The First Time I Was Groped

The following content may be triggering.


We all have first times. The first time we had sex, the first time we fell in love, our first kiss, our first concert. I remember one of my firsts very clearly.

I was 15 years old at a Chance the Rapper concert in Denver, Colorado. It was Chance’s 21st birthday, so my friends and I were expecting to have fun. We danced, laughed, and recited every lyric to Acid Rap and Paranoia. Eventually, we decided to leave early, mobbing from the front of the theater to the back. But before we could make it all the way out, I was stopped by a man, not looked in the face, and groped. Bulky, heedless hands covering and feeling up on my vagina. I kept walking.

That was my first time — my first time being sexually assaulted. One of many.

At the time, I was so young, so full of joy, so full of love that I didn’t think anything of it… but now when I think back on 15-year-old Shyanne, I want to scream. I want to throw up and I want to fucking punch that guy in the face. But by the age of 15, nonconsensual touching was already so normalized that I didn’t really think much of it. What’s worse, I didn’t even know I could. 

Over the next few years, I would develop into a woman. Before even reaching that chapter of my life, I would have men near the age of 45 come up to me at the mall telling me to “smile” and “grow up faster” as they stared at my pre-adolescent body. The body of a child.

As I continued growing up, I realized that this is just the way things were. Guys were meant to grab you, grope you, and yell at you in the streets. As a Black woman, I was constantly fetishized, instead of being validated for my beauty, femininity, or personhood. I was referred to as foods and animals, because I guess the traits I embodied didn’t quite add up to “human being.”

I’m writing this on May 15th, 2019. The day after Alabama and Georgia decided to essentially ban abortions for those with uteruses. As much as I have felt the trials of being a woman of color in America, I have to acknowledge my privileges where they do exist. For one, I have never been raped, and I also come from a liberal, middle class area with access to education and broad acceptance… but what about those who aren’t as lucky?

Alabama and Georgia are home to three cities that have some of the highest percentages of Black Americans — specifically Black women. This new law will not only greatly affect women in general, but will disproportionately target poor minorities who never had adequate access to healthcare in the first place. 

Black women are 2.5 times more likely to experience physical or sexual violence from a partner or spouse — this is a problem, and it is a dire one.

We need to be educating the masses about this discrepancy and increasing protections and healthcare for these already vulnerable communities — not further restricting their access to reproductive services. As much as I have been followed around on the street, cat called, pulled toward unwanted advances, kissed without permission, slapped on the ass, referred to as foods because of my skin color, and threatened with death because I didn’t give a grown man my number, there is a bigger picture here that all these “little” clues are begging us to focus our attention towards: how our culture bolsters one gender and, in the process, endangers another. 

My first time changed my life, because I realized that it was going to be a long fight until it was over. Even then, “over” is a luxury afforded to very few, because ultimately, nothing will ever be over until those other than the survivors take a fervent and unwavering stand against these injustices.

I see little difference between the boys in high school who commented on my friends’ and my asses when we were fourteen– children — and the men in political office today who believe that they can control our bodies.

What is certain is that the allies that we need are not these men. We need men who can look at that type of behavior, and before even batting an eye, call it out as the deeply harmful and scarring violence that it is. We need men who are willing to listen, to educate themselves, and to unabashedly educate other men.

To the women reading this, I am so sorry… but the fight for us is nowhere near over. I’m dubious the that the violence that we face at the hands of men will not end anytime soon. But, still we fight. And I will fight alongside you for the rest of my life, as will my kids, who I will choose to give birth to WHEN and HOW I decide. We’ll all be there.

As for men, the good ones and the bad ones, I used to think you guys were all just driven by testosterone. But now, I’ve figured it out. When you choose to be sit silently real-life nightmares playing out for more than half the population right in front of your eyes — you’re not power hungry, you’re not egotistical, you’re not consumed by toxic masculinity. Not obsessed with sex, you’re not “guys just being guys.”

You’re cowards. 

Because, how is it that every single woman I know has been sexually assaulted or raped, and yet none of you seem to know any rapists?


Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Sweet Suezy, and Tamara Chapman. 


A Silent Problem

As young as 12 years old, I knew something was wrong: the fogginess, the inability to concentrate, the feeling that life had no purpose, the increase of binge eating. Through lack of knowledge on the topic and an inability to understand what I was feeling, I didn’t say anything about it. I covered up my inability to feel with boys, relationships, sports, my friends, and partying. Temporary distractions. I was finally diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety when I turned 19 and came back home from college.

I had taken off my mask and told my doctor the truth. In college, something snapped in me. I moved away from my routine distractions and was slapped on the wrist by the emotions I had been avoiding. I could no longer go to my close friend for a hug — she was in Missouri — the closest I could get to her was a text telling her how shitty I felt.

College is a difficult time; the ages of 18-25 give us such miraculous growth, but also a feeling of instability.

I felt stuck between different medications and fogginess; a lack of appetite and not wanting to get out of bed because I felt that life had no purpose. In the midst of it all, I was coming alarmingly close to scary thoughts about my life that I’d never had before, ones anyone would be devastated to hear. For so long I felt like it was my fault for feeling this way. I live such a great life, right? What in the world could I be depressed about?

