuating rape culture simply because of one’s ideological leanings (or any other superficial identifications) is an insincere and lazy stance akin to dehumanizing the powerless. Even as a feminist and as a queer person, I have been, and can still be complicit in the promotion of misogyny, sexism, and sexual violence. By being male, and having been born into a hegemonic patriarchy—built on slavery and the degradation of marginalized communities—I am guilty by default. Regardless of my self-proclaimed innocuousness, I know I have contributed to rape culture. I cannot leave my past unchecked and unexamined. I wrote this account, so that society can hold me accountable. “Good or ill for the rational social being lies not in feeling but in action: just as also his own virtue and vice shows not in feeling, but in what he does,” Marcus Aurelius wrote in “Meditations”. In keeping with being a rational social being, I publicly reflect my mistakes.
A few years ago, I had made a group of friends through a Facebook group: it was a diverse queer-friendly group. Together, we spent time in Seattle Wash., exploring the vibrant Pike Place Market and the very colorful Capitol Hill district. After several hangouts, I felt comfortable enough to play or act the fool around them. On one occasion, I remember repeatedly slapping the buttocks of one young man. For purposes of privacy I will not disclose his actual name. Mr. Y, I will call him, was 18 years old; I was 21. I also recall he and I both attended different community colleges, and we bonded over similar aspirations to transfer to a four-year university. A year later, after I had won my admission into the University of Washington, I had lost touch with Mr. Y and the friends I had made while studying at Highline College. Three years have passed since I last spoke to any of them.
I woke up one morning to a breaking story about Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Multiple women accused Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. A few days later, allegations of U.S. actor Kevin Spacey sexually assaulting minors followed. I thought to myself in utter disgust, “How can anyone use their position and power to take advantage of innocent lives? To abuse and betray their trust?” Worst of all, both men attempted to deflect the press corps’ attention from their misdeeds by playing victim. Spacey came out to the world tweeting, “I choose now to live as a gay man.” While Weinstein admitted himself into a rehabilitation facility to treat sexual addiction. The appropriate response would have been to acknowledge wrongdoing and pledge to actively fight against sexual violence and injustice in the workplace. However, neither men expressed such interests. I was disappointed in the two, but then… like a lightning bolt striking the tower, I remembered my own conduct when I was with Mr. Y. I plummeted into the depths of introspection. I began pacing back and forth in my room, wondering in the dark, “Did I do that?”
When discussing about sexual misconduct, it is imperative to remember that such behaviors often occur between people who possess disproportionate influence over others. Spacey and Weinstein were both established Hollywood figures who abused their positions by mistreating people who depended on their power. Like Spacey and Weinstein, the age difference between Mr. Y and me also qualifies as a relationship defined by unequal power distribution. I failed to recognize my own stature, and due to my own ignorance, I exercised power over Mr. Y by accessing his body without his approval (I slapped his buttocks with my hands multiple times). If objectivity prosecuted me, it would examine how I had touched an erogenous area of Mr. Y’s body without his permission, then charge me with sexual assault, and I would submit to such a judgment. At the time, I thought I was being humorous and lighthearted, but now I realize I had invaded the space of one of my friends. He trusted me, and yet I betrayed him. “I have done that.”
I felt that I had to reach out to Mr. Y, so I sent him a Facebook message. In it, I state that I had made physical contact to his body without his explicit consent. In it, I beg for his forgiveness, knowing that I do not deserve any. In it, I offer my services in whatever way I can to help heal the wounds I had made. It took some time for me to press send, but in the end, I sent my apology. Mr. Y replied a couple of weeks later, and much to my relief, he forgave me. He said, “I remember this happening now that you bring it up but don’t worry about it. I forgive you. I think I personally have to work through some stuff because I just have an issue with people touching me in general. It’s not just you. It might be because I’ve never been shown affection as a kid so any form of it kind of pushes me away and seems so foreign to me.”
Mr. Y’s mercy provided much needed closure, but considering how I committed an act of sexual misconduct, my emotions are totally irrelevant. My recklessness resulted in Mr. Y feeling disempowered, isolated, and uncomfortable. All the while, for over three years, I was gallivanting about this Earth as if everything was fine; as if I was incapable of committing such horrible offences. The complacency! What ignorance! How obtuse! Even if I had realized sooner, issuing an apology (no matter how earnest and lengthy) does not compensate or pardon me of my misconducts. For injuries take longer to heal than for criminals to utter confessions.
While thinking about Mr. Y and how to deconstruct rape culture, a sort of emptiness came over me, almost immobilizing me. I thought to myself, “I am a fraud. How can I, after what I did, call myself a feminist?” The identity to which I held onto so dearly and passionately, now felt so foreign to me. Even the thought of participating in the feminist movement repulsed me, because it reminded me of my transgressions. I reached out to colleagues and friends on how I should move forward. One of them said on Facebook Messenger, “Just because someone realizes they did something once, doesn’t mean they’ll be perfect in the future. but the important part is acknowledging it and like you say, always trying to be better.” In a fit of melodrama, I suggested to one of my brothers from my fraternity, I should retreat into hermitage and never think about participating in social activism. “We are all imperfect,” he objected, “And the world needs more people who are willing to recognize that they have flaws and strive to do better.”
I agree with them, and I will follow their wisdom. As humans, we can make mistakes, but blindly perpetuating destructive habits, to include brutalizing the defenseless, is intolerable and beneath our noble design. I am not a perfect feminist, but I desire to do better and be better. I have strong, visceral reactions to the sight of injustice, so I will not fade away. Duty demands that I stand my ground and venture forth. As far as I have come, still I will for I must, endeavor to ensure I treat everyone with dignity and respect. The fight to dismantle rape culture, and ultimately the patriarchy, will be an ongoing mission that will require vigilant oversight of one’s self.