This entire post requires a trigger warning. Heck, life deserves a trigger warning. Like many women, I’ve had a few experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
I will stick to the two-three most noteworthy events for the purposes of today’s introspection. Don’t worry, faithful reader, there are some laughs to be had in here too.
When I was a few weeks from my 18th birthday, I narrowly avoided a rape because the dude’s friend came by the house we were making out in. This was a guy I thought I really liked, though looking back, all we had together was witty, flirty banter. We had nothing else in common really, except maybe dancing. Let’s call him Luigi.
Anyway, Luigi had taken me to the prom but there’s not even a photo of us together. At the end of prom, he made out with me on my parents’ driveway. I was wearing a white brocade sweetheart neckline, spaghetti strap dress from Le Chateau. It was as pure as me. My period was at the super tail end, back in the days where my flow was a joke, and I remember him feeling up my crotch over my tights, and me having anxiety about my pantyliner. We got pretty hot and heavy there in his white Grand Am. But then he said, “I would take you to the hotel after-party, but my friends won’t like it because you’re not Italian.” So I excused myself from the car and his fumbling fingers.
A week or so later, he called and I thought he was taking me on a date. Instead he showed up in sweaty gym clothes, said he’d just been to my favourite burger joint without me, and then took me to his parents’ house, where we began to make out in the basement.
When he took off my clothes, I told him I was a virgin and that I wasn’t planning on having sex. I was pretty religious back then, and I stupidly believed that preserving my chastity was an important path to getting married, a.k.a. The Ultimate Goal. He took that information as a challenge, and proceeded to rub his shaft against my clitoris and then came the “I’ll only put it in a little bit” dance.
I was NOT INTO IT. But I also had no idea as to what I was supposed to do. Growing up religious, I was pretty clueless about sex and sexuality. I knew very little about women’s rights. The TV was on and so, realizing he was just going to do what he wanted and not care about my desires or my pleasure, I turned to watch the Simpsons. He didn’t like that at all and put his baseball cap over my face. Then the friend, who looked like Emilio Estevez, showed up and for a moment I thought I was going to have to deal with both of them, but thank Gord, they just put me in the car and drove me home. Phew. It all fizzled out from there, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was still trying to date him after that incident. Ugh. Why do we do that as females, why do we try to date these monster men as though being his girlfriend would have legitimized the experience and somehow cleansed me of my sin of having a body?
Weeks later, I would meet my first long-term boyfriend and sexual partner in summer school. I was trying to up my marks for university. He was trying to stay in high school. Manny Rodrigo was my chance to practice everything I learned over years of reading Cosmo. He was my latin lover, and within 4-6 months of dating, I gave him my virginity for Christmas. With Jell-O. Because doesn’t everyone pop their cherry with a side of red Jell-O?
WTF was I thinking? Did I think the red Jell-O would hide the fact that I might bleed from having my hymen broken? Was I kinky, but didn’t know it? Was I performing? Probably. I’m guessing (without digging up my old journals) that I wanted it to be “special” and original. Even then I think I was subconsciously architecting my experiences to become laugh-out loud stories some day.
Manny was a player and a cheater. Back then, it wasn’t children keeping me home, but strict parents, who had me home by a curfew and a schedule. Plus I worked part-time and kinda did homework on occasion. (I was smart but had undiagnosed ADHD and only graduated by the skin of my teeth.) But I did not have enough time for him and he was constantly out. Still I never suspected cheating.
He was an unbelievable lover. He totally knew what he was doing and how to give a woman pleasure. I cannot dispute that I was addicted to having sex with him. And while I have so much resentment about him in general, I will reflect back and be grateful that the sex part of my first serious relationship was actually attentive and pleasurable. We had no idea then that orgasms release oxytocin and make you think you’re in love with the monster you’re sleeping with.
One night, we were at a rave and went into the unisex bathrooms, because I think Manny was touching up his clown makeup (!), when I noticed a woman out of the corner of my eye. We had dropped acid (the party drug of choice for broke teenagers in 1991) and I was just starting to “peak,” so this woman’s auburn head began to turn into a bull’s head. Steam was coming out her nose and for a moment I felt scared that she was going to hurt me. She angrily approached me and when the bull opened her mouth, what came out was, “WHO. THE. FUCK. ARE. YOU?!”
“I’m Manny Rodrigo’s girlfriend. Who the fuck are you?!” I retorted, because I come from a tough neighbourhood and I knew how to talk to bull-faced bitches.
“How long have you been his girlfriend?”
“Well if you’re his girlfriend, then why did I have sex with him on Thursday?!”
I don’t remember much else. Sliding to the ground, maybe? I recall Manny coming out the stall in full clown makeup and the Bullish Bitch (who I no longer think is a capital-B Bitch) started slapping him and yelling at him. Next thing I know, some lovely angel of a black girl was next to me, saying she understood, let’s go get some air girlfriend, you don’t need this shit and before I knew it we were outside of a club in a sketchy neighbourhood and the big phallic tower of my city’s skyline was a throbbing penis against the night sky. And there was no re-entry, sorry. At midnight. When I still had SIX-EIGHT hours of getting the LSD out of my system. So I stared at the big dick in the sky until Manny came out to ask my forgiveness. Both of us effectively evicted from the club, we went to go sit in the alley, behind the booming base building.
