The above photo proves just how much of a douchebag I once was.
CONTENT WARNING: Vulgarity, talk of abuse, harassment
This truly is a period of reckoning for some men in the arts and entertainment world, and it is long overdue. Every day for the past month or so, my social media feeds have been full of stories of abuse, harassment and outright rape from those who were, and still are, victims of the most vile men in their respective fields. Every story makes my heart break, but every story of a woman who overcame their hellish experiences and thrived despite them and the efforts of their abusers inspire me.
These stories have also caused me to look inward at my own behavior in the past. With the knowledge and a more developed sense of empathy I have at my nearly 40th year, it now makes me cringe at the person I once was 20 years ago.
I was a very different person then. I was angry at the world for taking my father from me too soon. I was desperate to survive in the real world after being forcefully thrust into adulthood far sooner than I anticipated. I lost my shit and retreated to the safety of my family’s home in Florida.
My issues actually started far before that, though. As the eldest of my mother’s children and the second eldest of my father’s, I was in a unique position in the family dynamic. I wasn’t the oldest, so the burden of responsibility wasn’t directly placed on me as it seems all eldest children receive. I also was one of the middle children in a group of four siblings. My younger brother’s behavior in his first few years of life forced my parents to focus more on his needs rather than mine. They didn’t neglect me, they simply learned early on that if given the necessary things to live, I could more or less be autonomous. This led to many days being on my own, in my own head.
I tell you this because this is the root for my caustic behavior later on in life. As a child, I seemingly did not receive the attention I needed or craved, so when I reached my teen years, I started to try and get it. I was very well behaved in terms of the law and my guilty conscience kept me from truly doing something stupid to get attention, but my version of rebelling and grasping for attention was a simple, subtle one: I started wearing vulgar, offensive t-shirts.
From the ages of 17 to about 25, the vast majority of my casual wardrobe was purchased from Spencer’s, the store in the mall that sold the glow-in-the-dark posters, the flimsy lingerie, the cheap sex toys and the offensive gag gifts. I had a collection of classy ones such as:
- “SMILE IF YOU SWALLOW”
- “I MAY NOT BE MR. RIGHT, BUT I’LL FUCK YOU UNTIL HE SHOWS UP”
- “FREE BREATHALYZER TEST: BLOW HERE” (with an arrow pointing to my groin)
- “CHARMING, HANDSOME, AND ABOVE AVERAGE IN LENGTH”
Yeah, real attention getters, those. Sometimes, they worked. I got a hearty chuckle from dudes, but usually got a dismissive smirk, an eye roll and a head shake from women. At the time, I had no idea that those women probably hated reading those shirts. They may have brought up old points of trauma that I had no idea about, causing them to have a flash of pain from that experience. All from a t-shirt. It’s the little things, sometimes.
Combine my shitty attire with my aforementioned anger and you got a very desperate, 350 pound loser who said horrific things sometimes just to get a rise out of the people around me. I needed their reactions, good or bad, because I craved the attention. What it did was advertise to the women around me that I, despite any other good behavior I exhibited, was just like the rest of them: cruel, vulgar and abusive.
I wanted to write this for many reasons. First, I wanted those who know me and who had to suffer through my behavior back then that I am truly, deeply sorry to put you through that. I was a horrible person for saying and doing those things and I have learned from my mistakes. If this post prompts you to talk to me about something I did or said that made you uncomfortable, please contact me.
Secondly, I wanted women who read this to know that I fully believe you all when you come forth with your stories. It seems there are very few men, especially those in positions of power or authority, who are actually decent human beings. Bring those abusers and harassers to the light so that they may face the consequences of their actions.
Thirdly, I wanted men who read this to take time to reflect on your behavior and give yourself a thorough self evaluation as to why you would behave in such cruel ways. You could very well be like me, in desperate need of attention. You could be insecure about something. You could be angry. Regardless of the reason why you behave poorly, you need to take the time to come to terms with that reason and work to be a better person. Treat women with the respect they deserve and see them not as sex objects, but as human beings with feelings, dreams, fears, insecurities and agencies of their own.
My personal behavior in the past was terrible. I know now why I acted the way I did and I’ve worked to change my behavior. Granted, there are times when I do slip, but I’m getting better at catching myself. I’m more confident in myself than I was then, and while I still feel like I need attention, I seek it out in healthy, creative ways.
I will stand with any woman who is a victim of abuse and harassment. I will gladly put any man back in line if I see them harassing a woman. Hopefully, we as a species will evolve enough to get past the need to treat one half of our species as poorly as men have treated women throughout history.