Connecting with WOC and Sexuality
Ever since puberty, I found my body to be a site of shame, something I desperately wanted to escape.
A transplant to predominantly white Catholic schools on Long Island, I was immediately deemed ugly. I had an older sister, but we were close enough in age that we were navigating puberty around the same time. As second-generation daughters of immigrant parents, we were on our own as far as navigating the personal and social meanings of our bodies.
A lot of hurdles were awkward for me. I grew flustered and self-conscious when relatives felt no qualms about making unsolicited comments about my body.
“You’ve got boobs now,” an aunt told me bluntly when I came over with my mother once. How could she mention them? I was mortified.
I could avoid it for a while by wearing starchy undershirts under my school blouses, but soon, I couldn’t hide my growing breasts anymore. I crossed my arms over my chest in an attempt to hide my nipples as they showed through my shirt, but I might as well have been wearing a scarlet A. I felt like there was something wrong with both them, and me. The few breasts I’d seen in R-rated movies were white women’s, with small pink nipples. Why wasn’t I normal like them? Why were my nipples brown, large, puffy buttons?
I remember finally mustering up the courage to ask my mother to go bra shopping with me. Instead of going somewhere with fitting rooms or getting training bras, we headed to the bustling flea market held in a movie theatre parking lot on weekends. There, she bought three bras for me with loud geometrical designs that announced themselves under most of my clothes. It was mortifying, and the experience perhaps encapsulated how the black female body was dealt with in my family – completely ignored, undealt with.
When I had my period for the first time, two years later, I thought I was incontinent because the blood had turned brown by the time I went to the bathroom. My mom told me I was menstruating. Because I was a “real” woman now, she dictated that I tell her everything I know about sex up to that point. A ball knotted itself into my chest. I felt embarrassed, put on the spot. This wasn’t how I’d expected The Talk to go. Wasn’t she supposed to tell me what was going on? That’s what the parents on TV did. After I rattled a dry, technical, and probably highly-inaccurate list from my 12-year-old idea of what sex might be, she deemed it sufficient and sent me on my way.
Read the rest of Cassandra’s piece here
Mo, 39, California
I married my best friend at recess one day. It was the best day ever. We were in the 3rd grade at a Catholic school in the early 80s, and homophobia was the norm. As soon as everyone caught wind of our blacktop nuptials, we were ridiculed relentlessly and for the first time in my young, impressionable existence, I realized that it was not OK to be who I was, so I ran into the closet. Not just any closet, but a large walk-in closet bursting with crap and clutter. The kind of closet where the shirt you want to wear is right in front of your face, but you can’t find it amongst the chaos.
In high school, I decided to sleep with any and every boy available in an effort to deny my true orientation. I ran away, I got depressed, I did drugs, not in that order, all in an effort to avoid myself. And then I changed high schools and with it, my whole world changed. It was there that a cute girl with long black hair who lived in a house with a grand piano and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool befriended me and we quickly became inseparable. We would walk home together and hang out at her house after school every day since she never had any adult supervision.
Then, like in some kind of bad after-school, tacky 80s porno movie, she brought me up to her room, shut the door in dramatic fashion and pulled out some dirty magazines from underneath her bed. (This was before the internet.) She asked me to look through them with her and the next thing I knew she threw me onto her bed and jumped on top of me like some kind of primal beast unable to control her desires. It was wild and unfamiliar but something I had wanted to do for a long time.
As magical as that afternoon was, I still was in the closet and it wasn’t until many years later and a lot of self-acceptance that I was able to feel OK with my orientation. The funny thing being on the other side of the closet door is how silly I was to wait so long, and if YOU are ok with yourself, most people will be OK with you too. It was my own discomfort, perhaps from my upbringing in the church or just the overall temperature of society at the time. But if I could go back and do it again, I would have stood up tall, bowl haircut and all, straightened up my uniform and hiked up my knee socks and told those little brats, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”
Q:I'm working on "unlearning" the way I seem to have absorbed and internalized purity culture and sexual shaming, but I don't know how to do it. Though I've intellectually broken away from purity culture, am able to step back and recognize that being shamed and indoctrinated to "modest dress" was WRONG, I find myself still emotionally tethered to the shame. I struggle to feel good about expressing my sexual desire, even in my safe, long-time relationship with my loving partner. How do we unlearn?
