What sex means to a biracial millennial in a world after #MeToo.
Let’s talk about sex. You see for most men and women, sex is the most frightening and awe-inspiring prospect. Movies portray it as a pure art form, even when its grotesque. The porn industry has made millions off it for years. People of a certain generation and who tend to be conservative or religious also seem to be obsessed with how the media and our culture is obsessed with sex. They don’t seem to understand why it is prevalent in everything when it makes perfect sense.
Sex is the basis of procreative activity. A human being will feel that they have no purpose or meaning to their life without sex because it literally is pre-programmed into our DNA to fulfill our lives through procreation, to keep the species alive (exceptions do exist for some people like those who identify as asexual, but I speak more broadly here). There is plenty of research out there that also explores how having sex, not having sex, and whom you have sex with is a prevailing factor in how you see and identify yourself as a person which is why you can’t strip the gay man from whom he’d like to have sex with any more than you can strip a black man from the color of his skin.
Sex is all about the unique situation of the people involved and their previous experiences. You are not just making love to the person you are with at the moment, but every single bad experience that person has ever had sexually, combined with all of their insecurities, desires, needs, and affections.
I remember one of my first experiences with sex was staring at a sex book written like a comic book for teens. My mother gave it to my older sisters while they were going through puberty, but I was curious and wanted to know what they were reading and laughing about. My mother was a unique person who never shied away from sex like most parents. For example, if I ever exclaimed that someone was being a dick to me at school she would immediately respond with, “Now, now, D.M., it’s not a dick, it’s a penis. You say they’re acting like a penis!” just to be funny.
I remember seeing the pictures in the book regarding positions and stimulation and thinking it was a mystifying prospect. Do girls really get so much hair down there? Why does a guy’s penis look like some sort of elephant trunk?
In reality that wasn’t my first time seeing a penis or hearing about sex, but I was young and had already learned the art of compartmentalization.
The first time I saw a penis however, the penis didn’t look like it did in the book. It had no hair around it and looked like there were tiny squares or folds of skin on it. I didn’t even remember seeing the testicles, but I’m sure they were there. He was a kid I would only know because my babysitter would drop me off at this house that was rectangular and green. He was older than me, but not that much older, I must have been somewhere between 3-5 years old. It was supposed to be a little secret, he told me, a game we could play, in the basement closet, where the mop was. I was told where to put my hands, I was told where to put my mouth. He touched me down in place where no one is supposed to touch you when you are so young. Did I know what I was doing? Did I even know what he was doing was wrong? No. I only knew that the first time it happened I blacked out and my stomach hurt. But more was to come.
Flashforward. I’m on the school playground and its possibly the 3rd or 4th grade. Every girl is talking about their training bras and the boys are talking about whose got the biggest boobs. Boobs are the hit new accessory and I don’t have any. I feel a little empty inside. Being a tomboy already, I quickly become even more invisible. I run off to be myself at recess more and more and find myself writing poetry and stifling my rejection from the opposite sex with books. I begin to read them as if I too can be Anne of Green Gables or some other more biracial version of Elizabeth Bennett.
Flashback again. I’m 3-4 years old and I am exposing myself to the boy who has touched me while we are sitting in the back seat of a car. It’s autumn, the leaves are falling, and the parents are outside at the front of the house talking. I am so young, but I’m already realizing that my only value to society is to be used by someone else for all the wrong reasons. I am begging him to abuse me again. Therapists would later tell me it is not uncommon to have Stockholm syndrome or to confuse abuse with love at such a young age. He rejects me. Explains that we’ll get caught, and that he or we shouldn’t do it anymore. He calls me some names. Now I’ve been used and sexually rejected all before I even reached puberty.
Flashforward again. The boys are calling me names. It was bad enough when kids called me and my sisters monkeys or monkey nose because my Mother was black and my Dad was white. One kid named Tommy* wants to beat me up because I look and act like a boy. “You’re unnatural!” He cries. Everyone gathers around and we’re about to fight, but a teacher breaks it up. I go home and cry where no one can see me.
Flashforward again and I’m in the fifth grade. A girl in front of me bends over and I notice her butt is round, firm, and plump. Something quivers inside me. A longing almost, but then I start to compare her butt to mine. My butt and hips aren’t that wide! I begin to stare at myself more closely before I get into the shower every day since.
Flashback again. I’m 3 or 4 years old. I’ve just told my sister about the boy that touched me. She tells on me to my mother and I am told to go talk to my mom in the kitchen. Mom is standing over the stove smoking a cigarette and asks me to explain what happened and what I am talking about. Not fully aware of the gravity of the situation, I tell her what I told my sister was true, but I am frightened. My mom looks at me as if she doesn’t believe me and what I am saying. She tells me to not talk about it and to stop making up stories. I hold onto my secret from my family and parents for twenty years.
Flashforward again. I’m fourteen years old and the boy that lives on the street behind me that I’ve liked for ages invites me over to watch a movie with him. I wear my long jean skirt and walk over there. I see his bedroom is in the basement and I go down there. I notice nothing out of the ordinary and nothing seems wrong to me, but sometime during the movie, he kisses me and starts to touch me. Pretty soon my jean skirt is up near where my shirt should be and he’s hurting me. Forcing his fingers up inside me I scream out in pain, then I moan. I stare out at the cobweb in the basement window and wait until its over. I become numb. I become nothing. Then I hobble home. When I get there my Dad sees me and asks if I’m okay. I lie and say I need a shower. I wash the blood off, throw the underwear away, and sob in the shower with shame before going to bed.
