Your Story To Tell

The response to yesterday’s post completely overwhelmed me– in the most beautiful way.

I was extremely nervous to put something so private, so vulnerable, so personal out into the world. I had grown used to carrying the burden of that secret for six years and to release that weight? Wow, it didn’t seem possible.

But with your help, it somehow feels lighter.

I was showered with love and with remarks about my bravery. And my courage. I don’t know if I would pick those words to describe sharing my story, but I appreciate them dearly. I’m honored to be described in such a way. I decided to write about my own experience because I was so angered by the remarks of political figures who seem to believe they know more about rape than women who have actually been held down against their will. It’s incredible to me that we can come so far in certain areas of progress, and yet we always seem to argue about women’s rights. This isn’t “I am woman, hear me roar” — this is “I am human, I have the ability to make choices, the right to make them, and I deserve to be treated as such.

These are fine words I can type now, but it took me a long time to get there. Because when it came to my writing, my career, my public image — as a writer, an editor or as Lindsay Tigar on Facebook who went to Appalachian State, works for NBC and writes this blog — I wasn’t sure I wanted the scarlet-colored word of “rape” associated with me. Even if I’ve been writing about women’s issues since college, and mostly, about love, dating and, well sex. But consensual sex or a lack of consistent sex. Talking about the heavy, scary topics was always something I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure how to go about it or if I could even do it as well as I express what it feels to fall in love with someone.

How could I eloquently describe what it feels to fall out of love with yourself? To blame yourself for something that wasn’t your choice? To pretend you weren’t bothered when you walked past the person who raped you? To wonder if it really was your fault? How could I illustrate the thoughts that creep back into my mind every time a guy buys me a drink or when the eve of my birthday rolls around?

But then the greatest question bubbled inside of me earlier this week: how could I not talk about it when so many women need to hear that it can happen to anyone?

Yesterday alone, 15 women came forward to share their story of sexual assault, molestation or rape with me. Their words, their experiences are their own, and it’s not my place to tell them. But reading how many women, of all ages, stages, countries and walks of life, have been taken advantage of — absolutely broke my heart.

But it also really inspired me.

While we have all endured both the trauma itself and the long aftermath of mentally and emotionally processing it– we have all, also, rose above it. We’ve all made something of ourselves– some have met loyal, loving partners. Others have gone on to lead women’s groups and write about important topics, like this one. Many are incredible friends who support those who have gone through it, those who are afraid of it and those who can’t speak for themselves. Some are the strongest women I’ve ever known.

Knowing that like me, they were survivors — didn’t make me think any less or differently about them. If anything, it made me see how powerful they really are. Because being attacked — in any form — will never define their story, it’ll just be part of it.

As soon as you claim it, as soon as you let those awful words leave your lips: “I was raped” — they don’t own you anymore. They lose their power and you gain it. You don’t have to hide behind them and they certainly don’t define who you are as a woman, as a professional, as a lover, as…a person. They become words that belong to you and a painful experience that you overcame to become something stronger, brighter and more beautiful than you already are.

Thank you so, so much for making me accept that while what happened the night of my 18th birthday will always be a part of me and it is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something I have to hide or a burden I have to bare. It is something I can now share anytime, anywhere, when you need to realize that you are many things — but alone, is not one of them. And what happened to you– it’s your story to tell, no matter how long it takes to say it.

If you’re a survivor of any form of sexual assault and you’d like to tell your story anonymously, I will publish it — without your name or any details — with your permission. You can fill out this form (I won’t even know who sent it!) or you can email me, if you feel comfortable enough. Talking about your experience will help give you power back. 

An Ugly Inequality

This may come as no surprise to anyone, but I’ve been thinking about men a lot lately.

But contrary to that statement, I haven’t been wondering about them in the romantic sense, but rather as people. A while back, I wrote a piece called “Men Are People Too?” which discussed a revelation I had about seeing guys not just as potential mates, but also as friends. May sound a tad crazy and I’ll admit it may make me come across immature for my age, but the majority of my friends have always been females and men to me, for a while, were only meant to fulfill a romantic role. But thanks to Mr. Hubby, J, H, and Mr. Unavailable, I’ve learned how to curve my attitude.

