TW: This article is about sexual assault.
I have a secret.
I’ll admit, I’m not the best at keeping secrets (obviously), but this one in particular I’ve proudly managed to stay quiet about- mostly out of embarrassment. Now though, it’s time to come clean. With the corona virus and all, it seems like the only thing to do is to be clean, right?
My secret is that, when I was little, I wanted to be a basketball player when I grew up. Not a lawyer, not a doctor, not an astronaut, not a singer or even an artist. I wanted to play for the WNBA.
Yep. A 4’11 (at the time 4 foot) Asain woman wanting to be a basketball player. I mean I’m a pretty optimistic person, but even I knew that in my case, “reaching for the stars” did not mean “reaching for a basketball hoop”.
However, like I said, I’m pretty optimistic, so instead of just giving up on life completely, I rebounded. If you couldn’t tell already, my rebound was debate.
I loved (and still love) debate for a million reasons, more reasons that I can count on my ten fingers and toes. The community. The rounds. The competitive environment. Everything. I enjoyed almost every second of it.
As much as much I’d like to believe that debate is perfect, in all honesty, it isn’t. At times, it interacted with different aspects of life where it didn’t belong and left a mess. It was like a houseguest I didn’t invite over that was adamant on trashing every room it could find itself in.
I was sexually assaulted,
and after it happened, debate – both the activity and the community – sometimes made things a thousand times more difficult to cope with.
The way I looked at the activity itself changed drastically, as after I was assaulted, debate made everything feel like a sick joke.
I couldn’t understand how I was able to debate my heart out for others, but failed to let out a “no” for myself.
I was supposed to be outspoken.
I was supposed to stand up for what I believed in.
I was supposed to be a confident debater that didn’t take anything from anyone.
If I’m being honest, I thought I was being pranked.
I really wished I was being pranked.
I prayed for someone to pop out of a bush and tell me that I was never actually assaulted because there was no way that someone like me – someone who literally participated in an activity dedicated to speaking – was assaulted and stayed silent during and after it all happened.
Additionally, the rounds themselves were not immune to change.
In the past when I was in round, I was able to not focus on anything else except the debate- no other problem or qualm or boy or win-a-free-trip-to-Mexico credit card scam could distract me. However, when he would call or text before I went in to debate, it would make the activity feel like an impossible task.
Instead of just listening to hype music on the way to rounds, I would stop at the bathroom and end up crying out of fear.
Instead of just thinking of offence and defence, my brain insisted on replaying what had happened over and over again.
Instead of just finding ways to de-link or turn an argument, I found new ways to blame myself for being assaulted.
In short, it was not a fun time. The suffocating mindset that was seamlessly able to connect debate to assault, persisted in the way I existed in the debate community as well.
For a long time afterwards, being assaulted made me feel like less of a person.
In my head I was just a walking shell of a body with the purpose of being disposable to a boy for the sake of his satisfaction. Therefore, when I received remarks about the length of my skirt rather than my success,
got dirty looks born from unwarranted assumptions about who I was as a person,
heard others say I was only there to flirt with boys or that I was never going to be as successful a debater as them,
and was given Snapchats for nudes rather than prep,
it all seemed fitting. Why would someone see me as a legitimate debater if they couldn’t see me as a legitimate person in the first place?
Not only that, but others insinuating that I was incapable in round further encouraged a false narrative that, to me, warranted why I couldn’t say “no” when I was assaulted- if I was too incapable to win a debate round, it made sense why I was too incapable to say “no”.
Rape jokes from my teammates made me feel that even my own team would’ve been unaccepting of my expereince, and if my own team wouldn’t have believed me or cared, what made me think that other debaters would as well? The fact of the matter is, I’m not entirely sure if the debate community ever would’ve believed me, and that was one of the scariest parts. The debate community is made up of smart, intelligent people. If these smart, intelligent people didn’t believe me, why should I believe myself?
The tax I paid to debate was to keep quiet about it and be the debater everyone expected me to be- confident, loud, outspoken, assertive, and unwavering. If I wasn’t, then it was clear I didn’t belong. I didn’t want to risk talking about it and being seen as overdramatic, a liar, or inferior. If I wanted to be the best debater on this side of the Mississippi, then I had to be quiet.
Like I said though, I’m pretty optimistic, and I would be lying if I said that there weren’t people in debate that helped along the way. Kindness during, before, and after tournaments sometimes meant the whole world. People taking time to wish me good luck and to tell me I could win was the equivalent of a Staples Center full of people there just for me.
Additionally, after years of brushing it off as “that one bad thing that happened that time”, debate has given me the courage to call it “sexual assault.”
The clash between debate and sexual assault or debate and family or debate and health or debate and literally anything will always absoltely suck. Speaking from experience though, the conflict between sexual assault and debate in particular was not easy for me. I’ll admit there were many things that I, and others, could’ve done to make my process easier- like speaking out about my experience.
I wish I would’ve opened up about being assaulted a long time ago, but I didn’t and that’s okay. However, to the people who may feel the same way I did and to my younger self,
I hope you know you’ll go so far.
You’ll go farther than the length of the longest basketball court, you’ll go farther than the farthest star, and you’ll go farther than anyone will ever be able to realize.
I won’t lie, parts of the process will be shit.
There will be things in your life that make the situation worse, and there will be things that do the exact opposite.
Through it all, I just want you to know that you are capable and fantastic and wonderful and beautiful and I know it wasn’t your fault. We know and you know it wasn’t your fault. It’s going to feel like your fault and people are going to make you feel like it’s your fault, but it wasn’t.
People are also going to make you feel like you can’t, but you can. You can win. You can lose. You can go play basketball. You can go sing in your car. You can scream and yell. You can do whatever anyone else can do. Whatever justice may look like to you, you can get it. Whatever time off may look like to you, you can take it. Whatever you need to do or want to do, you can do. You can open up if you want to. You can not open up if you want to. You don’t have to tell the whole world through an article. Heck, you don’t need to tell anyone at all, but when you need to (and when you want to), please reach out. It’s a scary conversation, but like I said, you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Everything you want to do, you can do.
In a few years or weeks or days, you’ll look back to notice just how far you’ve come. I’m not sure if the process to fully heal will ever end, but I know that you’ll still go far and everything will be okay.
look at how far I’ve come and
look at how far she’ll go.