Friday, 11 January 2013

Sexual assault and me. And so many others.

I'd just turned 17 when I had my first. It was my first day of work experience in London and I'd spent an age deciding on an outfit. The heavily fallen snow the night before didn't help. I was made to wear gloves, hat, and scarf by my parents so obviously they now had to match the rest of the outfit. And boots. I had to wear my boots. But that meant I couldn't wear my jeans because they went all crinkly at the bottom when I tucked them in. I went for shorts and tights in the end. AND TIGHTS. I WORE TIGHTS WITH THE SHORTS, STOP SHOUTING AT ME. 

"No, I'm not cold." I mumbled as mum dropped me at the station, my knees shaking so fast they went blurry. I'd be on a train soon anyway, then speed-walking to Shaftesbury Avenue to make sure I wasn't late. The trains were cancelled or delayed because of the snow and rammed. Rush hour on a Monday morning together with cancelled trains meant some serious invasion of personal space on the 8:21am to Liverpool Street, but with my earphones in and an effort to not make eye contact with the lady shouting down her phone centimetres in front of me, I was alone on that train. I was fine.

My first time started about ten minutes into the journey. I didn't even realise at first, I thought I was just standing funny. So I moved and it still felt weird, so I moved my bag thinking it was that. But it wasn't either of those things. And that's when I realised I was having my first time. Someone was touching me up behind me. 

He was rubbing my thigh. He started circling and moved his hand up my shorts. I didn't do anything. I turned my music up and let my first time just...happen. I mean it was bound to happen at some point, right? Why not now? Might as well leave him to it. It's obviously because I'm wearing shorts. Best not to cause a fuss on this packed train full of probably nice adults who might have told him to fuck off if I shouted out. No. Best not.

I was late to work that day.

It was a long break before my second time. November 2012, actually. Not long ago. I was on a train back to uni, to Bournemouth, and the train had emptied after a few stops. There was just me and a man left who slowly moved to the seat opposite. Then he had a wank in front of me. So, again, I turned up my music and stared at my reflection in the window. Best not cause a fuss. It was late, I'd be in bed soon.

I didn't sleep that night.

Not long until my third time though! Yay. In December I was on a packed train home from Cardiff and a man had his hand firmly grabbing my arse all the way back. I was going to say something this time and tap the shoulder of the lady in front. But she was in a suit and looked so tired, tutting at the group of drunk lads in front of her. Plus it was late again. Ah well, it's happened twice before, I'm used to it now. I'll be alright. 

I felt lower than low, actually. 

But wait for it...it happened again the DAY AFTER! Cor, twice in 24 hours. Aren't I the lucky one? Aren't I lucky to be chosen for a stranger's pleasure? I mean I clearly look hot if this is happening to me. I clearly look like I'd be totally okay with that. This time I was on a tube and a guy was actually trying to finger me from behind. I didn't turn up my music this time. I moved forward. But he moved with me and pushed his fingers in further. The tube pulled into the next station and the doors opened. I stared outside, at that gap a few metres away, and screamed at myself inside to move. So I did, I ran out. And I ran down the other end of the tube and jumped back on, grabbing the centre pole as the doors closed again. Then I turned up my music. Then I stared at one spot until I reached my station.

I was sick a few hours later.

I like to think I'm quite a confident and feisty person. I roll my eyes a lot and I'm very good at being sarcastic. I'll fight against most things my family say and I'll stand up for what I believe in. But I was, what, touched up? Just touched up? Molested? Sexually assaulted? What do you call it? A crime? 

Yes, yes you do call it a crime.

What did I do? Nothing. I froze. I let it happen and I didn't want to make a fuss. But what if it'd been worse? What if one of those men then followed me off the train that night and raped me? What if I was approached walking home one night and was still too scared stiff to stop it happening? 

I didn't deserve any of that. It wasn't how I was dressed and it wasn't how I was standing. Those men treated me as a faceless object of their satisfaction. Ironic, isn't it, when I never saw three of their faces. But it happened FOUR times to me. Three of those times were within weeks of each other. SURELY I must have been doing something wrong? There's not just one man, there are a lot of them. So it must be just me. I haven't heard stories of this happening to anyone else.

The thing is, it happens a lot. Every day, in fact. I ended up speaking to a group of ladies about what happened to me and it had happened to all of them, too. But I didn't know about this. I was never warned about this (I shouldn't HAVE to be, ffs) so I didn't know how to react. Neither did these ladies. Of course, the argument is that MEN should be taught not to touch women up. Not to rape, not to take advantage, and to just respect women. Women shouldn't be taught how to stop it happening to them. But in turn, women aren't taught how to react if it DOES happen to them. I didn't know to shout out, to build up my confidence, to face these men, to know that those on the train WILL support me, to talk to people afterwards, to know that I am worth so much more than these dirty men who think they can get away with this shit. Because they CAN'T. My god, they can't. They NEED to be shamed, and they NEED to be caught out. Otherwise they'll do it again, and again. And women's, mostly young women's, self-esteem will plummet and they'll bury what happened and it'll drive them crazy. And women are amazing. And as long this keeps happening, feminism will exist. 

