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.”
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?