If You Don’t Like Abortion, Then Don’t Have One!

There’s so much horrifying news about unplanned parenthood that it’s awoken me from my bout of blogging blasé. While Ireland overturned their ban on abortion last year, the US is regressing to the opposite. From Alabama to Missouri and Ohio, several US states passed severe legislation to restrict abortion just recently.

In the style of my original posts when this blog began, I wanted to aggregate the absurd things that dumb men (and others) have said about abortion lately, and provide responses to their regressive thinking.

Things He (or so-called Pro-Life Person) Says:

  1. This # of abortions have happened in history, thus this # of children have been killed. This is genocide, with more fatalities than the Holocaust or [insert other crimes against humanity].
  2. Birth control causes abortions.
  3. Abortion is murder, so murderers should go to jail.
  4. Women wouldn’t get pregnant if they were abstinent or practiced chastity.
  5. You won’t get pregnant if you use birth control.
  6. Fathers should have rights (to the embryo/fetus)!
  7. You wouldn’t have been born if your mother had an abortion.
  8. What about the baby?
  9. I/someone will adopt the baby! There are couples who can’t have children and want to adopt.
  10. What if that aborted child became the person who cured cancer?

Thing She (or Pro-Choice Person) Says:

  1. Rabbis and Jewish advocacy organizations…slammed the comparison as offensive, exploitive, and ignorant of historical context,” and that’s all I have to say about that. An aborted embryo is not persecuted for its religion or thrown into a concentration camp to work until they die, and that’s all I have to say about that
  2. Birth control (options like the pill and IUDs) literally prevents abortions. One of the many reasons why people use birth control is to prevent pregnancy. Birth control is also used to mitigate some serious medical conditions unrelated to birthing a child. Don’t forget about condoms, another form of birth control, which help prevent transmission of STIs!!!
  3. Ok, so you support the absolutely abhorrent Alabama legislations that criminalize those who abort (as well as their doctors and any others who may help), even in cases of rape or incest? So you’re saying that someone who someone ejecting a mass of tissue from their body (a teenager who was raped, for example) is equivalent to someone who  shoots someone in the face? Not to mention how sticky this gets in practice when it comes to a pregnancy that was lost naturally. How is a formerly pregnant person supposed to prove that their sheets were bloodied from miscarriage? Or even an especially heavy period? (Not to mention that this legislation would penalize rape survivors more harshly than their rapists?!?!?!?)
  4. Um, hello. What century are you living in that you think women should only behave like virginal Victorian maidens?! Also this completely blames victims of rape and sexual assault for their getting pregnant. While chastity may be an aspiration way of living, it is completely divorced from reality and lived experiences. Remember those nuns who revealed abuse (and impregnation/force to abort) by priests? Prime example.
  5. There’s the pill, IUDs, condoms, vasectomies, and Plan B, yet not all have access to these options. Any of these options may also fail, since nothing is 100% effective (except for abstinence, but that’s not an option that should solely be preached, as mentioned above). Blocking access to safe abortion only perpetuates the cycle of poverty, turning mothers of 3 without much access to safe contraception into mothers of 6, unable to financially support the children they already have. 
  6. Just because your penis caused the pregnancy doesn’t mean you have any right over the person you ejaculated into. You and your penis won’t ever have to endure the physiological effects of a pregnancy—pronounced weight gain, morning sickness, etc.—or other implications like needing to drop out of school or losing a job. You have no right to police the bodies of women, trans folx, and non-binary people with uteruses/uteri by rendering them as baby incubators. Thank u, next.
  7. Out of every four women/people with uteruses you know, one will have an abortion, hence the “Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion” quote. Perhaps you wouldn’t have been born if your grandmother (or other matrilineal relative) didn’t have an abortion when she was a teenager, which would have resulted in her marrying the dude who knocked her up. Did ya think about that?
  8. The majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, before the embryo has even developed into a fetus. How can an embryonic bundle of cells be considered a baby? Additionally, most pregnancies aren’t viable, and would result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Historically, fetal heartbeat was not a metric for determining personhood, but rather “quickening” and fetal movement, which happens much later in the pregnancy.
  9. I appreciate your altruism, but would you really adopt the more than half a million children currently in foster care? Would you have the financial resources to clothe, feed, house, and give them a happy and healthy life? So many children are never adopted and live their lives in a broken foster care system. Also, unless I’m being compensated via a surrogate program, I’m not putting myself through 9 months of total bodily transformation and many hours of excruciating labor to have a child for someone else.
  10. What if the mother ended up becoming the person who cured cancer, but they were deprived of that opportunity because they were forced to have a child?

