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A man licked me at my Studio Show

This blog post discusses sexual assault and I think I use one swear word. You've been warned.

Last weekend, I hosted an exhibition in my private studio space. I put up Hong Konger prints. I made interactive games. The Lion Rock Press set up shop. And I implemented an inconvenient invitation system, because I was wary of "stalkers".

A quick intro to the aforementioned "stalkers"

I don't think I should call them "stalkers". Firstly, it's feels inaccurate, because a stalker is technically "a person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention." I am not harassed or persecuted, just... put on edge. Secondly, they're not "obsessive"; they will leave me alone for periods, but then pop up suddenly and intensely other times. Since there are four, however, it always feels like at least one is active. Thirdly, none of them has done anything illegal. Their behaviour is exasperating but innocuous.

One stalker shows up to places I am and won't leave my side. Another makes a big deal about my connection to the Hotung family and take photos of me with no interest in who I am outside of my name. The other two stalkers I have are just freeloaders. They come to events, take the free stuff, and leave.

So nobody is violent, nobody is omnipresent, and nobody is a criminal, but their behaviour makes me uncomfortable enough to inconvenience everyone else who wanted to come to my Studio Show with a long-winded RSVP process that allowed me to vet names before I sent out my address.

How I tried to stalker-proof the show

The clingy stalker didn't RSVP and didn't show. One freeloader did RSVP, but I caught it and didn't send the address. The namedropper came but bought from The Lion Rock Press, which I appreciated. The other freeloader RSVPed but I only know their first name (which is a very common name) so their RSVP slipped under my radar. My address was emailed to them and they showed up.

I had help at the show. I had the Lion Rock Press team running the shop; I had a part-time helper I'll call Emma (that's not her real name) running the open bar where we were serving free wine, drinks, and mince pies; and I had my mum, who also uses the space for work and was there as a general dogsbody.

I was nervous throughout planning and hosting the event that stalkers would materialise, so I developed a secret code (lol) with my mum. I would ask her, "Are you good for water?" and that would be her cue that I needed help with a guest.

Introducing Giuseppe

I'll call the person who showed up Giuseppe even though that's not his real name. He smelled of sweat, alcohol, and cigarette smoke. I really don't want to seem judgemental with that description, but these are the things that made me uncomfortable from the get-go.

I had met him during my The Hong Konger Anthology book launch at Bookazine in December 2021, where he took a substantial chunk of the free bookmarks I brought with me. I don't know if he bought a book. I don't remember signing one for him. Afterwards, speaking to some of the Bookazine staff, they said he often came to book signings for the free stuff while never buying anything. This made me think he was more of a Bookazine Stalker™ than a Me Stalker™, so he barely crossed my mind this year compared to the other three more "active" stalkers.

But, alas, Giuseppe entered the studio and I remembered him instantly. He has a distinctive look. Straggly hair, spindly stature, glib smile. He's looks about fifteen years older than me. I greeted him, my voice high-pitched and jovial, because besides running off with my free bookmarks last time, he hadn't actually done anything wrong.

After shaking hands, I showed him where the art, shop and bar were. He went straight for the bar and ordered a glass of white wine. I went straight for my mum across the room and asked her, "Are you good for water?" (She had forgotten about the code so she replied, "Yeah?" and it took me three times to ask for her to finally get it. Thanks, mother.)

Giuseppe did not really look at the art or browse the shop. He stayed at the bar. Emma told me he drank three or five glasses of wine and had a few mince pies.

I feel like I should take a moment to clarify that I wasn't mad that Giuseppe was taking me up on the free stuff. My concerns with the stalkers were that they'd look through drawers, take a tchotchke home, or cling to me while I tried to talk to other people. Eating and drinking the free food and wine with no intention of buying anything felt annoying, but not in any substantial way.

Giuseppe lurked with the wine and mince pies for what felt like hours. I stayed on the other end of the room, trying to shift art and schmooze. But the whole time I was distracted, trying to keep Giuseppe in my peripheral vision. Finally, I went over to process an order (yay! I sold something!) on my laptop.

