[Trigger warning: violence, sexual assault]
I am not a violent person. I’ve never been in a fight. I’ve never held a gun, and never used any kind of weapon as such. The idea of me being physically violent is laughably ridiculous. I always assumed violence was the result of some deeper instinct I didn’t have- some kind of sadism or hate, or in sympathetic cases, need. I no longer believe violence is this simple, this much of an “us vs. them”, “monsters vs. heroes” divide-because one day I realized that I actually wanted to see a man dead, and probably could have found a way to do it.
Many years ago, I knew a man. When I first met him, he was unremarkable. He was crippled by insecurities relating to his toxic notion of masculinity, to the point where he felt that if a woman did or wore something then it meant he couldn’t do it (even when it was coded as a masculine product). At the time; I found this funny. I laughed at him and how he was so constrained by the oppressive ideologies he followed. I thought to myself, “let him suffer, it’s his fault for believing these things- he can end that suffering when he wants to; all he needs to do is see woman as people”.
The man looked up to me, perhaps because I didn’t share his insecurities. He, like many people, also seemed to have an absurdly exaggerated idea of my sex life (which was nonexistent, by choice), and I mostly found it hilarious that he could be so wrong about so many things. Again, my attitude was to let him suffer for his beliefs. It’s hard to feel sympathy for terrible people. So I’d call him out on how his beliefs were ridiculous, and trying to signal that there was a better way to live, but I never made any concerted effort to relieve him of his toxic ideology. I figured I’d rather spend my time helping good people.
One day, I was out drinking with a woman who was a friend of mine. We ran in to that man at the bar, and shared drinks. After awhile, they had been flirting with each other and I figured I knew where this was going. I had my doubts- I knew he was a terrible person- but I figured they were both adults and I was still worried about appearing as anti-sex, given all the stereotypes and arguments that certain groups I was part of (feminist, LGBT groups) had of asexuals. So I dismissed the red warning flags telling me to intervene by reminding myself of Dan Savage and all the people who think asexuals are just out to ruin other people’s sex lives.
A week later, the woman and I were hanging out. She was dropping me off at my apartment when she stopped me from leaving the car and said she wanted to talk to me about something. She explained how after she went home with the guy that night, he raped her. Her memory about the event was understandably fuzzy, and she was still clearly working through her emotions about the issue. I did my best to be supportive, and follow the advice and scripts I had read about (thank god for feminist blogs). I wasn’t great for the support role, but from what I could tell everyone else she tried talking to was worse.
Over the next several months, when I wasn’t playing the role of the victim’s agent, I studied the rapist. I caught myself realizing how fragile he was, how much the mounting social disapproval for his actions affected his insecurities and fears, and how easy it would be to drive him to suicide- or to violence that would justify “self-defense”. Surely I’m a smart enough man to find a way to make it happen. I found myself, for lack of a better term, fantasizing about how easy it would be to kill him. I came up with justifications- he would, after all, likely do this again. We can’t possibly isolate him and stop him forever. As long as he held on to his toxic entitlements, he was a danger- and he would likely hold those forever.
It was only when I realized that I actually could take actions that would result in his death, and I started to seriously consider the implications of that, that I realized what I was doing. As I said, I am not a violent person. I shuddered at the realization. But the justifications continued. What if he gets away with it? Doesn’t he deserve punishment? What about the next victim? The legal system won’t stop him. Our inaction strengthens the scum like him. We have to do something. It’s the just thing to do. This is necessary.
I didn’t do anything to him, beyond telling people of what he did and trying to warn potential targets. It took me a long time to realize why I found that moment so terrifying, and why I found that course of action wrong. There are two things to realize about this.
First, I could have stopped him before any of this happened. I saw it coming- the signs were all there, I was simply to afraid of being sex-negative, too afraid of being the stereotypical asexual that everyone hated. I was also too happy to let him suffer under his bullshit sense of entitlement and toxic masculinity. I saw him as an enemy, and I hated him for his beliefs even before I knew where those would lead (and I should have known where they would lead). I may not have realized it, but that’s what it was. And yet- because I was too weak, too full of hate, too eager to let him suffer- I was here contemplating killing the man. And I can’t kill a man just because I’m not strong or smart enough to save him from himself. Even now, if I were a better man (I’m not), I’d find him, and try to explain to him how his toxic and harmful ideology hurts not just him but everyone around him (especially women). I’d show him a way out- and I could have. But I feel too strongly, and have too much rage towards him, to actually consider helping the fucker with his issues. Even if it would be the best outcome.
And there’s the second concern, which should hopefully be glaringly obvious by now. This desire for “justice”, this rage towards the man- it was mine. I’ve barely said a thing in this story about what the victim wanted (which was, admittedly, complicated). Is the right thing to do here really to take someone whose autonomy and control of the situation was taken from her by a man following his own ideology, his own sense of how the world should be, and continue doing the exact same thing? Regardless of my rage, and what should have been done, this story wasn’t mine. When we get caught up in our ideas of justice, of vengeance- especially as bystanders to the wrongs of the world- we end up just doing more harm. It turns out violence is easy to fall in to as long as you tell yourself that morality, ideology, and justice require it.
Violence isn’t the domain of sadists and monsters, it’s the domain of people who, due to their fear and their rage, willfully ignore the complexity of the situation and tell themselves this is necessary.