Other issues that should be considered:

Plain and simple: if you’re against abortions, then don’t have them! Even though terminating a pregnancy at any stage of gestation can be emotionally and physically painful, the choice to abort or not should be available for a person to make. It is their choice alone, and some old white dude in judicial robes shouldn’t intervene. Blanket legislation that speaks for all abortions completely dismisses individual experiences and invades their individual privacy that the 14th amendment is supposed to protect.

An overall ban on abortion will NOT end abortions, it will only result in unsafe and potentially lethal abortions, a return to hanger abortions before Roe vs. Wade. For those who do not die from a back alley abortion, maternal deaths will rise because America dgaf about women, especially women of color. Black women already face statistically higher maternal mortality rates, so an anti-abortion stance is steeped in racism. Also viewing pregnant people solely as mothers is not only misogynist, but it’s also transphobic, since not all people who have uteruses identify as women. 

I can only hope abortion will be a basic human right some day. Until then, I’ll share some information next post about supporting abortion providers.

If you have any thoughts about this post or want to share some ignorant or insightful things people have said, comment below!

Gender Benders, Gynotopia, and the Grotesque

This summer I aimed to focus more on intersectional feminist novels, narratives examining gender along the lines of race, class, and geography. I journeyed through stories about gender bending, gynotopia, and grotesque dynamics between the sexes. Here are summer 2018’s #notwomensfiction reads!

What I Read

Based on recommendation or random choice, I read the following:

What I Saw

Here are their covers:

  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Superimposed on a beige background with flourishes of bright purples and reds, Kathleen Collins’s visage is both inviting and challenging. The font and lack of copy on the back cover understate the writer. Her chin is held up high; she looks like she’s unafraid of strife, proud of who she is. Does she know whatever happened to interracial love?
  • Daughter of Fortune: A woman in a delicate lace collar and ruby jewelry poses for a photograph in sepia. Cheeks slightly rouged, her dark eyes stare straight at the audience/reader, serious and slightly defiant. Is she the daughter of fortune? Whose daughter is she?
  • The Gate to Women’s Country: An overlaid image of a cloaked woman in moonlight divides a wood carving of an ancient woman and man. Is this the gate to Women’s Country? Is there a Men’s Country too?
  • Defiance: Another sepia cover, with a blue tone section—two sides of a woman from back to profile. Her eyes aren’t depicted, and we can’t discern her emotions. How does she feel? Is it connected to her wardrobe (dark dress)?

What I Learned

  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: I received this copy on accident at a Yankee swap (at the same time I learned what that was), and I’m glad I did! Although this is Kathleen Collins’s only anthology of short stories (published posthumously), during her lifetime she was known for her film Losing Ground and two plays (In the Midnight Hour and The Brothers). She was a black female intellectual when there were few well-known black women in this field. Written with the eye of a playwright, this collection explores inter-/racial politics and mixed-race identities during the Civil Rights era across her characters’ varied lives. She touches upon feminist themes of male infidelity, emotional/physical violence against women, and woman as object, but fuses these themes with the lived experiences of black people in America and their relationships with white people. Her characters travel from Biloxi to Boston, are broken after broken relationships, are self-actualized and sensual, and both embrace and fear Blackness. Collins’s stories are sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes eerie, but are always captivating and revelatory. You can read more about Kathleen Collins and her cultural legacy on her dedicated website, NPR, and Lit Hub. Collins also had two children, Emilio Collins and Nina Lorez Collins; Nina is also a writer and former literary agent.

Questions:

    • How does Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
    • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? is at times reminiscent of White Man Canon literature. The voyeurism and narrator being in love with the family he’s obsessed with in “The Happy Family” reminds me of The Great Gatsby, while the Gothic family romance in “Dead Memories . . . Dead Dreams” feels like it could take place in the House of Usher. How does fiction by and about black women fit into “women’s fiction”? Is this a category dominated by and about white women? How can fiction by women of color be used to counter the White Man Canon?
    • Characters in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? are inextricable from their race, class, and gender. Most, if not all, are also involved in or are children of mixed-race relationships. How does intersectionality and interracial identity/ies play a role in women’s fiction?

