Man Hamintor

EDITOR: A survivor of assault came to us with their story. The piece isn't graphic, but standard trigger warnings apply. We are publishing this because it matters to our communities, and to other survivors as well. 

 

Man hamintor.

Me too.

Recent news has been flooded with women coming forward carrying the burden of their personal accounts of attacks at the hands (and body) of Harvey Weinstein. And now more stories are emerging naming other men: George HW Bush, new accusations against Roman Polanski, Crystal Castles’ frontman Ethan Kath, just to name a few. Until Lupita Nyong’o shared her experience of harassment by Weinstein, he had remained mostly silent, having initially offered a faint dismissing apology littered with excuses for his predatory violent behavior.

The women who spoke before Nyong’o are all white. It is impossible to not notice Weinstein’s sudden denial - as if his white body would never seek a Black body, while simultaneously reinforcing the supremacist view that Black women cannot be raped because they are sexual deviants. Much of the collective voice that has risen from this public unveiling of Weinstein has included the voices of Black and Brown women calling on white women to embrace intersectionality, to acknowledge that Black and Brown women are more likely to be attacked sexually by men, and to acknowledge that Black and Brown women are less likely to experience justice brought to their attackers. This isn’t to lessen the experiences, the pain, or the trauma of white women. On the contrary, this is to validate the magnitude of this wave of accounts and the gravity of the call:

Man hamintor.

Me too.

Despite the United States’ best efforts to rewrite its origin story, there is a long history of white men attacking Black women, of asserting dominance and using violent sexual attacks to control Black bodies. This same history includes blaming Black men for fabricated acts of violence against white women and victim-blaming Black women for any assault against them, at the hands of any man.

The interplay of white woman as frail victim to domineering Black man versus sexual temptress Black woman is a trope that stands today, not just in media but in the lived reality of our white supremacist society. Nyong’o, I argue, has multiple layers of “loss” in coming forward with her story. It’s not about competing for who is more oppressed, and she certainly doesn't present it as such. The reality is that there are power structures in place, and white women stand to lose less by coming forward. And that is not to deter white women from coming forward; rather, it is to ask our sisters to not only acknowledge power structures, also to hear us when we speak, to truly listen, to align themselves truly with us Brown and Black women, and remove themselves from white patriarchy.

Man hamintor.

Me too.

Coming out as a survivor is complicated. We are often not believed, we are asked for details, as if that might bring belief and legitimacy for the listener, though often not the case. Excuses are created for the attacker, blame is placed on the victim, and these reactions come over and over and over again.

It wasn’t until my early 30’s, in a therapy session where my newfound therapist praised me for getting away, that I realized I truly had gotten away. I broke down in tears. I had spent over 20 years stuck in my fear, stuck in spaces with unwanted touch on my body. The shame experienced in sexual violence was almost immediate for me. I was molested twice as a child, in both cases I was able to escape before the molestation escalated. In both cases, I was molested by Iranian men, the second time was by a person known to me.

A layer of complication that exists for us women of color is that when we are assaulted by men from our own communities, we feel an added layer of shame, a fear of not wanting to expose this person because we know that we are never seen as individuals, rather we are each seen as representative of the community as a whole. In addition to the shame I felt in having been molested, was the feeling that it was my fault (and no one bothered to tell childhood me otherwise), and I saw no justice brought to either party, there was also a shame I felt in knowing that if I shared my experience with the wrong person, they would dismiss it as expected from Iranian men, from Muslim men.

In fact, at age 13, I almost did come out publicly as a survivor. My 8th grade English teacher tasked us with writing our memoirs. I had decided to write about men in my life, and one of my essays was about my experiences as a younger child, as a survivor.

Man hamintor.

Me too.

My teacher was a white woman, someone who had demonstrated at times that I was not necessarily her favorite, but her reaction to my theme revealed her truth to me. She asked us to share the theme for feedback, and when I revealed mine, she said she imagined men in my religion and culture oppressed women (her exact words have escaped me these 20+ years later, but that was the clear message, and she did not share her thoughts in any hidden way or coded language).

I didn’t miss a beat, telling her that was racist and an assumption. She became defensive. I changed my theme and wrote a completely made up memoir.

There was no way in hell this woman would know any of my truth, the pieces that made me. From that point on, I was a troublemaker in her class, abrasive and loud, confrontational, frequently placed in the corner and detention. She had confirmed my fears, that these men’s actions would be seen as normal because Iranian and Muslim men are villains in Western eyes. It is important to reiterate that while Black and Brown men are viewed and portrayed as predators in Western stories, Black and Brown women are viewed as sexual deviants. So had I revealed my past, not only would blame be placed on these men, but also on me. I would be that exotic Oriental Jasmine luring them in. I could not have ever been innocent. My innocence was erased because of my identity.

Man hamintor.

Me too.

When you add the layer of my sexual and gender identities, it brings even more of a complication. So much of the time, those of us who navigate life outside of the realm of heterosexual and binary genders are asked to name how we became this way, what happened to us, who made us like this. And if you are a survivor of an assault, then that is considered the root. Because again, the deviation is us, not the person or people who acted so violently. Kevin Spacey recently proved this heteronormative way of thinking by blaming his assault of Anthony Rapp on his own sexuality. Kevin Spacey can go bathe in the fires of hetero hell.

The sad truth for me is that I have spent so much of my life fearing men, all men, but especially Iranian and Muslim men. It has taken years of therapy and self-care to move through the internalized oppression of my experience, the guilt of fearing men from my communities, and still I have work to do. It has taken years to know that who I am is not because of what happened to me, it happened because these men were predators and we live in societies dominated by patriarchy. And now, in that society, we are asking to be heard, and demanding to be heard, Black and Brown women raising our voices to our attackers, to other survivors, to all men and white women alike, shouting down dismissal, asserting our place, because those words matter to us, that call matters to us, we experienced this, too.

Man hamintor.