You know what game is fun? and by fun obviously I mean dreadful.
Truth or dare.
*shivers at high school flashbacks*
Playing ‘ten fingers’ or ‘never have I ever’ at fifteen years old is really a set up.
Somehow, just like some assholes snaked into my sanctuary, the question of sex snakes its way into the conversation. Oh the dreaded topic of virginity. Somehow the question always presents itself.
“Never have I ever had sex.”
“You picked truth. Hmm are you a virgin?”
[link to post on society’s obsession with the virgin and whore dichotomy to come in the near future]
“Well? Has your cherry been popped?” *giggles*
Still I’m silent. Stomach turning, heart in my throat, pulse beating fast, sweat, the uncomfortable heat of anxiety running down my back, this scenario is too familiar. I feel this even now as I write.
When will this be over?
Am I asking this my past or my present?
The truth is I didn’t have an answer. And even now at 21 when the topic of virginity comes up I am still at a loss – mind you the question I get asked now is not “have you lost your virginity” but “when did you lose your virginity.”
I don’t know.
If the first time was not consensual does it count? How do I say that?
At 15 silence was easier. At 21 silence is still easier. Although I have more license to be sassy now so I get away with things like “mind your business.” The question still cuts through the air, leaves me raw and exposed with a knife in my side for some time after as I struggle to swallow shame.
I still don’t have an answer. Sometimes I get tired of sugar coating bullshit and say “The first consensual sex was at 16.” That cuts through the air. I look to see the person who posed the question. Pale faced and stuck. If feels like hearing ‘screw you’ when they ask so I say screw you in response. It makes people uncomfortable. Well I am uncomfortable. Why should i shoulder this alone when I did nothing wrong. The truth is no one should shoulder this at all. My triggers get the best of me in these moments when I flip the script like that. Consider this my acknowledgment of my lapse in those moments. I am not sorry. I am not apologizing for being honest about my experience. I am not sorry about my reaction to a trigger. I am sorry for how I wielded it as a weapon to defend myself when shit got too real. That is not usually the asker’s fault or intention. I will be clearer with my boundaries in these conversations. And my boundaries will be respected.
The next question is usually curiosity. PRO TIP: stop asking questions out of curiosity when it involves people’s traumas. Not okay.
“Were you.. umm”
They usually look away. I wonder if my stare is too intense. I don’t let up. I say ‘ask what you’re gonna ask.’
“Was the first not consensual then?”
No it was not. And screw you for asking. Did you just ask if I was raped? Like who does that. These are not isolated experiences. This is a series of foolishness that has repeated. Same questions, different people.
The next question is usually super anger inducing. It’s some bull like:
“Does sex scare you?”
“Is getting intimate hard for you?”
“Do you have, like, issues with sex?”
No. Yes. I don’t know. Screw you.
This question is hard to answer. Curiosity is not compassion so I am not going to share a piece of myself because I’ve turned into a freak show momentarily. I say no and change the subject. I am good at redirecting. I’ve had a lot of practice.
I’m going to answer this question, here and now, for myself. Healing means having honest conversations with yourself. So here goes nothing. Well actually its everything.
Yeah, after being assaulted at 13 I was scared of sex. But instead of processing and learning about boundaries, I threw myself at boys. This felt like power. It’s a manifestation of self-blame. If i initiate then I want it then I am in control then I have the power. The function of self-blame is that it gives us the illusion of control as though we could prevent this from happening again. No one taught me that there is just as much power in my No as there is in my yes. Especially if this is the way my yes is being used. I wasn’t healing. Two boys in high school. I didn’t have sex with them. But almost. There was another. The boy I would date for six years. The illusion of safety. Objectification and lust mistaken for love. How desperately I needed to feel safe. I jumped from one abusive relationship to an unhealthy one. Distinct. The second was not abusive. Just toxic, unhealthy. Because I was not ready. I had not healed or understood. I just wanted safety and stability. We accept the love we think we deserve and I felt worthless in the aftermath of being assaulted. This history followed me into a sexual relationship that I was not prepared for, nor did I always actually want. Not learning the power of my no made lines around what was and what was not consensual in these six years blurry. These lines should not be blurry. So yeah intimacy was hard. Yeah I had issues around sex. These experiences left me dizzied. Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? The shame and the guilt and the foreignness in my own skin, not feeling like I had the right to my own body. It’s sickening. I feel it now again in the aftermath of the recent ordeal. Will I ever find safety? Will it ever feel right? Will I ever find comfort? This can’t really be it? Fight back tears that this can’t be my destiny.
Summer 2015 though. That’s really my saving grace. Getting trained as a rape crisis counselor taught me the power behind my No. That I deserved love better than I was getting. Slowly I let this piece of the relationship fall. I found happiness in celibacy. I found strength in my sexual solitude. I saw the power in my no. Choice in this seemed tangible and real and my own again. Finally in May 2016 the last straw broke the camel’s back and six years of toxicity came to an end.
A whole new struggle with my sexuality arose. Do I seek it out to empower myself? Do i chill the hell out and process? The latter was not even an option, it was not in my frame of reference. I did not even think I had anything to process. There’s that tricky healing again, elusive and sedating, I felt invincible.
There’s a lot of trajectories this story could have taken. Scary ones that spiraled out of control. That’s not what happened. By some cosmic alignment I encountered someone who did not take advantage of me, who did not prey on my vulnerabilities. Who was upfront about where he was at in life. I experienced true safety and true comfort – what it was like to let someone in to your sanctuary that honored and respected it. Someone who did not set off the alarm bells in my head, someone who did not come with red flags, someone who did not hurt me but helped me grow. Showed me how to love myself and be comfortable and safe in my own skin. A taste of a moment that gave me hope that one day I could have safety and love and comfort and that it was real and tangible. This healed my wounded sexuality. This experience is important in context of all the awful ones because if he had not come just after ending a long term relationship I might not have this positive experience to draw on as knowing, as very real and tangible, safety with someone in this way. This is the frame of reference I had not had. This experience is important because it could have been a negative encounter and further wounded my sexuality and psyche. This experience is important because if ending the long term relationship had been my last experience before i was assaulted last week, the assault might have broken me altogether. The positive experience gives me, in this immediate aftermath of being assaulted, some semblance of hope, faith in humanity. Historically I have not had positive experiences with sex, and working in a rape crisis center has me in an alternate reality where there exist no positivity or beauty in sexuality, these two exacerbate the fear that this could happen again, that no goodness in sexuality exists, trauma layered on trauma layered on vicarious trauma. It’s easy to start to see this everywhere, but having that one good experience in the midst of all the other violence negates all of that. However brief and however fleeting, it is a reminder that there is beauty in sexuality and that I am not too jaded. I’ll heal and come up on the other side. I’ll experience the beauty again. My sexuality is wounded again momentarily, but it’s experienced healing once before. I’ll get there again.