Ok here we go… #metoo. However this platform is not an appropriate one for a WCHM to disclose his own experiences as anything but a perpetrator.
For 35 years I denied even the possibility that my father had ever struck my birth-mother because against all evidence “it just didn’t make sense” to me.
He totally hit my mom.
Nevertheless, it did “make sense” to me to punch holes in the walls to express my feelings… Most specifically to my partners. I absorbed this from my father. This doesn’t excuse my behavior, but learning this behavior from my primary care-giver made it feel natural; something that men do. And get to do.
Because it’s convenient.
In the back of my mind, whenever I felt deeply upset that a partner’s behavior was slipping out of my personal control, when the argument escalated, I knew I had a trump card: “THIS IS HOW UPSET I AM!” Punch hole, Storm out. Conversation over. I may have even manufactured some escalation in order to justify this behavior.
When I was in my early teens I practiced a great deal of self-harm. I could have reserved that for my own comfort, but I found a convenient way to harm myself in front of my partners so I could manipulate their emotions and behavior.
When my father was in the spinal ward at Harborview, most of the other patients had gunshot wounds. I was 13. One of the nurses there noticed I’d been cutting and began a dialog with me that lasted about a month. At one point I must have said something casually misogynist because she introduced me to the women on that floor who had gunshot wounds.
Every single one of them had been shot by their boyfriends or their friends boyfriends.
“But that doesn’t make any sense!” I said.
In the meantime, perhaps that very week, I was serially groping female classmates, then wondering why they were so upset.
I have photographic evidence of this, a class picture in which the young woman in the row ahead of me is looking shocked and upset, while I behind her, am trying to look like a cool guy.
I timed this grope so that her moment of disempowerment would be recorded forever. I thought of this as a prank.
I knew that hitting women was wrong, and therefore was impossible behavior for my father, yet any other form of assault was fair game. “Ok, rape is also bad. I probably shouldn’t do that either because I am a good person.”
I frequently think about the class-picture assault I committed. I’ve wondered: how could I not have known any better? I believe the answer at the time was that I *did* know better but i didn’t have to. So I opted to be shitty because I thought it would be funny. And I got away with it because boys will be boys.
With such an attitude, I know I must have later on crossed a number of boundaries of sexual consent. This troubles me to my soul yet what keeps me awake at night is the fact that this is a suspicion rather than a series of recollections. That I was so pampered within within a culture of brutalization which had been constructed with my personal convenience in mind, it felt appropriate, comfortable, and convenient for me to blind myself to the verbal and emotional cues of a person I honestly felt I dearly cared for.
This duality began tearing me apart. Why do women seem so pissed off all the time? Why does there seem to be a pattern to this inexplicable rage?
My Father’s Ghost: “Women are crazy.”
Not good enough, Sherlock.
I began researching serial killers, searching for commonalities between “MONSTER” violence against women and the “casual” violence I had seen in my father and within myself. In my mind at that time I thought of it as “the sense of male possession” . Rape Culture is far more direct. I discovered that the parallax between Ed Kemper, Ed Gein, and the men who shot those women I met in the Spinal Ward was nearly identical.
I resolved to do better. I did a lot of work on myself. I refused to be “one of those men.” Plenty of times I failed when I thought I was Acing it.
When I was 30, I discovered this phrase:
Men are afraid that women are going to humiliate them. Women are afraid that men are going to kill them.
This catalyzed my confusion. Through the encouragement of my wife I became a personal safety instructor to women, girls, boys, and men. We became co-teachers. The stories we heard from our students were harrowing. And many of our colleagues had similar stories. My eyes opened and at last I understood how to conduct myself.
I shared that understanding with my students. One day I realized I was teaching what NO means to pre-sexual children. And to teens and adults. I began to have the feeling that at last I had driven the axe that would separate my behavior from the parasitic culture which I had previously so confidently and casually embraced.
Nevertheless, not two days ago I discovered I had once again discounted a partner’s NO. It was a conversation about soup. My partner was not having an easy day, had been buffeted by personal attacks on social media, and then as she was venting to me via text, I offered her soup. I’m paraphrasing here:
“I made a fuckload of tom yum. Would that help?”
“That sounds nice, but I have to work.”
“Ok, well there’s soup here if you want some.”
“Really have to work.”
“Soup might help you work better”
“No means no, dude! I’m in a bad place and you are not listening!”
In my family culture as a Sicilian, soup makes everything OK. This is a lie. Respecting a NO helps more than anything.
I’m grateful that my partner could muster the emotional strength to call me out. But it shouldn’t be up to her to guide me to respecting the NO. I should know this. I already know this. I still have a great deal of work to do.
These #metoo posts have made me reflect on some things which I’m not proud of. A couple of teenage incidents come to mind; standing outside Easons on O’Connell St with mates playing a private game amongst ourselves where we scored each girl walking past out of ten, or cheering loudly in a macho way seeing lesbians holding hands in Roscommon.
These are examples of “normal” laddish behaviour, which it would never have occurred to us to reflect on back then. I remember having a row with my girlfriend when I was around the age of 19 or 20. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t get rid of my erection and she wouldn’t have sex with me. I literally didn’t have a clue why she wouldn’t just do it – we’d had sex hundreds of times, why not now?
There’s been tons of other times, drunk and drug-affected, when I had sex with people where consent was a pretty grey area. I was never told “no” but I wasn’t told “yes” either. The point is that this society brings us up to believe that women are the property of men. This plays out in both conscious and unconscious entitled behaviour. I don’t believe guilt and penance is necessarily a positive force, but I believe that reflection and changing your behaviour is. We’re all human and we can all change.