Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sexual harassment, child sexuality, sexual abuse, and the internet (OR: personal history is personal)

Warning: this is going to get rambly and disjointed, and probably uncomfortable. If children's sexuality is something that makes you uncomfortable - and I would hope it makes you at least somewhat uncomfortable - then you probably should not read this. Also, this is a potentially triggering post regarding sexual victimization. If you might be affected by something like this, you might want to turn back, too.

I was sexually harassed when I was ten years old.

I didn't know what to call it. I was a sexually precocious child (not a phrase I take pleasure in constructing - more on that in a minute), and I knew what sex was and I had the impression that maybe one day I would come to enjoy it. This was before I could (probably because it was before I should) enjoy it, and before feminism had come to represent something important to me, and before I really knew what sexual harassment even was; I knew that there was inappropriate touching involved, and I knew that it was bad.

I tried to tell my mother, but I couldn't tell her all of it, and I wonder if she knew that. I just told her he was telling me that I should date him, that he had given me his phone number and that he wouldn't stop saying it. I didn't tell her about the tongue-waggling, or the hair-touching, or the fact that he sat behind me on the bus whenever he could. I couldn't tell her those things because it made me uncomfortable to do so, in the way that kids are uncomfortable discussing sexuality with their parents, in the way that "I have experienced this thing that you perceive as immoral, and I didn't do anything to stop it." But there was something else I didn't know how to tell her, and that was how fucking filthy it made me feel. How fucking filthy he made me feel. (In these cases, you have to be careful to frame your language so that it's obvious who is to blame.)

He was a seventeen-year-old junior in high school; I was ten, and in sixth grade. (In the school district I was in, there wasn't enough money for separate school buses for the middle and high schools, so middle- and high-school students were bussed together; this, perhaps unsurprisingly, caused a lot more problems for the middle-school students, who were already fucked up anyway, because middle school is just the time for kids to be fucked up.) I heard the things he said to his friends, who sat near him (and thus near me). I remember one asking him if he really liked me, if he really wanted to go out with me. He said no, he just wanted me to think he did. And I thought for a long time that since he didn't mean it, that it somehow meant that what he was doing was less punishable.

When I told my mother about it, I told her that part too, and she said no, it didn't.

(I have decided to say fuck it; I'm going to tell you his name. It's Lee. He was a seventeen-year-old named Lee. I don't know his last name, and I'm not sure I'd give to you if I did. I just don't know.)

My mother said Lee was sexually harassing me, and I didn't believe her. I said no, he's not, he's just fucking with the fat girl, trying to make her think he likes her. I'd gotten a lot of shit for my weight at that point, and I knew enough by that point not to believe anything anyone close to my age said to me. She told me she would call the school, and tell them to do something, but I begged her not to do it. I told her I would take care of it. I don't exactly remember now if I really thought I could do anything, or if I was just telling my mom what she wanted to hear, but I said it, because I knew, as most kids do, that when I told an adult about the bullying I was being subjected to it would only make everything worse for me. So I convinced her not to make any phone calls. And the harassment continued, because I didn't do anything either. Maybe, I thought, maybe if I just ignore him, he'll stop. He didn't. Maybe, I thought, maybe if I just suck it up for one more day, that'll be enough. It wasn't. Every day I let him touch me, and I never said anything. I just kept reading my book (or playing at reading my book, anyway, because it's hard to focus when someone won't stop touching you) and trying not to cry.

It didn't stop until he stopped riding that god damn bus. I didn't stop crying every day once I got home until he wasn't there anymore. I remember hoping he was dead.

I guess, if I'm really honest about it, I thought I deserved it. That was because I'd done some things with some boys that I shouldn't have done. Here's where that sexual precocity comes in. Because I'd experienced something I perceived as immoral, and I didn't do anything to stop it. I didn't stop it because I liked it. So I sucked them off in the woods, on this old couch someone had dragged out there. I asked them to tie me up. I let them touch me. And I liked it. And that made it feel worse. And when I heard them talking to their friends on the bus about me, about what I'd done and about what a slut I was, it made it worse, because we had shared something and I felt horrible about it, and I needed some way to understand it, and I thought that they were the only ones I could really turn to for help on that, and they didn't need the help. They didn't give a shit, actually, and after it was over I was the one stuck with the guilt while they were the ones bragging about what a whore I'd been. About what they'd done to me. I was just dirty and disgusting anyway, I figured. Maybe Lee heard what we'd done.

