Content Warning: molestation, impostor syndrome, suicidal thoughts, entitlement
I wouldn’t exactly call myself the most sociable of people. Despite how loud I may be in public upon unawareness of how loud I can be, most of my friends don’t really talk to me that much. Sure, I occasionally shoot my friends a text to see how they’re doing, but that’s about it. Sometimes I feel as though the bonds I have with close friends must mean that they also see me as a close friend, when in reality I hardly make a blip on their social radar, compared to so many others in their lives.
It is quite taxing for me to initiate any social interaction, even with friends, in part because I have never been so keen on picking up on social cues. To this day, trying to understand a person beyond their immediate expressions is confusing, even for the most neurotypical friends that I have, when you’d think I would know better. I had to learn through rigorous culturally oriented discourse and slice of life anime and manga that people aren’t always terrible. By contrast, social media will always be there to remind me that a lot of folks really are.
And in this wave of all things critical in an already confusing world, there are a lot of folks who are declaring “Me too,” as a reminder that sexual abuse and harassment continues to affect so many people in our daily lives. And if I had to be honest, my response would be, “If I were to say ‘me too’ as well, would you believe me?”
Why I say “Me Too”
Those who have followed me long enough on all online media know that I was once a Christian, and a very devout one at that. The church was my second home, I met lots of cool people my age through Christian youth camps, even made a habit out of reading the Bible seriously as opposed to literally. There may have even been a time when I thought that Christianity was all about love, and it would be stupid enough for anyone to see otherwise. My worldview was so small back then, and a lot of it had been shattered upon one single event: the day I was molested by someone I thought I could trust.
I may have referenced this story in another philosophical editorial. I would like to draw it in detail here, so as not to spread any confusion.
It was my first year of college. I was 18 and on my own, making my own decisions. The first thing that’s really important for any student who goes to a new school is to find their community, and I will always declare that as a necessity for anyone who chooses to go off to a university. Well at the time, I thought that Christianity was important enough to me, so of course I joined two organizations under that banner: one evangelical, the other progressive (and for the sake of anonymity, I will not be naming either one). I wish that there was a way for me to distinguish that one was indeed better than the other, but on a personal level, I regret belonging to either one, although not for the same reasons.
Suffice it to say, the evangelical organization was a lot bigger. And it wasn’t long for me to get involved in their group outings. And one such outing, which the organization claims was never officiated by them (perhaps monetarily) yet the only people who went were members of that organization, was the Men’s retreat. Over one weekend a few of the guys in this Christian organization for a road trip to a certain National Park. I was there mostly to relax and take a break from the crazy college life and perhaps gain some kind of oneness with God through nature or whatever. But that wasn’t the only thing that would happen while I was there.
As I was trying to settle in, relax, and probably reading my Bible, my senior grabbed me from behind, forced me in to the back seat of the car we took, and rubbed my nipples intensely, saying “oh yes, you’re my man treat.” Held in a locked position, I had no idea what was happening to me, or why. All I knew was that I felt uncomfortable about it all. I don’t know how long I was held in that position, but I quickly elbowed him in to his side and found my way out of the car. Every guy that was there saw both of us, dumbfounded, trying to figure out what was going on. But their confusion wasn’t about how he treated me.
They were confused as to why I was so upset.
I was hurt. A senior, a guy that I thought of as a friend and fellow believer in God, a guy whom I trusted, even with some of my deepest thoughts about how I viewed the world at that time: for him to just take me so willingly to share in intimate physical contact without ever knowing how I would take it. I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did that day. I didn’t know anyone that well. But it wasn’t until I returned to school and tried to talk to some other seniors in the organization about what I had happened when the real problems began. Because upon hearing a word as strongly as “sexual assault,” their immediate reaction was to tell me that’s not what happened, and that I was the one who was confused about what I felt that day. How angry they were in telling me that I was in the wrong, that I shouldn’t have told them about what had happened, without seeking the perpetrator’s counsel first, just as the Gospel of Matthew would have instructed me to do so.
The event escalated so much my first semester in college, that the organization’s resident pastor had to get involved, and have a negotiation with my senior, immediately taking his side over mine. He thought the entire thing was “rough housing,” a way for guys to sort of get to know each other in a guy fashion. And that, to me, has always been the problem for guys who even try to declare sexual abuse of any kind toward them: the common consensus is that no one will believe them, and that there is always some other interpretation of what just happened that makes the very act in accusation normal.
It wouldn’t be for another year or so that the mental scarring that happened that day would become a much bigger problem. When I hurt a girl that I fell in love with at that school.
Why I don’t say “Me Too”
After the events of distrust I had with the evangelical organization, I decided to quit. I no longer went to their activities, never went to their Bible studies, and I would have stopped seeing others from their group, had it not been for the fact that there were so many of them. The first college I attended was a small liberal arts school (there are about 1700 students total who attend annually), and that Christian organization was considerably large compared to others on campus (when I was there, anywhere from 50-70 people attended their weekly worship). But like I said before, they weren’t the only Christian organization that I belonged to. All of my spiritual growth activities on campus were then placed in a much more humble group of maybe 7 people in a progressive Christian organization.
