A reply to a person, to all the persons, to each and every one of you and got there are so many of you, there’s been so many of you so many who have said it
“Men aren’t violent” you say to me.
You, a man, would know, it seems.
I, a man, would not.
Men just express things differently. We’re more physical. We arm-wrestle our feelings out instead of hugging them out.
When I was ten my best friend attacked me.
You wouldn’t call it violence. Certainly not assault.
You’d call it wrestling. Horseplay. Rough-housing. Rough and tumble.
To be fair it didn’t really frighten me, although it left marks.
Aching testicles. Throbbing bruises. Confusion.
Of course I fought back, gave some of my own.
I didn’t like it though. I liked playing games instead. I stopped doing physical activities around then.
Board games don’t have natural opportunities for violence, unlike…cricket. Or swimming.
But I didn’t question it. Couldn’t have put it in words couldn’t have told you WHY I went to board games
but I sat by the side of the pool later that day, unwilling to enter while others played.
And I wanted it to stop, but it was normal.
By the time I got to high school, it was all like that.
It was normal.
Every day, every moment, was violence.
We said hello with a punch. Said goodbye with a punch.
Underlined a point with a punch. Communicated with a punch.
You wouldn’t call it violence.
It was dead arms. It was chinese burns. It was wet willies and pink bellies.
It was death-ball.
It was towel-flicks and back-slaps and boys training and planning their attack so it could appear vaguely passive but deliver the most devastating pain possible without a bladed weapon.
They would dip the ends of their towels in water and carefully roll the ends
measure the distance, wait until the victim relaxed, perhaps left his stance too wide
left the edge of the fence, took their back from the wall
(which we learnt, so quickly, was the only vaguely safe place or less dangerous place)
but in our pink fleshed tiny-bathers confusion we might make a mistake and then
a towel flick so vicious it would break the skin
and the game was afoot
the trick was to make me scream and if I did, they would win applause
and you try NOT to scream of course
but the pain
jesus christ the pain
the marks on my skin
the dull ache in the bones that never went away
it was never enough because it wasn’t enough to prove anything
you couldn’t go to a teacher and say “he punched me”
A bruise, no matter how dark, how sickly yellow and blue, was just roughhousing. Horseplay. Wrestling.
I prayed every day they would break something, a wrist an arm.
Because you wouldn’t call it violence.
Not that I could tell anyone.
When they stole my calculator and threw it off a building and shattered it into a thousand pieces
my parents blamed me
be stronger they said
stop them from taking your pencil case
that’s a lesson you don’t forget
When they held us down on the football field and raked their boots across our faces, that was the rules. When we ducked and ran, we weren’t playing the game, and we were punished for it.
When we ran so hard we vomited, when our bodies ached from physical exertion so badly we could barely stand, we were punished.
And we were mocked
But you couldn’t call it violence. It wasn’t abuse.
And they already let us…let them…do whatever they wanted to me.
Beat me bloody, choke the breath out of my throat, bend my fingers and arms so far that I felt sure they would shatter and the pain was like white hot heat
Why would they care when they saw it happen?
When they shrugged it off?
It wasn’t violence.
There were some extremes, of course.
The man who hit me so hard in the stomach I blacked out from lack of oxygen. The person who hit me so hard in the face I couldn’t see for five minutes. A few black eyes. The occasional torn shirt.
But they were rare.
Mostly it was the pulled ties and tugged collars. Throbbing muscles and tired bones. And the invisible scars. The flinching instantly. The hypervigilance. The PTSD at age twelve. The real honest to god PTSD.
I remember when I got to uni I said to a friend “How come it isn’t a battle any more?”
because every day was a battle
every schoolyard a warzone
every corridor a charnel scene
every journey from one class to another an exposed run where the enemy could strike
every seating choice about danger
about proximity to enemies and blind spots and flanks you couldn’t defend
every conversation about risk
every moment about threat
and like the concentration camps of the nazis, no way to ever be sure what behaviour would save you. One day one thing would spare the beating
The other something else
One day one person would suddenly be kind, be human, be normal
The next your worst nightmare
There were no friends
Only people who beat you less
But who knew your weaknesses more
Who could hurt you psychologically in much deeper ways
But if your friends did it
If everyone did it
It wasn’t violence
And maybe it wasn’t
Not to them
When they said hello with a punch
and goodbye with a punch
when they talked with punches and shared emotions with punches
and understood the world in punches and broke up every social interaction by punches by who could punch who and when
when they studied how to hurt like it was skateboarding
when they tortured for fun without a second thought
when they swam in violence
they wouldn’t call it violence
a fish doesn’t know about water
My nickname at school – my first nickname, the one that didn’t hurt, that wasn’t designed to tear me to pieces and destroy me and unman me and dehumanise me – was Confuscious.
Because I had this radical idea that hitting people wasn’t nice
I also used to smile a lot to try and cheer myself and others up
So they called me smiley
and beat me
kicked the smile out of me
Broke the pacifism
Caused unstoppable agonies until I begged for mercy
until I knew over and over again the fear
of someone holding your life in their hands
and having no idea if they will let you live
that they will
and they might lessen the pain
I shouldn’t call it torture
That’s an insult, you say, to victims of torture.
I shouldn’t talk about warzones.
That’s an insult to soldiers.
I shouldn’t talk about concentration camps
Everyone is rough when they are young
People are jerks all the time
They told us we had to do group work to learn how to deal with other people because that’s what happens in society
That’s what happens
After I graduated highschool nobody has ever tried to torture me for fun.
But you wouldn’t call it violence.
who was there
who still cries
who still wakes up from the nightmares
who still screams in the darkness
who still goes cold in my stomach and tastes the memory of blood
whose hands clench and vision fades and head swims when memories rush back
who spent twenty years flinching from being touched, expecting every man to beat me bloody.
You wouldn’t call it violence.