Dear American South, I Am So Sick Of Your Shit.
why I love, and why I left, the South
I grew up with a mother who was a Registered Nurse. When I was four she and several nurses from her hospital organized to combat sexual harassment in their workplace. One meeting they held at our house made a lasting impression on me. A woman told a story of walking into a busy staff lounge and not being able to find a seat. A male doctor grabbed her by the waist and pulled her down into his lap saying,
“You can sit right here honey.”
When she objected, he refused to let her up. She had to fight her way out of the chair as he laughed and other men encouraged the behavior. I didn’t understand that at four, but I recognized a roomful of women were pissed off about it. Many of them related similar experiences they’d had with the doctor and other male members of the hospital staff.
Later the meeting broke up. I continued to play with my Legos on the floor in the living room. One of the nurses came over and sat on the couch across from me. She asked me about my toys.
Do you let your sister play with your Legos?
Nah, my sister doesn’t like Legos.
Do you think that’s because she’s a girl?
I don’t think so. She’s got her own toys.
Do you know the difference between boys and girls?
Oh sure. Girls have to sit down to go to the bathroom.
That was the only distinction for me. I don’t remember much about this woman today, but her words have influenced how I see women ever since. I hadn’t met her before that day and don’t think I ever saw her again. She wasn’t one of my mom’s close friends, but she was friendly to me, warm even. I liked her. I was an outgoing kid and if this woman wanted to talk to me about Legos I was happy to do it. It was her warmth that made the next thing she said stick with me for years, despite the fact that none of it made sense at the time.
Well, that’s one difference, but when you grow up you’ll be a man. Your sister will be a woman. You’re going to hear a lot of things from other men. You’re going to see them do things they shouldn’t. Many of them aren’t going to treat women like your sister and your mom the way they want to be treated. Some of them might even hurt women.
Even today this seems like some seriously heavy shit to lay on a 4-year-old, but I’m thankful for that woman. I’m grateful for her sincerity and emotional investment in that moment. She didn’t speak to me like a child. It’s as if she knew she wasn’t talking to a 4-year-old boy. She was leaving a message for the adult I would grow up to be.
She made me feel like it was my choice what kind of adult I became. I didn’t want to become the kind of man groups of women would have to organize to protect themselves against. I’ve failed at times to be the best person I could be, the best man I could be, and it’s always that woman’s words that come back into mind.
No one should be calling it that, least of all someone who wants to be the President of The United States. Words are not harmless. In my life this type of attitude in male culture has been too common. I grew up hearing it at school, then later in groups of men who thought we all talked and thought that way. I’m ashamed of every time I was too intimidated to speak up; every uncomfortably forced laugh seems like a betrayal to everything women like my mom fought for. I’m proud of the moments I was able to stand up to it.
I have several male friends today and I love them deeply. They are all wonderful people. I’m proud of the man my dad is. My step-brother is an absolutely amazing single father and has raised an incredibly thoughtful and conscientious son who knows ten times more than I did at his age. I’m grateful as hell for these very good men in my life. They are the singular reason I haven’t given up hope for men everywhere.
I want to share a few stories, but I have to preface them with a strong warning. The descriptions below are disturbing. I’ve wanted to share these stories for years. They are weights inside me, each keep me from trusting new men I meet. I keep men at the safe distance I imagine women have to, until I’m sure they aren’t wolves in sheep’s clothing. They aren’t going to grope me, but at some point when they feel like we’re “bros” they’re going to say something about women that will horrify me.
These are not my stories to tell, but I will tell them, because as long as Trump has anything more than a 0% chance at being president whatever little thing I can do to fight that I will.
These accounts were told to me over the last several decades by women I grew to love as friends, family, or romantic partners. I’ve kept these secrets and will continue to keep them. No names are assigned to the stories and certain details have been omitted to protect their identities. There is no justice in their having endured these things and in almost every case the man behind them went about his life without ever being held accountable for his actions.
I’ve got too damn many more of these stories. I wrote a draft of this, for myself, just to get them all out. It was an exorcism. I’ve known 9 women who have been raped. Nine. I’m not talking people on TV. Nine human beings who have become my friends have been physically and sexually assaulted by a man. That is as unacceptable as it is disgusting.
I said in an earlier piece that Trump supporters weren’t my enemies. I still feel that way. They have genuine concerns, but at this point they also have blinders on. I wish they would find at least one woman in their life they would never want to be harmed and ask her: Do you know anyone who has been raped? When they hear the answer can they still say that Trump’s words are just harmless banter?
why I love, and why I left, the South
6 elections from now the group of people most responsible for Trump will be a minority
We should continue to fight injustice, but we have to fight the hate inside ourselves too