Trigger warning: This article contains discussion of rape and rape culture.
To: Random White Cisgender Guy
Somewhere on the Streets of Montreal
An Open Letter
Re: Forgiveness and the Making of Monsters
Dear Random Guy Who Tried to Break into My House and Rape Me,
You know, when I was little, my father used to tell me that there were monsters that lived in the alley behind our house. These monsters, he said, awoke at night to stalk the streets of our neighbourhood and eat naughty children who disobeyed their parents. This was why I should always listen to my father, stay in at night and go to bed on time, eat all my rice, be quiet and sit still, and never, ever talk to strangers. If I behaved, if I obeyed, if I was a good little boy, then I would be safe.
When I set out to write this letter, Random Guy, I wanted to be angry. I wanted to write a searing critique of your behaviour in the context of patriarchal violence and rape culture that would make you feel ashamed and small and pathetic. I wanted to be a Strong Independent Woman, a militant radical feminist. I wanted to hate you; wanted to justify that hatred with such fiery poetic eloquence that not even you could disagree. And I know I have the right to hate you, Random Guy. When you try to rape someone, they have the right to hate you.
But the truth is, I don’t hate you. I don’t feel angry – I never did. Not this summer when you rang my doorbell at midnight and told me through the locked door that you had seen me on the street and followed me home. Not when you told me that you thought I was beautiful. Not when you demanded to come inside. Not when you looked me in the eyes and sadistically asked me if I was scared. Not even as you started to pound on the door and pry at the lock. I never once felt rage as I ran upstairs and tried calling all of my big, cisgender male friends, none of whom answered. Not as I gave up and called the police, not when they arrived and told me that they couldn’t detain you because you “hadn’t really threatened me.” I didn’t hate you then, didn’t hate you after, and I don’t hate you now, no matter how much I wish I did.
What I did feel was fear. I did feel terrified, knowing that just on the other side of the door, there was someone who had picked me out, tracked me, who had definite intentions to harm me. I felt the terror of knowing that my body, my personhood, and my desires are less than inconsequential to you. And I felt shame. I was ashamed of being so weak, when for so long I have been able to rely on my strength. Ashamed that I called the police, who are responsible for the brutalization and deaths of so many of my transgender sisters. I was ashamed that I had brought the horror of you upon myself.
You see, Random Guy, I believed my father. I internalized the story that it is the weak, the deviant, the naughty, the disobedient, the careless and stupid whom are singled out as prey by the predators of the night. For all my feminist learning, I have yet to unlearn the notion that it is my fault for choosing to walk home alone at night, for presenting my body as ‘feminine,’ for being unable to defend myself against you on my own.
I was raised not just by my father, but by this racist, transphobic nation to not be angry, to not know how to hate predatory white men like you. I grew up keeping my feelings inside ‘for my own safety,’ just as I kept my body confined to spaces that grow ever tighter as I age. I was taught to turn the other cheek – to consider your desires and freedoms as essentially more important and potent than mine. I was taught to dismiss my humanity so that society can forgive your monstrosity.
So it is with a strange compassion that I write this letter, Random Guy, an odd kind of forgiveness that causes me to consider the kind of life you must lead that has made you the monster that haunts my nighttime streets. How were you raised in order to think of me as a piece of meat for you to consume? How is it that power made you so broken? What part of your soul did privilege rob that you treat other people this way? How is it that you are not alone in this, but only one of many such monsters in infinite guises whom I, and my racialized and transgender siblings, meet every day?
The thing is, I don’t have the answer to these questions, Random Guy. You do. And it’s your job to answer them for us both. Because my job is to survive you. We are trapped in this nightmare of predator and prey, and you have the power to wake up first. And while I may not hate you yet, I must still be prepared for you. The next time we meet – and we will – I will have hatred on my side, or my sisters, or a knife. And one of us may not survive.
From Gaysia With Love is an epistolary exploration of intersectionality by Kai Cheng Thom. They can be reached at email@example.com.