I have always loved men and their bodies. I feel so small and dainty when enveloped by a man's arms, encapsulating my torso.
In my eyes, men were strong and sturdy, like wood. They were protective and resilient. They looked good when they were stretching and their t-shirts would slightly rise, or whenever they were in deep concentration.
I admired everything masculine about men; it almost seemed exotic because it was so different from who I was, as someone who grew up primarily around women. Men were sources of both comfort and mystery at the same time, and I was very drawn to that.
My vision of men remained as such, up until recently.
I was taken advantage of one evening by an extremely tall man with the body of a linebacker. His frame overpowered me and outweighed my strength.
In that moment, men's bodies transformed into threatening vessels, no longer warm and familiar; they seemed more like weapons. The curved biceps that could potentially wrap around me were no longer appealing, as they were pinning me down.
The sheer amount of physical strength terrified me because it was as if I finally just learned how capable men are of violence.
That night I was taught how to fear a man. I will never see my attacker again in person, but I am starting to see his reflection in other men.
The cashier at the grocery store was looking at me for a little too long. Right now, I won’t hug my own father because I flinch at the male touch. The parallels separating men on the street and my own male friends have diminished.
I am suspicious of all men, now that I know they have the capacity to commit such atrocious acts. What I am facing is the issue of reconciling with my new perception and former perception of men.
To unwillingly expose your vulnerability in front of someone else, much less to someone you do not know, in my case, is terrifying.
I’m fighting with myself as the images from that night replay in my head. I’m fully aware that what happened to me was not my fault, but as a form of some kind of self-protection, I am extra careful around men now.
The power dynamics between men and women have shifted temporarily, and I automatically look for motives in every encounter I have with a man, even if none exist. I realize this comes across as unfair, as not all men are bad men.
I know what I am feeling is temporary and will eventually pass, but right now, I am still shaken because the experience is so fresh in my mind.
While most people tend to write about incidents such as this after long periods of self-reflection and processing, I’m choosing to capture the early moments; the shock and anguish that settles only after a few hours and days is just as important to understand.
In this moment, I feel I could never touch another man again.
Rape feels like a stain I could never wash off, or a cigarette burn permanently etched on my skin. When I stand next to a man, I feel smaller and more powerless as I’m observing the size of his hands, or the width between his shoulder blades.
Not all men are bad men, I must remind myself. It’s true, I have known many good men in my life.
Deep down, I know masculinity is not rooted in a man’s power over a woman. Masculinity comes in so many other forms; it's as simple as giving up a seat on the subway, sacrificing a jacket to someone else in the cold or offering to carry something heavy.
I cannot let 15 minutes of paralyzing fear with one man alter a lifetime’s worth of positive experiences with men.
I do believe my dichotomy will resolve itself, but not right now. I’ve barely begun to process what has happened to me, and in many ways, some of the feelings I possess are completely irrational.
I hope that with time, the strength that was taken away from me that night will only come back two-fold, rebuilding and molding me into an even stronger person.
Fearing men shouldn’t reflect a weakness within myself, and it’s not a character flaw. It’s just my natural reaction to what has happened to me.
I know I will learn to love men again, but, more importantly, I will learn to trust men without being overly cautious or naive. I believe recognizing that, alone, is the first step in the healing process, and it's a step I’m ready to take.