In the immediate events of the men’s retreat, I did find time to speak to that organization’s resident pastor who was also the director of the campus’s religious and spiritual life. Contrary to how the other pastor handled it, she empathized with me, let me know that my feelings were valid, and (similarly from both pastors) said that it was okay for me to leave. But with her empathy also came a word of caution, that I kind of wished I understood then what I do now about it. She told me with complete honesty that I was acting very impulsively. One does not simply go from happy-go-lucky Christian to full-on advocate for safe spaces and justice for victims of sexual assault so quickly, especially not for a guy who probably never noticed how women (and by extension non-binary gendered persons) have to put up with those matters everyday. Such is the underlying problem I find with turning any advocacy into a trending cause on social media, where there is plenty of shares and reposts to show support or add (or I suppose repeat) discourse to those who didn’t see or hear it the first time. It took me years, after I had dropped out of that school, to fully appreciate why she told me that, and why, at least in the immediacy, I should have listened the first time.
I had a very close friendship with a girl in that progressive Christian group. We were part of a lot of the same circles on campus. We had similar interests and passions about social justice. We may even had dined together once in a while on campus. Me being an awkward 18-year-old, I expressed my romantic interest in her right away, probably with something stupid like poetry or something, no less (word to anyone who’s planning to confess their love, don’t use poetry until like, maybe the 7th date. Nobody cares). She of course said no, and you would think that would be the end of it. No. I had to be that dumbass who fell in love with her more because of that.
I trusted her. Even with my life. One night, just when I was about to put a plastic bag over my head so I could not breathe, I stopped and gave her a call instead. That night, she and two other members of our progressive Christian organization including the pastor intervened, as they let me cry and held my hand, before they made the call to have me hospitalized. It was fine. I knew, even in that conversation, that I needed help, and I was voluntarily admitted late that same night. I should have known then why she took it upon herself to call everyone else there. It wouldn’t have been right, knowing our history and presumably hers, to meet alone. I was, after all, still a guy. And quite the troubled one at that. Oh, but I didn’t listen to my wiser self then.
There was an incident that happened publicly, where I had mentioned how I may have felt entitled to her love, confused as to why she would distance herself from me in my second year at the school. Nothing would seem to have convinced me that maybe I was wrong about how I approached this love game, a game that I would later come to know as, quite literally, not even attraction to her, but to an action. Nevertheless, this event now involved not just us, but mutual friends, and even campus admins because both of us were so involved at the school. And let me make this perfectly clear: I was wrong to think that just because we did a lot of stuff together that I was entitled to her love, because from very early on, she made it very, very, clear to me since the beginning: we were only friends! I should have trusted her word then, if we truly were friends. Because after that, I was pretty much done for. After much deliberation with the school psychologists and deans, I was given a restraining order. Out of embarrassment and having no reason to grow anywhere at that school, I left. Just another drop out statistic.
No. I can’t say “me too,” because now I’m part of the problem. And to this day, I am in agreement that I could never be forgiven.
How do I reconcile with these experiences?
I almost certain that some of the folks who do remember me from those tumultuous years at that school will somehow catch this post and read it without saying a word, and that’s fine. There really isn’t much to hide when these two events in my first two years of college became so integral to how I interact socially with, well, other people.
But quite recently while I was… probably minding my own business, I received a text from a close friend of mine now, whom I have met at the school that I graduated from recently. She isn’t one to initiate a conversation with me, unless she found it absolutely necessary. I guess I don’t give the “give me an out-of-the-blue” text vibe from my closest friends. But I suppose some contact is better than no contact at all.
Aside from the actual details of that conversation, she did tell me that she does read my blogs, and she likes that I give an angle to anime and stuff that most other people don’t always write about. I know I’ve been sparsely writing anime criticism within the past year now, but it is nice to know that someone I know personally has read them! And sure, there are days when I think that to people like her who do find something entertaining out of a long ass blog post, I have been letting them down by being kind of out of it lately. And maybe, maybe… you’re asking yourself, “why has he decided to share this all too personal, way too convoluted ‘Me too’ post and pass it off as a philosophical intrigue?”
Because she looks up to me. And not just her, but a lot of my close friends who see me on social media, when I’m not around to see them in real time. The wish fulfillment I once had, of fictional characters –some of my own design– who would raise me up and have my back in my hour of need, there are real people whom I can match a name to a face, are doing the same. I didn’t know how I would react once I truly was in a position to be the senior, a time for me to look my own seniors so long ago, and see myself in that same position. And to say with confidence that I am worth it, I have learned from the wrongs of my past, and I will do better than they were because of it.
I love my friends. I would never betray them. And I would be okay with keeping them as such for as long as I still live and breathe. It is through them that I have learned to trust other people, and know the difference for when I cannot. I will support them for as long as I can, to the best of my ability, and continue to cherish the interactions we have together when we have.
Because true bonds of friendship are hard to break.