A few months ago, a volcano erupted in my solar plexus, fueled by the Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and my own readiness. Some words spilled over to my Facebook page, to a limited readership, that were decidedly controversial. I knew these words would be, but they came anyway. Sometimes things have a momentum of their own. Words that had laid, for the most part, unspoken, buried and sequestered in my memory bank for decades, but it was time.
Like many out there– some even reading here– I was a victim of sexual harassment in my early career. There had been other subtler infractions along the way, like my boss in the men’s department store when I was sixteen pulling me in the back room after hours as he poured himself a whiskey, telling me I needed to use my body more strategically to sell suits while staring at my well developed chest.
The incident in my thirties was far more invasive, and had greater lasting effects on me as a woman, and in the professional relationship with this man which continued for nearly thirty years.
I did not name this person in my essay, because he is not the point. Me reclaiming myself is and was. Going after him wasn’t and isn’t my aim. Telling the truth of something I survived, is.
I’ve decided to rewrite this incident, in a small nutshell, to give background here to my readers to the larger point I need to make about this. I’ve taken some time to digest all that occurred after my sharing it initially. There was some minor backlash, but I survived that too.
This time, I just need to speak it a little differently:
We both know what you did was wrong. We knew it then and we know it now.
When a therapist in a private setting, assists their patient to open up to a deep, embarrassing wound–the intimate, sexual problems they are having in their failing marriage–listens and offers support, then uses that exact vulnerable information as an opening line to solicit a weekend of sex from them a few months later, that is called sexual harassment. You did that.
I know you’ve been having trouble with your husband lately, so thought you might want to share my room with me this weekend and get sensuous, you said. Like you were offering some kind of sexual healing to me, knowing what I was going through at home.
When a boss contacts a married woman who has stated she is trying to work things out in her marriage and asks her to share a hotel room with him on the very first time they are slated to work together, that is sexual harassment. You did that.
We also both know that I came to you that day, the day we would have checked in to that hotel together, and apologized for your wrongdoing. I know, but you don’t, that I did that out of fear–fear that I may never get that professional opportunity again of working with you because I declined your completely inappropriate “proposition” as you later called it. This occurred during a probationary period and I was being evaluated, by you, for a future position when you solicited me. You accepted my apology, when you actually should have acknowledged yourself, how inappropriate your request was.
Working together for the first time, should have never included an unsolicited sexual encounter as part of the equation.
Recently, you tried to redefine this request as a simple proposition. Including suggesting that I, myself, must have propositioned people sexually in my life, so would understand this simple, natural exchange between humans.
We never stepped in to the realm of proposition as you were my boss. You were my therapist and teacher, as well. We were never peers and this was a work environment. You crossed every single line between us to invite me for that weekend of sex. And no, I never as anyone’s superior or therapist, have ever propositioned them sexually, to answer your question. Ever.
We both know I wasn’t your first, nor your last.
It was and still is textbook sexual harassment. Yet you were protected by my silence.
It had an impact on me, then and for years later. Both of our behavior created a genetic code that allowed you to come for me, in a different form of harassment when I resigned–the imbalance of power still expressing itself. And I apologized again for your inappropriate conduct. Another reflection of my wound.
I’ve unrung that bell and that wound has healed. But it took coming from a place of you can no longer hurt me–personally or professionally–to have the strength to do that. My words now are not a symptom of my pain–they are a side effect of my having moved through it.
I am not afraid of you anymore. And the time for apologies has ended.
And, although I was victimized by you, I am not your victim.
I am stronger now than I ever was under your tutelage, and made more so because of my own words. You taught me to stand on my own two feet. This is what that looks like.
Now, readers, you understand the basis of what I’m going to talk about now.
Dr. Blasey Ford came under attack for her timing, her speaking out, her manner in which she did it–anything to shut her up, minimize her, yet speak up she did.
“Playing victim” is one term that was used to define my reality. Also suggesting I was only going public about this harassment, to “get attention”.
I guess he thought he could get me to retract the truth if he could diminish me for telling it. I’m sure Dr. Ford relates to that too.
So, today, I am here to tell you this, so listen up:
YOU CAN BE VICTIMIZED, AND STILL NOT IDENTIFY AS A VICTIM.
This is a tricky and fine use of terms, but it’s an important one. Important to me, anyway.
