Once, for an elementary school assignment on illustrating our heritages, I drew my grandfather as a raven-haired, smiling stick figure holding the Korean flag. When we presented our drawings, I proudly retold my father's stories about my perfect, adventurous grandfather, embellishing details until my fellow classmates' eyes bulged in awe or narrowed in disbelief. My grandpa, I thought, was the most accomplished, caring, hard-working, and loving person in the entire world.
Once my arms were around him, he slid his hand down my back and grabbed my bottom. Completely bewildered and flustered, I broke free and ran into the guest room. I felt like throwing up. On my plane back to America, I mulled over the situation and decided that it must have been a mistake. "Grandpa would never hurt me," I told myself. "I must have been confused."
A few years later, I visited my relatives in Korea again. My family decided to stay at my grandfather's house. One night, as I dozed off on the embroidered sheets my grandmother had so lovingly prepared for me, my grandfather slipped into my room. I woke up in the dark to his body hovering over mine. I froze--terrified, confused, angry, heartbroken, anguished, sorrowful, disgusted, afraid--as his hands slipped under the covers. That night, my grandfather touched me. He violated me.
Somehow, over the years, I've learned to keep this all a secret. I don't want to tell any of my family or friends, and would prefer that this secret go with me to the grave. How can I ever tell my father, uncles, and brother that their hero is a sexual predator? Who am I to cause such disruption?
About a year ago, while I was out with my boyfriend, something triggered my memory of that terrifying night in Korea, and I broke down in sobs and tears in front of my confused and concerned boyfriend. After several years of quiet suffering, my story came out of me in disjointed, anguished sentences. As my boyfriend lay next to me, comforting me, I realized I couldn't stay silent anymore. I needed to tell my story.
The most insidious part of sexual abuse is that it is most often carried out by someone the victim knows very personally and deeply, by someone the victim has learned to respect, love, and trust beyond a shadow of a doubt. When we discover sexual predators among our loved ones and realize that they are not sociopathic beasts, our deeply held notions of justice, forgiveness, and redemption are challenged. As survivors of sexual abuse by men who were supposed to protect us, what do we do? Do we try to forget the violations against us to shield the men we've learned to love, or do we tell our stories at the risk of breaking down our closest circles of trust? As a Korean woman, I feel my story is compounded by my family's traditional lifestyle; I've learned that it is my job as a dutiful daughter to suffer for the sake of family unity.
I'm telling my story here, anonymously, because I am still afraid of letting my family know. Still, I know my story is one among many. I hope that, by telling it here, other survivors of sexual abuse, especially those in the Asian-American community, will see that they are not alone. I hope they see that none of what they went through their fault.
In a country where Asian-American women are often caricatured and hyper-sexualized, I also hope that stories like mine can help portray us as real human beings, capable of feeling deep suffering, anguish, and love like anyone else. For every misguided image of an exotic, giggling geisha/schoolgirl/dragon lady with broken but charming English, for every racial epithet hurled my way, for every "ching chong!", "ni-hao!", and "let me get that sideways pussy!" I hear on the street, I hope there is a story of our real, lived experience as an immigrant community that encompasses several generations and narratives of ever-evolving history and tradition. I hope we fight back by speaking up.
Grandfather's gotten very old. His usual grin has morphed and curled up into a constant wrinkled grimace, and he can barely walk. In recent photographs, he looks frail and in pain. It's almost enough for me to forgive him. Even now, I find myself making excuses for him. "Maybe he's sick," I tell myself. "Maybe he can't even remember what happened."
But no matter how much I try, I haven't forgotten anything. One thing I've learned through all this is that, to heal, I must speak up. My right to be heard is my #filthyfreedom.