Trigger warning: sexual assault.
A few weeks ago, our instructors introduced the close embrace in a tango class I’ve been taking with my husband.
I immediately became nervous. Being pressed up against a strange man wasn’t something I was interested in. Our instructors assured us that the close embrace is only something pairs do when both parties are comfortable and showed us how to set up what we were comfortable with. I relaxed. Sweet. I could just keep doing the same embrace we’d been using for a few weeks.
And then they told us to go ahead, right then, and get into close embrace to practice.
They pulled my out from under me.
I’m a runner. When something scares me or makes me anxious, I bolt. That was my first instinct, but I didn’t want the guy I was paired with to be offended, so I stuck it out, promising myself I’d duck out before the next pairing. But, again, I didn’t want to be rude. And again. And again. Until I was with my husband and he, realizing this wasn’t okay with me, suggested we both leave right then. I didn’t want to be rude to the instructors.
I held it together until we were almost at the car and then I broke down sobbing. Maybe you can imagine, but being physically against and being touched by a strange man who I don’t want near my body is a super shitty reminder of other times I’ve been in situations like (but much worse) than that.
I strongly feel that everyone, especially in 2017, should be expecting sexual assault survivors to be in all spaces and should be giving people ample freedom to set boundaries. I’m putting 100 per cent of the blame here on the instructors.
But there are always going to be situations that make me uncomfortable. People fuck up. People are uneducated. Some people are just rude and don’t care. And it’s up to me to take care of myself and stick up for myself, even if it hurts someone else’s feelings.
Women feeling like they need to be polite is dangerous. It leads to us not trusting our gut instincts, which can lead to us being raped and murdered. No blame on women here–I’m blaming a society that teaches us to consider other’s feelings above our own comfort and safety. In a much less serious situation, caring about other’s feelings more than our own can lead to being triggered and winding up a sobbing mess in the passenger seat of our partner’s car while we relive our trauma.
I get a lot of anxiety about wanting people to like me but also wanting to protect myself. It’s why I say yes to jobs that I know will put me over the edge in terms of how much work I can handle. It’s why I say yes to under-paid writing gigs and to editing jobs I find ridiculously boring.
Politeness is important, but taking care of one’s own interests and health should come before it.
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