However, what I failed to mention or perhaps, realize, was the advantage and liberty women have over men.

More so than it has ever been before, females are encouraged to be independent. We’re the daughters of the women who grew up in the 70s and the 80s, who dominated corporate while remembering it’s okay to also dominate in bed – missionary be damned. Our mothers were the first to not only demand to be part of the workforce but to rise as high as they could, and then fight the glass ceiling that stopped them. We’re the women who were raised to be free thinkers, to accept that feminism isn’t about burning our bras or creating a No Boys Allowed club, but understanding the power of being a feminist is based simply on choice. We can decide to wear pumps and pleated skirts or pants and kicks and still be a woman. We can raise our voices, raise our eyebrows, or raise our hands – and all three will constitute as a way to stand for what we believe and what we know we deserve. We were brought up with the notion that we could be anything and also not have to be anything at all – a ring, a baby, or a house do not have to be our happy ending. But if we decide to, it can be a beginning or a part of our lives.

In a lot of ways, we’ve shaken off the titles that held us back for so long. Sure, we have a long way to come stateside and globally, and I’m in no means the most qualified expert to speak on the topic, but I do care about it. I am proud and thankful that my family always gave me every indication that I could do anything, that my sex (note: not gender, they are different) does not define me and it doesn’t hold me back. Just because I’m a lady, doesn’t mean I’m less capable of anything as my male counterpart. My dad let me be a tomboy that went on grand adventures, but he also assured me it was okay to want to feel protected. My mother bought me a training bra, but she also trained me how to body slam a guy if he happened to rub me the wrong way or get closer than I wanted him to.

But what about the guys? Do we teach men that it’s okay to have feminine characteristics? That having emotions are just as vital to a human as the ability to cope and carry on?  The great Gloria Steinem said it best: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

Yesterday, Mr. Possibility and I headed to his hometown to run some errands, visit his mother, and stop by the barber shop he’s been going to since he was eight years old. The place was rather adorable, quintessentially Queens-Italian, and the prices were ridiculously low, unaffected it seems by a downward economy. As I waited for him to finish, sipping coffee, and reading New York magazine, I found myself distracted by the little boy in the stool to the right. He was maybe six and best described as all-smiles. Everything the barber did – from buzzing and cutting to brushing and joking around – made this kid giggle. When his cut and style was finished, he swiveled in the chair and excitedly asked his mom: Don’t I look pretty?!

Seeming embarrassed by this remark, his father quickly chimed in: “No, son you look handsome. Girls look pretty.” The young boy, who was delighted a second before, turned his head down, and that smile that captivated me from across the bench fell as quickly as his spirits. Wanting to tell him that any adjective would do and that female and male connotations are only important when learning a language, I looked over at Mr. Possibility, who had missed the whole exchange and was chatting it up with C, his pot-belly barber. As I looked at him in the mirror, I wondered what child he had been twenty years previous, in this same shop, in this same little town. Was it okay for him to play Barbies with this sister (or alone) as much as it was acceptable for him to kick, catch, or hit a ball? Could he watch Oprah and ESPN in the same hour and still consider himself a man?

Why do men give themselves less liberties than the ladies? Why does the USA allow itself to be so drenched with homophobia and fear of the demise of the “good ole’ boy”? If you ask me, a great man is one who is brave enough to accept and embrace all that he feels, even if some of that is stereotypically considered girly.

Like in relationships, like in love, like in life – when we stop placing so much emphasis on titles and trying to define what everything means – that’s when we find our true freedom. So, why not give the dudes some room to grow? Some space to explore other ways of thinking and go after those things that they’ve always been forbid to do. Or forbidden themselves to try. Those rules that mothers and fathers are still placing heavily on their sons, while encouraging their daughters to chase any dream they have.

Because those restrictions, those unwavering, old-school, ways of determining what makes a man keep guys from truly becoming the best men they can be, or rather, the best person they can grow into. Don’t call it handsome, don’t call it beautiful, don’t call it lovely, don’t call it cute, and don’t call it pretty. Call it what it is – an ugly inequality.