Maybe that was why he did those things.

When one of them came to my house and looked at me with the same expression that I would later recognize on Lee's face, I felt like the lowest piece of shit on the planet. I felt so exposed, even in my sweatshirt and jeans. That was when I learned, I think, to stay hidden. That while I shouldn't use my body for my own pleasure, even I still had the ability to use it to get what I wanted out of people. And that while I was doing that, I needed to stay unavailable, and unreachable.

That concept was clear enough, but I never actually understood how to use it, which is probably a good thing.

But even that wasn't the first thing. The first thing had occurred over the internet, which is really lame, I know. I had the internet when AOL was still a big deal, when everybody who used the internet used AOL. I was nine, and a Sailor Moon nerd, so I hung out in Sailor Moon chatrooms a lot. And I met someone: a twenty-seven-year-old woman. And we talked about a lot. And eventually "a lot" included sex. She told me how much she loved me, how she couldn't believe I was only nine years old, because I was so mature and so smart. We talked about sex, and we talked about fucking. She showed me porn. And I'm looking for a delicate way to put this, but there's no other way to put it: we were in a relationship. (I've only told two people about this [both of them are people with whom I'm romantically involved], and both times I've felt like such an idiot for talking about this, but I think I need to talk about it. So let me disclaim this, mostly for my sake: I know there are people whose introduction to sexuality is much much worse than this. I am not attempting to compete in the Sexual Abuse Olympics. I am not doing this for attention. It is okay to talk about this.) We were in a relationship. She asked me where I lived. We found out that she was only a couple of hours' drive away from me, and she told me that if I ever wanted to meet her, we could.

She was grooming me. This has just become apparent to me recently. She was grooming me, and this could have turned out so much worse. I get chills when I think about what could have happened if I had disobeyed my mother and given her my information. Best-case scenario, we'd have had sex eventually - god, what am I saying, you cannot "have sex" with a nine-year-old. She'd have raped me. God, how do I tell you that I wanted that? How do I say that the nine-year-old me had sexual desires and fantasies surrounding this woman? I was consenting, or I would have, but a nine-year-old can't give consent. She'd have raped me. Best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario, I could have been dead, or tortured, or whatever else fucked-up people do to kids. She could have killed me. Neither of these things happened, because I didn't tell her where I lived: I said it would be hard for us to meet.

That was a lie. We could have met, because my mother worked long hours. I could have skipped school. There were ways I could have met her. But I was afraid. Not of her. I was afraid of my mother, afraid of getting in trouble. To me, the whole situation was bad because I knew my mother would be angry about this, not because I felt like there was anything inherently wrong with it all. I wanted to give this woman my information, I wanted to meet her, I wanted to do the things with her that she talked about, I wanted her to do things to me. I trusted her.

The mindfuck of all of this is that there is no past tense about those things. I still trust her. I still want those things. I know I should hate her, but I don't. How could I? She was my closest friend.

Such was my introduction to sexuality. Nine years old, in love (it was love to me, I guess) with an older woman who, now that I can think rationally about it, was probably grooming me. For something. I experienced something that I did not perceive as immoral, and I don't know how I would eventually come to think of it that way. I still didn't do anything to stop it. I still liked it.

Now that I think about it, it might be a bad idea to post this. Because I can see this being seized by rape denialists who say that some ten-year-olds just ask for it. I can see them saying that I, as a girl who had recently become sexually active, was no longer someone who could be victimized because I had given consent to someone before, and that was why Lee could do what he did. I can see them saying that, because I was an active participant in what happened to me, that all young girls in a situation kind of like mine are, too. That the people who do these things to them are blameless, that little girls are just too tempting for them to be expected to resist. I can see them saying that I didn't feel that I didn't think it was a bad thing until I had reason to think otherwise. I liked it until I became aware it was supposed to be a bad thing, and I liked it even after that. Clearly, I was asking for it.

I was convinced that if I went to someone about the whole thing, Lee would bring that up. Someone would bring it up, because everyone knew. How could they not, when Shawn and that other kid - who was Lee's brother, Jesus, that must be it, why Lee chose me and not someone else - talked about me the way they did? I didn't know it, but I was experiencing the same thing that adult women do who have been sexually harassed, crushed with the knowledge that my sexual history and reputation would be evidence against me. I didn't say anything.

