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caption: The author stands for a portrait near his home in the Georgetown neighborhood in Seattle. October 31, 2020.
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The author stands for a portrait near his home in the Georgetown neighborhood in Seattle. October 31, 2020.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/KRISTIN LEONG

I thought I was a model activist. Then #MeToo called me out

After a friend shared a painful memory on Facebook about how he hurt her, a Seattle man resolved to be better.

It was October 2017, and the #MeToo movement was just getting started. Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse was the top story, and women shared their stories of being sexually assaulted by the millions. On Facebook alone, the hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people in the first 24 hours.

As an artist, activist, and community organizer, this was heartbreaking to see. Scrolling through Facebook, I was shocked by how many people I knew had been hurt.

And then I saw my name.

A friend of mine from college had called me out. It felt like a bomb inside me had exploded. An overwhelming rush of adrenaline and bodily shock overtook me. I froze in my seat, filled with the fear of being shunned by my community. The woman had named me and described a moment six years before that had stayed with her for all this time, but that I had forgotten.

We had gone out with a few friends. She didn’t have a car so I offered to drive her back to campus. I understand now that this put me in a position of power, over someone that I was attracted to. We had both been drinking. It was night. We were alone in my car. I did what I thought men were supposed to do — be assertive, and make the first move. She described the moment like this:

“While driving, he tries to put his hand down my shirt when I'm sitting in the passenger seat. I push his hands away and say What the fuck are you doing? He tried not just once, but a good solid FIVE times of actively trying to slide his hand down my shirt thinking I was enough off guard from one drink to be down to do that. I would think me pushing his hand away once would be clear enough that I wasn’t interested.”

She also mentioned how she hurt in silence, to avoid confrontation.

“That ruined my night and made things really awkward, because I didn't want to have a little confrontational scene in front of the others, or make things obviously uncomfortable.”

I hardly remembered the night she wrote about, and probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t written about it. I was struck by the realization that something that was harmful to her, and stayed with her for years, was somehow insignificant to me.

And then I wondered, who else had I harmed? How many times had I been drunk and reckless with women? I didn’t want to live in denial, especially after seeing so many powerful men use their legal power and social status to silence survivors. I wanted to be different. I knew I needed to publicly take accountability for my actions, and I wanted to model what I hadn’t seen other men do.

Dozens of our mutual friends had seen the post by the time I discovered it. I was frightened, and the level of shame I felt was nauseating. I didn’t dare click to see everyone who had seen it. I glanced at a few names of people who had seen the post. They were people I had known for years, classmates and close friends.

Initially, I had the urge to respond to her post and apologize immediately. But I had seen botched responses and detailed critiques of horrible half apologies. I needed to respond, but I knew that I needed to do more than that; I needed to deconstruct how I got to a place where I could mindlessly harm a woman.

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rowing up in a Catholic Latinx household, it was an unspoken rule that the man was the head of the household and almost always had the final say.

As a teenager, I saw my mom hide her tears behind her sunglasses after fights with my dad, but I never saw him apologize. We rarely talked about our conflicts as a family. I learned subconsciously that if we didn’t talk about our problems, we didn’t have problems. The same with sex and intimacy. My parents avoided talking about sex, which meant conversations about consent were non-existent.

This is not just Catholic Latinx culture, of course. Our own president, Donald Trump has been accused 25 times of sexual misconduct. He was elected one month after the recording of him saying that men should grab women “by the pussy.”

The acceptance and adulation of Trump clearly shows that patriarchy, misogyny, and bullying are not just completely normalized in American culture — but viewed as a strength, an asset.

Trump supporters say that “he’s tough,” and they accuse his survivors of taking part in some kind of “left wing political attack.” They say that his unfiltered verbal assaults are him “telling it like it is.” And no matter how abusive he gets, Americans continue to stand behind him — and emulate him.

Humility and owning past wrongs are not viewed as strengths, which might explain why the #MeToo apologies had been so unfulfilling. I wanted to write a real apology, from the heart, as a beginning of my own personal journey to change. And so, terrified, I asked my sister and my girlfriend to review my apology, and to my relief, they agreed.

