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One Big Choir Drowning Out a Whistle
By Christopher Sloce
Terry Crews is the last person I ever expected to have anything in common with and what we did I wish we didn’t.
I wish I was as tall as he was, as handsome, as fit, as funny. I wish somehow when I got put into peewee football it’d have sparked a some long lost neuron and I’d have stuck with being a linebacker until I got scared of my brain looking like oat clusters and I got into acting. And he’s a good artist: I can’t even produce a straight line.
He's the last person I would have expected to have been groped at a Hollywood party by a producer. Terry didn't reveal his assailant, just the anger and powerlessness he felt and the resulting desire for retaliation.
That is the something I have in common with Crews.
I know the anger and powerlessness that comes from the violation of boundaries, and I have two people in mind when I think about it.
The first time I got a real idea that it could happen to me, that a regular adult would fuck a kid, I was sitting in one of those maintained rooms the retired have, listening to an old lady named Katherine moan.
What you need to know about Katherine is she's dead, I don't know her last name, and she had a crush on my dad. I don't know if she made it explicit towards my dad other than calling him handsome a lot. For some reason this included me, seeing as I was my dad’s property.
One time Katherine and I made a couple jokes about my stepmother, and when my stepmother flipped out on us later, my stepmother claimed she tried to get my dad to sleep with someone she had invited over. From that anecdote forward, I suspected her of the worst crime my far-right Christianity addled brain could conceive of: sex.
Me and my stepbrother spent a lot of time next door with Katherine and her yapping dachshund Joy despite all this. My stepmother might have thought Katherine needed company and help. But her apartment was immaculate and Joy never shut up. I honestly think my stepmother wanted a break.
One time we were over there for whatever reason, and at some point she went upstairs. All of a sudden I heard a quavering moan. I can't remember panting or much besides that besides the moaning. Part of me knew something was going on upstairs that didn't warrant my further investigation. I don't remember the rest of the day. I never told anybody. I don't remember where my stepbrother was but he couldn't have been more far away if he was on the North Pole. Even Joy was quiet for once. She came down the stairs a bit later like nothing had happened. I think I took a shower at her place.
Months or years later I emerged from the bedroom to take a bath in a pair of boxer briefs. At the bottom of my stairs was Katherine, sitting with my stepmother. I apologized to them both.
"I wish I could whistle." Katherine said.
I brought it up to my stepbrother. He thought it was funny. I brought it up to my stepmother. She thought it was funny. I thought it was funny, too, and then I remembered it. My rotund little belly, my perky tits, none of the things I thought made me undesirable mattered. I wish they had. Moments like the time she rode in my lap on her rascal scooter around the neighborhood have taken a rotted hue. It took college to make me understand what I experienced in this and in the second case.
In high school, there was this girl. I knew her from around the way because she asked me about my reading something by Kerouac. She was excited to meet a fan, because she liked Doctor Sax a lot, which should have been the first sign of trouble. Later that year, after I busted a guy's nose during a basketball game she asked me how many times I masturbated a day. I refused to tell her. I thought she was kooky and fun, that that's what those questions meant. And it turned me on, I admit.
Two years, in a creative writing class we took together she asked me that question again. Another girl watched and giggled while I struggled to answer. Except now I had a crush on her. I gave her a non-committal answer. I wasn’t turned on anymore.
A year later we were dating. It went about as well as you think it would. The one time we made out, she kicked it off by saying she was going to rape me. I didn’t like it, because I really loved her, and I thought that’s what you put up with to be in love. A little bit of dark humor to distance yourself from the saccharinity of love, just like I thought Katherine was normal, if not a bit kooky.
It took a few years to realize what I was experiencing in both cases was sexual harassment: advances from partners I didn't want, unwanted questions from sources I didn't yet believed deserved those answers. If I reversed the sex, if a man told a 13 year old girl he wished he could whistle when they stepped outside of their room half-nude, if one of my friends asked a girl how many times a day they masturbated, I would have been furious. When I know a guy who I learn did something like this, I’ve been furious. But I couldn't grant that outrage to myself.
