Gaslight

I was sixteen when I started blogging. I’d write about my life in high school, my crushes, my friends, the things that happened to me. I’d write about my feelings and my experiences, and about my chronic pain bone disorder and how it affected me as a teen girl.

I grew a fan base, a rather large one at that, and met a lot of people in the blogging community that I’m still friends today. The blogging community made me feel a little less alone, a little less isolated, and it was the first public platform I’ve ever indulged in for writing. I can’t tell you how therapeutic all that was. Blogging helped me through a lot of rough times.

But my parents were extremely worried about the things I’d write about online, for anybody to see. They worried that my translucency and vulnerability would end up hurting me, and they weren’t wrong. It has, on many occasions.

I’ve had trolls send me hateful comments. I’ve received unsolicited dick pics and other unwanted advances from the opposite sex. I’ve been put in situations that made me unfathomably uncomfortable.

In one of those situations, I had an older man expose himself to me during what I thought was a friendly video chat. I was eighteen, going through a recent and raw breakup, and vulnerable. I’d known this person from my very early days of blogging (they used to encourage me to become a Suicide Girl, to “help with my body image issues”), and I thought I could trust him. I thought he was “harmless”. I thought his brand of humour was just that–a brand of humour that I didn’t always understand.

He had sent me a care package and requested that I open it up for him to see. I truly didn’t question his actions until I realized he was shirtless, and when he stood up to get a drink–completely naked and purposely exposing himself–I was shocked. I exited the conversation, told him my Internet was down when he asked where I’d disappeared to, and never initiated another conversation with him alone again.

I kept silent about this heinous act because I didn’t know how to process it.

These kind of atrocities don’t just happen in the online community, they happen everywhere, and as women–we’re conditioned to shrug it off. Brush it away. Ignore it. Make up excuses, downplay our discomfort even when we feel it’s wrong, when we know it’s wrong.

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That incident that happened so many years ago, this incident that I pushed to the back of my mind, filed away with the other unpleasant, uncomfortable, and borderline inappropriate actions that have happened to me since–it’s resurfaced to remind me that my intuition was right, even if I was too intimidated to listen to it.

I didn’t recognize how damaging that experience really was, until I was reliving it–reliving the prickly sensation of something feeling off, something feeling wrong. I realized then that this never really left me, it lingered in the back of my mind…resurfacing every time someone of the opposite sex messages me privately.

I can’t even apologize for it, for refusing to allow myself to ever be put in that situation again. It might seem unfair to those men out there who legitimately have no sinister intentions behind reaching out, but how else am I supposed to protect myself?

It’s a gross thing, realizing that you’ve been groomed for years by someone you were supposed to trust. You were supposed to trust them because they played the game carefully and they pulled the wool over a lot of people. Their victims were left confused over how to process the inappropriate comments, messages, and actions. This person was so acclaimed within the community, and they truly did hold all the cards. They made it perfectly clear that whoever crossed them would be raked over the coals, and we’d all seen the evidence of that before.

Whenever some powerful white dude is accused of being a sexual predator, and women come forward to talk about their experiences, people will ask; “If you knew, why didn’t you say something earlier?” They act like the women coming forward just want their five seconds of fame, but here’s the thing…we aren’t stupid. We see how these things are handled, how they’re brushed away because money talks and sexual assault is difficult to prove.

Most women don’t come forward, because they don’t know what to say to a society who so easily forgives predators and is so willing to believe “innocent until proven guilty”, while so viciously condemning the victims that step forward.

We are gas-lit every time we turn around, and it gets murky…trying to determine if something feels wrong because it’s inappropriate, or if something feels wrong because we’re “over sensitive”.

Back then, I didn’t know how to tell the difference. I was so used to being gas-lit that I did it to myself, too.

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