The Blue Lie

It took me the better part of a year to realize that I had been sexually assaulted.

During freshman orientation week, my cheery dorm advisor welcomed us all into our new residential hall at Princeton University. It was absurd how much Sarah* was the quintessential dorm parent. She was a history major who danced on the side, organized yet warm, happy to listen for about 10 to 15 minutes of small talk. She told our little circle of freshmen about the Princeton Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities, the clubs, and the blue lights found every ten yards. With one push of the button, you’d be connected to a Public Safety Officer, and help would be on its way. She managed to say around 80% of this smiling, and you could very easily imagine a later Betsy Ross, hand-stitching the Princeton crest into a flag.

I reflect a lot on that conversation from that sunny late-August afternoon. Almost none of that cheerily regurgitated spoon-fed mush was actually reflective of what my next four years would be like. It turns out that most of my professors never learned my name, let alone eagerly reached out to encourage my personal development. I did make lifelong friends, but the visions of constant study breaks and joyous late nights hanging out dissipated in lieu of long, long nights in an isolated carrel, three floors underground. But the myth that was perhaps the most harmful to me was the blue light.

At this point perhaps those of you who are Gatsby lovers, envision me lying on my side on the sidewalk, in a long, tattered silk dress gently flowing in the wind. One strap sliding down my shoulder, my arm outstretched beseechingly towards that blue light that shone in the night when ten yards might as well have been a mile, as a dark shadow of a man slowly comes into frame. But no, it didn’t happen like that. It wasn’t romantic. I wasn’t a heroine. I actually walked past six of those blue lights without once reaching for one, as I walked with James* back to his room.

He had a long, crooked smile, and a slight southern accent. A dimple on the left cheek when he smiled. I was on the dark dance floors of one of the more elitist clubs, my first week as a freshman. I noticed a few guys were smoking cigarettes while dancing. I bummed one, and started smoking with them.** James came up to me, his smile sideways, eyes catching the light. “You know you aren’t supposed to be smoking down here.” I laughed at him, pointing to his own lit cigarette. “Well, I’m friends with the guys who run this place. You really aren’t supposed to be smoking here.” I raised an eyebrow at him and laughed.

“You’re pretty special, aren’t you?” He had his fraternity pledge light me another cigarette. We danced. We laughed. He continued to tease me with that subtle drawl. I continued to toss my hair and mercilessly tease him back. At the end of the night, the music stopped. And I said, what now? And he said, now we go back to my room. And I took his proffered elbow. I was completely sober.

When he closed the door, the space in the room sucked inwards, pulling and sucking, and pressing me into him. There was so much less…room than on the dance floor. On the dance floor, I was the wild thing. My freedom was exhilarating. The world was so big, and it was my maze to wander and run in. I didn’t know it then, but like a wild thing I was hunted. And now I was trapped.

I didn’t fight him off. In fact, I’m pretty sure he has no idea that he sexually assaulted me. I froze inside. His hands crawled over me, him pushing, thrusting. “Doesn’t that feel so good?” “I’m the best you’ve ever had, aren’t I?” I shrank into the vacant stare of my eyes, the slight tightening of my nostrils, and the occasional quiet, meek “mhm”. As I pulled on a t-shirt, he told me that I should thank my mother for my sweet tits.

Afterwards, we slept. He snored, an absurdist stereotype. I got up to pee. My labia had swelled a bit, and it was red and tender to the touch. I went back and laid awake in his bed until I too fell asleep. The next morning I woke up early to go to my Linear Algebra class. The girl beside me asked if I could move one seat over so that her friend could sit with her. I smiled at her and said of course.

A few weeks later, I learned that James was known for having “yellow fever.” I had been fucked because I was Chinese-American and a brand-new freshman. That dynamic could fill tomes of anthropological study. The new Edward Said, a continuation of the study of Orientalism and its effects on the pattern of handsome, elite white boys fucking yellow girls.

It took me about six months to figure out how to communicate during sex. It took me three more years to have mind-blowing sex. There was plenty of decent, mediocre, and disappointing sex in-between. But it wasn’t until four years later, when a movie happened to recreate my precise sexual assault, panning to focus on the woman’s blank stare as the man thrusted into her, that I truly realized that it wasn’t my fault.

My dress wasn’t torn, and there was no blue light for me. I blamed myself for not protesting more vehemently, for not leaving. But honestly, none of that would have been an issue if he had once looked in my eyes and asked if I was okay.

*names have been changed

**I quit smoking a month later. Really. Smoking isn’t cool.

*Photos taken by: Thomas Polcaster

Don’t Joke About Suicide

Too often I hear remarks and jokes about suicide. We all have caught on to the reality of how many teens die from suicide annually. With anxiety and depression rates in teenagers skyrocketing, the statistics have only become more daunting. Approximately 105 Americans die from suicide every day and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 14 to 24, according to Suicide Awareness Voice of Education, SAVE.

I tolerate a lot of dumb jokes–and make a lot of dumb jokes myself. However, there is one kind of joke I consistently call out: those that make light of suicide. Hearing someone say they want to ‘shoot’ or ‘kill’ oneself always leaves me with a sickening feeling that I can’t ignore.

If someone is serious, it is important to notify someone as soon as possible. Family and friends of those who have committed suicide consistently regret not “saying something.” Often, our society plays off warning signs around suicide and depression as normal “teenage” behavior. A friend could say they feel like killing themselves in a joking manner, but it’s important to treat these remarks seriously. It could protect those in your community and diminish the laid back nature surrounding suicidal remarks.

