“Running Trains” Is How Black Boys Are Inducted Into Rape Culture

A recent confession by A$AP Rocky made me reflect on a time where I was once ok with rape.

A$AP Rocky recently described his first orgy in detail. He was 13, and older boys mocked his body as they all tried group sex on a Harlem rooftop. The Internet applauded rapper Webbie when he posted a video scolding his son after catching him in bed with a friend and a young girl. While these stories had people saying “wait, what?”, I, personally, knew this narrative all too well. 

I told my best friend I was writing about running trains and he said, “I was young and my boys invited me to run a train on some ‘fat bitch’ that was on the roof of the building across the street. Shit ain’t feel right.”

I wish I could say I’d done better but learned early on that “running trains” was a good way to fake power. I learned that if I followed boys who ganged up on girls for sex, I could be “cool”, at least in a certain circle. At least for a little while.

At 17 in New York City where I grew up, Friday nights felt more possible than other nights. In high school, I didn't feel important. I wanted to be cool and known but I was neither so I got good at learning to fake cool.

I would tell my friends I was having sex when I wasn't. In reality, I didn't know how to kiss.

On Friday nights, I could pretend to be grown. Our school had varsity basketball games that became the pastime of the In-crowd. Afterwards, my friend, who starred on the team, would invite us all over to his house.

This was an ideal scenario for co-mingling amongst genders. I wasn't innocent but I had no idea how to access girls' time without my friend's help. He had a car and confidence. He knew the rich girls from Jack And Jill. He knew the hood girls who were smart enough to attend prep schools on scholarships. His house was a meeting point.

One Friday night when I was faking cool, he had a female friend over. We'd spent the first few hours of that evening brainstorming.

"Who should we call? I should call Robyn. She would let you smash. And her parents never home so she does whatever."

That was his peace offering to me. I could smash the girls he was either done with or not as interested in.

"What about Takeisha? I heard she gave Avery the buns in the Dalton locker room."

I offered fake intel to up the ante. The girls' desires didn't matter. They belonged in two groups: the ones who would and the ones who wouldn’t.

"Darla live down the block. She'll slide through."

The truth was I liked Darla. I used to call Darla and ask to come over. She twarthed my advances. Since my rich friend told me they'd been hooking up, out of boredom, I thought she might want to bore herself with me. It was Darla that came over that Friday night of junior year. It turns out, she felt bored, so we were giddy.

"I can't say it's definite but a strong possibility, she'll let you smash. She'll probably let us both.", my friend told me.

I hadn't considered the chance. For one, I didn't know how their relationship worked. I knew they had been friends since they were six years old. Their parents knew each other and golfed together or some other rich activity.

They’d never dated, and I wouldn't have known they were messing around unless he told me. I also didn't know how to "run a train" or "jump off" a girl for a homie. Could I tap out or tag in at any time? I had enough trouble getting girls alone with me.

But I understood the stakes. This was my chance to score status.

In the songs I studied to fake cool they said:

"It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none."

"Now we reached the peak age, running trains for three days."

Girls were for sharing and only boys with the most clout could get a girl to fuck their whole team.

My definition of rape did not fit this context. I thought rape happened in dark alleys after midnight. Rappers had fun and lived the life we envied so they didn't need to rape anyone.

By the time Darla arrived, we'd made a plan to get alcohol. On the other side of Prospect Park, a bodega we used to go to didn't card so we hunted beer there. Once she rang the bell, we rushed to put on our bubble coats to leave for the store. She barely got a chance to say hello before we were nudging her out the door in search of some liquid courage.

She was wearing b-ball shorts and a hoodie. Drinking wasn't her thing and it wasn't my friend’s either. I had gotten drunk a few times with the white boys in my class and couldn't handle my liquor.

He bought a 24-pack of beers. He started acting loose after one or two sips. I could tell he was acting because he was so bad at it. He kept trying to jump on Darla's back for a ride.

We got to his living room and he plopped down on the leather couch. I was taking huge gulps of beer so I could down at least two. I didn't know what Darla wanted but she'd been playing into the piggyback game toward the end of our walk. His house had a pool table but they called it billiards.

