As I watch the evening news, a bartender in London tells a BBC reporter about the time Kevin Spacey grabbed his cock at a party a few years ago. He’s the latest in tsunami of #metoo victims who’ve come forward in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal to say sexual assault, and harassment won’t fly anymore.
This is my #metoo story:
A few months ago, I was raped. Or I think I was raped. But not in the usual way.
I was tricked into having sex with a transgender man, who’d undergone such comprehensive gender reassignment surgery, that neither I nor three friends who’d met her had an inkling of suspicion she was a dude, until she admitted it herself.
It all began innocently enough. We were introduced on Facebook through a mutual friend. She was Brazilian and, like me, an avid surfer who chased waves all over the world. Over the course of the next month, my conversations with, well, let’s call her Jane, became heated. She was hot, single, intelligent, compassionate and financially independent. We had everything in common and we were obviously attracted to each other. So we agreed to meet in Bali and chase waves in G-Land, the world-famous reef break on the island of Java.
When I finally met Jane in Bali, it felt like catching up with an old friend. We already knew everything about each other, so there was none of the awkwardness of a first date. That night, we went out to dinner with close friends of mine, a married couple I’ve known for ten years. The wine and conversation flowed freely, and the following day my friends sent a glowing review. Jane, they said, was a real catch. They loved her.
On our second night together, Jane and I had sex. Not vaginal sex, because she said she wasn’t that into it. She wanted anal. (I know: obvious warning sign, right? But I’d seen her vagina in the shower. It never crossed my mind it’d been constructed by a cosmetic surgeon. Why would it?)
The following morning, she dropped the bomb: “There’s something I have to tell you. I was born a man. I had surgery in Brazil when I was 18.”
I turned my head away. What the fuck?!
I remained paralysed for the 10 or 15 or 60 seconds it took for the message and all its implications to sink in. When I reclaimed the power of speech, I was mortified. “How dare you? I had the right to know!” I told her.
In her defence, Jane said she had always felt like a woman. She said there was nothing in her that was male. She said it shouldn’t make a difference, and that all her relationships started this way.
“What? You’ve done this before? You think this is OK?” I shouted. “It’s not! It’s deception! I never would’ve slept with you if I knew you were a man.”
She cried, pleaded me to reconsider and tried to hug me. But my arms hung limp. Dead. They had to. If I animated them, I knew I’d end up throwing punches.
I wriggled out of Jane’s embrace and told her to get the fuck out of my room. She hung her head and started packing.
The moment she left, I called the friend who introduced us. He was as dumbfounded as I was. But in retrospect, he said it all made sense: the boyish aggression, the obsession with her personal appearance and, of course, the penchant for anal sex. Yes, he admitted he’d slept with her, too. And yes, he felt conned. But he didn’t think there was anything we could do about it other than write it off as a bad experience.
And that’s exactly what I did. Or what I tried to do. But in the coming days, I started to feel more than conned. I felt violated. Abused. I started to think I’d been raped.
When I returned home, I looked into taking legal action against her. My investigation led me to a story about councils in New South Wales that hire private investigators who go into unlicensed brothels and have sex with workers to collect evidence for trials. I contacted Scarlet Alliance, Australia’s Sex Workers Association, who described my experience as “sex by deception” – a form of sexual assault.
Turned out there was even research on it. In his 2013 report on the issue, Tom Dougherty, a philosophy professor at Cambridge University, argued that withholding information that could’ve changed your partner’s mind about having sex is absolutely a form of sexual assault. “My conclusion may appear prudish or reactionary,” he wrote. “But I would resist this characterisation. Ultimately, my stance is motivated by the thought that someone has the right to decide down to the very last detail what comes into sexual contact with [their] body, and this is a particularly important right.”
I still don’t know what to do about Jane. I’m still not even sure I was raped. Every rape victim story I’ve read has been horrific. Mine wasn’t. It just made me feel shit afterwards.
But I do maintain my right to know the real identity and original sex of anyone I sleep with.
In Australia and some other countries, lawyers, human-rights groups and victims of sex by deception are fighting to criminalise the act. But getting there will take some time. And until those laws are passed, Jane and others like her will be free to do as they please. So I guess that “me too” hashtag isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.