I was never one of those kids that ran around the locker room whipping other dudes with towels or even walking around with my dong out like we’ve seen canonized in Hollywood Jock Films. I minded my own business, stayed wrapped in a towel, and was in and out of the locker room as fast as I could be. See no evil, hear no evil, I thought to myself, but I was wrong.
It happened on a Baptist church ski trip; I was 14.
I went on the trip despite not being religious or a member of the church. My friend told me it didn’t matter. He mentioned that some of the chaperones and older members of the church would probably recruit me to join the congregation, but I didn’t mind. I was happy to be away from home.
It should have been a rite of passage. I got high for the first time buying six pre-rolled joints for $40, which I thought was a decent deal in 1997 until inflation was accounted for. There were rudimentary attempts at mixing stolen mini-fridge bottles of peach schnapps and Baileys with hot chocolate. There were girls too.
After our first day on the slopes, my roommate and I were ecstatic looking forward to the rest of our lives as adults — hitting slopes and joints and mini fridges, beyond the reach of our parents. We planned to meet our homies and some girls later that night in the parking lot of a nearby gas station to politic around pay phones wearing some combination of Polo, Tommy, Nautica, or, god forbid, Structure, like kids in the ’90s were supposed to.
We hung out in our room on separate twin beds watching a basketball game until the adults fell asleep so we could slip out. Then there was a knock on the door. It was our chaperone — a tall, dark-for-a-white-man, Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans clone.
“Hey, do you guys mind if I use your shower?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
I get knots in my stomach and blood rushes to my brain when I begin to write this. I think it’s anger, but I’m not sure. More than anything, I just feel powerless to the memory. Him taking his time with the shower, steaming up the room, then coming out with his dick hanging out.
At first I just looked away and focused on the basketball game. He had a big dick and guys with big dicks always enjoyed walking around locker rooms with the shit on front street. I figured he was just some weirdo trying to show out and air dry like Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire. After a few seconds of trying to look away, I realized he wasn’t moving from the foot of my bed and that’s when panic set in. I felt trapped. I looked toward my roommate who seemed just as flustered, but we weren’t sure what was happening. Was this okay? Could I say something? I was a guest of the church, but what the fuck?
You’re never ready for it and you never think it would happen to you, but it was happening and it kept going. He took out a Bible and started to read scripture with his dick hard. My chest started to tighten and I couldn’t breathe, fearful for what would happen next. The panic turned to outrage and ultimately humiliation.
I’d never felt that humiliated in my life, trapped in a bed with no way out. I thought about fighting him, but he was a full-grown man three times our size. I thought about picking up the phone and calling the police, but stopped myself.
Who was going to believe me? My friend was a troublemaker and I was his weird Chinese friend; no one was going to take our word over this chaperone’s. It would be even more humiliating for people to know what happened. I was completely and utterly paralyzed.
There was nothing I could do. Even if I told somebody, there was nothing they could give back to make me whole again. Inside I was screaming for someone to come save the two of us and take the responsibility out of my hands, but nobody ever showed up. Finally, after more than 15 minutes, he packed his dick and left.
“What the fuck?!?”
“Dude, I don’t know.”
“Does he think we’re gay?”
“I don’t know. Why did he choose us? That was weird, right?”
“Yeah. That was fucked!”
“It was … it was, right?”
We weren’t sure what had happened. Was it an attack? What did it say about us?
“If he touched me, I would have killed him.”
“He’s big though.”
“Should we tell someone?”
“I don’t know. You think we should?”
“I don’t want people to say we’re the abused gay kids he went after on a church ski trip.”
“This never happened.”
I remembered hearing and seeing articles about the church and sexual assault in Boston. The kids in the photos always looked broken. I didn’t want to be defined by what this person did or didn’t do, or wanted to do to me. I wasn’t even sure it was an attack. He just stood in front of me for 15 minutes with his dick hard reading the Bible. Worse things happen to a lot of people and I should shut the fuck up, I thought to myself.
Over 21 years, I’ve told five people about this incident. The first time I did it was in Oakland after a book signing where I had a panic attack last year. I was touring Double Cup Love, in many ways a story about a failed romance and coming of age in my early 30s. Out of nowhere, a man in the audience walked right up to the stage and berated me about being a voice in Asian America while, in his opinion, not reminding people enough about the Chinese Exclusion Act. I have mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act numerous times in my writing, but this man kept screaming about how I needed to devote more of my space and time to him and his struggle. My face turned red and my hands started to shake because it felt like he wanted me to publicly kowtow and had hijacked my personal story. I deflected him with a joke and waited for the moderator to hold me down, but he then unwittingly decided to jump into a discussion about my relationship with Fresh Off the Boat on ABC, which I may have also characterized at times as a hijacking.
I calmed myself down, got it together, and made it through the talk, the book signing, the meet-and-greet, and everything else that followed. It’s my job.
But I wasn’t right. A rash started to develop on my neck, my ears were hot, and I was still shaking. My friend subsequently drove me around Oakland in circles trying to get me to calm down.
“What’s it feel like, man? You gotta let me know so I can help you?”
