Wednesday, April 2, 2008

they're gonna be mad at us for all the things we wanna do

Sky, one of my favorite old-time friends and the first loyal follower of lowmindedlover, caught me last night and asked if I’d write about shame, “specifically in the context of the feeling that can overcome one in the immediacy after the act.” And while I’d thought about kicking off this blog with something lighter, perhaps even smuttier, now seems as good a time as any to address the issue of shame, because it’s one that’s bound-up inextricably with sexuality for nearly everyone, in some way, at some point. And usually, shame is instilled in us long before we even have a chance to enjoy sexual activity; what gives? So, since part of my aim with this blogging business is to get past my own issues with shame, why not start here?

Or better yet: why not start with a really hot Queer As Folk fanvid so we can all have in our minds an idea of what awesomely shameless sexuality might look like:

Well, now that we’ve got that behind us: onto shame! Offhand, I can think of two periods in my life which were distinctly marked by sexual shame. Okay, three periods, if you’re counting that embarrassing occasion where my third-grade teacher confiscated the sex notebook Melissa Moss and I were passing during class. (It was a teeny little thing with unlined pages which we sought to fill with all our sexual speculations, and included quite a few crude [but surprisingly accurate] illustrations.)

But the shame really kicked in when I was ten, and stuck around ‘til I hit fifteen and came out of the closet. That’s five years of guilt weighing down upon a young girl, and it all started when a girl I’d engaged in some pretty intimate experimentation with asked me, while she was in the act of kissing my inner-elbow, what boy I was thinking of. I admitted I just thought about her, all the time, and she decided it was high time we stopped messing around. One year later, when I was eleven, the chance arose to sleep with that girl’s boyfriend, and I nearly took it (out of spitefulness or low self-esteem, who can say?). When I said no at the very last minute, the boy called me a tease, threw my Jordache cut-offs with the flower embroidery at me, and never spoke to me again. A few more one-time encounters with boys, inevitably ending when I aborted them at the last minute and ran away to cry, left me never wanting to come even close to sex with anyone, ever again.

Keith wanted to change that. I met him at a New Year’s party when I was fourteen, and even though I barely knew him and really hated his stubble, I figured that having a boyfriend might deter my classmates from calling me a lesbo, so I went for it. Keith would come over to my house on Friday nights, put on an Adam Sandler movie, and see how far he could go with me before I stopped him. I mostly kept my eyes closed, opening them only to check the time, and when Keith left, I usually locked myself in my bedroom and cut myself. Using a safety pin or a snapped Bic, I’d carve words like TEASE, FAT, and DYKE into my breasts and stomach, the things boys would call me when I’d say no, the things I was sure I had already become. I started making sure the lights stayed off, that my clothes stayed on, so no one would see the damage I’d done. I stopped letting people touch me altogether. And honestly, this went on until a girl from Shaker Heights moved into a house down the street and sent my whole world spinning.

Ellen was my revolution. She brought her RENT soundtrack to our first sleepover and talked me through the entire show; she played Indigo Girls on guitar for me and told stories about lesbians she’d met in person. It was thrilling. One taste of feminism was all it took, and I managed to become something of a small-time badass, scrawling THE REVOLUTION IS NOT BEING TELEVISED on bathroom walls, giving into my gutter-mouthed tendencies, fighting with bigoted teachers, learning how to stand my ground. I got myself a girlfriend who slipped me dirty notes during psych class and begged me to keep the lights on during sex. I let her draw me naked; I turned in terrible poetry about lesbian sex to my super-conservative English teacher and told myself I’d never go back to that state of shame I’d grown so accustomed to.

