My middle son is in the dressing room trying on his first suit. A suit for a dance where he will dance with young women his age. He is only fourteen. An upcoming fall night, he will put on this suit and dress up for a role he is becoming, a grown-up, almost like he used to do with his Batman cape when he was little. He isn’t a grown up, I tell myself, he is still a child, even if he is taller than me.
I check my email while I wait. In drops a reminder of pictures I took 12 years ago. He was 2, not even 2, was he 2? He was little then, so little. A trip to a museum. Time goes so fast. I didn’t even know then how fast. A tear forms in the corner of my eye. How did we get to suits other than Batman? How did it go so fast? How?
I wipe the tear. I check my news feed. Stories file past about sexual assault and rights.
My son steps out of the dressing room. He looks taller, older in this suit and younger and less sure of himself, all at the same time.
What do you think, I ask, possibly more confident than I am.
He moves his arms in a windmill fashion. It feels weird, he replies.
Growing up does feel weird, I want to say. You are getting ready to play a part you don’t currently play. A part in a world where gender roles, all our roles, are so confusing. But I cannot say any of that, so I just nod.
We buy the suit and have it tailored to fit. And shoes, and socks and a belt. A new shirt and tie too. All things that look weird and feel weird. Things he doesn’t know how to buy on his own. He needs me to show him all the pieces that are needed for this costume. But that isn’t all..and I know it. Only I am scared of the conversation we need to have.
When we are back in the car, because cars are safe places for hard conversations, I begin. We talk about what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl. We talk about what is expected of boys and of girls and whether or not that is fair.
And then I ask him if he has heard about the allegations all over the news. His head goes into his hands. Please don’t, he whispers. Why are you talking about this, he wants to know.
These things happen, I say. They happen all the time. It has happened to me. It may very well happen to your sister. We need to talk about them.
It doesn’t happen, he protests. Not me. Not my friends. I don’t know anyone who would do that.
I know. I say.
I hope you are right. I say.
But maybe. You will know someone. Someday. I say.
How can you know this. He says.
Every 98 seconds in the United States right now, someone is sexually assaulted. Seven out of every 10 of those assaults, the victim knows the perpetrator (rainn.org).
One in three women has experienced some type of sexual violence in her lifetime (cdc.gov). These stories are my story. Other women’s stories. Rape. Assault. Harassment. It was part of what we had to endure when we were growing up, still have to endure.
Assault isn’t just women, 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Sexual assault and sexual violence are broad terms that cover a lot of different crimes, crimes against men and woman, young and old, so that you cannot know how and in what what way it will touch your life. I do know sexual assault will touch someone you know at some point.
I know because I have lived it. Women around me live it. #MeToo exists because it is our collective story. A boy who groped us at a party because it was his privilege to do what he wanted. A boyfriend who thought he could have sex with us, even when we had drank more than we should, and he knew better. A family member who took advantage of us. A teacher who didn’t believe us when we told how we had been touched in a way we should not have been. A police officer who didn’t help us. Our stories gather together into one voice. Me Too.
I pray your friends are different. I pray you are different. That is why we talk about this. I want you, dear son, to know, that when you put on adulthood, when you try on these costumes, and go out into the world, you need to be aware of the whole story. Actions have consequences, not only to yourself, but to others.
Sex is a gift, a privilege, that comes with adulthood. It should be treated that way, not abused. Locker rooms are for changing your clothes, not places for derogatory comments or actions against others.
Drinking makes you act in ways different than you do today. Know that.
Costumes change the way you look on the outside, but they don’t need to change your goodness inside. So when you put on your suit, remember you get to choose what sort of man you become.
Choose wisely, dear son.