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What Happens Afterwards

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

CW: Sexual Violence

I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. It was my first relationship here at Swarthmore. He was drunk, as was I. He wanted to do sexual things with me, but I was hesitant. We had only been dating a short time, and I had never done anything so intimate with anyone before, yet here we were, both drunk messes. I told him no. He kept badgering me. I felt extremely uncomfortable. It almost felt as if he was entitled to my body because we were in a relationship. I kept resisting, but he wouldn’t respond to it. We were in his bed, and he forced himself on me. He finished. I felt weak. He felt guilty.

Was this what it meant to be intimate with someone?

It wasn’t until that summer that I realized what really happened. I was sexually assaulted by my ex-partner. I was naïve and had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable reporting it. I didn’t even feel comfortable telling my closest friends here at Swarthmore. I had already broken up with him, so he was a finished chapter in my life. I thought that any allegations of assault after the fact would only make me look bad. I felt compelled to “forgive” him after the events happened, but yet I had not really forgiven him, nor did I forget. How could I?

Flash forward to the beginning of this school year. I ran into him on campus, and I was filled not only with feelings of helplessness but also anger. People had to know. I worked up the courage to tell my closest friends, and I was met with mixed responses. While some were genuinely concerned about my well-being, others said, “Are you sure it was assault? I mean, you were dating each other and under the influence…” Even my-then best friend was hesitant to believe me. “I understand, but you didn’t report it, so is this just you being angry for no reason?” I was left in utter silence.

We’re not friends anymore. At all. He’s now close friends with my assailant.

Then there was the night that took me back to how I felt the first time it happened. This time the assailant was a person who I thought was a close friend of mine. I was taken back to the exact same feelings of helplessness, anguish, and anger. The situation felt exactly the same as the first. We were both drunk. Advances were made. I resisted. He got angry. I was angry, too. Not only at him, but at myself. How could I have let this happened again?

Responses to my second experience were the same. There was more concern, but there were certain responses from an individual that made me feel exactly how my ex-friend made me feel. “Well, I mean, you were both drunk. You both knew what you were doing. I told you to be careful.” No sympathy. I ended up distancing myself greatly from this assailant and the “friend” who defended him, but a run-in with the assailant at a party made me feel very uncomfortable.

It was obvious he was intoxicated. I was getting anxious. I needed to leave to go outside, but my friend stopped to say hi to everyone, and I could not believe that this was happening after what I told them what he did to me. “Well, he’s a really good friend to me. I just can’t say hi to him!” My sexual assault experience was only “valid” when I told them about it and not when they needed to support me by avoiding my assailant. Gotcha.

I did not foresee having to deal with one experience with sexual assault, much less two. It was not just the experiences that fucked with my head, but what happened afterwards from people whom I thought were my friends. They dealt with my experiences in the most insensitive way. My assailants were chosen over me. My experiences were not valid enough. My friendship was not valid enough.

When the “Swat Protects Rapists” posters went up, I could not help but think, “It isn’t only Swat administration.” People who are close to abusers, while knowing damn well what they have done, also protect rapists. They ignore their past because, “Oh, that’s strange, I haven’t seen that side of them.” No shit, but that does not give you the right to protect their bad and disgusting behavior. Acknowledge the wrongs they committed. Hold them accountable. Don’t devalue someone’s experiences. I was neglected in these ways from individuals that I thought were my friends.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t this person reported these situations?” I feel like the process would not go in my favor. Being a gay man on this campus is hard enough. There’s already preconceived notions of sexual assault between two men. “Are you sure?” “Men aren’t supposed to do that with other men.” “That’s just sick.” Even if Swarthmore is a “progressive campus,” there are still issues that Swarthmore loves to cover up. I have to live with seeing both individuals regularly on campus, knowing that even if I did try and report it, Swarthmore will not do anything. This needs to change. Everything needs to change about the way that sexual assault is handled on campus. No one should feel like they can’t report. Every victim’s voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.

On Ian Hoffman ’15, from the poet to the poetry

in Artist Spotlight/Arts by
Photo by Juliana Gutierrez

“I would very much like,” Ian Hoffman ’15 confessed, as we approached the end of the interview, “to stop writing.”

Regarding poetry itself: “I don’t think it’s ‘important.’ I like writing it. But it’s not important like ISIS is important.”

“I get lost sometimes,” Ian had told me earlier.

The Creative Writing Club he founded at Berkeley High in California was a bit of a self-described “scam.” Hoffman said, “My mom told me to get up off my ass, and that I needed something to get into college.”

Scam or not, Hoffman and a friend successfully published a book on Amazon, and Hoffman ended up at Swarthmore.

“Afterwards, [we] had a gigantic fight about who would take credit for the successes,” he said. He was “hurt and angry.”

Not unlike how a journalist might regard a poet, Hoffman said, “I felt a little jealous that this kid was such a talented artist.” He has a competitive spirit, after all. For this, Hoffman credits his fearless third-grade self, reading poems before twenty other poets at the Albany Community Center, for that.

