Written in June of 2014.
Some thing are worth saying because they are timely; others, because they are true.
Lately in Cleveland, I have had a routine: after the quieting of the daytime bustle and as the long summer evenings bent into darkness, once parents were asleep, I made tea and took my laptop to the living room for emails and writing and general webfuckery, the cornerstones of my California life folded into a few nighttime hours. “Friends” ran on the CW and then Nick at Nite and became the background to my labors, something like five episodes per night, and after weeks of this unfocused soundtrack I realized why Ross and Rachel took so damn long to get together: because neither of them knew what love is.
Ross idealized Rachel, from their preteen days. Shy and insecure his strategy was years of pining, punctuated by an occasional grand gesture — an attempted prom rescue, for example, or a night at the planetarium. And Rachel, the idealized object, enabled this, never considering Ross as a romantic partner until his devotion was revealed via such gestures. Their on-again off-again relationship propelled the show’s narrative but it was also ludicrous, especially as the comparatively tame Monica and Chandler navigated a commitment built on friendship, shared values, shared goals, mutual attraction, and compromise — which is to say, a genuine and strong commitment, but not one to sustain an audience’s interest.
Grand gestures do not a relationship make, which is why so many gesture-built romantic comedies end when people fall in love (or “love”) rather than exploring an actual relationship, and also why romantic comedies are mostly bullshit.
For those who have experienced sexual assault there are two possible labels, it seems; we are either “victim” or “survivor”, both of which lend far too much credibility to the event in my mind. “Survivor” implies more agency than “victim” but when I think of survival I recall my mother in intensive care, scrawling on a pad of paper because a tracheotomy prevented her speech, bald and pallid from chemotherapy but somehow still alive despite leukemia’s best efforts. The sexual assault which I survived did not threaten my life in such a fashion, although the aftermath fully pursued may have; there were many reasons I did not testify against my late grandmother’s husband but the most prominent was that I simply wanted the whole thing over with, sooner rather than later.
But whether I testified or not, the situation was beyond my own control. Through a combination of coincidence my grandmother’s husband (her second husband, after my own grandfather died before I was born) was arrested and although he spent less time in jail for misdemeanor domestic assault than I did for violating curfew it unleashed a torrent from his enraged son, who paid a lawyer fifteen thousand dollars to send me threatening letters throughout the summer of my sophomore year of college — they would find out why I’d lied; they would find out the truth of why I’d transferred from Caltech to Georgetown; they would tell the world that I was nothing but a spoiled pawn of my father; they would destroy me.
And what had I done to deserve such a backlash? Was it because I had worn a tank top that night (or maybe it was a polo shirt — I can’t quite remember)? Was it because I had visited my grandmother in Miami? Was it because it was it was Good Friday? Was it because I was nineteen and had a future that could yet be destroyed?
Or was it because yes: all women.
Those who stand in a witness box, who stare down the feint of objectivity that is the law, who force justice or at least demand to be heard — those are the real survivors.
One of the most popular #YesAllWomen tweets was a quote from Margaret Atwood — “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” When Margaret Atwood and Louis C.K. are making the same point, there is no secret left to it.
My own story is complicated (as these things always are) by ethnicity. To be Cuban is to be Hispanic and to be Hispanic is to be a culture of machismo, a society which excuses male philandering, and so an eighty-five-year-old groping his nineteen-year-old step-granddaughter is seen as part of a larger pathology; and Americans can shake their heads in sadness at the dysfunction of others.
But Latinos have Dilma and Cristina and Michele and even Violeta, an elected female leader all the way back in the twentieth century. Women at the helm do not disprove systemic misogyny any more than Obama’s election here ended racism, but it is not meaningless either.
We have yet to vote a woman into our highest executive office, but in one of the most liberal states in the US we brought in the Governator. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, and yet somehow it is the caballeros whose problem is more tragic.
Here is a real tragedy: the distance between “I refuse to apologize for my privilege” and mass murder is much shorter than most anyone is willing to acknowledge.
This was the start of a super-long examination of our narratives of romantic love, and how they promote misogyny; and how our American/Western sense of our own progress impedes us from seeing how much work remains to be done. But I didn’t finish it. I did get sexually assaulted again, though — in a totally different context this time! — so I could bring a whole new perspective to it now… but I’m not gonna.
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