When I was in high school, very briefly, I was on the debate team. Turns out I was a poor debater. One of the most memorable debate experiences did not happen in the debate arena but rather at a Super 8 in rural Kansas. Debate trips in the mid 80s, if I recall correctly, were generally two-day events and high schools would travel to another town and the teams would be holed up in some inexpensive motel. Boys and girls, obviously, were housed in different rooms, but there was a lot of time for socializing. You would hear stories of some debate teams sneaking alcohol into their rooms or young couples pairing off for extended, unchaperoned make out sessions.
There was a girl who was my friend, I’ll call her Allison. I had a crush on her too, but more than anything, we were friends. After dining at a local McDonald’s, a group of us were hanging out in one of the rooms, boys and the couple of girls that were in debate. Allison was sitting on her bed. At one point, I thought it would be funny, maybe even romantic, if I jumped on her and pinned her down.
In my mind, I imagined a comical, whimsical experience for everyone, like something John Belushi would do in Animal House or Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party. I thought Allison would find it hilarious and charming.
So I pounced, awkwardly.
Allison did not find it funny. She hit me and called me a “shit brick.” In front of every other person, our friends, she called me out for my actions and ashamed, I left the room. The next day, my debate teacher talked to me about it. I apologized, of course. I do not remember whether or not I received a punishment. From the moment Allison reacted, I had felt regret and shame. I had never meant to scare her or harass her or humiliate her.
For weeks or maybe months, we were not friends and then somewhere along the way, we became friends again. Ultimately, I believe, we became better friends than before the “s-brick” incident. And now, in my adulthood, I certainly hope that is the case, that Allison and I are “good”. But, you know, we men, even us gay men, we have this way of crossing lines with women and thinking it’s funny or romantic or cool, and the women end up feeling the opposite of those things. Sometimes they speak up and sometime they don’t.
I don’t think Allison remembers me as another Harvey Weinstein or Casey Affleck or Bill Cosby. I hope not.
I thought a lot about Allison yesterday when so many of my dear friends and relatives posted “ME TOO” on their Facebook and Twitter profiles. Proclaiming, perhaps some for the first time, that they had been victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment. It broke my heart to think of the millions and millions of stories that suddenly were attached to these two words. Me too. The pain, the self-doubt, the shame, the tears, the anger. And I also hope that, for those sharing their experiences, it came with a freedom and an empowerment and a sense of community.
Of course, every woman has been sexually harassed. I suspect every human has been sexually harassed at some point.
So, yes, I thought about Allison, but I also wondered about what other things I have done or said that would fall under the category of sexual harassment. Have I told a sexually adventurous friend that she (or he, for that matter) is a “slut” before? Or dressed like a “ho”? I am 99% sure I have. Have I snickered at sex workers when I see them on Santa Monica Boulevard or in fancy restaurants with old moneyed geezers? Absolutely.
It’s easy to think that I don’t have anything in common with Harvey Weinstein. What an easy villain and target he is. While I don’t think I’ve ever done anything approaching his machinations, I have to acknowledge my own culpability. I just don’t always treat women the way they deserve to be treated.
Thank God that Allison confronted me immediately. While to me, it was a sophomoric antic, to her, especially if she had stifled it or laughed it off, it could have burrowed in her forever and done irreparable damage.
I believe, or hope anyway, that people think of me as a man who loves women. My earliest, fondest memories were always in the kitchen with my Mom and Grandma and aunts. In first grade, I was actually grounded for a week by my first grade teacher, Miss Bartlesmeyer, for only playing with girls at recess. My entire life my best friends have been women.
Also on FB yesterday, I saw a couple of my male friends make posts along the lines of “if something I did ever made my female friends feel uncomfortable, I apologize.” I think this is a really important step for all of us going forward, to think about the effects of our jokes and actions. As much as I believe all women have been sexually harassed, I believe all men have said or done something to a woman that crossed a line into making them feel uncomfortable, or worse.
I have to be honest about the state of this world and my country right now, it feels bleak. Our president is a documented sexual predator who thrives off of the division that was here before he was elected and he has only increased the ugly polarity in the 10 months he had been in office.
This whole Me Too movement is one of the few things that has given me hope for our country. As heartbreaking as it is to have a FB feed inundated with these stories, it must be acknowledged that it’s a movement that has crossed party lines. Every woman, Democrat, Republican, Green, Independent, has found their common ground over this.
I don’t think Trump wants our country to come together. He glories in the vitriol that has become commonplace. But, our president is not America.
We are. And with two little, but powerful words, in a movement created by a woman, about women but for all of us, we are telling the president and all the men like him just how united we really are. Me too.