This is the part where my face gets licked

I stood behind a desk that faced the entrance, bending to generate a receipt. He approached me across the desk and said, "I'm leaving now." I thanked him for coming, the desk in between us. He leaned in, trying for a hug, which I was keen to avoid. Most of the guests and my mum were on the other side of the room. There was a little girl nearby; Emma stood behind me at the bar; and a popo in a wheelchair with her caregiver had their backs to me. We were all women ranging in age from 6 to 86. I've wondered in hindsight if Giuseppe would have pulled the shit I am about to tell you if one of us had been a man.

Back to Giuseppe: he was angling for a hug, leaning in. I was not into that. I extended my hand for a farewell shake. He shook my hand, but also pulled it towards him, trying to convert the shake into an embrace. I then registered he was also going for a kiss. His thin lips puckered. His face was on course to meet mine. Playing it back now, I cannot think why he thought a kiss was appropriate. We've met twice, briefly. He had not seen me kiss anybody else on the cheek let alone the lips. But here he was going in for a smoochy smackeroo.

In a panic, I shouted out, "No kissing!" But I shouted it in a dumb way. In a way where I was also laughing at the same time. Trying to make light of the situation. Trying to brush it off to make him feel less embarrassed. Taking responsibility for the "misunderstanding." Because I've found that being aggressive when fending off advances ends up getting you in more trouble. It angers men and increases the chances of a violent retaliation.

This is not the first time I have had to fight off sexy advances. At 14, I think I was the butt of a prank or hazing challenge where I was pinned down. I screamed, kicked, threw fists, and (I won't go into detail but) eventually bit. He leapt off me in disbelief and agony, and kicked me as I lay on the ground before running away. Subconsciously, I think I learned that fighting back would only add physical assault to the sexual assault.

At 14, I already felt pressure to prioritise other people's comfort over mine, but being pinned down in a clearly violent way made my screaming and biting feel justified. As I've gotten older, however, sexual advances have become more insidious. Often, I've experienced them in public, among people; they can be quietly executed; I can no longer play the "I am a child which makes this clearly illegal" card anymore; and almost any advance can be attributed to a misunderstanding. To overreact to a misunderstanding with screaming, accusing, or biting would make me look like the antagonist. So, over time, I've learned to take responsibility for the "poor communication". It has stopped men's violent retaliations, but it has not stopped their unwanted overtures.

I knew Giuseppe heard my "No kissing!" yelp, because he jumped, startled. There may have been laughter in my voice, but there was also urgency, panic, fear that he must have detected. This is the part where he licked me. I can't tell if he did it to try to sneak in some sort of kiss, or if he panicked, causing his tongue to lollop out of his mouth and across my face. Either way, I felt spit on my cheek as he recoiled and ran out the door. I stood there, palms down on the desk, elbows locked straight, eyes wide and staring downward at my half-finished receipt, too mortified to look around me. My cheek, wet and cold.

The after-effects of getting licked

Finally, I looked up. Emma's eyebrows were raised and mouth was curled in disgust. She mouthed, "Are you okay?" The little girl just stared, almost waiting for my reaction, which would tell her whether that interaction was normal or not. There are things I saw when I was six that I carry with me. I really hoped this would not be one of those things for her. My eyes started welling. I closed my laptop and went to the bathroom. I scrubbed my face and sat on the floor, waiting for the redness to go down. I texted my partner Spencer, who was all the way in California, that someone had shown up, tried to kiss me, and ended up licking me.

I started replaying everything in my head, wondering why I handled it like an idiot, laughing. "No kissing!" Where did that come from? Sure, it was a clear boundary to set, but I didn't say it like I was setting a boundary; I said it almost like a schoolmarm wagging her finger and tutting, "nah-ah-ah, no kissing now!" I thought about the little girl. Had I set a good example for her? Then I thought about the other people in the room who wanted me to sign prints and talk about the art. I had five more hours left of the Studio Show and had to perform. So I checked my face, re-applied concealer to my right cheek, and walked back into the studio.

For the rest of the afternoon, I could not remember names or faces or orders. I accidentally sold a print twice and then forgot another person's order. A boy who is a fan of mine but I missed meeting at the Affordable Art Fair visited. I didn't register until after he left that it was him! I felt so bad that I had not given him the recognition that he had probably hoped for. I also hated that such a small lick had totally thrown me off my game. I've been assaulted worse before and bounced back faster. But from that one farewell "misunderstanding", I was discombobulated and bewildered. I hated Giuseppe for spoiling my Studio Show for me, but then I hated myself for letting him affect me like this.

