I have a major issue with people touching me. This is something you might not expect because I appear quite a confident and outgoing person. And I do like hugs. As long as I get some sort of forewarning.
“Can I give you a hug?”
Yes, sure, absolutely. As long as you ask. And if we’re friends you can stop asking, of course I want to give you a hug. Problems start arising the moment when a complete stranger just goes right ahead and touches me like nothing.
It doesn’t even have to be anything sinister. Once in a yoga class the instructor told us that we could help the person next to do their stretching by pressing their knee with one hand. The woman next to me just went ahead and did it. I knew it wasn’t anything bad but still her hand felt like someone had put a scorching iron on my knee. Still, I didn’t say anything. I kept a straight face.
When it was my turn, I didn’t know what to do. I knew it was in all likelihood that this lady didn’t care that I would touch her knee, so I did. It just felt really wrong to touch someone without their consent but she was so nonchalant about it that it clearly didn’t mean her the same thing it did to me.
In a way I’m glad. It means that nobody has violated her trust.
It’s my classmate’s birthday. I’m thirteen. We’re at a water park. One of the customers, a fully grown man, is drunk and he gropes me as I’m queuing for a slide. The cops are called and I get free tickets to the park. I tell my parents that a drunken man had acted inappropriate but didn’t say that he had touched me. For whatever reason that felt too scary. Too much.
I’m dancing with my friend and a couple of guys at a gay club. All of a sudden one of the guys starts groping me. Like, properly groping me. I stop dancing. I look at him but he just smiles. My friend doesn’t say anything. Nobody does anything. All of a sudden I stop feeling anything. I have a faint sense that his arms are there, squeezing my breasts and trying to get between my legs but it happens really far away. Like I’m not even there.
The music is enveloping me from everywhere as a deafening wall and I’m frozen still.
People talk about fight or flight. They forget that there’s a third one and that’s freezing. Once he lets me go my body feels like it’s made out of stone. My friend and I go to the next club. I lock myself in the bathroom and look at myself.
What’s wrong with you? Why do you make it seem like something like this is OK to do to you?
I’m interviewing a man who works at a takeaway place about a nearby fire. As I’m talking to him he takes a hold of my hands and starts stroking them.
Let’s just take a moment. In case anyone reading can recognise themselves from the male point of view, I’d like to ask you just one thing: What the fuck is wrong with you? What in the name of god makes you think something like that is OK to do, you pathetic excuse of a human being? Go play in traffic you absolute waste of oxygen.
Just a hint: The fact that the girl is standing still like a leftover fish finger in the freezer doesn’t mean that she’s into it. But you don’t care about that, do you?
Like with every woman these are not the only occasions of inappropriate touching I’ve experienced. I mention these two because in all of these situations I was extremely vulnerable: In the case of the first one I was a child, the second I was drunk and the third I was working and this was one of the last stories I did before I was too ill to work. Ergo, very vulnerable.
I’ve started thinking of myself as a kind of a mermaid. Nobody touches a mermaid. A mermaid can hide in the fog and dive really, really deep, beyond anyone’s reach. I rather observe events from my rock than actually take part. I have a better sense of personal space now. Unfortunately I’ve understood that respect towards it isn’t self-evident. The next person to put their hands on me, beware. Your ass is getting drowned. Nobody comes to my rock.
Except if they ask for a permission and I say yes.