Interviewing a poet turns his poetry into a cause, instead of the effect and art that poetry is in reality. As a result, and as a journalist, I must explain myself. Why am I interviewing Ian Hoffman after all, a poet at Swarthmore College who is poetic enough to receive financial support from the college to write creative poetry for an entire summer? I interrogate him as a result of his poetic success. I subject the origins of the poetry in him to my own rough generalizations and faulty intelligence. I subject Swarthmore’s investment in him, and readers’ investment in this article to questioning because Hoffman is a poet and this is a profile of a poet; the poetry, on the other hand, remains secondary, ‘everywhere present but nowhere visible.’ The structure of this supposedly objective narrative is thus biased, structurally, from the beginning by an apparatus of confession, whilst the journalism is by the genesis of its various disciplinary techniques and these techniques’ need for a culminating sacrifice. Hoffman was willing.

At Swarthmore’s poetry workshop, Hoffman didn’t feel like he got to “indulge” in his poetry. The question of how constructive poetry classes in college have been for the poet is touched upon but not answered. I don’t believe it should be.

Social life at Swarthmore “hasn’t been very difficult,” Hoffman said, and so he confessed to me that he hasn’t “needed an outlet as much.” I don’t know for certain, but poetry seemed more like an outlet in high school. What do they say? That an artist needs to suffer? He hasn’t been writing as much, lately.

“Very rarely have peer edits really helped me,” Hoffman reiterated. “What [they’re] most useful for is finding out whether it’s good or crap.”

In this blinding journalistic light, the fact that Hoffman began writing poetry in third grade is perhaps even more relevant and true to readers than the title of a recent poem, “Hands.” The poet always has a life, after all, a specific chronology, reason, and primum movens. The poetry, on the other hand, is a different structure, environment, chronology and question mark altogether. This question — “what is poetry?” —  in this regard, has neither beginning nor end, except for what you see on the paper — at least until you place some limits onto it, or a name, perhaps even a ego, his distant, relaxed tone of voice, and the slightly fatigued facial expressions commonplace at Swarthmore College, amongst all the other factors that go along with the artist, Ian Hoffman, into a representation of his art. Therein lies a beautiful if not overwhelming undercurrent, tense as hell.

“I get lost sometimes,” Hoffman had confessed.

So do journalists. Is the poetry workshop he attended at the Albany Community Center in Northern California more relevant than the fact that “Hands” was first imagined in “some hostel in Berlin,” some thousand miles away, accompanied by an intimate friend? Such decisions should be made by a neuroscientist or a psychiatrist, or more importantly a reader, not a journalist. I am at a loss for what to stress.

“My dad,” Ian confessed, when I probed further into the question of the Albany Community Center to which he began contributing as a third grader, “was pretty fucked up at the time. He stopped working as a lawyer and opened a record label.” In what he described as a “tumultuous time,” Ian directed me towards what it seems he believed as the initial momentum towards answering why he “started writing poetry.” Struggle breeds creation.

I still can’t tell however if this helps explain the image of “Hands” in my head looming over the interview like God over creation. For while the life of Ian Hoffman is comprised of a couple decades, the scale of his “Hands” is crafted by a grasp of centuries: “People will go/ 100 years/ without moving/ from their chairs,/ food and water/ piped in/ from the sky.”

Is the fact, for example, that the poet agrees with the journalist’s banal description of the poet’s exceptional poetry as a mere “creative endeavor,” without having read his poetry, a result of the community he became a part of Albany and the patience that community cultivated in him, a reflection of his good nature, or is it perhaps more dependent on the fact that homemade cookies were always present in Albany? Is the journalist’s duty to merely flatter the poet? Is the image of a “girl with crutches” in Albany that he recalls with a smile (as he leans back in a Language Resource Center lounge chair, with his hands behind his head) more significant to the truth the journalist seeks to produce about the poem “Hands” than the humans and robots also depicted in its poetic space? Is the fact that he emailed the poem via Internet, instead of writing it out with his hands, more important a gesture to analyze, in historical terms, than the fact that Hoffman credits Internet forums such as Eratosphere and the broad community of published and amateur poets he found there as being inherently crucial to the development of his craft?

The “tumultuous time” Ian describes as the point in which he “started writing poetry” complements the tumultuous nature of the conversation assigned to us by the newspaper. I couldn’t help but probe into his thoughts on the institution of poetry through a glass “Swarthmorely.”

He’s taking a class at UPenn this semester, partially out of what I sensed to be frustration with Swarthmore College or a need for a change of scenery. I could be wrong. Maybe I’m projecting.

Hoffman has “never written spoken word.”

“I’m not sure,” he confessed, “that it’s ultimately the type of poetry I want to write.”

“Spoken word,” he continued, is “confessional,” like journalism. “Text,” on the other hand “is more of an object.” I couldn’t agree more.

Asked if he thought Swarthmore needed another poetry group on campus, Hoffman responded:

“No. What would be cool is if we had a group for the discussion and creation of poetry, but not necessarily for spoken poetry: poetry that is meant to be seen and not heard.”

His statement brings me back to the healthy distance he keeps from his art: “I don’t think it’s ‘important.’”

Journalists could learn a thing or two about honestly and objectively depicting one’s macro and micro selves from Ian Hoffman.

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