I’ve been a bit hesitant to climb on the #MeToo bandwagon because I don’t think I’ve had any seriously emotionally debilitating sexual assaults. Still, I have had many disgusting, annoying, and sexually tinged encounters with boys and men, some of whom were familiar, and others who were strangers.
Part of the reason I was spared the sorts of traumatic encounters that many girls and women have endured was probably because I was raised by a prudish father and a mother who warned me about intimate dangers faced by females. We didn’t wander around our house in night-clothes, no clothes, or just underwear. I learned to hide and protect my “private parts.”
One time, while I was still quite young—perhaps four or five years old—some neighborhood children invited me to join them in a culvert to “play house,” which involved boys and girls getting undressed and exploring one-another’s privates. I declined.
The first truly disturbing encounter I remember was when I was a pre-teen. During childhood summers, I occasionally spent a weekend at the home of a favorite aunt, my mother’s sister. She had three boys and an alcoholic husband; her middle boy was, for many years, my favorite cousin. At night, I slept on their couch in the living room; the upstairs bedrooms were all occupied by the family.
One morning, I awoke to find my uncle (hungover?) standing above me with his bathrobe open and his penis in his hand. He pointed it toward me and said, “Here, pull on this and a hot dog will come out.” I felt revulsion and didn’t want to touch it. Still, he was an adult relative and had some “authority.” I didn’t know what to do. As I was hesitating, and still groggy from sleep, my aunt fortunately came down the stairs and yelled at her husband.
After that, I never again spent the night at their house. Still, I saw that uncle at family gatherings from time to time. He occasionally smirked at me and never seemed ashamed. One time, when I was an older teenager – late high school or early college – he remarked about how much I looked like my mother.
I later discovered that he had dated my mother when he was in college and had gone to her home in the upper peninsula of Michigan to seek her out after he graduated. Instead, he found my aunt, whom he started to date and eventually married. Their children were boys; it’s fortunate they didn’t have girls.
Our city cousins often came out to the country during the summer and spent a few days or a week at our house, usually sleeping on the couch. It was their equivalent of summer camp. In my early teens, two different male cousins tried to get me to undress when we were out of sight (and range) of adults. But I never did undress for them, to their annoyance. They were the two cousins nearest my age. In my mind, I believe I blamed the lax morals of the city for their behavior, not the fact that they were simply boys being boys.
One cousin loved spending time in the country, and he always wanted to wrestle with his two girl cousins. Usually, the first words out of his mouth after he arrived at our house were, “Ya’ wanna fight?” My sister and I would wrestle with him if he challenged us. And we usually got him down on the ground, although he was strong enough that we could rarely pin both shoulders to the ground, which was his criterion for “winning.” Still, he could rarely get us to the ground. He later became a member of the Harvard wrestling team, and said he learned to wrestle from his girl cousins.
On one occasion, when we were alone in one of the bedrooms in our house, he said something like, “Let’s go bare naked.” I was surprised and appalled. I certainly didn’t want to go along with that suggestion. So, I made a joke of it and said, “Yes, let’s go barefooted.” I giggled as I took off my shoes and left the room. I don't believe he ever suggested it again.
The other cousin was the middle son of the uncle who had exposed himself to me. When he came out to the country during the summer, we often went on walks to a nearby swimming lake, or sometimes into the woods to look at the wildlife. It was one of the pleasures of living in the country just to be out in the natural world. Sometimes, while we were walking, he would tell jokes, often “dirty jokes.”
The path into the woods led to a small peninsula with a clearing surrounded by dense brush and trees. One time on a walk there, he brought along some playing cards. Our family often played card games, so it didn’t seem odd. But he decided to teach me how to play “strip poker.”
I went along with the game until I had lost all my clothes except for the bra and underpants. I wouldn’t give those up, and he called me a sissy and a poor sport. I got angry, got dressed, and got up and left. But I didn’t tell either of our parents what had happened.