Throughout my freshman year of college, I did a research project and realized I wasn’t the only one dealing with this. College depression is at an all time high: 1 in 4 students have a diagnosable mental illness, 40% of them never seek help. The third leading cause of death in college youth is suicide. Although I’d been dealing with this since I was a young girl, I had to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to live, this was not going to be manageable in college without help.

I felt as though I’d betrayed my parents. I felt that if I told anyone, they would think I faked everything I had with them. I felt like a fraud. I felt like there was tape over my mouth, and I was screaming and no one could hear it — even me. I didn’t want any of the people in my life to know I was feeling this way. When I got back from the doctor’s office, I collapsed into my father’s arms. I told him I was a failure. He told me he was proud.

I didn’t understand why he said that then, but I understand now. When I came back from that winter break, I felt different. I felt lighter. On trial with new medication and being honest with my parents about how I felt, I understood that maybe, just maybe I could survive this. Depression comes in waves, and the waves can either be gentle or they can drag you along the shoreline for miles. As cliché as it sounds, admitting that you aren’t OK is the first step to getting better.

When I feel depression coming on at college, the first thing I do is take a shower. I wash my hair. I listen to a playlist. I walk around my college town and I get my favorite cheese fries down the block from my apartment. My anxiety may be going wild and my heart may feel heavy, but I breathe. I tell my friends to watch out for me. If I’m not eating enough, my best friend (who doubles as a neighbor) will notice and make me pasta. Find your support — and if you can’t find it, find it within yourself. Cut off those who don’t believe in your story or make you feel worse than you already feel. You are only as great as the people you surround yourself with. So if you can’t tell them how you feel, ditch them. When you can’t get out of bed, play your favorite songs and feel how much they make you want to get up. Cry. Don’t suppress it. Learn ways to take off your mask and not be ashamed of it. Do your hair. Text an old friend you haven’t talked to in a minute. It can feel like moving a boulder off your back or escaping a shadow, but a shadow only lasts so long before the sun moves and shines right through it. The waves come and go, but you’re still here. Stomp in the sand. Try your hardest to play in the water. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in college is that feelings are temporary. But me and what I have to offer are not. I’ve learned that this town isn’t my home, where my parents live isn’t my home, my friends are not my home, my new apartment isn’t my home.

I am my home. And I will survive. So will you.


Photos (in order of appearance) by Villedepluie,  John Nonlens, Hong Sang-soo, and Jean Amb.



Two People

I met him second semester of freshman year. It was a bright day. We happened to be wearing the same neon green Northface jacket. He stuck his hand out to shake mine; it was firm. A wonderful, tall boy with a big frame whose soul felt oddly familiar. Sometimes you meet people, you look them in the eye, and you just know they’re going to change your life forever. This was one of those times.

Three years later, like I knew we would be, we were in love.

It wasn’t until my mom sat me down one day that I realized there were certain challenges we would face as a couple—challenges stemming from the ignorance and prejudices of some people. No matter how many times I tried to explain to such people, there was one thing they continuously struggled to understand: I didn’t choose him because he was white; I chose him because he felt like home. We would get stares, but my mom would calm me down and tell me it’s because we were so beautiful. I never believed her.

Our school was an incredibly diverse place, but there weren’t many interracial couples with a black woman and a white man. As much praise as we got on social media and in real life, I would still get remarks that I liked “pink” (referring to his penis) and that he had a taste for “chocolate.” I never told my boyfriend about these remarks, even if they were from his friends, because I knew he would be upset. Throughout my entire life, I had built up my own defenses to racist and derogatory comments, so I chose to deal with much of this ignorance alone. I never wanted him to suffer in the ways I had before. I was constantly insecure that people looked at us and either wondered why he would ever date someone like me, or on the fetishizing side of the spectrum, thought, of course, he wants to be with someone “exotic.”

I spent countless times in the kitchen with the elders of my family explaining that he had a name and it wasn’t “white boy.” I had infinite conversations with my cousin clarifying that I don’t exclusively date white men, but that I just fell in love with someone who was. I assured her that he treated me like the most amazing girl in the world, and it wasn’t because I was black.

Comments were made about how beautiful our kids would be if we were to conceive—we were 17. I would show him to new college friends who wanted to know what my high school boyfriend looked like. Him being white was always the most shocking thing to them, as if the concept of us as a couple was going to somehow reverse the effects of racism entirely. Yet even under that delusional belief, my identity as a black individual was constantly being invalidated or challenged because I was in love with a white person. As if being in love with a white man made me less black. As if our entire relationship was focused on race. In actuality, the only time we talked about it was when we planned what we would do if we were in public and someone tried to harass us. I wish we didn’t have to have that conversation. But the reality was, we were living in a country where interracial love was still very much a taboo concept; Alabama didn’t lift all interracial marriage laws until the year 2000, and even then, 40% of its citizens voted against this decision.

As I grow and I see interracial relationships becoming more popular, I want everyone to think more about the two people dating versus the difference in their skin tones. They are human beings who have a beautiful relationship often because they’re in love—not because it’s “trendy” or “cool.” I applaud the increasing number of interracial couples I see because they have the courage to defy expectations and live beyond the confines of “taboo.”

I loved my boyfriend because he was amazing. He understood all of my dumb jokes, he looked at me like I was the only girl in the room, he kept me moving, he kept me grounded, and he fought for my love every single day when we were together. And that’s just how hard I loved him back. Not because he was white. Not because he wasn’t black. But because he was love, and at the end of the day, what more can any of us really ask for?