Last week, the internetexploded as the NY Supreme Court ruled that Kesha was obliged to fulfill her six album record deal with Kemosabe Records, the label of her alleged rapist and abuser Dr. Luke. What happens to women when we are bound to communities that hurt us? The whole world now knows that Kesha is forced to choose between protecting herself and pursuing a career she is (presumably) very passionate about.
Bike polo is a small enough community that when assault happens- and it does, though it's almost never spoken about publicly- we force the same choice without any lawsuits binding us together. There are no easy solutions, and I'm no crisis counselor, but I think it could help to start a conversation. So below I will describe the two times I was assaulted, both times by polo players, once as a rookie and once relatively recently. Commentary will follow after the row of X's if you'd like to skip that bit.
July 2008, LA Critical Mass, two weeks after my 18th birthday. After drinking on a group ride for the first time (it was maybe the 10th group ride I'd been on, less than a week after I first went to polo, and the first ride where someone offered my underaged self liquor), I was convinced to accept a ride back to the valley with a few of the other ridazz/polo players I had recently met. The driver of the car was very conveniently the one who had been plying me with alcohol all night. Also conveniently, he dropped off the other three men before taking me home. Except he didn't take me home. He took me to his place and forced me to come inside, even though I insisted that I could wait in the car for whatever errand his pretext for stopping his place was. He sat me down on his couch, and proceeded to touch and kiss me, ignoring my multiple protestations about having a boyfriend and the dozens of times that I simply and clearly said "No." I was too drunk to be able to move well, and the idea of being able to even lift my arms to push him away was laughable. When he tried to take my shirt off, I was so overwhelmed that I vomited. Luckily for me, he was repulsed by this and agreed to really take me home at this point. I am convinced that if that had not been the case, he would have completed his attempted rape.
October 2014, Echo Park, CA. I caught a ride back to LA from a cross race with a friend of mine and we decided to have dinner at her place before going out for the evening. The guy she'd been having sex with the past night or two was already there with food and a bottle of vodka. As he was an old friend of mine, we got to work killing the bottle and ditching any other plans in favor of trading old polo stories and going through photos. Two moments stood out: when she and I diverged on an in depth tangent about old school, lesbian separatist, radical feminism (and our support of such a school of thought), he sat back from the conversation and stopped engaging entirely; and at a later point he actually said to me, "You can't be gay, you don't look gay."
Around 2 or 3 in the morning she (being AN AWESOME FRIEND ILU), suggested I stay the night instead of trying to ride home drunk and tucked me in to her bed. After she climbed in as well, he stripped naked and jumped on top of us, pinning me to bed as he masturbated. After a minute or two, he shifted his weight enough that I was able to pull free and run out the door.
After the first incident, the man in question exuded a silence towards me that I interpreted as a warning: we would not discuss the incident, and for my silence, I would be allowed to continue interacting and becoming accepted within that social group. At the time, this was my only option for being included in the local bike riding/polo scene, which was something I desperately wanted. I sucked it up and pretended nothing had ever happened, cheering him on in tournament finals for the next three years before telling anyone else or even publicly asserting my distaste for him. (Shout out to anyone who peed in his helmet at No Manor!)
After the second incident, the man in question tried to blame me for my reaction rather than apologizing. I told a handful of close friends what had happened, and have been nothing but hostile to him ever since. I've been pretty free in telling anyone who inquires about the source of said hostility without the gory details. Several months later, once he realized that his social capital was being impacted, he suddenly started trying to make amends. I have no interest in such false apologies.
What I do want is to drag this issue kicking and screaming into the light of day. It's shitty to be in forced proximity with these men, whether it's at pick up every week or at a tourney once a year. It's amplified by the many people imploring me to "just drop it" and stop impinging on their enjoyment with my hatred for these men. The polo community can do better.
For more information about rape and sexual assault, please visit the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) website. If you feel you are in crisis, please call their hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I would also like mention #NameYourRapist, on behalf of those it's applicable to. It's a powerful action.