Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Threatening
A couple months ago, I shared what is perhaps the most personal recounting of any of my memories in a philosophical editorial titled I’m Hesitant to Say Me Too. Since writing that, my life has been chaotic and anxiety-inducing, combined with trying to keep up with my studies. There aren’t a lot of support lines for teacher candidates who also fall into marginalized categories, particularly involving mental health issues. Luckily (and I do say this kind of facetiously) I’ve been taking advantage of the high-functioning side of my abilities, so that I can blend in with my peers.
Before I revisit this topic, I’m going to stress that this is an editorial with philosophical charges to explore some semblance of truth. That being said, I realize that the very mission of “Me Too” when it started has been for women, and more specifically, originated as a work for women of color. I do not wish to erase their stories, their testimonies thus far, as they are very important if we are to come to any point of healing. If there is anything you take away from my thoughts here folks, listen to women of color. They do a lot more of the work of feminist thought and action than you think!
With that said, on to my thoughts.
1. What is “Me Too” and why I support it
Last week, founder of the “Me Too” movement Tamara Burke discussed in an interview what she believes is the next step in advocacy. “Me Too” began over a decade ago on MySpace as a means for survivors of sexual assault to get the resources they need to heal. Just last year, #MeToo trended in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, for all women who had been victims of sexual assault to come forward in solidarity. The movement has gone viral ever since, and become a lot more broad a movement than when it first began.
If you have read my first editorial on this subject (which ICYMI I will share again), my conclusion was that I, too, was a victim of sexual assault, but as someone who was just as guilty of perpetuating the values of rape culture in what was presumably recorded against me as a threat at the age of 19, I fundamentally could not stand with my sisters. This is what some of us in intersectional circles refer to as fragmentation: a condition where the community has many different parts from the whole, and those parts far too often contradict each other. In this case, I, a victim of sexual assault, was also treated like one of the attackers, before he could ever do so.
Ideally we would like for our communities to be transparent and pure, where everyone is on the same page and we could live in harmony, but in reality not everyone shares the same history and beliefs, and some members within each community can act as oppressors to the oppressed.
And this is something that I have to stress for men of color like me: we don’t have the same stakes in the community as women and non-binary genders, even if we are victims of different kinds of oppression. We have to be more aware of our position and how that comes across from others not like us.
So no. I can’t say “Me Too” with the same weight as anyone else in our community, victim status of sexual assault notwithstanding. The best I can do is support them, if there is any hope for us to heal.
2. A time and space to heal
At this time I would like to stress that I agree with Burke on her assessment of “Me Too” as it stands today, in that we do need to have time to heal. That being said, I don’t think that doing so will be easy for many of us, and it definitely won’t happen overnight.
Describing a Phase II of the “Me Too” movement, Burke stays positive about just how many voices have come forward since 2017 on the subject of sexual assault, regardless of the many directions it has become since her original vision. And yeah, dare I say, there have been quite a few men who have come forth on their testimonies as well, albeit with subversively mixed results.
Like seriously? #HimToo? Excuse me for taking the role of gatekeeper for a moment: even if you were yourself a victim of sexual assault, the cause isn’t about you. And if you’re not comfortable sharing the spotlight with others, then write your own editorial about it! Cause you’re not going to find that here.
And this, to me, is where I see the trouble with transitioning to a Phase II, to collectively come to a healing chapter. Some folks are in a hurry to end the movement, while others are still constantly reminded of the wounds that were afflicted on them. And no matter where I stand on this issue, both of these narratives are valid! You can’t just wipe away the anger, the tears, the painful memories brought upon recognizing that the oppression exists even now, just by flicking your wrist with some magic spell that will cure everyone!
Whether or not you believe me at this point, I think implicitly this is also a concern that Burke brings up. “Me too” has done a lot of good for getting these conversations going for a lot of people, and yet it has also drowned out a lot of voices, particularly black women. That being said, she is right that regardless of how much work that women of color have put in, such feminist issues don’t cause enough traction until white women get involved. And by the way, if you’re still new to the whole intersectional feminist philosophy thing, get used to it. Trying to find anything that will please everyone is hard work, but necessary if any one of us can even get to a time or space to heal.
Speaking of space, this is also why I think it’s important for us to talk about issues like sexual assault and matters of inequality in a public sphere, albeit we should not be limited to only being in that space. This is something that I stress offline, because your impressions of someone on the surface (say in public) won’t always match their role as a professional or as a family member or close friend (say in private). I don’t have a problem with anyone who has gone to therapy for mental health concerns; it’s rather helpful. Having said that, if you are in a safe space where your confidentiality is recognized and understood, it would be in your best interest to keep certain things about the other person to yourself, regardless of if they are open to sharing that part of themselves publicly.
