The feeling was good that night, breezy weather and music draped around a buzzing crowd, a beautiful end to the holiday. The man, let’s call him Dick, was not a stranger. He lived with a friend who had recently become a lover; I’ll call him Tom. Dick and I had met randomly a few days before and got along well – we had a lively conversation, and parted on a positive note. That was the extent of our interaction, but from what I could tell, he is good people.
So on this night, I thought nothing of striking up another conversation with him, though I could see that he was drunk. But I didn’t realize how bad it was. Soon, unexpectedly, the conversation turned to sex: my sexuality in particular, and his apparent belief that since I had been sexual with Tom, I was on the open market for all to grab, and it was grab time. It opened with a few joking comments along the lines of what some might accept as merely “forward”, but quickly ramped up.
“Come on, I heard you the other night,” he proceeded to imitate sounds that I apparently make during sex. Our other companion, who also lives with them, burst into laughter. While I was still trying to make sense of what was happening, Dick began explaining. That they believe in sexual freedom. Nothing makes them happier than satisfaction. And if I ever needed anything I should come to him, he’ll give it to me. I was their Queen, he mentioned, as his behavior got more aggressive. I didn’t ask who “they” were, this group of men that were on standby to fuck me senseless. Appalled, I walked away.
Dick soon followed, and for the rest of the night, continued along that line. He asked me if I could sit facing another direction so he could have a better view of my ass. He kissed my hand. He placed his hand on my leg. To a group of people that I had just met, he announced that I would “fuck every available African dick”, and I lost breath for a couple of seconds as the words settled into my stomach. “The question is simple,” he declared, “will you fuck me or not?” Nottest of the not, Dick. When I told him to leave me alone, he gave me an aggrieved stare. “That’s the most offensive thing anyone has ever said to me,” he said.
A strange calm came over me, mostly rooted in shock. His behavior was so outrageous that I even laughed incredulously at some point, and then regretted it, because there was nothing funny about this. I considered leaving the place, but for better or worse, stubbornly decided that I would not leave because of him. Tom, who had witnessed some of this but could not pierce through his friend’s drunken oblivion, apologized. I shook my head and muttered a mechanical “it’s ok.” “It’s not ok,” he responded. We retreated to a quiet corner away from the madness, hugged and chatted and laughed for a while, and the gentle affection soothed my nerves. He dropped me off at home and we made plans to connect the following day before my flight.
But as soon as I got into the house and sat in silence, the weight of what had happened settled in, sharp and heavy. I was up another couple of hours, too unsettled to sleep, processing the night and getting mad at myself for not having launched a stronger reaction, and then mad at myself for caring at all. Why did I keep walking away? What was the alternative? Why didn’t Tom do more? But what could anyone have done to get through to drunken Dick? Was I overreacting? Was this not fuckery? Eventually, after the sky had turned light, I fell asleep.
I woke up to a text from Tom, and responded with instinctive warmth. Then the night came rushing back. Dick’s entitlement, his hand on my leg, reckless laughter, curious stares from strangers. Shock had worn off by then, and tears came in its place. I lay in bed for another couple of hours, trying to sort out my thoughts. While I had been looking forward to seeing Tom before I left, I now felt a sense of dread at entering “their” space again. But I needed to say goodbye, and to have a word with this Dick of a man.
When I arrived, Dick was still sleeping. I greeted Tom as usual, but it was hard to relate to him in our normal way. I knew he empathized but wasn’t sure that his understanding was as deep as my hurt, and struggled to find the words to express this. In the middle of my visit he was distracted by a visitor, and alone in the space, I suddenly felt turbulent. I took off for a walk, listening to music and trying to calm myself. But the cloud refused to lift, until I finally returned and had a conversation with its source.
He strolled into the room where Tom had told him I was waiting, with a smile and no memory of the night before. As I played back everything that had happened with deliberate detail, his face fell, obviously stunned. “I don’t where this came from. I don’t know myself. I’m scared,” he told me. You should be, I responded. He seemed sincere as he vocalized his thought-stream, broken up by long heavy silences. He apologized. He understood that alcohol may have been the catalyst but was not the cause, that this darkness had found a corner somewhere inside him. He asked why Tom or I didn’t slap him to shut him up, and I just shook my head.
Maybe I should. Learn martial arts. But I’d rather be listening to music. Like, CAN I LIVE? Is counter-violence the only way to overcome this aggressive disregard for our boundaries that women are relentlessly confronted with, in the most extreme and intimate of ways? Most of the women I spoke with about this experience could relate in some way, having similar stories of their own. And regardless of where the aggressor’s behavior falls on the spectrum of violence, whether fists to the face or words to the stomach, the hurt is real. I struggled to process it fully at the time, in transit and too tired to think too much.
But even after I returned home, I remained troubled. I told my close friends about the experience, and was soothed by their hugs and righteous rage. My teenage sister’s face contorted into distress as we spoke about it, making me regret having burdened her with my problems, yet on the other hand thinking it’s maybe not a bad thing that she understands at a young age how harsh this world can be to women. Because, as a friend remarked, “men often think this way, just that they usually keep it to themselves”.
There is a sad truth in that cynical conclusion. It’s thanks to that useless patriarchal desire to exert control over women’s sexuality, and its tendency to slip unpredictably into aggression if met with resistance, especially from women who do not play the part of Lady McChastity. I remember Dick saying at some point “but she acts so innocent! Why do you act so innocent?” The implication was clear: I didn’t perceive you as someone who would freely enjoy sex, but since you do, why are you fronting like you won’t fuck me?
What bullshit extrapolation is this? What does the fact that I feel free to enjoy my sexuality with Tom, have to do with any random Dick or Harry walking down the street? I mean. It does not give Dick and Harry any claim over my body – nor even Tom, for that matter. It obviously does not warrant harassment and public humiliation if I refuse sexual advances. And as for these bullshit double standards that seek to demean women who dare to enjoy sex, more than enough has been said on that matter. Abeg.
But although I recognize this fuckery for what it is, the emotional impact is deep enough that I worry it will influence how I engage with people in future. I love sex, would love to be having a lot of it all of the time, but alas, my reluctant reality is closer to a nun. It’s partly because I rarely meet people who interest me enough – but also because I struggle with vulnerability in this particular sphere of my life, I tend to be too wary, too awkward. And what this incident reminded me is that even on the rare occasion you find someone you are attracted to and feel safe with, misogyny is always a blink of the eye away, and the simple act of embracing your sexuality opens you up to attack. It makes it hard to feel safe. It makes it easier to be even more guarded, to hold back, to restrain your sexuality lest it be twisted and exploited. But that’s when fear wins, and is this ever an option?
 Yes yes, I hear some of you men reading this piece –“Not all men!”– Noted. Take a seat.