Grey Matter (Precious Cargo Series)
Posted on September 28, 2018
PREFACE: While I wouldn’t typically feel a caveat is appropriate for my blog content, out of my tremendous respect for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s actions, my personal awareness of the sensitivity rightly surrounding the subject matter of this post, and the fact that I stand with and believe women, and specifically, Dr. Ford, I feel a short preamble is both necessary and deserved.
Most importantly, let me say, nothing in this post is related to Dr. Ford, her allegations or testimony, nor, any specific sexual assault victim who has come forward with allegations as the #metoo movement has been gaining momentum. I am not questioning the veracity of any victim’s public statements. This is intended as a somewhat lighthearted think piece based on my own personal experience and my own attempt to take stock of my accountability in a somewhat precarious situation for which I found myself – and one I’d written pieces and parts of for many months now.
However, I do ask broader questions as they relate to how society addresses these exact kinds of precarious situations. Admittedly, the timing of this piece is dubious; and that is not a fact I take lightly. Nevertheless, my blog is titled “diaries” for a reason. These are my thoughts. My experiences. My history. So, this is me, honestly reflecting on my own behavior and my own decisions in hopes that it will allow for many more honest reflections in the future, both for myself, and others.
I ONCE went home with a stranger in a bar, which was a rarity for me. While I’ve dated and loved pretty freely, I never was big on the one nightstand. My stranger and I had met just hours earlier, though I was so drunk, I couldn’t tell you approached who, what was said by either one of us, or, how the decision was made that I was going to leave my girlfriends for the night to get into a cab with him.
I was the definition of blacked out drunk. Definitely not the first time I’d been in that state, but one of the first and only times it led me to go home with a stranger. We had sex that night.
Was I too drunk to consent? If I woke up and said that I “felt” I’d been sexually assaulted, would it be true? A lot of people, especially women, and especially women right now would say yes. But is it that simple? Is it black and white? I don’t think it is. The details matter. The details make the shades of grey. And it seems to me, not enough is being said about the shades of grey – or, at least not in a fair and honest way.
So what were the shades of grey for my stranger and I? That night, I came to for about a ten-minute window – just long enough to remember this stranger stopping by an ATM to grab cash for a cab, me following behind, laughing playfully as I drunkenly tried to hide from my girlfriends standing at the end of the street, who were going to insist that I come home with them. They caught sight of me; I coyly waved goodbye, and jumped into the cab with my stranger. Then I fully blacked out again. I don’t remember the cab ride. I don’t remember going into his home. And I don’t remember how we started to have sex. But, I came to a second time for about a two-minute window – just long enough to realize that we were having sex, and that I didn’t want to anymore. So I asked him to stop. And he did.
To be clear, before I asked him to stop, I was awake, conscious, and participating. But thanks to vodka, my brain hadn’t been in tune to what my body had agreed. When my brain tuned back in, I realized I was in a dark room with a man I didn’t recognize, and he was inside of me. Hours later, I woke up naked beside my stranger.
Do these details change anything? If I woke up and said that I “felt” I had been sexually assaulted, that I’d been too drunk to consent from the start, would I be right? I still don’t think so.
Again, the details matter. Intentions matter. What were my intentions that night – what were his? If I’m being honest about my state of mind that night, I wasn’t myself. I was getting over a recent fling I’d had while traveling overseas, but not doing a very good job of the “getting over” part. I was pretty blue to put it mildly, and looking for a pick me up in the form of another guy – totally the healthy, mature thing to do, I know. So I drank a little more than I usually would have to take the edge off of my sadness, and also to give me the courage I wanted to try to talk to a handsome stranger. I don’t think I went out looking for a one nightstand per se, but I definitely went out looking for something. So there I was, blacked out drunk in a bar admittedly trying to give off the “you might have a shot with me tonight” vibe to a stranger while trying to seem charming rather than desperate.
And there was my stranger, who I would later learn was just getting out of a relationship himself; was eager to meet new women – and get laid by those women, but was just pitifully awkward when it came to talking to them, and therefore drank a little extra that night to ease his own nerves. And, on top of all of that, he was a super lightweight drinker.
Was my stranger supposed to know that I was feeling sorry for myself and therefore, drank more than I should have before I ever even arrived at the bar that night? Is it relevant that he was nearly as drunk as I was? Was he supposed to know that I was blacked out even though we carried on several hours of intelligible conversation? Was he supposed to know that I almost never had one-night stands? Was he supposed to know that everything I was doing that night was out of character for me? How could he? He was quite literally a stranger.
And yet, in many situations this is the burden we place on men. It is solely their obligation to assess how drunk we are even if they are drinking themselves. It is solely their obligation to know exactly how enthused we are or are not during a sexual encounter and whether or not we’re behaving out of character despite only meeting hours earlier. Most significantly, it is solely their obligation to anticipate how we’re going to feel about our decisions in the morning. Is this fair? Do women have any obligation in these kinds of situations? Do we bear any responsibility?