I had been planning to make Studio Shows a regular thing. When I sell Hong Konger prints independently, I can donate the cut that would normally go to a gallery to a local charity instead. This weekend, I raised around HK $50,000 for charity selling prints at the Studio Show. I also made most of the money I needed to sustain myself for the next financial quarter. But the lick made me feel like Studio Shows were now an unsafe idea. I hated how there seemed to be a choice between feeling safe and making money.

It was just a lick, I told myself. Still it was a lick, my self countered.

Why share this at all?

Not to disparage or diagnose Giuseppe (which I am extremely unqualified to do), but I got the sense that he may have mental health difficulties. At my book signing and Studio Show, he did not assimilate with others, and during our conversations, he has seemed anxious, nervous, and eager for skin-to-skin contact, whether it was putting his hands on me for photos or shaking my hand a little too long, or like, you know, trying to kiss me.

Because of his own vulnerabilities, I don't want to vilify him to myself or to others. I don't want to dox him or ridicule him. I don't even want to name him. But I also don't want to get licked by him, or for him to keep showing up and making me uncomfortable. I don't know if it is mean of me to ban him from future events, to turn him away at the door and potentially embarrass or inconvenience him. I worry that I am a hypocrite, calling myself a disability advocate then alienating someone who potentially has disabilities for one misunderstanding.

But at the end of the day, he tried to pressure me into a kiss and ended up licking my face. And pressuring someone into a kiss and licking their face are both sexual assault. Sure it's not penetrative rape, but it still counts. Things don't have to be the worst thing ever for them to still be bad things.

I did not tell anyone about my assault at 14 until I was 20, because I thought it did not count as rape. I knew it was illegal to get sexy with a child, but I thought that two sets of genitals had to touch for it to be called sexual assault. Only after I went to a consent seminar during my first-year university orientation did I realise that I had been sexually assaulted six years prior. At 14, I had interpreted the assault as bullying. I was embarrassed to tell my friends, teachers, or family that I had been bullied in such a demeaning way. I also thought people would blame me or not believe me. I was not a cool or attractive girl in school. This would have just looked like I was trying to get attention.

Even now, aged 28, I am hesitant to write about the face-licking incident. I don't want this to read like I'm trying to shame someone when they need help. I am also still scared, like I was at 14, that it will look like I'm angling for attention. Furthermore, I worry that Giuseppe will read this and confront me. He has my address now. He may want to explain himself or retaliate. I just don't know. I feel helpless, hysterical, and cruel. But, when I unpack those feelings, I realise I am blaming myself — for what, I am not sure. I was careful with the RSVPs. I was polite to Giuseppe. What more could I have done? Even if I had hired a bouncer, he would not have intervened soon enough or had a reason to remove Giuseppe until after the lick.

I keep coming back to one thing: people cannot keep acting entitled to me. I have never spoken out this publicly about sexual assault, but I am so fed-up that a.) this keeps happening, and b.) that I never say anything. Whether it's a grope or a lick or more, it's worth establishing that nobody is entitled to touch anybody else without permission. Besides reaching my limit of exasperation, what has also made me more comfortable sharing is the thought that if another child reads this and registers that no one is entitled to their body, then hopefully they won't have to wait until college to realise (and come to terms with) what's happened to them.

For what it's worth, here's the official definition of sexual assault: "sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim." The keywords for me are "sexual contact or behaviour". There doesn't need to be penetration or genitals for it to be assault.

Getting pinned down at 14 or licked at 28 all count. Talking out loud about these encounters helps us get over them faster. I've had an aunt tell me she was assaulted by a medical practitioner. She never reported it. I've had a mentor tell me that she received unsolicited photos from a colleague. She never reported it. The aunt went back to her physician. The mentor went back to work. We all keep quiet. We've all kept quiet. Among company, everything is normal.

But when no one hears a tree fall, it still makes a sound. These incidents sit with me. They have affected my business. They have affected my behaviour. They have affected my body and my brain. And sharing what happened last weekend has alleviated some of the burden of carrying shame, disgust, fear, guilt, and anger alone. Sharing is catharsis.

If you have experienced sexual violence or assault, here is a list of local resources within Hong Kong you may find useful.


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