 

  • Daughter of Fortune: I don’t remember how or when this book fell into my possession, but this particular Oprah’s Book Club copy was surely loved by its previous owners, paperback cover torn and spine lined. Perhaps these readers were just as dazzled by Isabel Allende’s portrait of place and her characters’ complexities, not to mention the sprinkling of magical realism. Eliza Sommers, a Dickensian orphan confined by a stuffy Victorian upbringing, is raised by her English aunt and uncle, as well as the family’s Chilean cook, in Valparaíso during the mid-1800s. This daughter of mysterious fortune is primed to become a lady in an arranged marriage, yet independent Eliza instead falls in love with a revolutionary young Chilean in search of gold. From Chile to California, Allende depicts colonization as both a destructive and creative force, Europeans to South America and Americans westward slaughtering indigenous peoples and erasing their cultures but at the same time producing new democratic societies and opportunities for those oppressed in their own countries. Eliza for the first time experiences true freedom on her misguided voyage to find her lover, riding in pantaloons on horses and reading pornographic stories for money. She also meets a cast of unconventional characters: an aristocrat’s daughter who has more business acumen than her husband, a band of prostitutes led by a lesbian or possibly transgender man aptly named Joe Bonecrusher, a man whose masculinity is more fragile than it appears, and an acupuncturist who combines western medicine with ancient Chinese healing. Although the novel ends with Eliza returning to a more feminine persona (after a quick masturbation sesh!), she persistently refuses to be a ruined and subservient woman; she has a miscarriage after being offered an abortion, learns about performative gender and transgresses female roles, eschews xenophobia, embraces her prostitute friends despite their status as “soiled doves,” is repulsed by her friend’s former fetishization of Chinese “golden lilies” or bound feet, and combats the sex trafficking of young girls. This is also the first book in a loosely connected trilogy; Daughter of Fortune is followed by House of the Spirits and Portrait in Sepia.

Questions:

  • How does Daughter of Fortune reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Since European colonization of South America (and the subsequent racism toward native peoples) is an important theme in this book, Daughter of Fortune might be considered postcolonial. What other works by women explore the intersection of postcolonialism and feminism?
  • Eliza dresses as and is perceived as a man for the majority of the novel, and at points she questions her identity as a woman. What function does crossdressing and gender performance serve in women’s fiction? Is it “women’s fiction” if the protagonists/all characters aren’t always cisgender women?

 

  • The Gate to Women’s Country: My brother gave this pulpy-looking fiction (which might have been as violent but less riveting than Pulp Fiction after reading it for a freshman course collegeonly three years after which and when I was ¾ done he told me it was a gag gift. Thanks, bro! Sheri S. Tepper’s famous dystopian novel creates a society separated by sex, women at the helm of civilization while men are hyper-masculine soldiers living in an adjacent garrison, though there are a few men who choose to coexist with the women as caretakers and advisors (and, spoiler alert, BABY DADDIES!). Women are still expected to rear children, but Women’s Country is a second-wave feminist experiment in the extremes of toxic masculinity and patriarchy in contrast to matriarchy and productive, peaceful sorority. As a former executive director for Planned Parenthood, Tepper also injects some pro-choice rhetoric around reproductive rights; there’s some cool contraceptive technology, like a proto Nexplanon arm implant! There’s also mention of systemic misogyny/violence against womenlike FGM, femicide, and pologyny (where polyandry isn’t even a thought). However, points of contention aside from the giant penis statue are heteronormativity/erasure of anything LGBTQ+ and erasure of non-white characters (the protagonist women’s light eyes and blond hair are always mentioned, and there’s so much weaving of Greek mythology). This book definitely feels dated as a result, though Tepper is considered a legendary female sci-fi writer.
    1. Side note: While reading The Gate to Women’s Country, I also watched a movie and mini-series involving groups of women: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (yes, that’s the actual title!) and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The former (discovered via Elvira, Mistress of the Dark https://www.elvira.com/) is a campy 80s flick in which a feminist professor investigates a group of women in California who eat men with a side of avocado. The latter, based on a book of the same name, involves a group of teenage girls going missing in Victorian-era Australia. Both were strange and delightful (albeit problematic) and complemented the experience of reading The Gate to Women’s Country.

avocado women 5.png

Stills from Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death © Cult Video.

