There's lots of things we find funny until it happens to us. Falling over in a cafeteria with a tray full of food. A red-carpet nip slip. Accidentally farting into a microphone.
Personally, I never found any of those things particularly humorous, and maybe that's why I've karmically been able to avoid them.
But when people talked about being felt up by massage therapists, I always laughed it off.
I should be so lucky, I would only half-joke.
I'd be flattered if someone besides my husband wanted to touch my boob.
Do you know where I can pay extra for a happy ending?
I just didn't get it. I had no concept of what it felt like to be violated, touched inappropriately against one's will, particularly in a situation where you weren't sure if it was actually happening.
Several years ago I started seeing a massage therapist for nagging pain in my gluteal muscles. That's right — an actual pain in my ass. Asking a massage therapist to rub your butt isn't actually that weird. I've had dozens of massages before and since, and it's very common for women in particular to carry stress and pain in that area.
And this guy really seemed to know his stuff. He was determined to get to the bottom of my issue — no pun intended. For several weeks the massages were fairly normal and therapeutic. Though I was a bit alarmed when he admired my body and said I was shaped like a Barbie doll (not even close).
But one day, as I was lying there, I felt his hands creeping higher and higher up my thigh. This is normal, I thought. He's just working on my muscles.
But then as he inched closer and closer to my actual vagina, my mind started racing. Is he molesting me? I thought. Should I say something? Am I crazy?
Eventually, when it started to border on masturbation, I found the courage to speak up
"Um, what are you doing?" I asked.
"What do you want me to do?"
I told him that I didn't sign up for inappropriate touching — or something less articulate, it's all sort of a blur — and at first, he completely denied that anything even happened. And for a moment I was actually second guessing myself. Was I imagining this?
Then, he admitted that he was aroused and told me it was my fault for wearing a thong to a massage.
My fault for wearing a thong. To a massage. Where women are generally bare-bottomed.
Suddenly, I could imagine what it felt like for women who are told they were asking for rape by wearing a miniskirt. I was flushed with new appreciation for every sexual assault and female injustice and Anita Hill and unwanted advances on a subway car.
I left immediately, and I furiously peddled home on my bicycle. I was shocked by the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt like a fool. I should have known or stopped it sooner or trusted my gut instinct when he seemed unreasonably taken with my backside.
When I told my husband I was felt up by my massage therapist, he looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or call the cops. And his response seemed perfectly reasonable. I would have felt the same way. Until it happened to me.
But I didn't call the cops. I didn't even post a negative Yelp review. I felt powerless and paralyzed in a way that was all new to me. I'm someone who has demanded in-person meetings with my councilman to report illegal dumping in my neighborhood, but I couldn't summon enough indignation for a man who made me question the sanctity of my own body and mind.
I called a friend who had a business relationship with this massage therapist — ironically enough, a friend who had once told me about her own unwanted advances by a different masseur (which I had laughed off, of course).
She went to see my massage therapist later that week, and he admitted to her what had happened. He said that he had developed feelings for me. He felt genuine shame. He was apparently so embarrassed by what had happened that he considered packing up his table and leaving town.
He didn't. It's eight years later, and I recently Googled him. He's still working here in Philadelphia, and his website has stellar testimonials about his work, including one from a woman I know who says he cured her knee pain.
He probably did. He probably didn't try to finger her. But she's a single gal and she should be so lucky, right?