“We all have history. You can think you’re over your history. You can think the past is the past. And then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you how far you are from over it. The past is always with you. ” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays
The other day, I saw someone from high school on a dating app that I’ve been on and off of for a couple of years. I didn’t even recognize him at first, until I saw his picture while scrolling on my social media timeline. There he was. I thought to myself, “Oh shit! Welp, why not?” and I hit dude up to make fun of the fact that we found each other on this dating app and admittedly, to flirt. At first, we had a few giggles about it and I mentioned we should hang out. But it soon became clear to me that homeboy was just not interested.
Now, don’t get it twisted, this is not what the issue was. In fact, I was a-okay with homey not wanting to hang out, or get to know me or what not. In fact, I am currently in a space where I am enjoying and savoring my alone time, enjoying my singledom without the desire to be with anyone, be it romantic or sexual. I’m good, b. It occurred to me the other day that I am doing so much work on myself , emotionally, spiritually, creatively, that it is probably for the best that I didn’t capture his attention as I first intended to when I found him on the app.
What stuck out to me about our interaction was his reasoning for why he couldn’t or rather, why he wouldn’t, attempt to get to know me. He admitted he was just out of a relationship and wasn’t looking to be with anyone and because we knew mutual people from high school, he didn’t want it to end up with me thinking he was an asshole and letting those mutual people know that he was, in fact, an asshole.
The issue for me is that, though a lot of these people are on my Facebook or Instagram friends and followers lists, we don’t break bread and we don’t share intimate moments. The people he knows and I know, of course, I show love to and I always will, but in the same way that they are different people, we are different people. I am a different person. I’ll keep it real with you, homeboy didn’t really know me in high school. We never hung out and I would bet money homeboy didn’t even know my name back then. But social media does what social media does.
So, at this point, my gut is all, “Why does the opinions of people that now know me only through social media matter? Is it….ME?” And then I started to create a narrative, or rather, my 14 year old self created a narrative, that this man was only shitting on me because he would be ashamed to admit to these mutual friends that he could possibly be attracted to me.
Now, this man never said those things. In fact, I highly respect his honesty about where his heart is and his not wanting to do me dirty. I appreciate him for that, because that kind of honesty is rare in the dating world.
So, to be clear, he ISN’T an asshole. Or at least in that moment with me he wasn’t.
But isn’t it fucked up that at 32 years old, I went back to that frame of mind?
That shamed teenage girl who felt not good enough was continuing to be shamed and by no one but me.
That’s some heavy ass shit to see in yourself, ain’t it?
“We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretense into an art form. ” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When I was a young adolescent girl and the necessary conversations about sex happened, my mother would tell me that my virginity was my “gold.” In my young mind, I thought if I lost it, I would never be the same again.
When my mother found out I was no longer a virgin, I mistook her pain that I had not confided in her about it as disappointment in me. I had lost the one thing that meant I was valuable, the one thing that kept me “good.”
I had given away this “gold” of mine without a care and now I had nothing.
I am a senior in high school. I have recently developed a friendship with a girl in one of my classes, an Albanian girl from Brooklyn. She is kind to me and we laugh a lot. I value our growing friendship a great deal. So much so, in fact, that when she invites me to hang out with her and her homegirls from school at her house, I am quick to say yes.
These are not girls I usually hang with. I wasn’t friendless, of course, but these girls were just not my crowd. As we lounge in her living room, shooting the shit, the conversation of sex comes up. I am unafraid to talk about it. I feel no shame in saying I am not a virgin.
I quickly realize I am the only non-virgin in the room.
One of the girl’s friends, an Asian girl who had always been polite to me even though she smiled at me with pursed lips and had been shocked to see me hanging out there that day, sits up straight on the couch. She is staring at me with eyes narrowed as I am answering the other girls’ questions about sex.
Does it hurt the first time? Hell yes.
Did you bleed? No, but you might.
Did you use protection? Yes. I did, of course.
Her voice is a judge’s gavel when she speaks.
“I don’t know how you could’ve done that. You’re so young.”
“I said, I don’t know how you don’t feel gross about it. I mean, you can’t lose it again, you know. Sex is going to lose all meaning for you now.”
Her words hang in the air like a thick fog. I sit there, stunned to silence. The rest of the girls are quiet as well, staring at me, half-expecting me to curse her out, I suppose. But I don’t. I swallow hard and ask my friend for some water, shrugging it off a bit. This isn’t the first time that I have been slut-shamed as a teen.
I follow my friend into her kitchen and gulp the water down as soon as she gives it to me. She puts a hand on my arm and looks at me with concerned eyes. I feel the heat of tears rising to the wells of my eyes and ask for the bathroom. She points and I damn near run to the bathroom and close the door behind me.
And I cry. I cry hard, stuffing a hand into my mouth to keep from making noise.
I cry out of embarrassment. Out of being spotlighted as the “whore” of the crew. Out of being told that I was now worthless and had no real value. That I was now never going to be loved because I wasn’t as clean, as much of a “good” girl, as they were.
I never hang out with them again.
Contrary to belief, shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is feeling remorseful for your actions, it is an individual emotion. Shame, though, is a cloak cast on you by others, by society, by people, by words. You didn’t disgrace yourself, no. You are just not what they tell you that you should be. You have deviated from their idea of “good.”
Shame is a clingy son of a bitch. It sticks to you. Shame is an ink stain on the psyche. It’s thick and heavy and it simmers long before you notice it’s about to boil over. You carry it so long that you forget it’s there. You carry it so long that you begin to believe it is a part of you.
