(Warning: the following involves sluthood, sexual assault and talking about either with one's parents.)
Sex in my family, like many things, was and is a fraught issue. I mean, I understand—it's weird to watch your daughter go from this asexual child into a (very) independent woman and sort of "know" that she's probably doing the shit you did once upon a time but that you think you're supposed to tell her not to do.
My parents, after one knock-down, drag-out argument near the end of high school about which of my dude friends I might or might not have been boning, didn't really talk about the fact that I was obviously boning dudes. When I brought someone home from college, even if he and I were semi-obviously frequently sharing a twin bed for more than just sleeping, we all pretended like it wasn't going on and he slept in a separate bedroom. Appearances can be important in some families, and mine was one of them.
But, when I was a senior in college, I was sitting in the basement of my parents' house with my dad, having a few cocktails and watching Law & Order: SVU. I was, admittedly, tipsy. It was, of course, a Rape Episode. And I made an offhand comment that my friend (in reality, the guy that I was dating) figured about two-thirds of his female friends had been raped. And my dad said, "Well, but you haven't been, right?" And there's that face you make, you know, when you're lying to your parents, the blank one, the one where you smooth our your forehead and the muscles across your cheekbones and you keep your lips straight? I tried to make that face and say, "No," only I was tipsy and I could tell I was failing, because I wanted, desperately, to cry. And so I said, "No, he means me, too."
I'm not sure I've ever hurt my father more.
He cycled through a hundred emotions in that moment, and I just watched. He wanted to know who he could kill, he wanted to know how... and he wanted to know if I was a virgin. He wanted to make sure that, at least, my first experience with sexual intimacy didn't come through force and pain and humiliation. And what was I supposed to do? Pretend that I was a virgin at 17, or tell him that I had known intimacy and tenderness and love and compassion before I ever known violation?
I told the truth. And I asked him not to tell my mother, knowing he wouldn't be able not to. They don't have a relationship where they keep much from one another. And then we never really talked about it again. I mean... what do you say? But we still never really talked about the ins and outs (or middles and ends) of most of my relationships unless it was absolutely, totally necessary—and we certainly didn't talk about any of the people in my life that didn't qualify for a parental meeting.
When I wrote at Jezebel, I once wrote a column with a friend in which she brought up the issue of penis size. And, knowing my father read my work obsessively (but my mother avoided, because I use "bad" language), I wrote into the piece: "DAD STOP READING HERE!" Ten minutes after it went up, I got an email from my father that read, simply, "I should have stopped reading." He and my mom decided to abide by the rule that if it looked like it would be about sex, they wouldn't read.
I thought that our implicit rule held, even as my mother friended me on Facebook and I began writing this column. I found out two weeks ago that it wasn't exactly true: my mother admitted that she'd been reading this column, recognizing the exes and the ways they'd hurt me and the pain I'd dealt with—even from the ones she'd liked and hoped I would stay with. And, admittedly, I froze. It was hard to write about dating (or fucking) knowing that my mom was peeping into an internal life I'd managed to convince myself I'd kept so very secret. But it wasn't ever really that secret—I've got a terrible poker face, even when I'm sober. We'd just all sort of put this curtain up so that we could pretend in ways that individually make us comfortable that the sky wasn't really blue.
And yet, it was all pretense. And not that I want to discuss the specific fucking bits with my parents, or get into the penis sizes of the dudes they liked versus the ones they didn't, or, really, any of it. But I got so used to hiding my sex life, of allowing the Emperor to have no clothes—something, too, that I did with my friends for a long time trying not to get tagged as A Slut—that I left myself with no one to talk to, no one to seek advice from, no one to hold me when I needed to cry over someone who rejected not my body but the more existential me (even if my body was a minor part of that).
But that's what the Slut tag does, I realize. It made me try (unsuccessfully) to hide a part of myself, to try to pretend that I wasn't doing what I was doing. The fear of that robbed me of support, of needed comfort, of understanding what was really normative behavior and what was not. So, I tried to stop pretending. I tried to be myself, more and more—until, probably, the idea that I was ever somehow else is probably hilarious to most people.
But my parents were, until recently, kind of the last people I really lived my truth for. And so, hey Mom! Welcome to Bitch Blogs. But, um, if you want to talk about this column, can we maybe not do it in front of Grandpa? There's still some people who don't need to know. Yet.
[Image via The Gifted Photographer on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed. Not actually my mother, who is younger and doesn't like her picture published.]