By Rebekah Frank
Sometime in the late spring, early summer of 2010 I rode the B63 bus down Atlantic Avenue from my bartending job towards home. I was drunk. I was drunk a lot that summer. I was heartbroken and in complete free fall. I sat staring out the window, tears silently streaming down my cheeks as they often did, wondering what I had done wrong, how I could fix it and when the pain – so emotionally present that it turned into physical hurt – would stop. I was pretty sure it never would, that the pain was my new normal. The bus stopped and a man, probably around my age, appeared in front of me. He smiled and gave me a hand-written note before he walked off the bus and into the night.
You’re beautiful when you cry. Call me.
The tears stopped. I held the note in my right hand between by thumb and fore finger and stared blankly out the window. I took it with me as I exited the bus and looked at it as I made my way home. At the first trashcan I found I spit violently on the small slip of paper – imagining it was the man’s face – crumpled it up and threw it into the garbage. Being mad at him and all the other strangers who seemed to smell my vulnerability that summer was so easy. It felt as though men – anonymous men, not the men I knew – were all dogs.
The pain eventually dulled. I fell in love again.
Going on two years ago my most recent relationship ended. We were together for almost four years. What do they say in all those articles about break-ups, that it takes half the length of the relationship to get over it? Maybe there is something to that because I am just now about back to normal and by normal I mean that the idea of being involved in the dating scene makes me want to scream. This guy at work last night asked me how I meet people to date and my honest response was that I don’t. I just don’t.
I could chalk it up to my work schedule. That being almost entirely unavailable on weekends makes it near impossible to meet someone. I could blame modern dating and the rise of internet dating sites. As someone who works in a social setting with already precarious power dynamics, the idea of some guy seeing me on the Internet and then walking into my bar and thinking he has some kind of leverage terrifies me. I could blame my most recent dating experiences and the assumption men seem to have that if a date is going halfway decently it’s their cue to try and come home with me. Good fucking luck. But the reality is that I blame my friends. Or, more accurately, people I thought were my friends. I blame the people that made me feel like my only value is in my body and what it can offer them.
Let me quote an article from Salon that finally gave me the strength to write this post, this post that I have been writing over and over again in my head but never wanted to actually put to paper, so to speak, for fear of hurting the feelings of people who never had any consideration for mine.
When the bad things that happen are normal, you become tough. It’s devastating how tough I am.
So, as a 30-year-old woman who has been through a range of horribly exploitative sexual and emotional experiences—you know, just like pretty much every woman you know—I really don’t want to know anymore if a stranger finds me attractive. Not right out of the gate. Hell no. There are so many more interesting things about me than my body… This is why I cherish my friendships with straight dudes who would never try to fuck me even if we are trashed, and is probably part of why I hang out with a lot of queer people.
This is why I’ve gone home in tears after someone I respect says they think I’m smart and funny and interesting and they’d like to have a drink and rap about the world, and then just tries to fuck me after I patiently dodge their advances all night. Were they not even paying attention? … I am still, as a grown woman, trying not to mentally respond to that situation by thinking: “Well, that person just wanted to fuck you. Maybe you are not really that smart or interesting.” That precise feeling is one that I don’t really think straight dudes can fully relate to: You are invisible, but they still want to fuck you. They do not see you or hear you. They still might rape you. This is why somebody putting their eyes all over me or immediately telling me they like the way I look is no longer flattering. Because it makes me feel fucking invisible.
The woman who wrote this article is a bartender in her 30s, like me. And she, too, is fucking exhausted by how much she is sexualized at work. This past week, I have been given 2 phone numbers, been told by a customer that he has wet dreams about me, had a coworker hit on me by alluding to the version of 50 Shades of Grey that we could make together, and had to tell someone that my tits could not pour him his beer so if he would please look at my face when requesting service it would be appreciated. Sometimes I leave work feeling like a pair of boobs and a hole to fuck, with arms conveniently attached to provide liquid courage. The thing I make my money off of is the same one that empowers men to disempower me and managing that disempowerment, that power dynamic, is tricky. It is intertwined with my ability to earn a living. And it is exhausting.
When I leave work at 4am, I try to leave all of that behind me. I try to reenter a world where I am valued for more than my body and my ability to pour liquid into a cup. Of course, I want people to find me attractive but I want that to be attached to the fact that I am smart and funny and interesting. Those are the things I value about myself. So when I read this line — This is why I have gone home in tears after someone I respect says they think I’m smart and funny and interesting and they’d like to have a drink and rap about the world, and then just tries to fuck me after I patiently dodge their advances all night. Were they not even paying attention? — I was like, finally, someone else said it. Because I, too, have gone home in tears. I have spent the better part of the last two years thinking my taste in (male) friends sucks because one after another after another after another of my straight male friends have tried to fuck me. I barely have any left. To those who have been my friend all this time I value you more than I can really say.
Somewhat recently I met up with an old friend for a drink. We hadn’t hung out in awhile because life took us in different directions but I was happy to catch up. It took him about 2 hours to try and fuck me. I told him about my life, what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been thinking about. He told me how he always thought I was so hot. He thought he was flattering me. I have never felt so cheap, so misled, so socially inept. How did I not know? How did I ever think this drink was about us catching up as friends? How did I not see this coming? How stupid can a person be?
I, like the well-trained woman that I am, blamed myself. Over and over again.
My ex-boyfriends all knew that the best way into my pants was through loving my brain, not lusting after my body. But of course, they were listening. There was more in it for them. I was visible. Me. I was more than just a conquest, or the fulfillment of a long curiosity. I was a human being with unique value. And I am done feeling as though I did something wrong to mislead people about what I was looking for. I have always been clear. So be my friend or don’t be. But if you’re just looking to fuck, move along. I’m not interested. Stop wasting my time. Stop making me feel like garbage. Because after all these years it takes me more and more time to rebuild myself after work. If you’re really my friend, you should be supporting me. So stop tearing me down.
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