Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Editor’s note: The name Morgan is a pseudonym.
For two years now, I have watched with pride as women and men victimized by systems of abuse brought their stories to the forefront and forced the western world to confront some of the incommodious yet defining underpinnings of our institutions.
As a Black man, I’ve written about the visceral emotions surrounding my community’s inequities. As an activist, I’ve spoken at protests and worked on campaigns. As an American, I’ve written about the duality of loving this country while hating much of our broken political infrastructure and entrenched classism. However, as a survivor, I have stayed silent.
See, my story is not one of institutional abuse. It is not the culmination of a steady stream of harassment. It was not kept secret by some cadre of powerful individuals who conspired to silence me.
My story is mine, but it isn’t unfamiliar on this campus. In fact, it’s all too common.
Winter semester, 2020.
I was at a party hosted by one of my housemates. I didn’t even think she’d show up; I wasn’t sure that I wanted her to. I was still reeling from a breakup but on Tinder to pass the time. We had been talking on-and-off for a couple of weeks, mostly just vapid texts to pass the time, really nothing but flirtation, so I asked her to come to the party.
I was no saint. I was just bored and wanted to get to know someone new.
An hour into the party, I was casually sipping on a mixed drink, helping my housemates set up a game of stack cup when I heard the front door burst open. I looked over to see her visibly drunk, stumbling into my house.
Her friend held her hand as Morgan walked over to me and immediately grabbed my arm for support. She asked me to make her a drink and, when I told her that I thought she should take a break, began drinking from my cup. She kept taking the drink from my hand, despite my insistence that she stop. Her friend went into the kitchen to grab Morgan a beer.
I followed them into the kitchen, worried about Morgan’s safety, something for which her friend clearly had little concern. While I was turned away, talking to a friend, she poured three shots behind my back. Morgan handed me one, and the three of us downed the vodka. Then, as she began pouring another round, I protested, saying things like, “I don’t really want to get drunk. I just want to talk. I’m really uncomfortable with this.” However, taunting me, calling me a “pussy,” Morgan kept the drinks flowing until I was so drunk I could barely navigate my own house.
Then, she and her friend began whispering. As my vision was blurred, I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it seemed as though the two were agreeing on some sort of plan. Morgan came over and, clearly attempting to flirt with me, started stroking my arm. I leaned away, not wanting to be touched so publicly by a near stranger. Not taking the hint, she leaned against me more aggressively, asking if I had weed.
Even in my drunken state, I knew that I shouldn’t give her any, but she badgered me, saying that it was the only way to keep her from throwing up, so I relented and took the two into my bedroom. As I rummaged around trying to find the brownie, I vaguely heard the two whispering again. Moments later, after I found it, her friend said, “I’ll leave you two alone,” leaving the room to play beer pong mere feet from my first-floor bedroom.
Immediately, Morgan began forcefully kissing me as I backed away, trying to ground myself and avoid doing something I’d regret. I asked her to stop, but she took that to mean that she should be more aggressive, grabbing my shirt and exploring my body with her hands.
I recoiled, which distracted her enough to remember the brownie. When she went for the brownie, I thought that the situation was over.
Just one bad kiss, I thought to myself. That was all. It’s going to be alright.
However, I was wrong. She broke the brownie in half, consuming more weed at once than I had eaten in the last two months. Then, she stuck the other half in my mouth, watching me intensely until I ate it. I didn’t want to, but at some level, I think I knew what was going to happen would happen either way, and, honestly, I didn’t want to remember it.
After swallowing the brownie, I made one last attempt, saying, “I think we should go back to the party.”
She turned away from me to lock my bedroom door, “I think we shouldn’t.”
She grabbed a condom from my desk drawer, pulling my pants down. My brain desperately tried to say no, to refuse, but it was no longer in control of my body. The intense fear combined with the harsh effects of intoxication immobilized me. In other words, I had no control. I was too scared, too alone.
I don’t remember much after that except neon pink jungle juice spilled on my sheets, the almost cruel smile on her face and the blaring music outside.
In the weeks after, I tried to get back together with my ex-girlfriend — in a feeble attempt to cope with something about which I still have tremendous guilt. Then, when the pandemic took over my life and the frankly embarrassing rekindling with my ex went up in flames, I moved back in with my parents. There, it was easy to retreat from the world, so I did.
My family heard from me about once a day when I needed to walk upstairs for meals. My friends heard less, if anything. Most days, I just sat in my bedroom, sleeping 15 hours a day and wishing I was dead for the other nine. Things got better in May when I tried to stop thinking about it, choosing to delve into my three jobs. However, as my 60-hour work weeks wore on into June, I could not stop thinking about that night.
For months, I had vivid dreams, replaying it, and sometimes, I still do wake up in a cold sweat with only Morgan on my mind. It especially didn’t help when I returned to Ann Arbor and had to sleep in the room where it happened, inches away from the pink stain that is ingrained in my mattress topper. The room felt haunted, but honestly, so did I.
As an ally, it felt impossible that amid the #MeToo movement, I had been sexually assaulted by a woman. Further, as a 6-foot-2 Black man, I have been perceived as a danger for my entire life. It sounded asinine that a pretty, 5-foot-nothing white girl had done anything to me. When I told friends that I felt scared, I saw that look of incredulity that implicitly invalidates every aspect of the story.
I mean, they’d met Morgan, they saw me that night. Maybe I had made the entire thing up in my mind. I already felt crazy, but my friends not believing me — even without using the four-letter r-word — sent me over the edge. I stopped telling people, preferring to spend my nights swiping on Tinder and going on meaningless dates. However, every time a date turned sexual, I went physically numb, frozen, verging on a panic attack, haunted by Morgan.
In most cases, though, dating proved to be a good distraction, even if it was just that. A distraction. Nothing was solved. I just smiled outwardly for a couple more hours a day while fortifying my inner walls.
Then, my current girlfriend broke down my walls, and, last November, told me candidly that I had been sexually assaulted and was in denial. Thrown back, I cried for an hour, realizing how right she was. Since that day, I have struggled with finding a way to tell this story. I realize that there is no perfect way to do it, but I hope that this has been sufficient.
Now, I want to be very clear. I have no animus toward the brave women who have brought down abusers during the ongoing #MeToo movement. In fact, I feel allied with these women. I currently am walking on the road they paved, so I appreciate them immensely.
However, the sexual assault of men is downplayed and undercovered. In the rare event that it is discussed, it is too often either a whataboutism deployed by abuser-sympathizers or the punchline to a crass prison joke.
That is unacceptable.
This issue is real and prevalent. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 38% of sexual violence victims are men. And, while much of this does occur in the prison system, men in college are five times more likely to experience sexual violence than men their age who are not in college.
See, the magic of movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter is that they sparked nationwide conversations about horrifically underrecognized issues. These movements have afforded us the opportunity to learn about systemic injustices so we can understand one another better. Yet, there are still dialogues left to be had, and I hope this article provokes one.
I hope we grow to be more conscious of our behavior. I hope we become more respectful of one another. But, most importantly, I hope we learn to listen to others and expand our own worldviews. The simple fact is that not all men are allies much like how not all women are assaulters, but we all have the capacity to learn.
We learn through statistics and data just like we learn from our consumed media, but the most impactful learning is from one another. I hope that this story is a powerful step in the right direction that provokes a broader conversation on this campus and in our world. I am grateful to the women who walked before me, and I am hopeful for the people of all genders who walk beside me.
Keith Johnstone is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.