I was 10. Maybe 11. And I was excited. We were having a family sleepover. Staying at my aunt’s meant we had access to instant ramen and junk food. Those were the things that got me excited. Because again. I was 10. Maybe 11.
I woke up that night to the oversized t-shirt I had on being pushed up and my panties being pushed down. I didn’t understand what any of it meant. I was 10. Maybe 11. Why would I. But something in me knew it was wrong and I was scared and I froze. Held my breath. I think eventually I actually passed out because I was out of air. I don’t remember much other than that. But I remember waking up and keeping it all a secret. Because if something wrong happened to me, it must’ve been my fault.
At the age of 11, I was walking down the street with my cousins and my mom. My mom wanted me to change my pants — she said I had outgrown them. Too tight, she said. A man walking the other direction, so casually and so quickly grabbed my pussy. And continued walking so incredibly nonchalantly. And I froze. I held my breath. And in my head — too tight, I said. My fault, I said.
When I was 12, my grandfather passed away and we had a huge funeral. People from all over Korea and the states flew in to pay their respects. My uncles production crew came in and filmed portions of it. One of them commented on how pretty I was…even with tears. Took me aside to tell me how great I’d be on camera. Pulled me in close to give his condolences. And then ran his hands up and down my body. And by this time…my body knew what to do. It froze. And it held its breath. And I accepted that somewhere in all of this — it was my fault.
In college, catcalling was the norm. Twice, men have masturbated looking at me on the train. Once, I tried to run to a different car and was followed and I knew so little about how sex works that I thought even that action, that proximity, could result in an std or pregnancy. And that would be my fault. For not having been careful enough.
As a bartender and cocktail waitress, paying my way through school, it became the norm for men to comment on my ass and hips. Grab it when they got drunk enough. And I smiled back. Because I needed that money. I needed those tips. So. It was my fault for putting up with it.
Those late nights walking home in my early twenties, those late nights simply walking around in my late twenties — the danger of catcalling went from verbal to physical in a nanosecond. Have you ever been lifted off the ground by one arm? Like youre some rag doll? It’s a humbling feeling. You freeze. What else can you do? You let them violently shake you until they’re done. Hoping that’s all it’ll be. And…you can’t help but think — why werent you strong enough. Your fault, Cathy. This shit on you.
Where do I even begin when it comes to the professional world. When people refer to you as the Asian chick. “Make sure you bring the small Asian one because she’s a sight for sore eyes.” “You tryna hit that?” “Well, you must’ve gotten the job because you’re cute and I assume you’re good at math.” “Is your pussy shaven?” “Baby, call me.”
All of this in front of colleagues. Some who worked under me. How much respect can you have for someone after that? Only once did I take a stand for myself. I felt emboldened because I thought I had a friend in that situation.
Through my twenties, it still seemed I had a knack for getting cornered. Men feeling as though because I had smiled enough, I owed them something now. People I called friends. I’ve had bruises on me from just regular nights out. Just drunk, angry men expressing their frustration.
It’s amazing. Because in those moments I was the first to trivialize my own trauma and laugh it off. Men being men. And I quickly forgot and forgave — my body’s memory and safety escape was to freeze and block. It’s amazing what your body will do to protect your psyche. I didn’t learn about fight or flight PLUS freeze until one of my more recent rapes.
A rape in which I made very clear I didn’t have condoms. I just don’t have enough sex to keep condoms around. No condoms meant no sex for me. That was that. Despite his annoyance, I fell asleep confident that my wishes would be respected. I woke up in pain. His fingers were aggressively moving in my body. I asked him to please stop. I told him he was hurting me. He said ok. That he was sorry. I fell asleep again. And I woke up to him still roaming over my body. I realized we were going to have sex that night and it really didn’t matter whether I wanted it. And so I went with it all. I froze inside and let my body do the work it had to do.
The first thing I did the next day was get in the shower and scrub my skin so hard I bled. Then I made an appt with my doctor. I told her I wanted a pregnancy test and an std test. Her obvious response was why? We just had your annual. You were all clear. Because. I had sex without a condom. Cathy, that doesn’t sound like you. Cathy….what. happened. Cathy….do you want me to report this. I refused to call it rape. Refused to call it assault.
Because then it would be my fault again. My weakness. If I pretended it was consensual, there’d be some semblance of control and dignity in that.
The Weinstein and then the Aziz stories have been…not to sound trite…triggering to say the least. Not just the stories, though in and of themselves they’d be enough, but the opinionated reactions to them.
My own family had a set of opinions that terrified me. And in, what I believe rightfully so, escalated to anger after asking a few clarifying questions, the sentiment became resoundingly clear that I was the one at fault for bringing any emotion into what, for me, was a very personal issue. What I thought, as a group of majority women, should be personal for all. In fact, verbatim — “I can’t even feel sorry for the fact that you were raped or any of the other things because of the way you presented it.”
The reactions I’ve seen around the Aziz story have been even further debilitating. We can all concede it was poor journalism. That doesn’t make the chain of events any less creepy or any more her fault. Women are conditioned to have various responses. “She could’ve just left” is an ill-thought out reaction to a severely complex situation. She could’ve. Sure. She could’ve. And he could’ve had more respect for her and her wishes as a human being. Her fault, I suppose, for expecting that of someone who made a career off his feminist woke bae status.
More importantly — have you ever been in that situation? And if so, can you appreciate that your reaction is never replicable in the same exact way of another persons reaction?
People acting as though “not raping” is the gold standard. Bringing up “legalese” for their own personal intellectual masturbation. Using logical fallacies to insist that nothing, then, is appropriate in this PC culture.
You ask why we don’t come forward or at all. Before…it was fear. These exact reactions. These cold calculations that think they could hypothesize and theorize the lived experiences of these warm bodies. This culture so steeped in misogyny, internalized and otherwise, women are left frozen, gasping for air for goddamn generations.
And now, we exist for survival. We are screaming the pain of all our mothers before us and screaming the pain for all our daughters after us.
To all the women who have been assaulted yet again by these recent slew of events, know that out here, in this ether — I, at the very least, hear and believe you. And if you want to sit and silently cry through it, if you want to scream and rage through it…there’s someone out here who will hold space for you…for any and all of it.