“I just feel like I can’t breathe. I feel trapped.”
“Have you ever felt this before?”
“Sometimes. Yeah, sometimes.”
“When did it start?”
“On a church ski trip.”
I told him my story; I swore him to secrecy; and somehow I felt better.
For 21 years, I hung onto that feeling of being hijacked and humiliated. It’s come back at different times in various forms, but that night in Oakland, I let it go.
Over the last year, I told four other people close to me. Each of them had their own story and that’s when I realized how deep this rabbit hole goes. How many of us have been broken and thrown down this hole without a rope to climb out with. I used my anger like I have for so many things in life, and it got me out, but not without consequences that I’m still trying to untangle.
For me, a lot of my anger came from race and domestic violence. I’m most willing to talk about race because frankly it was the easiest one to talk about. Domestic violence implicated my family and required an examining of immigrant values I wasn’t ready to undertake in a dominant cultural forum until a few years ago. And the one I buried was the ski trip.
It was the most personal. I remember telling myself that night, that, yes, this man hijacked me. Yes, he humiliated me, but it didn’t have to change me if I didn’t allow it to. I told myself multiple times over the years, that nothing happened. It was my choice to bury it and it was a choice to see myself outside those 15 minutes. There wasn’t a community to rally, a family to involve, or a hashtag to start. Compared to most, I was lucky to even have a friend that was with me, yet we never spoke about it until this year. I think we both wanted to forget it.
“Do you remember what happened on that church ski trip?”
“Yeah! That was a cool trip.”
“Yeah … ” I paused thinking maybe I had made it all up. Maybe it didn’t happen. But I was sure it did. How else could it have stayed with me all this time? “But do you remember that dude that came in our room?”
There was silence on the other side. He was with his wife at the time when he took the call.
“Yeah, yeah, I do.”
“It was bad, right?”
It was silence again. I could hear him shuffling as he created a better environment to talk.
“I definitely remember something happened that was off. What do you remember?”
“I mean, that dude stood in front of my bed with his dick hard and read the Bible for 15 minutes.”
He sighed for a few moments and let out a nervous laugh.
“I can’t confirm those exact details, but I remember something very wrong happened. I would not deny what you said, but I honestly can’t remember the exact image of what happened.”
“I’m not crazy though right? That happened!”
“No, no, it happened. You’re probably right, I just can’t confirm everything specifically.”
It was enough for me. I knew how hard it had been myself and how long it took to come around. It wasn’t my right to hijack his feelings or recollection of what happened. I could sense the struggle he had with the memory as well and gave him his space.
“I’m glad you were there, man. I don’t know what would have happened if I was alone.”
“I know dude. I love you, man.”
“Love you too, my G. We were lucky.”
After speaking to him that day, I thought I was done. I was past it and I never intended to talk about it again. I never ever thought I’d speak about it because I didn’t want it to define me. It wasn’t me. Then Harvey Weinstein happened.
I was in China with my family bringing my girlfriend back to see our ancestral land for the first time. We went out for dinner, she met my brother for the first time, and as soon as I laid down to sleep I saw the alert on my phone for a New York Times article about Harvey Weinstein and his assaults on women. I read it over and over and over angry for the victims and angry that we ever fell for Weinstein and Miramax and Good Will Hunting, a movie that came out one year after the ski-trip incident and helped me get through my issues with domestic violence. To this day, I watch Good Will Hunting during the holidays because it’s a part of me. It was a frequency I tune into because it reflects an emotion and experience I had that I didn’t always recognize as real until I saw it in that film. I was completely and utterly torn, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a victim in that way. I was never touched. I was never raped.
I remember the time I had to take a friend to the hospital because she had been raped. She was a shell of herself, shaking without anyone else to call. She was too embarrassed to tell her mother nor did she want to burden her with the pain. Like me, she had this sense that what was taken could never be regained.
I sat with her and just listened. I never mentioned what happened to me. I wanted to be there for her, but more than anything I believed I was lucky. What if that man didn’t just pack his dick and leave all those years ago?
That’s how it felt reading everything about these victims the last few weeks. A Band-Aid had been ripped off and a memory triggered that I had deliberately locked away. All of the emotions came rushing back, but again I hung onto my safe place on the sidelines. I’m not a victim, I said to myself. This isn’t me.
But when I opened up my computer and read the news about what Kevin Spacey did to Anthony Rapp … I read it over and over stopping each time at the age “14.” I know 14. It’s an ominous number for Chinese people; four being a homonym for death. I was disgusted by Kevin Spacey, outraged by the fact that he’s been enabled to play very sexually deviant characters for decades, but I was inspired by Anthony Rapp. He shared something with us all that I never could and it made me feel OKAY.
I’m not just a kid some pedophile read Psalms to. And if someone sexually assaulted you, it isn’t who you are either. We have a fucking choice. We can’t always control what people do to us, but we do have the power to define it. When I look back, nothing was actually taken. I was hijacked, but I fought my way back and arrived as the man I’m supposed to be.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
The Bible is kinda flames, if you read it with your goddamn pants on.