A cold winter night
It was a cold snowy winter night just before the COVID shutdown spread across the country. I was attending the second-year graduate school class reception with a group of friends from the second-year graduate class. My "date" as my invitation to attend that class's event was really someone everyone knew was in a committed long-distance relationship and just using the extra ticket as a fun excuse to invite me as friend. It was a fun time to explore a historic mansion while having food and wine. An hour later, as it was about to conclude, one of the second-year's partners turns to me and tells me she would really like to meet me at a bar, and a group of people from that class are planning to go there. I turn to my "date" and we both agree to go. We drove to the vintage bar, one I never had been to before. I walk in through the snow and ice in my black high heels in a cocktail dress covered by my winter jacket, trying my best not to trip. A cocktail and a few conversations among classmates of my "date" later, I find myself in the corner chatting with the person who invited me to the bar from the reception. Something seemed off from the start of the conversation -- and it only got worse. The 30-something-appearing cis woman was a faculty member, yet seemed to serial date younger, new students at the same professional school -- a fact a classmate mentioned in passing with an eye-roll earlier. The one-to-one conversation with me appeared to go in circles, with her repeating the same stories over and over again without realizing that she was doing so. Awkward conversation, but it would just be a temporarily annoyance, my thought was. Yet it took an even more bizarre turn. She kept getting closer to closer to me as she was talking. At one point, she touched my shoulder, ostensibly to make a comment about how she liked my dress. She was mentioning her professional expertise and connections in the field I was, and still am, most interested in entering. She then started asking me awkward questions about how I was visibly trans, and then mentioned as a complete non-sequitur how she was the dominant "masculine" partner in her relationship. And then, to my horror, I noticed her abruptly lifting the bottom of my dress up and reaching underneath my dress to attempt to grope either my inner thigh...or worse. This wasn't just a slight motion; her hand was fully underneath my dress and moving fast upwards, from what I could clearly see from the brief glimpse I took. I immediately stepped backwards with a wide-eyed look on my face, in total disbelief of what just happened...and what did not happen that was mere seconds away from fully happening. She turned away in a hurry and walked back to her partner at the bar -- who was oblivious to what just happened -- grabbed him by the arm, and made an excuse to request to leave. This was not the first time I had experience attempted or completed sexual assault. Just like when I experienced rape the year of my college graduation, during a different cold winter night years earlier, I remember feeling puzzled, confused, and very much *not* wanting to put a label on what just happened to me. The events of each night leading up to the sexual assault always seem so random and not predictable as they are happening, but in retrospect, it is so easy to attempt to scrutinize every detail as a possible warning sign of what was to come. Yet I do not even want to think about the likely reality that the attempted sexual assault I experienced that night seemed to happen due to being visibly trans. When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder from an evolutionary perspective, it is typically thought of as an adaptive way to avoid situations of future danger. But when you're scared of social events and comments about personal identity, just think of how unpredictable the healing journey is.