If someone is joking, they are taking this reality that many face, too lightly. A senior at Hale, who struggles with multiple disorders including depression, feels many people don’t realize the impact these jokes can have.

“I think everyone’s heard it and everyone’s said it. It just isn’t something to joke about. You have no idea what the person next to you is going through and what their relationship with suicide is. Even a small comment could devastate someone.”

Two years ago, I lost a close family friend to suicide. I took it hard, and was hit with the reality of the way suicide can impact family, friends, and a community. Like any death, there’s no easy way to come to terms and cope with what happened. I spent the majority of my childhood growing up with my friend Oscar, and in many ways I considered him a brother. I didn’t get to see Oscar as often once I moved to Seattle, and when I heard of his death I was hit with deep regret for not reaching out earlier. Attending his funeral in Bellingham left me in a haze of confusion, I hadn’t dealt with death before and it took me a long time to feel okay about it, grief is an ongoing process. Even now, there are days where I get especially sad or regretful thinking about him. Suicide leaves a family broken and a community blindsided with loss.

Although before this loss I never thought suicide jokes were tasteful, afterward I became incredibly sensitive and aware to just how frequently I hear people make side comments and jokes about suicide. Suicide jokes are insensitive, but they’re also outdated. I find there are much more creative ways to explain your momentary discomfort.


Painting by Tracey Emin

Cya, Thongs

My first thong was cream silk with black scalloped lace on the edges. It had a tiny bejeweled bow and I treasured it. I  hid it underneath my regular bikini style underwear and washed it by hand.

My friends believed  that they were the number one piece of equipment when it came to battling panty lines and seeming more mature to boys. My mom didn’t wear thongs, which meant that I never really got the full rundown when it came to where to get them, what worked and what didn’t, how to buy one and where. I deduced that they were sexy and I was expected to wear them. I was interested in having a sexual experience and cared what my friends thought of me. I wasn’t about to be the only one still wearing striped underwear that my mom had bought me. I wasn’t going to be left behind, a child among teenagers. All of a sudden, everyone seemed to have gotten the memo but me; my friends were naturally progressing into smaller underwear and I was eager to keep up. I was fourteen and faced with a twenty foot high Victoria’s Secret angel. The word sexy was spelled out over rows of tiny g strings. There was really no way to escape, and I didn’t.

I was never a master thong wearer, but I was a dedicated one. I did what my friends did, and they did as their older sisters and young celebrities did. I learned how to put on my jeans without bunching them up on the sides, about which ones were cool and which ones were not, about the way that they leave your body entirely bare and full of goosebumps. I didn’t like looking at myself in the mirror because somehow they just didn’t look right on my body. There was always a gap between where the fabric ended and my lower back began, and they were always too low or too high. Was I supposed to be wearing them above my hip bones, below my hip bones, at my waist? I had no idea, so I guessed a little bit differently each time. They made me feel wobbly and vulnerable. They made wearing underwear seem like being naked; it made taking off my pants seem like I was doing so much more. They were low rise, and I would soon find out that I was a high rise girl.

I wore them until I went to college, without question. Bikini underwear, or briefs, were for children, thongs were for grown ups. I was sure that my high school boyfriend would think that it was gross to come across a high waisted boy short under my dress, or a full fledged bikini under my jeans. I was far more concerned with other people’s thoughts on my undergarments than what felt comfortable for me.  

Two years out of college, I bought a pair of high waisted cotton briefs, the underwear my mom wears or even my grandmother. They were white and stretchy. I felt like my body was being cradled and protected. I was suddenly wearing more fabric down there than I had in a long time, but was free to run around my apartment with no pants on, to wear short skirts without fear of extreme wind, to sunbathe in the park without the fear of flashing someone unintentionally. I had adopted an affinity for a looser jean, and all of a sudden underwear lines weren’t as much of a problem. My body seemed to settle into the style, the high waist flattering my body in a way the dip of a thong never did. I began to feel strong and powerful in this decision, in choosing something actively different than what I had been taught was the hot option. Why, I would raise my eyebrows when people asked, should I wear something that’s sexy for you but kind of hurts if it goes on the wrong way and doesn’t really fit my vagina? I thrived in the full coverage of the high rise cotton bikini. Everything felt safe and warm. Everything felt sturdy and the underwear felt more like loungewear, something to celebrate instead of hide, a piece of clothing made more for comfort and functionality than someone else’s idea of what’s attractive. Briefs are cozy. They’re simple. They feel like a natural extension of my body, existing to flatter and emphasize my own shape instead of promote the idea that wearing as little as possible is what’s important, that a persons bottom half has to always be sex ready.

Underwear is specific, and first and foremost a personal preference. Thongs are great, but thongs aren’t great for me. I like big underwear. I like knowing that they’re sexy not because they’ll make me more like a billboard, but because I feel sexy in them. This is underwear designed for me, not for a man; the thought process was about a woman’s body first, not what might visually appeal to someone else. Whenever I put on a thong I would think to myself, what would a partner think of this? Whenever I put on a pair of briefs, I think to myself, wow, I feel great. There’s no sign flashing in front of my eyes saying this is sexy, these are sexy, wear them to be sexy. There’s no advertising campaign built into my head. They feel like me, and that’s just how I want to feel.

I threw every single one out, including the white one with the lace trim and the sparkly bow.