Once my apology was ready, I did two things.

First, I privately messaged the woman I harmed and told her that I saw her post and was deeply sorry for my actions. I told her she didn’t need to respond or expend any more emotional energy than she already had — an approach I learned by Googling a few articles.

Second, I posted my apology on my Facebook timeline for all my friends, clients, and family to see.

“In the wake of #MeToo, I was reminded, once again, how women have historically carried the burden of moving our society forward, despite the years of abuse they’ve experienced.

I read countless stories and saw friends and family members post #MeToo. And in one of those posts, I was called out by name.

I have drunkenly grabbed women without their consent, I have stood by silently as men have joked about women as if they were nothing more than sexual objects, and I have escalated encounters with women without checking in for consent at each stage.

To those women I hurt, I am so sorry.

If we as men want to make things better, we need to acknowledge the disproportionate amount of damage we have done, and admit what we have let others do, unchecked.

If we are going to move our culture forward in the right direction — it absolutely has to start with men.

It has to start with me.”

After posting, I walked away from my computer. I was terrified of what might follow. My options seemed to be somewhere between being hated and ostracized, to saying goodbye to my career and being reported to the police.

Thankfully that wasn’t what happened. One of the first reactions came from a close male friend of mine, who reacted with a red heart of love. Then I waited to see what other women had to say, and surprisingly, they thanked me for my courage and my self- awareness. One woman asked if she could share what I wrote on her own Facebook page.

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fter being called out, I wanted to prioritize unlearning toxic behavior. I found a therapist who focused on facilitating men’s group discussions, and joined an organization called Wholehearted Masculine, where I met my mentors Galen Erickson and Jordan Giarratano.

The first few weeks of joining these groups were uncomfortable and awkward, but I knew it was time to dive inward. I hadn’t been in spaces where men could openly express their feelings or struggles for hours at a time. Where they were encouraged to put their guard down, and ask for support, where it is encouraged to listen to others without giving unsolicited advice in return.

Through the last three years of doing this healthy masculinity work, I have learned how to see and unlearn toxic male behavior — like being dominant, angry, aggressive, controlling, and possessive of women. I’ve learned that men are taught to detach from their emotions, act tough, and resist crying. We are encouraged to suppress our emotions, to stop listening to how we feel, and in turn, stop listening to others.

In men’s workshops I have done exercises where we collectively practice recognizing what verbal and non-verbal consent looks like. Now, almost every time I look at a screen, I can see how women are constantly reduced to sex objects in movies, advertisements, TV shows, and music videos. What this new lens of healthy masculinity grants me, is the ability to see women, all people, and even myself as a whole human being.

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he story you are reading now is an example of radical vulnerability, and all of these new emotional tools at work. I have been asked to share my experience at two public events, but this is my first time sharing it in writing, because I believe we need to make hard conversations like these easier to find, read, and share.

Conversations around sexual assault are so often hidden, and it’s in these shadows where abuse thrives. In no way am I suggesting that I have completed my work. I have not arrived, and never will. I always remind myself that I am a work-in-progress.

What we need in our culture is for men at all levels of society to step up, face reality, and begin evolving the idea of masculinity. Into a masculinity that is more gentle, one that centers the voices of women, and eliminates the ways we oppress women in subtle and big ways.

The revolution we need is an emotional one. It’s a journey that takes extreme courage, and a path that few men have walked before. For society to transform from one built upon domination and denial, to vulnerability and empowerment, I truly believe change must begin from within.

I never heard from the woman in this story after I contacted her, and that’s okay. I want to thank her for having the courage to call me out. I wish I could show her the ripple effect of emotional growth her post has had on me, and on the relationships with those around me. I wish she knew how much of an impact she continues to have on my life. It was thanks to her courage for speaking up, that I admitted, and confronted, this truth.

Erik Molano is a graphic designer and community organizer in Seattle.

This essay is part of KUOW's Seattle Story Project, our series featuring bold first-person reflections on life and resilience in the Puget Sound region. If you have a brave story to tell, reach out to us. Here's how. If you have feedback on this story, we're listening. Email us at webstaff@kuow.org or tag us in your tweets @KUOWengage.