This post has a pretty big trigger warning on it, for reasons that will become apparent very quickly in the next paragraph.
This past Thursday, during my commute home, so about four o’clock, I was sexually assaulted on the DC Metro. I won’t tell you exactly what happened because I’ve been reliving it pretty steadily for the past week, and I don’t feel like immortalizing it. I can tell you what happened after. I was in a crowded train, and I screamed at the guy, and nobody saw or heard a thing. They didn’t mind looking at me until I looked back, then it was the floor or the person next to me. I was sexually assaulted in front of dozens of people, and no one saw anything.
My attacker sat down in the closest available seat and stared at me, who was standing by the door. When a couple got between us, he changed seats, moving through the crowd like he wasn’t even there, his eyes always following me. I knew right then that this guy was going to follow me home. Sure, I picked this place because it was right by the stairs to the mezzanine at my stop, but there was only one exit, a long escalator ride, and no Metro personnel in the station at all. This guy could assault me again or worse, and no one was coming to help me. When we reached my station, I waited until the door was closing, then I slipped out and went home.
I still spent most of the evening with the blinds closed, hoping that he didn’t backtrack to my stop to find me. When I woke up the next day, I wondered if he wouldn’t be waiting at my station for me when I would have to go back to work on Tuesday. Maybe he remembered which train I was on and which car I’d chosen, and he’ll be waiting for me when I get out of work.
I feel like I should underscore how utterly alone I felt when I got home Thursday. I was the only other person in a crowded train car, and when I thought about who to talk to about this, I was reminded that I had no one to talk to. I have texting friends, and I reached out to a few of them, and they got back to me after an hour or so. Nicole was in bed in Romania. I called my mom, which I’d rather have avoided, but I had to speak to someone with a voice. One of my friends did call me several hours later, and she was a godsend, but for the first hour or so after the incident, I was on my own, and I wasn’t sure that was a bad thing.
With the exception of the few of the friends I’d reached out to on Thursday, as well as an HR rep I spoke to on Friday, I hadn’t told anyone about this. I’m not ashamed—violated, but not ashamed. This wasn’t my fault. The reason I’m avoiding it is because I hate how everybody looks at me. I hate the catch in their voice when they process it. They’re not doing anything wrong—it’s a natural reaction to hearing something awful like this. But I still hate it.
I felt alone on the Metro. I felt alone at home. And I felt alone because I’m a man. This is not someone who believes that men have it worse than women, but they don’t warn a guy this could happen, do they? No, they don’t. In fact, unless it happens to you, the only thing you are likely to hear about male sexual assault is how goddamned funny it is. From “Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison” in Office Space to Ving Rhames getting hilariously raped in Pulp Fiction, to little kids make dropping-the-soap jokes, male sexual assault is fun for the whole family.
Victims are made to be overly feminine, like the “bitch” trope in prison (Ben Kingsley had a bitch in a Marvel short that can be seen on Disney+) . The reason why is that a real man would never let that happen to them. Fuck that, I don’t want to be a real man. Real men are assholes. Besides, what was I going to do? Was I going to punch or kick the guy into unconsciousness? Wrestle him down and present him to the non-existent Metro cops? What if he had a knife? What if he kicked my ass back even harder? I couldn’t count on concerned citizens coming to the rescue, that’s for sure.
I’ve chosen not to go to the police with this. It will accomplish nothing. I left him on a Maryland-bound train. I don’t have any details on the train itself that would lead them to the guy. The suspect was wearing a Covid mask, a hat, and a black parka. In this city, he’s invisible. They will never catch him, there will be no justice, and he’ll do it again. But I will not spend hours in the station telling and retelling my story to be the thing they joke about in the break room. My HR rep is kind of angry with me for this decision, and she spent most of Friday trying to talk me out of it.
I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what I did wrong because I didn’t do anything wrong. He came from blind corner behind me. He didn’t make a sound. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it, which is both a relief and a reason to be terrified. (On Friday morning, when I was still paranoid, I asked myself aloud, “Is this what it feels like to be a woman every day?”) I’m an overweight, forty-six-year-old, pale dude. This could happen to anybody.
But what makes me really sad is that I don’t really put a lot of thought into my appearance anymore, but on Thursday, I put in the effort. I wore a dress shirt that matched my beloved sweater vest and my business casual shoes, and I braved the frigid air walking from the train to my office because I knew that, when work was over, it was going to be the perfect weather for my corduroy blazer, and I looked good and I felt good, and I never want to wear those clothes again. There’s the part of me that notes it was the one thing I did differently that day. No, I don’t think the person who attacked me was attracted to me. This kind of thing isn’t about sex. It was about scaring me, and well done, sir.
It’s not the physical act of what he did that has kept me trapped in my apartment for the past week, it’s the helplessness. The things I thought I could count on to stay safe—bright lights, public spaces, crowds, back to the wall, all failed me. And the recent break-in showed us that you can lock the house all you want, but if the locking mechanism fails in one of your windows, they’re coming in.
I’m grounding myself by writing a novel about the oldest characters I’ve created and reteaching myself how to ink and preparing for my inevitable comic book, but this weekend, I couldn’t. A lot of the initial horror of what happened has faded, and I was able to go out and buy a latte (I was concerned that the barista was my attacker because he was the same size and skin tone to my attacker) Mostly what I have is mild agoraphobia, and I don’t know if I could do that again.
I’ll be fine. I’ll work from home this week and see if I can use the Metro again soon. There was a bit of a tug of war between my supervisor and HR about this, including the question, “Can you Uber into work?”; which stunned me in its tone-deafness, but HR won. My supervisor was demanding more information, and I think she was looking forward to having something to gossip about. I’ve discovered that I’m less willing to let things in my apartment slide. If my socks don’t both make it into my laundry basket, I now pick up the stray immediately, as opposed to letting it enjoy its freedom for a couple of days. There’s been little housekeeping projects I’ve been putting off that are now getting done.
Don’t worry, I’ll leave the apartment again. I’ll ride the Metro again. I won’t be watching out over my shoulder anymore. It might take a while, but I’ll be fine again. I got two cats counting on me.