And then I was raped. It’s not a story I’m up for telling tonight; suffice it to say that in about twelve minutes, I was utterly violated with nowhere to go, no one to call. I went from being a hypersexual, down-for-anything kind of girl to shutting down entirely. Once again, I was the girl who spoiled all the fun by saying no; once again, I was overcome by shame. When I told my mother what had happened, she turned it around on me: why had I said no to him? My dad told me not to rule out other guys less than forty-eight hours after the guy I trusted most had completely fucked me over. Luckily, I’d been on the brink of falling for M before the rape occurred, and as soon as I told her what had happened, she rushed back to Asheville and wedged herself into my heart before I could close myself off entirely. She was patient, but not prying; she told me her own story, far too similar, and then she set about finding ways to make me forget my fear of being touched. Lord knows why this girl took up with me when I had so much baggage, but I literally wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t. Even still, it’s been seventeen months, and most times, sex still makes me cry, still leaves me shaky and vulnerable. I can’t handle M kissing my neck (previously my number-one surefire turn-on) most days because it takes me back to the night I was raped. When she calls me beautiful, my gut reaction is to shave my head, to somehow mutilate myself, so that the ugliness he left inside me will show on the outside, so that no one will bother with me.

The thing about shame is that it’s a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t deal for so many of us. We’re called sluts or dismissed as indiscriminate if we enjoy sex too much, if we’re too good at it or want it too badly; we’re presumed frigid if we can’t get off on someone else’s schedule. People get squeamish about admitting the number of partners they’ve had, either adding or subtracting to suit their audience. People have the most mindblowing sexual encounters interrupted when they realize that they’ve forgotten to suck their stomachs in, even though the lights are turned out. It seems entirely unfair that something that feels so fucking amazing should cause so many of us to feel guilty afterwards, or empty, or ugly. It’s ridiculous that an act which, by definition, brings people so close to each other, inside of each other, so often afterwards renders the other person even further away.

I was just downstairs, buzzed and having girl-time with M, Holly, and Claudia, talking so easily and laughing so often that it was impossible to keep my stomach sucked-in while I was sitting there. The impulse was there, but I was too comfortable leaning back into the pillows, and enjoying the sensation of laughter too much to waste any more energy worrying about how fat I looked. There it was, a conscious decision: I’ve never had it come so easily or obviously before, but tonight, I just decided not to do it. So maybe it’s always a little like that: a conscious choice to respect and love yourself at least as much as you would a casual acquaintance. Maybe it just took tonight – the combination of Ali serenading me outside my window and the hard lemonade and Claudia’s being so drunk she showed us her tits and Marshall saying, “Give me my sugar, girl,” as I turned to come upstairs – to make me feel so unwilling to feel so bad. Or maybe it’s having written here, feeling unstuck for the first time in months.

As always, feel free to share your own story, to ask a question, to pick a fight with me, or to say hello via comment or e-mail ( Also, remember that the blog is for a cause: any money you lovelies donate will go to the Rape And Incest National Network, and will be used to fund their online hotline for those affected by sexual violence. You can donate by clicking here - if you're so kind as to kick in, make sure to mention in the 'Additional Information' field that Jen H sent you, and that I'm part of the GBBMC2008.

I’m off now to watch Golden Girls with my lover ‘til we fall asleep to the DVD menu music. God, tonight’s been good to me. And this weekend, M and I get to dogsit for the sweetest pup in the universe – which means I just may fulfill my goal to have sex in every room of my professor’s house (including the garage)! Fingers crossed for a cheerier subject tomorrow; until then, goodnight!


Holly said...

Thank you Jen

Carly said...

Jen... that was amazing. Seriously, you made me cry. The way you verbalized wanting to mutilate yourself was something I wasn't capable of writing about when I shared my story... thank you so much for sharing yours.

Jen said...

Holly: Thank you, for reading and for being part of one of the best nights I've had in a long time. It does me good to hang out with you; here's hoping we see more of each other now that it's warming up again! <3

Carly: I wasn't sure you'd ever stumble across my blog, but I'm so glad that you have, because what you're doing is so brave, and I think you're so good for devising this whole project, and I'm really trying to do it justice. Thank you so much for this opportunity - I never would have taken this on otherwise, but I already feel so much better knowing I have a way to get this all out there, somehow. <3

Essin' Em said...

Thank you so much for sharing and verbalizing what I have felt many a time. Beautifully written!

Alice said...

You are so on the money here Jen, you articulate it all so well. I really hope that soon you'll be enjoying things like you used to.