I won't let it happen again. I'm speaking out now and I'll speak out for all the women who have and will endure this. People need to know that this happens a lot and it NEEDS to be talked about. Stories need to be shared and those men need to be shamed and caught. Shout out and grab his arm and demand respect and attention. Support a woman if she does shout out. Look out for it happening to those who are frozen. Look out for me. Make him cry and call the police. Make the biggest fuss you possibly can. 

Then turn up your music.

Friday, 5 October 2012

These Associations. Our Revelations.

I'm sitting on the cold, hard, and uncomfortable floor of the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern opposite a woman a few years older than me. She's Italian, with big round glasses and an arty style that makes me jealous of her. There are tears in her eyes that are at risk of toppling over and I'm doing all I can to comfort her. We met minutes earlier. We're strangers. She's telling me a story that she says she's never told anyone, and it's intimate and it's sad and it's a story that's bonded her and I together very suddenly and very strongly. Then, as I tell her she'll be okay, she gets up and leaves without saying goodbye.

She doesn't say goodbye. Or hello. There are no salutations at all, just stories and leavings. So many stories. As people run up and down the hall, and weave between one another like a childhood game, a woman leaves the group to tell me to trust people. Like she knows I find it hard trusting people. How does she know? Why did she choose me? And why is she LEAVING, for GOD'S sake? They always leave and it doesn't feel nice, because it doesn't feel right. You can't just run away after telling me to trust people. You can't just not say goodbye.

It's part of the piece by Tino Sehgal. You can't say hello or goodbye in These Associations. That's the rule. I think. I'm guessing. No one really knows what the hell is going on, but it still ends up meaning a lot to the public. You can't leave. I've been five times and spent at least two hours just sitting and watching and listening each time. I want to hear all the stories and stay in this world of it being okay to pour your heart out to strangers and leave. There's no commitment and no build up. No getting attached. No salutations is like having a rule of not saying, "I love you". As soon as you say, "I love you.", that's it. You're screwed. No going back now. You're in this for the long run. These Associations is like a sudden lust, where you're drawn in and doused in memories and epiphanies before being left agog.

You can follow them, if you like. Children do. Children run around with them and sit together in the middle of the hall until someone comes over and gives them a story. They lie on their fronts with their chin in their hands, and mouths open and eyes fixated. When the storyteller leaves, they go with them. And they run and they laugh and shout for more stories. When their parents come over to say they have to leave now, they strop and moan and cry for more.

After a few have told you stories, you can't help but look around at the hundreds of people in that hall and wonder what stories they hold. Because everyone's got stories. Only a few share them. The lights go out and the throng starts chanting. It's one big story. They know something you don't and you try to work it out, like you're inferior beings to them. But as soon as someone comes over and chooses you to talk to, you feel wanted and a sense of belonging. You're part of their story. And it's weird and so odd, but it's no different to talking online. I've told my darkest secrets to those on Twitter, and I have passing conversations about nothing that significant with others. There are no hellos or goodbyes, just moments of thoughts and stories. Moments of words on a screen. But here, it feels different. So typically British of us to stiffen up, gulp a lot, and frantically think, "Why is he talking to me what's he doing I don't know his person leave me alone oh god." when it means words made by voices and instant reactions and the truth shown through your face. Because you can't bite your lip or fold your arms or cry online. There's little naked truth in online communication. And that reveal and reality within These Associations is what makes it so brilliant and addictive. Just one of these conversations or stories can change your perspective on even just a tiny part of life, but it makes such a difference being told in "real life", and not online. It's right there, from someone else. Not a screen with printed words. There's bravery and confidence and trust in this vocal communication. You're their best friend. When the lights go out and you're talking into darkness, it's like a childhood confessions time sleepover or talking into your own conscience. It's intense. Anything could be said.

So they don't say hello, and they don't say goodbye, but for those few moments you're the one person in the world who they trust. And I wish I spoke more to the girl who told me to trust people, and I wish I told my story to the man who had a dark childhood. I wish I had the confidence to talk to the girl with the gorgeous coat on the tube, and I wish I told the man on the beach that I loved his choice of book. Your life is a series of long and complicated interactions which make up one story. Let people into your story. Let them read it at These Associations, and read everyone else's. Everyone has a story.

