There are muted voices in the #MeToo discussions, hushed, deleted. Too often these are the voices of poor women, women of colour, elderly women, of women who are still girls and not able to speak up yet, disabled women, trans women, silenced and trafficked women. After forty years out I am also aware that the voices of lesbian women are not in the #MeToo stories, as if men somehow gave us a pass, realised that we were gay and bi and queer when we were little girls, teenagers (perhaps before we did ourselves) and left us out of their predatory, possessive, prowling behaviour. But that’s not what happened. All the lesbian and bi women I know have their own #MeToo stories. As usual, the spotlight has not shone on the gay women; as usual, it must be enough to ask that women be listened to at all, let alone acknowledge the voices of those of us truly beyond the pale, who will never be the helpmeet of man.
The domestic violence of my childhood meant that outside our home was often safer than inside. I am fifty-five, I have written publicly, often personally, for decades. This is the first time, as far as I can remember, that I have used the term ‘domestic violence’ so plainly in relation to my childhood. Cracked open emotionally as well as physically by a second cancer four years ago, I am no longer willing to leave the correct term whispered or unused.
At twelve, perhaps thirteen, this shifted, outside was no longer safe. Nowhere was safe.
He was the friend of my parents who kissed me whenever he could get away with it, few of the adults sober, he got away with it far too often. His bushy moustache probing my lips, warm hands turning a cuddle into far too much. No one to tell because what would be the point? He was a good man − such a good man that even now I am worried that writing about distinguishing marks like his facial hair might define him too much, identify him. Like countless other women, I am willing to out myself, but not the perpetrator. We are trained into silence, trained to protect men from their poor, hapless, helpless selves.
They were the boys at school who thought it was fine to decide which of us girls was the most sexually experienced. Thought it was fine to discuss this among themselves and then to let me know they had decided the girl most likely was me. Apparently I looked like I knew about sex.
What I knew back then was that I probably fancied girls more than boys, women more than men, but I had no words, no understanding, no role models. The men who leered, chased, fondled, grabbed were being true to their instincts, whereas my instinct was forbidden, disgusting, perverse.
He was the man, twenty-four to my seventeen, who drove me deep into the bush, an off-road track on an afternoon drive, and was both astonished and angry that I didn’t want to fuck. Why else had I agreed to go for a drive with him? What was I doing in his car? It was a first date. Later, disappointed when I refused to answer that man’s phone calls, my father was confused, annoyed, assuring me I couldn’t meet a nicer lad from a nicer family.
He was the neighbour who thought it odd I wasn’t interested in the beautiful cock that proved him a man – he was seventeen, I was thirteen.
And so many more.
Later in life, the same lunges, clumsy speeches, reaching hands and tongues multiplied by so many men, I wonder if they could all smell the queer on me, the queer in me, the burgeoning sexuality that I had no words for at the time.
As I began to come out more in my later teens, my early twenties, my declared lesbianism served as a challenge to certain straight men, a gauntlet thrown down. For a good fifteen years, from my early twenties until my mid-thirties, being an out gay woman made me catnip to a particular kind of straight man – men more common than my friends, their wives and girlfriends, might like to think. Luckily, depressingly, typically, that attraction died when cancer and chemotherapy turned me to menopausal crone at thirty-seven. If only we older women could gift our young sisters the cloak of invisibility that age enforces upon us.
In my teens however, my incipient awareness of my sexuality – nothing but deviant, no one but Sister George as a role model – was weird, odd, too much. I was always too much for boys. Yet at thirteen and fourteen, I was not too much for some men. And so, disturbed as I was by the tickling moustache, disgusted by the groping hands, repulsed by the beer breath, there was also a part of me – born in the sixties remember, trained to desire and accept male attention remember − that welcomed the attention. A gay girl both hating and grateful for the male gaze that made her less odd.
Until the excess of it all made me ill. Bulimic, self-harming. Enough.
Slowly a carapace grew, not yet armour but shell, attached to the skin and flesh beneath. Harder too, to prise off later when it became cumbersome, solid, brutally heavy.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis has a man change overnight; life has girls become women who change daily, hourly, mercury rising or falling depending on our sense of safety in any given moment. Until, eventually, heat or ice, love or loss, breaks us. The carapace cracks in our tired places, stress-tested one or ten or a thousand times too often, from our jogged elbows pushed in to make room for his big, strong arms, to our knees exhausted from years of ceding space to manspreaders, our cheeks kissed translucent with unwarranted attentions too close to lips, these mouths closed once too often, shoulder pads buckled under decades of proprietary arms, and our fondled breasts and our grabbed cunts.
Fuck off with your ‘pussy-grab’, my cunt is not kitten-cute.
Piece by piece the armour falls, taking strips of skin with it, wrenching gobbets of flesh, drawing blood.
We stand – I stand – revealed.
Washed out, worn, deeply scarred and very tired.
A lubrication of tears, a flicker of rage, some flexing of muscles.
The yawning gasp, gaping silent mouths, and then – slowly, trickling in, whispered one to one, thousands to thousands, seeping, rising, pouring, flowing – the flood.
A #MeToo to drown out the excuses, the reasons, the explanations.
A #MeToo that says the reasons and excuses and explanations are not the point.
This must not be a story about the perpetrators.
This must be a story about all of us, by each of us, with every voice heard.
And each one saying –
This is true. This is mine.
I’m telling my story. Me.
Stella Duffy (right) with Veronica, one of her six siblings, Woolwich, c.1967
With her mother, Leysdown, c.1965
And with family (front) at her First Communion, Tokoroa, New Zealand, 1970
Photographs courtesy of the author
Feature artwork © Ballu / Daniela Silva / The Feminist Library