Flashforward again and I’m getting off a plane from California. I’m in college and I’m completely jet-lagged. I am contacted by a boy in my class to go over some things before our presentation tomorrow. I don’t think he’s cute or even remotely attracted to me and I agree to go over to his house to discuss the presentation late in the evening because I just got back from my trip. I’m so worried about my grades it never occurs to me to think about my safety. When I get there, he lets me into his danky apartment and we already finish hashing out the project in about 30 minutes. We then talk casually about ourselves and I’m thinking I will be able to go home soon. He notices me rubbing my neck and he tells me he may be able to help. I tell him its nothing I just have a stiff neck from the plane ride home. He insists and because I’m tired I don’t seem to see the threat of advance or pick up the subtle clues. I agree and at first it seems like a regular neck rub, but suddenly his hands are down my shirt in between my petite breasts and my bra. My nipples are aroused, but I really do not want this. However, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Run? Scream? Hit him. I freeze.
He kisses me forcefully and seems to push me towards the bedroom. He strips me down and gets on top of me, slobbers all over me, and does what he needs to do before he “finishes” all over my chest. I lay there like a slug until it is over. I seem to stare down at myself from above the room, as if I am not even there. When he gets up and cleans up, I begin to put my clothes back on quickly. I am just grateful he didn’t force his way inside me and rape me. He tries to see if I will do anything else before I abruptly say I’d like to go home. There’s a black bible next to the couch and the image stays with me forever.
The next day I present my paper with him standing close to me. Everything about him, his smell, his hideous face, abhors me. I grind my teeth and bare it. When the teacher complements his insights, I want to vomit. Finally, when it’s over, he looks at me, and for the first time he seems to recognize the horror and terror that is on my face. He looks away and flees the room. I walk out after he’s gone and sob until I get to the ladies’ room. I wash my face, I put on my best smile, and keep moving forward.
Flashforward again and I’m 21 years old and in love. Shawn* and I have been making out and petting each other again like we did the night before. But now my pants are off, and his pants are off, and he asks me the question, “D.M., do you want me to keep going?” I say yes. And for the first time in my life, someone enters my body with my full consent. I feel pleasure, I feel pain, I feel…loved. Even if it is by a man who is technically still married to a woman over 3000 miles away.
When I went to see various therapists in college, I am told I was molested as a child and that my other experiences were a reflection of that earlier event. I am told it wasn’t my fault and I did nothing wrong. When I talk to my girlfriends about it, they just say those were bad sexual experiences. Hence my only problem with the #MeToo movement is other women who usually force their views of what is or isn’t a traumatic experience on other women to make themselves feel important. Bad experiences or not, these were traumatic and horrifying. I had to endure years of dealing with triggers and flashbacks that destroyed most of my relationships with men.
In order to fight off a man who is clearly forcing you to do something you don’t want to do, you have to have value in yourself. You have to believe you are worth fighting for. I did not. You have to feel that your “No” will actually get him to stop. I did not. You have to believe that what has and is happening to you is not normal and not the right way to treat a woman. I did not.
Sex was always shameful, an act you would later feel guilty about no matter the circumstances. It was like a car accident, it happened to you suddenly without reason. You were forced into its feelings, its acts, its expression. A woman’s body was not her own. It was to be used and toyed with, to be obedient to the perpetrator, the man, in every single scenario. I couldn’t control how my body would get aroused, how can I dare to control someone else by keeping them off of me? We women don’t think our bodies matter because it doesn’t stop someone from putting their hands all over you and your body’s reactions. We women don’t think we matter because our thoughts, our emotions, and our feelings don’t matter. Because our value is not what we feel and think, but what everyone else seems to think and feel about us.
From the flat-chested training bra, to the lack of the right curves, from being touched without consent or understanding, to feeling loved by someone who really can’t love you back. We hide all of this and more in our actions regarding sex. Sex doesn’t define us and who we are, we define ourselves through sex and we initiate and agree to society’s norms of the value-lessness of the female body even when the victim is not necessarily female, but seen as female when they too are raped or molested, dominated, and ignored.
Thanks to western civilization, ideals about women, Christianity, and female bodies, I as a woman will always be conflicted about sex. It is both beautiful and terrifying, both a relief and comfort, and an obscenity. And just as it has been while having sex, when the body shakes violently before a final release, I too shake violently and release pieces of my soul, retched up as the dark matter of the universe, reminding us as human beings that we are all broken in this post. And it is this collection of stories, of broken pieces of ourselves, that if we share our stories with one another, we can begin to create a bigger picture of exactly what sex means to us. Then we can begin to have a greater understanding regarding sex and the broader #MeToo movement.
Love makes sex worthwhile, it completes the puzzle. Sex is no longer a stream of urges, of bad experiences, or shame and trauma, or tragedy. Sex can be beautiful, when love and respect are there. Even if you’re not in love, a good sexual experience is defined by how well it goes for each of you and not just one person, which takes effort and planning, and a little selflessness—a little soul sharing and connection—the fruit of any and all types of love. Without love, sex is just an itch to be scratched and if terrible things have happened to you, you’re bound to rehash every single bad experience each time. But if you love yourself, truly love yourself, you can better protect yourself.
So ladies stop thinking about how we can compare ourselves to each other and how your experience can be categorized. Start embracing the notion that we are of value and that what you have deserves to be protected. Do not discriminate on who wants to protect you. People make mistakes. Many of the men I have written about were terrible people to me in that moment, in that space. Some are probably still terrible. But not every man who has ever done a wrong is horrible forever. I knew plenty of men who were also raped or molested and sometimes by women.
The fact is we need to start embracing a real conversation about sex and what it does to us as individuals, how it effects our identity. It is okay to be conflicted and confused, for this is the beginning of first understanding truth and what our truth is. This is my truth. It can’t be men versus women anymore, it has to be what does it all mean to me, to us as a society, to all of us, right here and right now in this moment.