These Associations runs in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, London until 28th October. Go!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Step 1: Ignore everyone.

Yesterday morning I woke up and saw a ceiling that wasn't mine, and that ceiling was the trigger for my mind to compute that this is it. I'm not going home.

A friend moved to Leeds a week before the majority of us moved to our own new places, and we watched him with open mouths as he settled and became a student. We felt like the aliens in Toy Story, "ahhhhhh"ing and "ooooohhhhh"ing as he uploaded photos on Instagram, tagged strangers in tweets, and updated his location after allowing his friend count to go up by about 100. My friend count has gone up by 4. One of them is my mum. But it's weird knowing that friends are gone and there's a unsaid feeling of not being able to talk to them. You can talk to them. They're right there, on Twitter, Skype, and Facebook. But there's a distance now, apart from the literal sense, now that the 19 year bubble of home has been broken and people can't see the end anymore. Those walls that are built around you for 19 years have been crushed down to make way for this whole expanse of NEW. Everyone's looking out instead of in. Old friendships and places and memories are still there, but have been frozen. Like figurines. You can get them out to play, but put them back and don't touch them again for years. There's a horizon now, that wasn't there before, and people want to go out and find it. So you let them. One by one you watch your friends extend their life to new people and places, that was once restricted to you. It hurts, a bit, in a selfish way. Watching people you loved for your own letting other people in. But "that's life", as they say. That's how life works. It's the letting go but keeping in your sights which is tough. A balance. No one wants to be forgotten, but no one wants to stop it if it happens. That's their life, and this is yours, and their horizon might not include you. 

I'm not made for Freshers. The going out, the making friends, the making out, the shit music, the constant drinking, the high heels, the photos, the whole pretend act where everyone acts cool and fine when they're not. I found such comfort last night in the Facebook sidebar showing me flatmates liking photos from, "OMG THAT AWKWARD MOMENT WHEN A GIRAFFE IS IN YOUR FRIDGE WEARING A SOMBRERO" whilst at the Lethal Bizzle gig in a club down the road, while I was eating biscuits and listening to Busted in my room. I won't pretend I like anything to fit in. That's shit. But at the same time, I don't want to not do anything with anyone just to make a point that I don't follow the crowd and don't enjoy the majority of student nightlife. I still want to try new things (NOT DRUGS, MUM. I DON'T MEAN DRUGS) with new people, but uni is what you make it. I'll do the things I like, not watch what the others like. I put my Steps poster up, and my Doctor Who poster, and my Brave poster, and covered my noticeboard in letters and postcards from writers, and quotes, and tickets from amazing nights, and funny stupid photos, and little bits of paper with AG < 3 LJ on, and cut outs of Caitlin Moran's columns. They're the things which sum up my past life and I want them in my future so much it hurts. I hate the present, because those things can't be there right now. I think in the future and I want everything I've planned now, not later. I'm too stubborn and independent and my flatmates just knocked on my door and I pretended I wasn't in. I'm way too happy with my life to let other people in and have a part in that. Essentially, I am awful. 

It's hard starting from scratch with people who have no idea about you. You want them to know every part of your life and everything you are and everything you've done, but to them you're a blank canvas. And that's terrifying. And that's the first part of homesickness, where you want to be held by those who used to hold you together. There has to be a bit of fakery as you try to act as neutral and humanlike as possible, before yelling out, "OH THE" from a private joke years ago, or singing the Doctor Who theme tune as you pour grease down the sink and become the first person IN THE WHOLE ACCOMMODATION BLOCK to block it. Ithankyou, ahem. You prod people with parts of you (steady) and wait with baited breath for a response that, more often than not, isn't what you wanted. But there are the moments where you find someone who gets it, and those moments fill your heart with so much joy that you want to open your mouth and let everything that's you finally pour out and magnetise to this person without them rejecting it. Like a blood transfusion. This person for me said, "Last night was shit. I spent £3 to listen to wanky music and miss Downton Abbey." Shouting, "KLINGON SLINGON" was met with tears of laughter, and I felt comfortable telling my nearly-dying-after-putting-orange-peel-up-my-nose-on-bin-day story within 10 minutes. We spent last night drinking wine and developing a game involving covering the whole floor of the flat in Twister and only being able to move anywhere by playing the game to Benny Hill. "I want to check the post." "Left foot blue." "BUT THAT'S THE OTHER WAY." "LEFT FOOT BLUE THE POST CAN WAIT FOR RIGHT HAND RED JUST DO IT." We're going to watch ParaNorman tonight and go to the pub. This is how we Fresher.

My bubble is in tact, and I'm not ready to let it go yet. But it's transparent and I can see a life out there that maybe I might like. And with a view like this, it'd be silly to not give it a try.