"Let's play strip pool."

"And how does that work?"

"Ha I don't know. You miss, you strip. Some shit."

The game never started. He outed the lights and started laying sloppy kisses on her. I made a move toward the stairs. He was like, 'Where you going? Stay right here, dumb-dumb."

Darla nodded to agree. He laid her out on the pool table.

"Do y'all have condoms?" she asked.

"Shit! Hold up lemme go to my room," he laughed again, with a tremble in his voice that let me know this could all fall apart.

I started moving closer to Darla and she pulled me in.

"Don't be stupid, ok? It's not like anyone knows we're here."

She was right. This was an isolated world of three teenagers with unknown rules. We shared awkward embraces and kisses before my friend rumbled back down the stairs. He was almost tripping over himself, condoms in his teeth and shoes coming off. He handed me a rubber.

"Don't look at me, nigga, ok?" he giggled.

"You guys I'm cold. What the fuck are we doing?"

"Chill Darla stop bugging and lemme put it in."

I was starting to believe he was kind of drunk. Some time had passed and he was a lightweight. Plus, I'd convinced him to crack one of the wine cellar bottles open. The extra alcohol helped us fake cool.

He slipped on his rubber with his back turned and pants still half-on. I could hear them fucking on the pool table. She whimpered every so often. He kept giggling and telling me not to look. The entire charade unraveled with every minute I spent frozen in darkness. I was there to witness them, for the most part.

I also couldn't get the condom on for shit. This experience didn't turn me on and I failed to see where the "running" part of the train started. He was humping with abandon and I was trying to stuff my cooked noodles through a rubber band. He had worked up a sweat and told me to come over to the pool table. I shuffled my pants down around my ankles and jumped up on it. I tried bringing my soft dick near her but she gave me a sideways look.

"What can I do with that?"

I shrugged.

One more time with the softness, I tried to enter. Nothing. This is as far as my faking went. I felt the phrase "I can't" tighten my throat but did not let it come out. I was racing to find excuses they couldn't question and that was the best one. I snapped off the part of the condom that I'd squeezed on and it was over.

I ran to the bathroom to wash my hands and the rest of me. I was sure I'd gotten an STI from this attempt, however limp. I could smell Darla on me but it could also be my friend. The latex left chalky traces and a scent behind.

I went home not knowing why I had done it and unsure of what would've made it feel better. I wanted to feel important, like a junior year celebrity. I felt doubtful and foolish instead.


Now that I'm grown and not pretending as much, I understand how "running trains" is rape by another name. I understand how scared I was about what I was doing. But more than that, I understand how scared Darla must have been, any girl really. They could come to a place to meet one man and have to face more than one aiming for their sex. She couldn't give full consent under the influence, in the same way my impotent body couldn't. But women often have to decide whether to trade their reputations for their safety.

What if we had been violent men? What if we wanted to do things she didn't want to do? What if there were more than two boys in that brownstone? What if I had been in a group of 8 or 10?

I don't reserve the belief that she couldn't have wanted what happened that night. But desire and curiosity don't equal a pass for group sex. I didn't understand desire at 17. I don't understand desire at 35. But I do have the benefit of memories, mine and theirs.

I talked to a partner who, on a first date, went home with a boy she'd met at the mall. In his room, once undressed, she heard another man moving in the closet. The room was dark, and soon after, that shadow man was touching her. They wanted to "run a train."

I talked to a partner who got drunk in college with the star athlete she was seeing. She blacked out. Her next memory was of a second player on the football team entering her date's room. She blacked out again. In flashes, she sees her clothes removed. Two pairs of hands did the work. They "ran a train" on her but her peers shunned her, not them. They claimed she'd fabricated an assault story to steal the star athlete from his girlfriend.

I'm scared for the dreams they have. My memories of botched group encounters and keeping scores trouble me. Their memories scar indelibly. While I know they're strong people, the sting of sexual violence never leaves. The ghosts of rape, especially ones committed by men plural, drift into places where love's no longer allowed. Trust and faith can’t grow there.

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