Questions:

  • How does The Gate to Women’s Country reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • There’s no explicit mention of trans characters or characters of color. In fact, being gay in Women’s Country is briefly alluded to as an aberration. Since the novel explores medical technology as a way to phase out undesired genetic traits (like the desire to fight in men) and correct humanity, what does this erasure say about this type of matriarchal utopia? And what about intersectional feminism?
  • As Mary Shelley is often considered the creator of science fiction, what does the intersection of “women’s fiction” and science fiction unearth? 

 

  • Defiance: Aside from the author using the word “scalloped” excessively (I love scallops, but not when they appear 43 times in 265 pages), Carole Maso writes a compelling profile of woman as prey-cum-predator in today’s sadistic patriarchal society. Anti-heroine Bernadette O’Brien chronicles a traumatic life from her prison cell; we learn of her psycho-sexual slayings as she’s waiting to be executed. In her murdering two young men, she claims male privilege for herself. A child genius who sells sex to pay for Harvard tuition and has several abortions in her teens, she subverts the Madonna/whore archetypes while also embodying the monstrous-feminine. She’s demonized by some, and then revered as an impenetrable feminist Venus in Furs by others. I watched American Horror Story: Cult after reading this novel, which explored the idea of female rage (and “nasty women”!) as absolute power, not to mention its somewhat relevant lesbian death cult that labeled all men as scum and perpetrated serial killings. Her powerher defianceis a violent escape from a cycle of abuse, inflicted by lascivious, dominant men on helpless, dominated women, structures that remain too relevant to America’s current political climate (read: rapists and misogynists in the White House).

Questions:

  • How does Defiance reaffirm or counter the “women’s fiction” narrative/motifs?
  • Though the protagonist/heroine, Bernadette can also be considered a villain. How does the figure of woman as predator/villain fit into women’s fiction?
  • Hierarchies of gender are replicated (or exacerbated) by class disparities. What’s the role of class in women’s fiction?

 

Each of these novels, all written sometime after the 1960s, depict different moments and thinking about women in the 20th century (and prior). Are there any novels by/about women from this era that you would recommend? Leave your suggestions below!

Also, what should I read in 2019?

Cat background in post header image © Lush Cosmetics.

Aborting Guilt

“I got something to say
I killed a baby today
And it doesn’t matter much to me
As long as it’s dead”

As I’ve discussed earlier in my “(Un)Planned (Un)Parenthood” posts, I had an abortion just over a year ago, almost to the day. While some might say I killed a baby, I’m not as cavalier about it as Glenn Danzig in The Misfits’ “Last Caress” lyrics above (which horrifically continue with raping mothers and killing even more babies). My baby was not yet a baby by definition. It was an unborn, unformed embryo, and removing it from an environment in which it it could live—thus resulting in its death—did matter so much to me.

The most salient emotions from my whole abortion experience were relief and guilt. It’s been reportedthough I’m unsure if this website is factually accurate since it reads more like pro-life propagandathat 55% feel guilt and 10% have reported more serious “psychiatric complications” like diagnosed depression.  Fortunately, I, like 95% of those who have had an abortion, don’t regret the decision. This longitudinal study from PLOS also counters the pro-life narrative that all abortions are emotionally damaging, recommends counseling for those having difficulty coping with their abortion, and concludes that the intensity of negative emotions and frequency of thinking about the abortion will also decrease over time. I’m not attempting to discount anyone’s experiences, only provide my own experiences and provide information I’ve collected.

Guilty or Not Guilty

I don’t know if I would’ve even delivered a healthy baby, but I do know I prevented the thing growing in my womb from becoming a person. And I don’t want to do that again.

A year later, I feel guilty because:

  • I ended a life before its life began.
  • A couple, family friends who were my second pair of parents, had wanted children for the decade I’ve known them. To this day they don’t have children. And there are so many who want biological children and are unable to have them.
  • I was able to get an abortion, while many aren’t able due to lack of access or financial support.
  • I could’ve not terminated the pregnancy and given the child up for adoption.

On the other hand, I don’t feel guilty because:

  • What I aborted was not even an autonomous being yet. At eight weeks it was just a mass of cells without lungs to breathe, a brain to think, or eyes to see!
  • I shouldn’t blame myself for parents not being unable to conceive. Perhaps I will serve as a surrogate or donate eggs in the future to help those who can’t have children.
  • The option to have a safe abortion was there, so I took advantage of it. I petition to make medical and surgical abortions available, as well as donate to local and national abortion providers. I aim to volunteer more with these providers and use my experiences to help others.
  • I would probably feel even more guilty giving a child up for adoption, relinquishing all my responsibility for them and enabling them to be absorbed into the foster care system and possibly have a terrible life.

