Seven years ago, I was in Houston for a conference with a friend. I decided to pick up some music equipment for Stephen's Christmas present while we were there. It was from something online -- was craigslist a thing back then? -- and I and my two friends drove to the other side of Houston to get it. It was kind of a crazy adventure feeling, since none of us had ever been to this part of Houston before. I texted the guy in order to get his address and stuff.
Two hours later, he sent me a picture of his penis.
Listen, I know "dick pics" are a super common thing nowadays. I know. But they weren't in 2009! I had literally never heard of anyone receiving a picture from a stranger of his penis. And I had, I guess a panic attack? I don't know what you'd call it, but I was sobbing, immediately, uncontrollably, in the middle of a church auditorium during this conference's 10-minute potty break. It was not logical; it was visceral and subliminal, and it took a good 15 minutes for my conscious efforts to get my body to calm down enough to call Stephen to hear from him. And he was the right person to call, being my safest place and also my spouse and also a man. I could be reminded of who I am and who men are. He was angry for me, let me cry at him, and helped me make a plan of action.
I'm still glad I responded to that guy, telling him that if he ever sent me pictures of his genitalia again, I'd call the police, and I had his address and phone number. I sincerely hope he never did that to anyone again. Get this though: he said he meant to send it to his girlfriend, and I believed him.
That's how you know it wasn't a "thing" yet. Because what else was he going to say? Hey, I literally only-kind-of met you, but I thought you'd like an up-close photo of my penis. Hey, I'd have to scroll back to see your name, but want to have sex? But I didn't even know this was something any guy would conceive of sending to a stranger on purpose. [lol to my naivete. Sigh to that that was naive.]
Tbh, I'm really glad I believed him at the time. I felt so violated, and it helped a little bit that it was an accident. But for real, he put that picture in my mind on purpose and without a moment's thought to whether I wanted it there. Or if I was even available! I'd been married ten months at the time! I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOUR PENIS, STRANGER.
Now that it's so common, it made me wonder why I reacted so wildly. A lot of women shrug it off by blocking the guy or sending a witty retort. Some women shame the guys publicly or contact their significant others (which I absolutely support as a natural consequence of their actions).
But in digging around online, I haven't found a whole lot of "the first time it happened, my body couldn't decide whether to cry or hyperventilate." So I'm trying to suss it out.
My current guess is that there have been a few times (I'd say three, off the top of my head) where I was in situations that were not consensual (where I was not only uncomfortable, but wanted to get away asap). The first one, at 14, was relatively mild, but formative for me in my understanding of who has power in sexualized encounters (hint: not me). The second (17) and third (18) were very violating and emotionally traumatic. But it took me a couple of months to recognize the last one as bad, a couple of years for the middle one, and maybe 12 or 13 years to realize the first was really not okay, and I felt not only not-okay, but I also felt powerless.
I felt helpless [ugh even the word is gross] in all three situations to control what was happening to my body. [In the third I was actually powerless, being blacked out from drinking. ugh.] And this stupid music-selling guy took my power away! The power to decide what I do with my own eyes.
For heaven's sake, this is why I'm calling it rape culture without any shrinking back. Because, and I'm not kidding you, all four of the guys I've referenced above didn't know at the time they were traumatizing me. They were doing pretty normal things guys do in our culture -- seeing how far a girl would go, assuming romantic advances meant I'd be down to have sex that night, and sending a peen pic to see if I'd be interested. I really don't think you'd call any of them predators if you knew them. [I can't vouch for penis pic guy since I NEVER KNEW HIM]
And I have had so many conversations with God and my scarred, embittered, terrified heart, all because these guys weren't taught not to grab girls, or get what they want if they can (including asking a girl on a date and then taking her in your car to your house instead), or that a girl (who is so drunk she's struggling to eat her takeout) in your dorm room late at night isn't necessarily there to have sex with you.
God and I, in my journey to let him into my heart, have untangled webs and defused bombs and buried corpses, all centered around my safety with men and with him. And the very worst part of all of that is that this part of our culture has made letting God love me and being vulnerable with him so much more arduous than it ever needed to be. And the fact that I'm still needing healing from things that happened to me in my teens (and then at 24) makes me angry.
I really don't know what my life would be like without Jesus, but I am positive I'd be incapable of having healthy relationships with men. Also I'm just so thankful God gave me Stephen, who has embodied the ideals of consent for the past eight years. And my brothers at Taproot, our lil church sapling, who treat me like a person first and a female second.
I pray our sons will treat women with the level of respect I now receive. I'm working hard to ensure all my kids understand that another person is as much of a human being as they are. We'll see how it goes.
..And I can't promise I won't
May our Lord have mercy on us all.