Before I go further, let me kindly ask you to put down your pitchforks. Let’s be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying that a woman (or a person) can never be too drunk to consent. I am certainly not talking about laced drinks, unconscious women, and unconscionable men. I am not saying that if the facts were slightly different in my story that it too wouldn’t be considered a sexual assault. I am absolutely not saying that we shouldn’t believe women when they bring sex abuse and sexual assaults to light. I am not saying that there aren’t men who deliberately prey on drunken women – women they are fully aware can’t or shouldn’t consent. I am not saying the “public mob” mentality is never appropriate. Harvey deserves to be taken down; he deserves every public hit he takes, and I hope he’s eventually charged and sits before a jury of twelve bra-burning feminists. And I’ll be curious to see if Bill is making people laugh while in prison. Those are black and white matters. My criticisms and questions rest firmly in the grey matter. So what exactly am I saying?
This: Not every unfortunate, weird, bad, awkward, fuzzy memory, or, even no memory at all sexual encounter is a sexual assault. And just calling it by that name doesn’t make it true. Talking about the details, and asking questions is not (always) victim blaming; it’s truth seeking. And finally, a man isn’t always solely responsible for what happens on bad dates, or, drunken, messy, questionable one night stands. And to assert such a claim diminishes women’s power.
Take my situation for instance. From his perspective, I was a drunken girl in a bar who seemed into him. I wasn’t falling over. I was up right. I was walking and talking, participating in our back and forth banter. I had friends in the same bar with eyes on me who didn’t seem concerned about my behavior. I followed him out of the bar, hid from my friends to stay with him longer – which indicated to him that I actually wanted to go home with him. And then I actually got into a cab with him willingly. Those are all of the facts he had to go on. Yet, for all but about ten minutes of our evening, I was entirely blacked out.
Imagine for a moment that I didn’t come to for those ten minutes to actually recall myself getting into that cab willingly. Imagine instead, I just came to in a dark room with a stranger inside me. Imagine the fear I would have felt if I were unsure if I had actually made it to that room willingly. Imagine then if I woke up and “felt” that I’d been sexually assaulted. Imagine if I said, “Oh, I never go home with strangers. I never have one-night stands. I would never do this; it’s totally out of character for me. You must have forced me. Or, even if you didn’t force me, you should have known I was too drunk.” What has changed? Not the facts. Only my perception of the facts. From his perspective, I had still been a willing participant until the moment I wasn’t – at which time, he respected my decision, and immediately stopped. Does my misperception of the facts then make it a sexual assault? I don’t think it should.
So, back to my earlier question. Do women have any obligations in these kinds of situations? Do we bear any responsibility? I sincerely think we do. And yet, at the same time, I don’t necessarily know what our obligations are. I don’t know what our responsibilities should be. But I genuinely believe where these shades of grey lie, so does some accountability of women. I recognize that my meek “I don’t know” answer to my own question is anti-climatic. My apologies if you came here looking for some kind of wisdom. I suppose the best that I have to offer is that each shade of grey is different; every situation requires a different appraisal by all of those involved.
For me and my stranger, I knew my obligation immediately; to be intellectually honest. That meant when I woke up naked in stranger’s bed, I had to acknowledge that just because I was behaving out of character didn’t mean I didn’t consent. I went out that night with the intention to behave out of character. I started by drinking too much and for the wrong reasons. And ended by going home with a man I likely wouldn’t have otherwise. I did all of those things. Just me, no one else.
Does anyone else bear responsibility for the events that transpired that evening? The other women involved? The women who had accompanied me out that night – who watched me chug rail vodka from the bottle before I even arrived at the bar; who’d known me for twenty years and were in the very best position to recognize I wasn’t myself? Should they have taken me home two hours earlier as I had done with them many times over the years when I witnessed them behaving in a way that concerned me as their friend? Perhaps. But they didn’t. And it’s interesting to me in these kinds of situations, rarely are the girlfriends scrutinized. Perhaps more often, they should be.
The truth remains I had too much to drink that night. I made an out of character decision. But just because I don’t remember every (or any) detail doesn’t automatically make me a victim. The truth matters. This idea that women need to speak “their” truth fundamentally concerns me. We all should be speaking the truth, the one single truth. We’re not entitled to different facts. In my case, just because I can’t remember most of the truth, doesn’t mean I’m then entitled to assume it. My lack of memory doesn’t mean there isn’t in fact an objective truth to what happened that night. And it certainly doesn’t mean my stranger was a predator.
In fact, here’s what I know about my stranger. The next morning, after we woke, we had sober (though foggy) consensual sex, and talked and laughed for hours piecing together our equally too drunken night. Then, he took me for lunch and I had the best “first date” I can remember ever having. And so we went on another date two days later, and another, and then another one after that. And then three years later, I married him.
Here’s the only thing I really know for sure. Don’t ever let your mother tell you that you can’t meet the love of your life drunk in a bar.