Friends who were pregnant when I was and continued their pregnancies now have 6-month-old kids. It’s still odd to think that could be my kid, curly or straight hair, brown or blue eyes like theirs, perhaps speaking its first words. At the end of the day, when my friends-cum-parents are up all night trying to calm their sleepless babes, the only thing I’m truly guilty of is making the right decision for myself.

I wish the stigma surrounding abortion were removed, and safe abortion options were readily available and affordable for all. Weigh your options and make the best choice for you. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help with pre- and post-abortion emotions.

Be kind to yourself (as the first link below advocates!).

Additional resources on post-abortion emotions:
Positive experience:
Women’s Health Options, Emotional Support
Early Options, Guilty
The Telegraph, More than 95 per cent of women don’t regret their abortions
Mic, 90% Of Women Feel Relieved After Abortion
BBC News, From relief to regret: Readers’ experiences of abortion

Negative experience:
Weebly Tatt Words (these are quite ridiculous)
OMG there’s sad Pinterest quotes!
Women Who’ve Had Abortions
LiveAction, 8 heartbreaking quotes from post-abortive women

Phantom Emb(ryo)

Again, it has been many moons since the last post, as my motivation to write and desire to document my pregnancy experiences are equally low. Halloween and my would-have-been due date are just around the corner, so it’s only appropriate to tell a (gestational) ghost story.

Eight months in and I would be about ready to burst, What to Expect When You’re Expecting expectedly paged, nursery (if I had one) predictably painted, and diapers stocked for Armageddon in an ideal, prepared parent’s world. Instead of a pineapple-sized fetus living in my womb, my stomach has become home to all the delicious pineapple devoured this summer.

Mine is a vaguely flat tummy, a little flabby and cuddled by love handles as it’s always been, but lately I’ve felt a foreign emptiness there when I see pregnant colleagues all round and full, bellies as big as mine would be. I admire how their unborn babies unapologetically take up space, how their mothers wield new bodies like precious weapons. When they pass in hallways or hold office baby showers, my hand flies to my stomach without thought. Nothing is there.

I had the abortion long before the embryo became a fetus with feisty legs, so I didn’t experience the kicks common in later trimesters. But seeing other pregnant people induces within me odd reactions; a flutter of butterflies tries to mimic the quickening of a fetus’s limbsthe fetus a phantom limb itself. I don’t feel stress, anxiety, or depression as many others who have had abortions do (referred to as Post Abortion Stress Syndrome/PASS to be discussed later), but I just feel strange, dissociated, as if I’ve been cast in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

But I do feel relieved more than anything. That could be me.

Speaking of strange physical phenomena, there’s also phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis, when one experiences symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. And sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome, when the expectant person’s partner experiences similar pregnancy symptoms.

The body is a weird, wonderful, worrisome thing.

Do you have similar experiences or other weird pregnancy stories? Share them below, if you wish.

Time for more pineapple!

Some resources on weird pregnancy things
(I am not a doctor, so these are not meant to be prescriptive!!):
Pseudocyesis and Couvade syndrome
BabyMed, “What Is a Phantom or False Pregnancy – Pseudocyesis”
ParentingDad’s Pregnancy Symptoms: More Than Just Sympathy Pain?”
The Independent, “Couvade Syndrome”

Quickening
The Atlantic, Abortion in American History” 
Slate, He Took It Into His Head to Frisk a Little’”
Mirror, I FELT BABY KICK 10 WKS AFTER MY ABORTION”  

 

Abortion from Abstinence

In an ironic plot twist, I found myself pregnant shortly after posting February’s piece on celibacy.

If you know me at all, you know that I had an abortion, that it wasn’t so much a choice than an imperative. (Though I’m immensely thankful to even have the privilege to choose an alternative, especially one that is safe.) Gal pals and I would have conversations about reproductive rights back in college, mostly joke about being pregnant when a period was a little late because it was some freak Final Destinationesque accident that couldn’t happen to us.

But what we didn’t want to conceive ofconceptionisn’t as implausible as we thought.

