the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
Hate Mail
Gratuitous Photos Of My Bulldog
Notes & Snapshots from Abroad
Recent Tweets @lenachen

There’s a reason I’m writing about this.

I was on campus earlier this month during the first week of classes at Harvard to sit in on Patrick’s lecture. Afterward, I overheard current undergraduates discussing a rape that never happened to me, a rape supposedly perpetrated by my partner, a rape that only ever existed in the minds of anonymous Internet vigilantes who saw it fit to spread such rumors four years ago. I saw a student Google my partner’s  “rape scandal” right in front of me, not realizing that I was the “victim” in question, and it made me feel like I was in 2008 again.

How is it possible that this is all it took to completely obliterate the sense of peace and security I’ve built up over the past year?

There’s a lot of talk about whether universities, particularly the elite and rich ones, are hostile environments for women and minorities. But even if Harvard enacted all the policy changes I could ever dream up, I wonder if I could ever truly feel safe there. And I think that’s why I am so utterly exhausted and defeated by all the new attacks. It’s not about stopping whoever is behind this, it’s not about taking someone to court, it’s not even really about trolls on the Internet. It’s about the fact that normal, everyday, perfectly nice people play a role perpetuating rumors and falsities and don’t even realize the impact their actions have on others.

I used to find it hard to breathe walking around Harvard because of all the shit my classmates would say about me. I developed anxiety issues that only receded when I took time off and moved off campus. To this day, I get uncomfortable when I find myself in a crowd on campus. Who do I blame for all this? The ex-boyfriend who put up nude photos of me and opened me up to ridicule from the entire World Wide Web or the anonymous trolls on the Internet who had no problem making fun of a stranger or the people who knew me in real life and participated in the bullying? Do I blame myself for writing about sex in the first place?

I am now 25, not 20, and I’m not sure if or when I will ever like my alma mater or the society I live in. I’m not even supposed to still be in Boston right now. I only stayed because I felt that there were important things that had to be done, things like Patrick’s course, which are now compromised by a “scandal” brought on by a blog I started in 2006 when I was 19 and didn’t even know him yet. I had planned to be in Berlin by now. And frankly, half the reason I want to get the fuck out of America is because I’m unable to contain the rage and resentment I feel toward everyone I’ve ever met in my entire life and everything that’s ever been done to me in this country. I’m not saying that the same thing couldn’t have happened in Europe, but it’s the associations - emotional and physical - that I can’t stand anymore.

My entire time at Harvard, I tried to make it a better place. By the time I graduated in 2010 (a year later than my original class), I had a restored faith in my fellow students. I’m happy in that picture up there. It’s almost as if all my post-grad activism has evolved out of a desire to make sure that the bullying that happened to me will not happen to anyone else again. Maybe there really was some sort of psychic pull, and not just my partner’s dissertation, that kept me in Boston all this time, that made me feel like I couldn’t leave until I felt like I’d settle a debt with Harvard. And given what I know about the students and culture there today, I actually have quite a bit of optimism that sexual discourse has evolved. But my god, there is a limit to what one person can do and what one person can take. I have long surpassed that limit. I don’t want to fight with people about this anymore, I don’t want to cry about this anymore, and I don’t want to explain myself to anyone anymore. I don’t know how to be the girl in that picture today, because she believed in redemption, forgiveness, the ability to move past who we once were. But people are still talking about a rape that never happened to me, without even realizing that their words have done far more damage and caused far more truama than that non-existent assault. For me, the rest of the year is a waiting game. I cannot wait to get out of here. I cannot wait to flee. And what does it say about me that after all these years, I still think of leaving Harvard behind as running away from a home that was never really mine?

  1. lenachen posted this