I've never told my parents about these things. I can't imagine how they'd feel, knowing that their daughter did these things when they weren't around. I imagine they'd be angry at me, though. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't want to find out. I don't want them telling me it was my fault, too. Over ten years since this happened and I'm still in its thrall, in that ugly Venus flytrap guilt that says it was my fault.

I am not saying this is what happens to all children who are sexually victimized. I don't pretend to know what happens. But I don't think I'm the only one who feels a guilt she can't put a name to. I don't know why I'm making this post. Part of it, I think, is because all of this is coming back to me, and I want to express it, so that I can be done with it, so I don't have to bury it and all the things I experienced and felt and said and did, only to have them return years later. Because every time it comes back (it's done so a couple times) my head is really messed up. I don't like that. I want to let it go, and if I can't do that, I just want to be able to say I've thought rationally and clearly about it. I want to make it make sense to me.

Reading all of this over and over again, debating whether I should post it, it all seems too dramatic. It seems like story material. And that's probably because films and books and television make sexual abuse into a plot device rather than a very real thing that happens to so many kids. It seems like fiction because it's fodder for fiction all the time.

I also find myself wondering if maybe I am blowing this all out of proportion, if maybe the people who point to my enjoyment of it would say that I only feel this way because someone told me I should. That the first thing happened online, and the fact that worse things happen invalidates my experience. That the second thing happened because I let it, because I wanted it. That the third thing happened because I was asking for it. Intellectually, I can say that that argument is a product of patriarchal culture which hates women and girls, which is full of men who want their rights to fuck little girls with impunity. Emotionally, that doesn't do much for me at all. I still feel like shit. I still feel like maybe I don't have a right to my own feelings.

And I don't know what to say about the anti-homo bigots who would point to the fact that the person who introduced me to all of this was a woman. I know that someone will use that as ammunition, say that homos do abuse children, and that homos were sexually abused as children. I can only say that I don't perceive my sexuality as something bad, or something to which I'm a prisoner. I am not queer because something bad happened to me, I am queer because I like it. I like men and women and people of indeterminate gender. It is something I share with people I trust. People to whom, as an adult, I am capable of giving consent. People who give freely and to whom I give freely. Fuck them for making me afraid to share my story. I should be able to talk about this. It should be okay to talk about this. I shouldn't have to worry about repercussions to a community of people about which I care deeply. I shouldn't have to worry about them appropriating my story for their own sick agenda.

I know I'm buying into the culture of confession we've built. The culture which demands everything and gives no privacy. I know I'm trying to fight a power structure here, one which has given me the very tools I'm using to fight it, and that it won't work. That being silent and refusing to confess are the ways to function outside the system, but what will that accomplish? How do you fight a power structure by being silent?

I realize this is one of the least coherent things I have ever written, and if you stuck it out, thanks. This all happened over ten years ago, all around roughly the same time, so it bleeds together, and my head is confounded with feminist theory that I'm not entirely sure I understand. I don't know how one comes to terms with abuse, if that's even possible or what the phrase even means.

And I think that's what feels the worst. Confessing and telling and laying myself out and knowing that I'm making myself open to criticism, all to try to fight a structure of power with the tools it's given me.

3 comments:

Killa K said...

Hey. This post did/does make me uncomfortable. Mainly because I have a similar story. I won't get into it; I'm just not there yet. I will say that I'm totally there (as I live in the same room with you) should you wanna talk about anything.

Also, children go through some fucked up shit and I sometimes resent older folks in my life for not recognizing that. Ugh, now I'm thinking about The Bluest Eye," so depressing. I'd liek to think that certain experiences have made me resilient and kick ass as hell. They've also made me once again, angery at the world.

K said...

You're not blowing anything out of proportion. It's a fucked up thing that leaves us with fucked up thoughts and feelings. You're not expected (shouldn't be) to make sense. But also, I know exactly what you mean.

That One Albino Chick said...

Hello. I wandered over here from Shakesville b/c your comment about 50 Ft. Queenie resonated, and I just want to take the time to say that this post was really fascinating and challenging and honest and made me happy about the internet. I've read through most of the other posts on your site and you are just teh awesome.

I'm really looking forward to reading more of what you have to say.