When I was in seventh grade, I was shy. The type of kid who blushed easily and didn’t speak much unless I really had something to say. There was a boy in my math class. A boy who talked a lot—and loudly. A boy who liked to make the back of my head a target for his spit wads. One of those boys. I didn’t know him that well; I knew his name, and I found him annoying. Being who I was, however, I never snitched or ratted on his lame behavior. But I guess everyone has their limit.
I was walking up the aisle to turn in a paper and I had to pass next to this kid. This kid who—that day—made a particular decision. The pinch on my butt, through my thin shorts, shocked me. I felt my face flush and I turned to him in confusion. “What ...?” was pretty much all I managed to get out. He smirked at me, and I heard his laughter as I docilely continued to the teacher’s desk.
All class time, I stewed. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know what I should say or do, but I knew I wasn’t okay with the choice of doing nothing. By the time class ended, I had made my decision, and I was literally shaking.
The room emptied, and I approached my teacher, a man large in girth and stature. He sat wedged behind his desk, gray hair a little greasy and plastered across his balding scalp. Taking a futile, steadying breath, I quaked out, “I have something I need to speak to you about?” There was a definite question in my statement.
“Yes? Can I help you with something?”
“Um, someone pinched my rear end when I walked by him in class today.” Voice trembling, as it still does when I’m ultra-nervous, I told him the boy’s name, my whole body flaming. I was embarrassed both by what had happened and because I was speaking up about it.
My teacher looked at me, cocked his head to the side, and grinned. Grinned at this twelve-year-old kid who was quaking in her tennis shoes, trying to find her voice and assert some authority over her own body. “He’s just being a boy. He probably likes you. Ignore him.”
Not. The. Right. Words. Even I knew that, and my eyes must have shown it.
“Look, if he does it again, I’ll say something.” My teacher tried to smooth it over. I wasn’t buying it, but I had used up all my words. I didn’t press anything further. Instead, I went back to my seat, gathered my belongings, and walked out the door, avoiding eye contact with the person I had just lost all respect for.
I wish I had been one of those strong, brave kids—someone who could have turned to that boy in the moment and said something very astute and cutting. Something that would have stuck with him and changed his ratty ways. But, that’s not who I was. I never brought it up again. But, all wasn’t lost. And I wasn’t as weak as I thought. That day, that moment, stayed with me. I grew up, got married, had kids of my own. And I’ve been raising them to understand personal boundaries. Showing them it’s not okay to touch someone if that person doesn’t want to be touched. That friendship and “liking” someone is not shown through aggression or force. That respect of their own bodies and boundaries is as important as the respect of another person’s. We talk about appropriate behavior. About how the word “No” means just exactly that. Even in play, as soon as someone says, “Don’t do that” or “Stop,” all activity needs to cease. Even if I’m the one playing with them. There are no forced hugs, kisses, or tickles. I’m hoping, as they grow up, that they will have the words to stand up for themselves and for others. Because I don’t want their gender to be an excuse for their behavior. And I don’t want what happens to their bodies to be anything other than what they want happening to it.