When I was in 7th grade, we had spirit weeks. Every day brought a different theme and students were encouraged to participate by dressing up. One particular day, either a Tuesday or Wednesday I can't remember, was deemed "Hat Day"; a big deal as, on any other day, hats were prohibited. It was 1998, so sun visors were all the rage and, unfortunately, I contributed to the trend. I wore a baby blue visor with a Playboy bunny logo. I matched it with a baby blue long-sleeve shirt, one of those fluffy vests I regrettably can't lie about wearing and blue jeans.
It took a grand total of two class periods before I was called to the office.
I sat in front of the principal, the visor now on his desk. He threatened suspension and regurgitated a few sentences regarding school code. Then he told me something I have yet to forget: "You keep wearing trash like this and you'll end up a whore, just like the women who represent Playboy. Is that what you want? To be nothing but a slut?".
Even at my young and reasonably impressionable age, I realized the utter ignorance of that sentence. It was meant to hurt me, surely, yet it was so ridiculous I was left more bewildered than deterred. The idea that my ability to make choices with my body would hinge on the clothes I wore seemed hilariously condescending. Not only was this man trying to take away my favorite visor -- a crime as far as I was concerned -- he was trying to tell me I lacked the ability to coherently decide, well, damn near anything for myself.
After collecting my thoughts in the way only way a middle school kid can, I told him he was a moron and that I'd wear whatever I want.
I was suspended for an entire week.
When my parents were called, I was reprimanded appropriately. That was, of course, until I told my mother and father what the principal had said. My father drove me and my visor back to school and ripped that poor champion of education a figurative new one in a way I'd never seen before.
I was back in school the next day.
Thirteen years later, I sat on the opposite end of a desk much like my middle school principal's. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and I was shaking uncontrollably, despite the pools of sweat forming between my fidgeting fingers. A disarming face stared back at me; weathered from years of public service and with wrinkles that whispered they had experienced more than they cared to.
I had finished re-living a painful sexual assault. The detective had my case in front of him; the files laying on his desk, lifeless and accusatory, just like my visor all those years prior. He had finished writing a few notes, pausing periodically to ask me questions about where I was touched or what I had yelled.
He thanked me for the details I was willing to share and acknowledged how difficult that can be. He regurgitated a few sentences regarding possible procedures and next steps, should he believe I had a case worth pursuing. Then, he asked me something I have yet to forget: "Now, what were you wearing that night? It's important that we establish that you weren't wearing or doing anything that may be perceived as coercion."
I looked for my old visor on his desk. Instead, all I found was doubt and pain and the ignorance I so desperately wish was exclusive to middle school principals. I knew the detective didn't mean to hurt me with his question. He was doing his job. In fact, I knew that no matter how ridiculous I thought that question was, or the belief associated with it, on some level, even I would wonder if what I was wearing was the reason why he forced himself on top of me.
I should have picked a sweatshirt. I should have picked a different visor.
When I called and told my boyfriend what happened and the questions I was asked, to my surprise, I was asked them again. What exactly was I wearing and why, exactly, was I wearing it? I realized no one would be driving me back to an office this time. There would be no figurative ripping of a "new one" and I wouldn't be able to return back to the normal I once knew the next day.
Because, at least in this society, women are what they wear.
Which is why, in that moment and many since, I realized that I'm still that little middle school girl, being called a whore and wondering why.
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