Not gonna lie. That last part is something that even I have a problem with trying to keep to myself. That’s probably why most of my friends stopped talking to me for a long time. They don’t want to get involved with my shenanigans. Regardless of what you choose to share in the public space though, you need to take responsibility for your own words. Own up to them. And if you’re going to receive criticism for it, then maybe those are the people whom you shouldn’t be sharing thoughts with anyway.
Point is, be open with your expressions, but also be honest about it. If this is your time to heal, this is also your time to set boundaries that weren’t communicated before. You don’t have to go back to being the person you once were, prior to those wounds. You have grown, and you have learned far more than you probably would have known.
Far more than I would have known.
3. Anger is the wisdom to let go. Healing is the wisdom to be included.
You probably noticed that I haven’t written anything on this blog for almost a month now. And to come back with another weird post that’s different from anime reviews or fan fictions? And with a borderline continental philosophy topic on top of that? When is he going to get back to form and give us what we really want, whatever that is?
This past month since I’ve been dormant from the blog has been filled with a lot of restructuring my own beliefs and becoming a lot more aware of my own situations, outside of my comfortable anime critic bubble. What I found was that a lot of my writing, a lot of my expressions, tied closely to two actions that are constantly at odds with each other: letting go, and being included.
This is how I envision what has become of the “Me Too” movement, from Phase I to (a hopefully soon) Phase II. The anger that encapsulated every testimony, every retweet, every voice over the past year, standing in solidarity with other victims, says a lot about our culture and how we have –far too often– forgotten the voices of women. Let us not forget that. But to me, in that anger, it has been a time for me to let go. To burn my painful past to the ground, leaving only what was necessary behind.
I stopped asking for forgiveness for the wrongs I once did. I cut ties with people from my past whom I associate strongly with the wrongs done to me. That power to let go was liberating, intoxicating at times. But if I were to stay in that anti-social mindset for much longer, that would reflect exactly on how new friends would treat me as well. They wouldn’t trust me, in fear that they might hurt me enough so that I would let go of them, too.
None of this became as clear to me as when another peer of mine had criticized my recent fan fiction, Last Waifu Standing. To have that amount of power to reject completely straw-man characters that other anime fans have grown to love isn’t funny, it’s terrifying! It came across to her not as my willingness to accept rejection, but rather as a fear of being included. To become part of a team. A loving partner, you might say.
And if I had to be honest… she was right. It was a fear that I hadn’t noticed about my self when I wrote the piece over a year ago, and had to revisit a second and third time to really see that as my own flaw!
So what does that anecdote have to do with the “Me Too” movement? Exactly my thoughts on Phase II: to accept what happened to me as the past, and accept that I am included as well. And that’s not easy, especially not for those whom I have harmed along the way. Those whom I have mentally let go. (I say “mentally” because I had no choice in the matter of letting go physically. They did that for me).
To be in a space where I am included. To feel validated and loved. To be in a position where I can be proud of others and inspire another generation. These are my conditions on how to heal. It may not be about going back to form, back to the painful memories, because for a long time, I just ignored them by distracting myself with something else. And it worked! For awhile anyway. But that healing process was clearly only temporary.
No, for me, the first thing that is necessary to heal is accepting me for who I am. To know that my past self was sexually assaulted, confused, and for a time, yes, perpetuated the very values that wouldn’t be any better than the values held by his attacker. My 19-year-old self was flawed, broken, and perhaps in denial of these truths.
And yet he has grown. He has matured. And he has learned to love beyond what is physical and romantic. He knows that what he did was wrong, and will work the rest of his life knowing never to do that again. And perhaps, by example in his own light, he will teach others –especially boys– not to do the same. And if by off chance those who were victimized by me by some miracle take notice of my transformation, who cares about them? They owe me nothing to make me a better person, and I owe them nothing to revisit the pains I have caused them. Because where there is a monster who resides within me, tortured by a painful past, there is also a kind, caring, (relatively) young man who has made it his life’s goal to bring hope to those who have lost it.
My readers, I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and testimonies on a concern that has been on the forefront of my mind. It’s been my pleasure to let go of the past, to make way for a time when I can heal. And perhaps, if there is one selfish thing that I could do, there might come a point where I can say without hesitation: