My experiences have been unequivocally fucked up. When people I know hear or read my story, they look at me differently. They call me brave. They call me strong. They tell me they can’t imagine what it must have been like, and sometimes they can’t imagine how I can move forward as I am. But let me tell you something, as awful as it was, and it really was, I wake up every morning and thank my lucky stars I went through it as a woman, because every single step of my personal nightmare would have been worse if I were a man.
Let me explain.
Let’s rewind the story. If you haven’t read it, I’ll link it here. Go back to day one, when I was 20 years old, discovering I wasn’t straight or monogamous by nature, and the backlash I faced as a result. I had a few people look at me weird for going out with a girl. I had family members tell me it was wrong. But nobody shouted “faggot” as I walked by or questioned my womanhood. Nobody vandalized my property or jumped me. Even the fundamentalist megaphone preacher that my girlfriend and I attempted to provoke for laughs more or less ignored us.
If I were a boy, consider how much more flack I would have taken just for deviating from heterosexuality. Nobody would have cheered me for my bravery, called me sexy, or lauded my progress for gender equality (all of which were responses I got as a queer woman who had just come out). But there’s a very good chance I would have felt unsafe, as many men have told me they do when someone calls into question their sexual orientation. In a 2004 FBI report on hate crimes, 61% of reported sexual orientation based attacks targeted gay men, with only 14% toward gay women. A feminist friend of mine once told me that it’s easier to be a gay man than a lesbian, because at least they have male privilege. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but if male privilege entails quadrupling my chances of getting my ass kicked for liking what I like, I think I’ll take my female oppression, thank you.
When I was abandoned by my family for daring to be queer, I looked into ways to pay for school. FAFSA was out of the question: my parents made too much and I was too young to file separately. At the time there weren’t a whole lot of resources from LGBT organizations that would help me, but there were a host of scholarships and programs available to me (four times the amount available to men) as a student fortunate enough to have a pair of ovaries. If I were a boy, I’d have had no such luck.
As for the poly aspect, before my ex was abusive or even mean, he was just another guy. The automatic assumptions placed on him for his decision to engage in polyamory were very different from what my then girlfriend and I experienced. He was viewed as a predator, a greedy scumbag, and a misogynist. He was threatened and insulted, even by people who knew me well (and thus should have known I was dating that way because I wanted to). Never mind that she and I made just as conscious of decisions to enter into that relationship as he did. She and I were told that what we were doing was wrong, and occasionally that we’d been brainwashed or coerced. But we were never threatened with physical harm. My father never told her he might have her killed, but he certainly threatened to kill my then boyfriend (enough times and with enough persistence that we wound up calling the police). If I were a boy, again, my safety would have been far more at risk for the same decisions.
Now let’s consider the abuse. For four years, he and I were in a fairly traditional (from an outside perspective) heterosexual relationship. Let’s explore what that might have looked like had our genders been reversed. He left bruises on me that I concealed with clothing and makeup. I left marks on him, too, often bruises and bite and scratch marks, in the process of defending myself. Imagine if I were a boy. My ex would have been lauded for landing that punch to my eye, regardless of the fact that it came first, if our roles were reversed. He would have been a feminist, standing up for women everywhere. People would pump their fists and say “you go, girl!” Even Jezebel was so bold as to condone and cheer women who do to men what my ex did to me.
I would have been condemned for breaking my partner’s nose, because nobody would have believed it was in self defense. If they did, I would have been asked why I didn’t restrain my partner, or leave the house, or try to talk things through. I would have been asked why I felt the need to hit the person, even though I exhausted all those options long before it got that far. I would have been called a misogynist and an abuser, with zero regard for the fact that I was the one being abused. I would have been asked what I did to prompt the person to hit me in the first place. Did I cheat on her? Did I say something blatantly offensive? Surely I must have done something to deserve it. I know this because I know men this has happened to, and when I talk about these issues, these are the questions I am asked on their behalf, as though cheating or insulting are valid reasons for resorting to physical violence (you wouldn’t condone hitting a woman for those things).
The time we went to the police station after arguing over whether or not his behaviour was illegal, both of us looking visibly distressed from the argument, my hand wrapped in ice (which I had bruised on some concrete in a struggle on the back porch), the reaction was obviously gendered. They knew nothing about our circumstances, but they asked me, and not him, if I was okay. They asked me, not him, if he had hurt me. I’d like you to imagine for a moment what might have happened if an upset looking hetero couple walked into a police station, and the man were the one whose hand was wrapped in ice. What might they have assumed about how he came to injure it? What was he striking? Was it the wall? The table? Was it her? If I were a boy, I wouldn’t have been asked if I were okay or if she had hit me, but I may have been asked the reverse.
The officers separated us. They asked me for my side of the story. They asked if I wanted him thrown in the drunk tank, if I intended to press charges, if I needed help finding a shelter. They looked surprised (understandably) when I said no. I never said I made good choices back then. He was not asked questions like that. If I were a boy, I would have been the assumed aggressor, regardless of what had actually happened, and the services available to me as a girl would not have applied. Indeed, if I had asked for those services as a male, to have a female partner arrested or charged, or for help getting to a shelter, as many of my male acquaintances have, I would most likely have been laughed at. I know men who have had officers laugh in their faces for the same things that granted me immediate empathy and kindness, and I have known men who sought out shelters and were denied entry on the basis of their gender. If I were a boy, I would have been mocked, silenced, and possibly arrested for what I went through.
To give you a more striking example, when asked what prompted her to start speaking out for men’s rights, activist Karen Straughan describes a number of instances of female-on-male domestic violence she was aware of when she was younger, including a friend of hers who was violently abused by his partner (about 5 minutes into this interview). At one point, this man was shoved to the ground and cuffed, covered in his own blood, until he managed to communicate to the cops that his girlfriend had a knife and the kids were still inside. If I were a boy, I could have been forced to eat the pavement outside my apartment, put in handcuffs for the offense of being beaten in my living room.
Now let’s consider the sexual violence. Even I don’t particularly like to talk about this, but again, I count myself incredibly lucky that I experienced it as a woman, and not as a man. My ex used to grope me all the time, most days, despite loud and sometimes even violent protest, and he would argue that because we were a couple, he had the right to touch me however and whenever he wanted. Because of this, as well as his aggression and volatility, I usually gave in to sex when he asked. I was terrified of what might happen if I said no, so I had an awful lot of horrible, desperately unwanted sex that usually ended in me crying in the shower. I used my period as a shield, often letting him believe it started days before and ended days after it actually did, praying that he wouldn’t push me to do things anyway. I thank what gods may be that he wasn’t into period sex.
First off, obviously, if I were a boy, the option of claiming to be on my period would not been available to me. Coercive sex and nonconsensual groping might have come any day of the month. My one power play would have been gone. But that’s minuscule compared to what else I might have dealt with.
As a woman, I have the benefit of being believed. Most people don’t even think it’s possible to rape a man, especially if the aggressor is a woman. If I (female me) had tried to involve the legal system in my sexual assaults, I would have had a good chance of pursuing justice. Not just because I was in the right, but because I am a woman and he is a man. I know many men who have been raped and molested, by men or by women. None of them have been able to pursue justice. No questioning of suspects, no arrest, no trial. Sometimes they won’t even make a police report. I have been told soberly by men I care about, “he shouldn’t bother going to the cops; they won’t do anything.”
And then there are the men I know, and many like them, who have endured sexual violence only to have the very paradigm their abuse defies turned against them. I know multiple men who have been told “have sex with me, or I’ll tell everyone you raped me,” a threat that only works because of our cultural assumptions on violence. I know others who have been assaulted or abused by women who then spread such a rumour throughout their communities, causing my friends to be unsafe in their towns. If I were a boy, I could have been repeatedly assaulted as I was, only to be threatened or beaten by my neighbours for the belief that I was the one doing the assaulting. After all, if I were a boy, who would believe me?
As a woman who has been through this, I can expect immediate empathy from everyone who knows, and culture at large. For my benefit and the benefit of others like me (regardless of my opinion on the subject), jokes about violence against women are considered unacceptable. Trigger warnings are put on everything. Men are warned not to make overt sexual advances toward women, for fear of triggering some potential past trauma. Legislation is proposed and passed to make things easier for women like me and harder for men like my ex. Multi-million dollar organizations exist to help me and to advocate for me. Nobody seems to care about the roughly half of survivors who are not women, whom these efforts ignore, do not help, and often harm.
If I were a boy, I could expect to be told I’m not a real man, or that I must be gay because I didn’t enjoy it. “Some lady forced herself on you? Dude, hi-five!” Or I would be condemned for mocking the suffering of women, of “real” rape or DV victims, by daring to disclose what happened to me. I could expect to turn on the TV and see my trauma portrayed as a comedy trope on shows like Glee, Buffy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which had the date-rape of a male protagonist as its punchline in the very first episode), where people are expected to laugh themselves silly at the idea of a man being touched or made to have sex without his consent. If I were a boy, my four years of hell for which I suffer a very real psychological disorder would be comedy bait, and I might be called a pussy or a homo for not wanting to watch it.
Because I am a woman, I have the culture on my side. The paradigm is on my side. Organizations and advocacy efforts are on my side. The law is on my side. An entire nation with its torches and pitchforks are on my side, ready to decry anyone who even sounds like they are okay with what happened to me. I get hugs, words of comfort, and unblinking, unquestioning empathy for what I went through. Men have none of these things. If I were a man, I’d face invisibility, shame, rampant victim blaming, and a complete lack of resources to pull myself out of the hell hole I was in or seek legal redress. This is not okay.
When people tell me these things happened to me because I’m a woman, I scoff. When I’m told I’m disadvantaged to be a woman, I laugh. When I try to bring these issues to the attention of others, even in casual discussion, I am often told that male victims don’t matter, or that there aren’t enough of them to worry about, or even that men who suffer these things should be grateful for the perspective it gives them on women’s issues and suffering. Those arguments make me physically sick. Do not tell a woman who has been through hell on earth that the only reason you empathize or care about her suffering is the accident of nature that gave her a vagina. Do not tell someone whose loved ones have experienced horrors that their suffering doesn’t matter.
If you have gone through anything like what I went through, even for a day, you have my love and my support, and I fight for you. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, or anything else. Nobody should have to experience that. And nobody should have to experience mockery, victim blaming, and invisibility on top of it. Basic human empathy and love should not be gendered, and neither should advocacy, support systems, legislation, criminal investigation, government programs, or availability of shelters. We are all human, and we all deserve safety, respect, and dignity.