Maybe it’s the need we have for empirical data in the face of that kind of wrong doing. In the first case I had been told by the jury I consulted it was funny, so I had to believe it was funny. I couldn’t even consult anyone in the second case. I had a sense of pudeur because I was willing to answer such a private question because I wanted her,so I had to take it. As a teenage boy I don't want to say I was unlucky in love as much as I was shy. I wanted the tease, I wanted to the come-ons, but what I got was a melted grotesque form. What I was experiencing was a version of that old reminder to women that the men who harass them are "paying them a compliment". But it's not about paying them a compliment, and never has been.
Looking back to Katherine and the girl from high school, I always wanted to understand their entreaties as perversions, as the expression of dark wants some trick of bad luck or some abuse they suffered inflicted on them. But now it seems so much more like what was arousing about their actions for themselves was tapping into what everyone wants: power. But not all power is equal, and just as a society that aligns itself democratically for what the needs of the many instead of the few isn't equal to a authoritarian dictatorship, the power to reject advances and make for ourselves what we want of our most private yearnings is not equal to harassment, grooming, and rape.
When a man gropes a woman without her consent, he is letting her know in his estimation she is nothing compared to him. When Harvey Weinstein or James Toback or another other stubble riddled and balding swine makes his need to get off part of the economic equation, he's reminding a woman that without his power, in the terms of exchange, she has very little. When Terry Crews gets groped at a party by a producer by whoever the producer is, they are sending a message: the scales are not equal and I think nothing of making every bit of your life a humiliation, from your body to your boundaries. When we reject them with all the strength we can muster (and this is if we’re lucky), we also get the question: “who do we think we are?”
These are depressing actions: the bedroom and the pillory in an awful juxtaposition with one another. And how do we stop them? Obviously, there’s a lot to said to a multitude of approaches: teaching boundaries, teaching that all are equal, actually treating assault as a crime without even having to rely on the idea that, “God forbid, that’s happening to someone’s daughter! Someone’s wife!” and instead that it’s causing suffering and pain to another person and to do torture and abuse refuses that equality.
But the principle I want to impart is this: when we hear these awful actions happen, we need to do the simplest yet most radical act of all. And that’s to imagine it’s us experiencing that same horror: whistled at, reminded we’re meat everyday, reminded we’re bodies and nothing more.
What I am proposing is a union, what the large dictionary I keep under the coffee table where I do my writing calls: “a number of persons, societies, states, or the like, joined or associated for some common purpose.” Our demands our simple: you will touch us when we say so. I’m cribbing from the Wobblies here, but our principle is simple: an injury to one is an injury to all, everyone who isn’t Weinstein or his ilk. At the moment Harvey Weinstein drops his towel, whatever we’re doing, we stop for a second and think if that’s something we’d want, with all the facts: the sense of power he holds, the money he has, who he is. Would we want to hear an old lady with seventy years on us orgasm to the thoughts of us? Do we want to kick off the first serious necking with our then love with a rape joke? And if the answer is, “no, hell no,” we band together, if it’s enforcing a hard line and removing the assaulter from our life, if it’s boycotts, if it’s strikes, whatever we can do.
When you assault another person, you assert you’re greater than them. So I think it’s pertinent to note that a lot of times this is someone’s superior, someone’s boss, either enforcing their position or jostling for control. I think that this requires we return to our commonalities and we stand together and strike.
They have one body, one position. They have nothing on the world, on the meek, who don’t want to have sex or be groped constantly, who have people that they have those relationships with, and that those relationships are the most wondrous we have. Because what do the meek want? Nothing more than the earth, the most moderate of aims. Freedom and self-determination. We might not always want to be sexualized, but there’s no person we want to tell us what every predator tells their prey: you are nothing and I will devour you. Why would they stop with one when they can have all?
To fight them requires people standing together without a thought in that moment to race or creed or sex. They have to be ran over and trampled.
A whistle can be as loud as it wants, but it can be drowned out by one big choir singing two words together forever: “no more.”