By the time I was 16 years old, I had been sexually assaulted by a boyfriend. It happened at a time of intense grief in my life. I didn’t define it as sexual assault at that time. He was a boyfriend. I told myself it was nothing. I told no one but my best friend. I began to drink alcohol in excess, even went to school drunk sometimes. I went to after school parties and hooky parties, too. I had friends but I certainly didn’t have their respect. I was losing control. Often, I would jimmy the lock of a locked girls bathroom of the 6th floor of my school and pass out until I was sober enough to go back to class.
Sometimes, I couldn’t get to class.
And then, I would go home and do my homework. I would go home to my mother, still in the throes of her own grief, her own heartaches. I would go home to my brothers, who I thought I could never tell. I told myself that I couldn’t say anything. How could I add to their distress? How could I possibly make my grieving mother think it was her fault? I told myself they would hate me for shaming them, for disgracing myself, and call me a slut.
Because that’s what I was.
A few years out of high school, I am hanging out with a homegirl, venting to her about the men in my life as we ride the train together. I am in the middle of lamenting about how I am alone and all is terrible in my love life when she puts up her hand.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t sleep with them right away, they’d stick around. You ever think about that, Angie?”
It is a thunderclap statement, silencing me. I stop talking or we change the subject, I am not sure. I am unclear as to why that assumption is made on me.
A few years later, she tells me that I am just “too sexual.”
“Forgiveness is about giving up all hope of having had a better past.” -Anne Lammott
I wish that I could say that there was some lesson to be learned or that after high school I grew from that trauma. The reality is that I had to go through a lot more bullshit first.
A great majority of my 20’s is spent partying and pretending the lack of emotional stability and direction in my life is okay. I have been laid off from a cushy well-paying job right when I begin college again. I have pushed away every man with honest intentions because I am so afraid they will see just how terrible of a woman I am. I want to detox my life,to clean myself up. I just don’t know how. I think getting my degree is the answer. At the time, I am in a relationship that is shaky at best, a relationship that still revolves around me trying to prove that I am good enough for him to love, that I am worthy of love. He plays me like a fucking fiddle.
I feel like a joke most of the time.
My heart and spirit are in constant disarray. I keep loving the same man in different bodies. I am called a “slut” more times than I would like to count during my 20s, behind my back by the very man who says he loves me. I imagine jumping off of a bridge and drowning in cold water. I imagine it so often, that when I fantasize about it, I can feel the air in my curls before I hit the water.
I don’t do it because I don’t want my mother to kill herself when she realizes I am dead.
By 2011, I am still drinking too much, still not taking care of myself, but functioning. I have a 3.9 GPA and a hangover every weekend. Late that year, I am too drunk to fight off a man I trusted to take me home safely after a night of partying. I go home that night, more ashamed at myself than ever.
Didn’t this happen already?
I tell myself what I have been telling myself since I was a young girl: You should be ashamed of yourself. You did this to yourself. How can anyone love someone who has done such damage to herself? How can love come to someone who lets shit like this happen to her? I cry alone mostly. To the world, I am okay. I am confident. I am unashamed. I am fun and fantastic. I am sunshine.
To my reflection, I am the ugliest I’ve ever been.
“She was a mess. So what? We are all stinking messes, every last one of us, or we once were messes and found our way out, or we are trying to find our way out of a mess, scratching, reaching.”
― Roxane Gay,
I won’t say that during my life I was ashamed of my sensuality because I wasn’t and I am still unashamed to say that I value it. I have never been one to shy away from sex talk or feel like being open about sexuality was something a woman should be shamed for.
I fucking hate slut-shaming. Sex is fucking awesome and people, women and men, should be able to enjoy it and explore their sensuality as they see fit. Sadly, our patriarchal society runs on the virgin-whore binary. Slut, ho, thot, whore, skank, smut. You break the rules, ladies, and that’s what you are. There are no gray areas. It is saint or sinner. It is good girl or bad girl. There is no humanity, no complexity in you if you’re a woman that likes to fuck. You’re just damaged goods.
I don’t hate myself and I guess I should make that clear. I am very tender with myself nowadays, knowing that I am unloading these burdens to the Universe. I am big on self-love and self-care nowadays. Celebrate yourselves! Love yourselves! But I am still learning what shame and trauma have done to the young girl I was. I am still forgiving her for not “knowing better.”
I am 32 going on 33 and I am realizing only now, that the one person I have been shamed by the most, is myself.
In my entire life, I have told myself that I was unworthy of love more often than I have told myself that I am deserving of it.
Ain’t that some shit?
I’ll say this though: Fuck slut-shamers. Yo soy una fucking sinvergüenza and proud of it. I have had my share of lovers, had a brief poly-amorous chapter in my life, even a few one-night stands. I have, for lack of a better way of saying it, sowed my wild oats and had fucking fun doing it.
But the reality was, that while I was unashamed to be sensual or to be a sexual being, I still carried the weight of judgment for years. I carried it. I wrote it down. My journals speak volumes about what I truly wanted. I wanted to be loved despite what had happened to me, despite what I thought I had done to myself.
Someone told me I should write a letter to my younger self. But this letter would be the shortest thing I have ever written:
No one should love you “despite” your past, they should love you…period. You ARE worthy of the grand love you want.
You are not and will never be what was done to you or said to you.
You are STILL gold. “