Thank you for sharing!
This is a question I’ve been grappling with for the last few years. I think unlearning is definitely an ongoing process, and everyone goes at their own pace. For me, what was most helpful was 2 friends who also grew up in Christian environments with whom I could have honest conversations about sexuality.
Anyone else have thoughts on this? What has helped you unlearn?
I live in South Dakota, in the city I grew up in. I’m a two-minute drive from where I went to high school. It’s not unusual for me to run into former professors and classmates from my (also local) Christian undergraduate college. With every one of them I see, I wonder if they’ve seen my blog posts, if they know who I’ve become.
I moved back here in August after leaving my job in Chicago and deciding to pursue a career as a freelance writer and author. The cost of living is lower here, and the lack of state income tax makes it a much better for me, financially, than the high city and state taxes in the Chicago area. But by leaving a major urban center for a town that is 221 miles from the nearest Ikea (I counted), I knew I was taking a risk—a risk that I would lose access to a queer community. What I didn’t expect was that my own state government would start to push to decide that I am not a person worth protecting, that I am not deserving of dignity.
As an independent organization without state, federal, institutional, foundational or corporate funding, whose services have always been provided to millions each year at absolutely no cost — not low-cost, not sliding-scale, but for free — sustaining ourselves has always been a challenge. For a…
Everyone, Scarleteen is one of the best sex education resources out there. They were one of the only ones when FYSE first started, and I got a lot of my information from them. I still link to them a lot when I talk about combining contraception forms or communicating with your partner, I have a lot of their articles saved into my computer, I use them so much.
I’ve skyped with Heather Corina, the creator of Scarleteen, and she gave me a lot of the support and advice I needed to continue FYSE. It’s not a stretch to say that without Scarleteen there would be no FYSE. I know how much work they do, I helped answer questions for them for a while but wasn’t able to keep up with the demand and had to focus more on my own website. I was thoroughly overwhelmed with how much the people that work with Scarleteen do. They have made this their life and they get paid next to nothing.
Please consider donating to Scarleteen to keep them afloat and to insure that they’re able to give the advice and help that we all need.
There’s no right or wrong way to be when it comes to gender.
Advocates for Youth champions efforts that help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Advocates believes it can best serve the field by boldly advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health. Advocates focuses its work on young people ages 14-25 in the U.S. and around the globe.
The concern for overly exposed young bodies may be well-intentioned. With society fetishizing girls at younger and younger ages, girls are instructed to self-objectify and see themselves as sexual objects, something to be looked at. A laundry list of problems can come from obsessing over one’s appearance: eating disorders, depression, low self-worth. Who wouldn’t want to spare her daughter from these struggles?
But these dress codes fall short of being legitimately helpful. What we fail to consider when enforcing restrictions on skirt-length and the tightness of pants is the girls themselves—not just their clothes, but their thoughts, emotions, budding sexuality and self-image.
Instead, these restrictions are executed with distracted boys in mind, casting girls as inherent sexual threats needing to be tamed. Dress restrictions in schools contribute to the very problem they aim to solve: the objectification of young girls. When you tell a girl what to wear (or force her to cover up with an oversized T-shirt), you control her body. When you control a girl’s body—even if it is ostensibly for her “own good”—you take away her agency. You tell her that her body is not her own.
When you deem a girl’s dress “inappropriate,” you’re also telling her, “Because your body may distract boys, your body is inappropriate. Cover it up.” You recontextualize her body; she now exists through the male gaze.