I was nine years old. You were a twelve year-old boy, and eleven year-old boy, and a ten year-old girl, the last of whom was the previous year’s designated bullying victim and turned out to be likable enough once the rest of you were gone. All of you were a LOT bigger than my scrawny little 60-lb self. We were all among the few kids whose parents would let them go from our affluent white area to mostly-black magnet programs across the county, and we all rode the bus together. You’d been bullying me on the bus for a while. Your focus had been on how I didn’t believe in God, because this was the Bible Belt and not believing in God was incomprehensible to you.
I’d never heard the phrases transgender, genderqueer, butch, or gender non-conforming, at that point in my life. I knew “tomboy”, a lot of people called me a tomboy, with my wild hair and baggy clothes and playing football with the boys at recess and relative lack of interest in “girl” things. I liked being a tomboy. I also knew “lesbo”, which other kids had first started shouting at me two years earlier. Part of the reason I was going to a magnet school was to get away from bullying in my neighborhood school.
One day, your ringleader looked at my baggy denim shorts and started pointing at my crotch and saying that it looked like I had a dick under there, that that was why I wore shorts that were too big, to hide my dick. That was why I was such a weird girl, you said, because I wasn’t really a girl at all. I denied it, but he kept on running his mouth then the other two of you started in on it too. You were all pointing at my crotch and yelling about how you should look and see. I didn’t really have the intellectual framework at nine, in the environment that I was in, to understand sexual violence - I had learned that rape was something that strange men did in bushes or vans or alleyways, and molestation was something that adults did to kids, and that was it. But I knew that this was scaring me more than your previous bullying, and more than past experiences of being punched or made fun of.
I had a still-sealed bag of M&Ms, and as you pointed and laughed and feinted toward my body and my crotch with your hands I started whacking you across the hands and arms with the M&Ms. That just seemed to encourage you. You thought it was pretty hilarious, and you got more aggressive. You kept trying to reach and grab my crotch. I pulled away, but I was too embarrassed to say anything more than a few quiet stammered protests. It could have been worse, the three of you certainly could have easily grabbed me and held me down and done whatever you wanted, but instead you just pointed and crowed and tried repeatedly to touch and grab my crotch while saying that you thought you could see the shape of a dick there and you were just trying to find out. I can’t remember if you actually managed to grope me or not.
Eventually you got tired of that day’s game, but for the next couple of weeks, while you didn’t try to grope me again, you would laugh and loudly talk about how I had a dick and occasionally point at where you thought it was. Every time you did I would feel the adrenaline and embarrassment flood through my body and look down and want to curl up. As I said, I didn’t really understand the significance of what was happening. I lumped it all together as bullying and teasing in my head. When I’d told a teacher before that you were teasing me on the bus, it just got you a stern lecture and made you angry at me for tattling, so I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t start to understand or process it for a very long time.
This wouldn’t be the last time I experienced attempts at sexual harassment and assault from either men or women (as far as I know, I’ve never experienced it from a non-binary person). It was the first time, though.