Thursday, June 16, 2011

The (Pre-Ethical) Slut Years



Reading The Ethical Slut is such a good, helpful experience. I’d recommend it to anyone, in any kind of relationship. (We’ve been rewatching The L Word and I keep wishing the ladies would read the “Roadmaps Through Jealousy” chapter.) But the word slut itself is pretty triggery, and combined with the fact that guys are back in my life, it’s brought up some stuff to go over. This is going to be one of those not-very-serotoniny posts, I’m afraid.

I find that no matter how empowered, choosy, and safe I feel with guy friends/pals/crushes, I still have a fear of humiliation that crops up. It makes it hard to keep things in perspective and even makes me a little panicky sometimes. I know that therapy is the best way to deal with this, probably, but for now, dear readers, you’re all I’ve got.

I can’t say for sure what made me decide to be a slut in high school. One of the last times I went to confession, I attributed my poor choices to boredom, and that might certainly be one of the reasons. I thought that I was ugly and that no man would ever want me for any reason other than an easy lay. I have no idea where I got these ideas, or why they don’t carry over to women, but I still think those things sometimes, even in the face of some pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.

I lost my virginity at fourteen to a guy named Rob Kilgore—doesn’t he sound like an old-timey villain? He was sitting on the back porch of the youth center where we all hung out, looking out over the river. He said “I think I’ll just drown myself if someone doesn’t sleep with me.” I swear to god that’s what he said. Who in the world would fall for that? Me! I had my first kiss and my first sex within minutes of each other, and it did feel like some kind of progress. I remember afterward, sitting in my friend Sherri’s kitchen, bleeding and reading the horoscope in the Syracuse Post Standard: “Your life will change for the better.”

What surprised my fourteen-year-old self the most after having sex with this near-stranger was that we didn’t automatically form some kind of bond. I guess his girlfriend (Lisa. Big hair and acid washed jeans. It was 1990.) was kind of mad at me or whatever, but mostly they just ignored me. I was still in middle school, and I remember walking past the high school hoping that I’d see Rob and he’d notice me, and remember. I even wore the shirt that I wore that night, hoping it would jog his memory. It was a shirt I designed myself, with puff paint designs of all different symbols like yin and yangs and such. No one wearing puff paint should be having sex, probably. I’d really just like to hug my young self and tell her to forget him. I never got more than a casual hello out of him again, unsurprisingly.

After that, I didn’t have sex for a while, but a couple of springs later I found myself with lots of lovey-dovey energy (though I wouldn’t’ve called it that or attached emotions to it at all.) and nothing to do so I went to hang out at the basketball court in the little park three doors down from our house. The first guy I took home was (I kid you not) named Ulysses Grant. We said maybe four sentences to each other before we were in bed. I still admire the brazenness involved, even as I acknowledge how much danger I was putting myself in.

That went on a few times until I noticed the baby seat in the back of his car. I found other guys at the basketball court and Sherri, who by now had moved to a trailer park, started hooking me up with her neighbors. Most of these were very quick, careless encounters, to the point where I don’t remember all of their names. The first time a guy introduced me to ANY kind of for-my-pleasure foreplay (albeit to the sounds of Great Adventures of Slick Rick. I just typed it into Rhapsody, and boy, is it still a jam) I got OBSESSED, but he never wanted to pay attention to me again. The next time I saw him, the night ended in a bizarre combination of beer, humiliation, and Mario 2, that weird one where the princesses play.

The last time Sherri hooked me up with someone, it was her boyfriend Rob’s friend Rob. (Am I just remembering funny, that everyone’s name is Rob?)  I told my parents I was staying over at my friend Kristie’s house, and we met the guys, for some reason at the grocery store. We were wearing our cutest nineties hip-hop clothes, and Sherri kept joking about how her nickname for me was Ho-Ho. (Like the girl-rapper Yo-Yo.) The guys took us to this big hill that was a makeout spot outside of town. Sherri and her Rob stayed at the bottom of the hill, while the other Rob and I climbed up. He was amazed that I could climb so fast without losing my breath. I bragged that it was because I wasn’t a smoker. (A year later, I’d be one, after I smoked a whole pack of Camel unfiltereds in a love-snit about my friend Megan.)

Up there on the hill, I wanted to leave my glasses on so I could see the lights of the town below, but he said he couldn’t get turned on if I had my glasses on. I was afraid I’d lose them in the dark. It was from behind. The dude must really not have liked my face. I yelped and yelped on the top of that mountain, because in spite of my dawning philosophical problems with the situation, it still, of course, felt good.

By the time the guys were done with us, it was only 12:30 A.M, and we’d told my parents we were at Kristie’s, so we couldn’t go home. We were just gonna sleep on a park bench, but then a raucous pickup truck full of dudes pulled up and invited us to a party. I put what happened next into a poem a few years ago:

Why I Don’t Think Rufees Jokes Are Funny

It didn’t occur to me until
fifteen years later when I saw someone explaining
them to a  soap opera teen, how they “take away your ability to resist”
that I didn’t drink enough beers that night
to be quite that drunk. Sitting in a circle of
golden beer mugs
playing quarters
snaggle-tooth Jim asks
Which one of us are you gonna fuck
I told him I’d had enough for one night
Some of them were drinking Cisco
and I was proud to know what that means.
They asked me again who I’d fuck
there were so many of them that it seemed inevitable so I chose
the best looking, the one who had a girlfriend
Hoped for his protection.

He sent her home.
He took all my clothes off, very thorough.
I was a fucking machine.
I tried to do my robot screams
but he held his hand over my mouth
whether for cruelty or quiet.
He did it businesslike, a transaction.
He left the door open while I dressed, boobs dangling
I could see the party down the hall.

Then came the vomiting
beige as that housing development,
and as copious. Threw up one the bed and the floor
in the bedroom of snaggle-tooth Jim.

When I came to it was all blackness
though it must’ve been nearing morning.
they were all hitting me, the whole party
scolding voices, hitting me with something hard.
It was because I puked in Jim’s room, they said. I screamed that I was sorry and to please stop.
They were calling me the same names my father called me
the ones he calls all women in his stand-up jokes.

When the police came one of them took me into the bathroom to
wipe the blood from my forehead,
though it had permanently splattered my shirt.
Gentle version of the voice she’d used for screaming,
this member of the unseeable mob
she cleaned off my forehead,
come on sweetie, it’s okay.


I had a few nice relationships with guys in my teen years and early twenties, but as I rejoin the world of men, these images are hard to shake. I’m close to forgiving myself for how much danger I put myself in, but it’s hard to realize that most of that danger is over, that I’m a grown-ass woman with (for the most part) FANTASTIC taste in partners, and that the specter of treating myself like I’m ugly and unloved and not worth protecting is so far behind me. Maybe if I leave these images here, they won’t get in my way so much.




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