When I say that, I mean identify as victim in the ways that others may try to insult you with–playing the victim, always the victim, manipulating, not standing in your personal power, that kind of thing. In my observation, those behaviors are more often seen with those who actually have not experienced a great deal of victimization. That goes also for the ones who love to hurl those insults. True victims, rising, are the most badass people on this Earth.
Believe it or not, there are others who have had pretty easy lives, who are actually jealous of true victims who have navigated lives of trauma–I’ve run in to them too. The ones who want to have something of value to write about, a testimony, a big struggle that will garner them kudos for simply existing. If they don’t have it, they will make it up (hello James Frey) or embellish their small hurdles in to just the worst thing ever! That is the kind of person who does something for attention.
Anyone who truly knows me, who truly pays attention to my life, who reads this blog, knows that I devote much of my time and energy to healing through some serious life crap. Many of you readers are drawn to me, because you are living your lives with some of the same challenges and drives. We breathe life in to each other through simply living our lives and not being destroyed.
The sexual harassment I was on the receiving end from this man pales in comparison to being a motherless child at 5, a child abuse survivor and a survivor of homicide and everything that has come with that for the last thirty years. It pales, but it did happen. And it was still not ok.
Be careful who you are coming for, when that person has been through far worse than what you put them through.
The truth is, people are victims–of crime, of abuse, of terrible things. My sister was a victim, she will always be a victim of homicide. This does not diminish her life, and it is the raw truth about her death. I’m literally, legally, termed a victim by the State of AZ and the AZ Attorney General’s Office. I receive rights and benefits due to this terminology.
Yet, I am also victorious. I am also living my best life. As my father, who has literally known me my entire life, told my husband “I have never seen Kathy happier in her whole life than she is with you.” That was last year and it’s true. I’m happier and calmer and more content than I can ever remember. This is often the exact moment when things come up to be cleaned out. I want to have even more of this…and more yet! The releasing of this story takes me to yet a new level.
A person can also be living a very happy life and still get angry, intolerant of bad behavior and have strong things to say that don’t make everyone happy. Keep speaking!
I have my reasons for coming out with this ugly piece of my past, that don’t get defined by the person who victimized me, or their representatives. I’m also glad that my words got noticed where they needed to–they were helpful, not just to me. I’m sure I’m not even aware of how much they helped others who suffered similarly, no matter where they reside on their healing path with it. This is part of the power and importance in telling one’s difficult stories. I’ve certainly gleaned strength from reading testimonials from people far more influential than me. Oprah and Iyanla Van Zant come to mind–people who certainly have risen from tragedies and abuse and have told their traumas out loud, helping others like me.
To be clear, I wrote about this because those words needed to come out of me. I did it for myself. I selfishly, unabashedly told the truth for me. And I don’t have one sliver of regret.
I had to get some distance, some healing, some introspection, some safe distance, to be able to tell the truth. Again, my speaking out was not a symptom of my trauma, as much as a side effect of my strength. Again, I think I’m relating to Dr. Blasey Ford here as well.
So to anyone feeling inclined, or pressured to try and diminish me again on this topic I say this: I have likely already recovered from far more than you will ever endure in your entire life. Many of my readers have as well. There is no room for you here. I understand what’s motivating you, as I stood in those shoes myself. Yet, your vulnerability in this regard makes you untrustworthy for me and I will hold a boundary around this.
We never know how or why our words ripple out or where they might land, but ignoring that splinter as it dislodges, or worse yet, trying to jam it back in, is an act of self-destruction.
It is liberating to reach a point in your life, where intimidation no longer works on you, because the eyes for the hooks are unreachable. Or maybe even gone. And there will be backlash, and it will still be worth it. And the people who fall away from their intolerance to the sound of your new voice, create space for those who think your song is the melody they’ve been waiting for.
In a final anthem of supreme irony, it was this man’s teachings that propelled me to the confidence and strength I feel right now, to speak these truths. I can separate the man from the teachings now, as the latter has been very valuable to me. People are complicated, as are relationships. We can learn many things with and through and because of someone, and still choose to leave them because they are not healthy for us. We can even love them and still make all of those choices.
And in the leaving of this man and all that went with it, the saying no to disrespect and devaluation, set me straight up for meeting my husband who displays none of that — and I mean none of it.
Closed doors are as important as open ones. And sometimes, the reverb from the slamming shut of one door, dislodges that stuck hinge in the next one, that has kept bright futures obscured from our newly opened eyes.