I sat there, watching a broken pane of glass fracture and recompose, over and over, trying to understand what had just happened, trying to find meaning in what the window was trying to tell me. As Manny tried to explain what had happened (he cheated on my because he was sad about a friend dying, poor fragile boy), his face would transform from pure and beautiful to the Joker from Batman to demonic and evil, and back again. I looked up at the trees for help and they were iridescent and rasta colours and calming. He didn’t want me to leave him (he needed a drive back to Scarborough), so we drove home as the sun came up, the highway becoming a rubber road with shifting waves of concrete peaks and valleys. I spent two more years with him, having condomless sex (I was on the pill) with a very slutty bisexual man.
There’s so much more to the story of Maria and Manny, including an assault that happened to me while I was drunk and looking for him at a party, but I’m leaving it here to illustrate why the following story happened.
In 1997 I was in Acapulco, Mexico for spring break. We were sharing a door between rooms with four guys that we loved hanging out with. We all loved to drink and dance and I never correlated that whole culture of nightclubs as part of “date rape culture.” But now, when I see those same guys on Instagram, still partying with young girls 20-years later, I realize that so much of getting women drunk and high, letting them dance while wearing next to nothing, their guards down, completely free, it’s not about a celebration of music and dance and Bacchanalian merriment… it’s about detaching the female body from the female mind, bringing them to the point of separation where the subconscious male desire to objectify can take place with little resistance thanks to reduced judgement and motor skills.
I first saw Lorenzo on the elevator. He was built and cute, if a bit short, and was wearing a very bold silver lamé shirt that caught my attention. We flirted on the way to our rooms and I got excited at the thought that I might meet and hang with him later. At the club, I found him on the dance floor (my happy place), and was attracted to what a good dancer he was. We danced the night away and I got drunker and drunker.
We went outside for some air, which is a tactic dudes have to separate you from your friends (who will usually prevent you from going home with just any random dude). Then the negotiation started. “Let me take you back to the hotel.”
“But then you won’t want to be my boyfriend,” I whined. He didn’t want to be my boyfriend, because he already had a girlfriend, a fact I’d learn in the days to come. I’d never had a one-night stand, was I about to? Everything in my head was cotton candy and Marshmallow Fluff. “I can’t leave without telling my friends,” I slurred, that was our safety rule #1 to make sure none of us got murdered. And still somehow, for reasons that tequila shooters made unclear, I was in the back of a cab, in a time before cell phones, heading to the hotel.
I am embarrassed to recall being in a bathroom stall and the moment I chose to sit on his dick with no condom. All I remember is that I was almost blackout drunk. Almost. Sadly. And that I couldn’t stop thinking about how I just wanted to get it over with, this first fuck after Manny, this random dick to erase the magic cheating one. I hadn’t slept with a guy in three years, in my twenties, when I was hot AF, because religion and misogyny convinced me that I shouldn’t have sex with boys, especially boys I really liked and should make my boyfriend. You know, lest he be marriage material, because marriage was how you became a real girl, à la Pinocchio.
Somehow we got a security guard to let us into my room (I was never trusted with the keys). I don’t remember much of what happened next, just that it wasn’t thoughtful or considerate. It wasn’t love making or exploring, it was straight fucking and I was a sloppy regretful mess. I know I never said no, but I also know, without a doubt, that sober me would not have done that. I experience my apprehension to sex all the time now, where I won’t sleep with any of these guys I’m dating, because I don’t know how to ask for what I want.
It’s taken me roughly 1900 words of recalling some bad sexual experiences to get to that point: I don’t know how to ask for what I want. I have been lucky to have never experienced violent assault. I know the above stories are nothing compared to the many stories I’ve had the honour of holding for their survivors. As one of the founding members of a 1300-member secret Facebook group for feminists, I’ve read brave, honest and horrific stories of assaults. As a collective we have pondered and debated the “Cat Person” essay, the Aziz Ansari story, Ghomeshi, #metoo, MMIWG…
Countless writers and scholars, more prolific and studied than your truly have tried to put into words the mess that is this world of oppression and violence we live in as women. A world that was not built for us and instead has been built to keep us as bodies for breeding. I was reading about how male chicks are often just pulverized to death, because they are useless as they can’t make eggs. It reminded me of Oryx and Crake, in which Margaret Atwood imagined a world where female chickens would just be bred nearly-headless with giant breasts and fat thighs and little else to support their structure. Chicky nubs. And in a similar vein, women today are often being viewed as headless, brainless breasts and thighs. An all-encompassing, highly replaceable hole to be filled and discarded.
I know this seems cynical, but it’s critical to understanding my apprehension and FEAR when it comes to having sex. We are raised to protect our “flowers” at all cost, knowing that owning a vagina is a liability, walking through Middle Earth fighting enemies who are coming for our one ring to rule them all. Feeling like the only solution is to walk our fannies into Mordor and burn them in the fires of Mount Doom to quell man’s desire and thirst for greed and death.
Can I learn to enjoy sex without emotional connection? I haven’t had that experience yet, and maybe I’m being too picky. Can I learn to enjoy the company of men, without the fear of being controlled or harmed? How do I find the ones I can trust with my body, my mind, my soul? How do I let it all go?
The opportunity to see a guru whose writing has helped me immensely has just (in this moment) presented itself, thanks to a goddess-witch. I’m hopeful I’ll find some answers there. Thanks Universe.