I’m now 24, and no more prepared for parenthood. To think I was somehow immune from encountering that embryonic actuality is absurd beyond Camus: I’ve never been on the pill, have had unprotected sex with a couple partners more than a wombful of times, have taken Plan B (or its off-brand equivalent) twice.

I don’t even want children—or at least not yet. Other than mothering a beloved late feline friend, I honestly don’t know if I have a maternal bone in my body. I don’t remember when I last held a human infant, or if I ever had.

This Mother’s Day I’m especially grateful for my maternal figures and friends my age who have had one, two, more kids. How do you do it?! You are amazing!

And also grateful that I’m not yet a mother; I would be about 5 months in at this point, baby the size of a banana (according to this meticulous and a little ridiculous mapping of a human fetus compared to edible items).

In support of #shoutyourabortion, the next few posts in the series “(Un)Planned (Un)Parenthood” will be about my experiences with abortion, addressing topics including personal guilt/shame, privilege, and bodily autonomy.

Thanks for always being here for me. I’m here for you.

Let’s Talk About Sex: Celibacy and Self-Love

January is almost at a close, and the desire to reform oneself wanes with the warmth of winter sun. Not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, I broke tradition in 2016 by taking a personal vow—of celibacy. By the end of the following week I had already failed, but was able to reset and keep this promise until July.

To discredit myself, in having a choice about my sex life I am speaking from a position of sexual privilege, engaging in normalized sex acts that are hetero, cisgender, mostly vanilla (though not generally with white people), able-bodied, monogamous, and pleasurable. Not to mention even having the opportunity and ability to have a choice (and not to dismiss rape culture or all the other atrocities occurring in the world either). In discussing this aspect of my personhood, I do not mean to brag or belittle, only to untangle its role in relationship to myself and my interactions with others in order to become a better human.

Those who are sexually privileged probably wonder why I would willingly abstain from the thing that has been compared to music and prayer (make of that what you will), and to me is essentially chocolate. Though with one I burn more calories, I could partake in both all day, every day, and if I don’t get a taste for days/weeks/months, I grow cold and cranky. As with chocolate, I tend to have an unhealthy relationship with sex—overindulging, regretting, refraining, then lapsing. I wouldn’t necessarily identify as an addict, neither nymphomaniac nor chocoholic, but my need for serotonin satiation has impaired my judgment on several occasions.

About to Shock Some Ppl: A Recent History (Or, Things I Don’t Tell My Family—Look Away Now!)

A handful of years ago, after a breakup destroyed my ability to feel feels (I was so naïve at the time), I dabbled in the clubbing scene. I had had only two partners (not the dancing kind) previously, but during a brief period between ages 21 and 22 hooking up—a byproduct of the clubbing scene—was a new kind of fun that ushered me into the world of one-night stands. During that time I had stupid sex with stupid people. I would thrust myself in questionable situations for a hedonistic high, though nothing so extreme or dangerous as in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac series.

My mantra used to be: “Dumb guys are good for fucking, smart guys are good for dating.” So I dated the smart ones and fucked the dumb ones. And the sex was exhilarating and reckless—until I became disgusted with myself. My body grew bruised, used, until I felt nothing. I used them as much as they used me—isn’t that what hookup culture is all about? The only app meetup I’d had ended in a trip to CVS for anti-fungal ointment and hemorrhoid wipes. Sex was a game, a passionless pursuit and quest for a “zipless fuck.” It was a quick chemical fix to feel good, yet I carelessly ignored the repercussions—especially those times certain pieces of myself were trespassed and trampled like neighborhood turf.

How lucky nothing worse had happened.

In 2015, the year I disrespected my body most, I had three partners—a guy who I was dating at the time, the above stranger, and a guy friend with benefits. In 2015, sex was dissatisfying and dysphoric. Sometimes I didn’t feel anything physically—no friction, no dopamine—instead, I mostly felt numb after. I would paddle the pink canoe just to feel something until everything hurt.

Partner 1: I liked him enough at the time and I was his “girl” and gringa hermosa; however, our relationship was doomed to fail. We weren’t carnally compatible at all (and his work visa was going to expire), so we were both content to move on. Sometimes I would regret sleeping with him, wish I could separate myself from my body and erase the embarrassment of our awkward anatomies slamming together.

Partner 3: My body betrayed me. I needed a place to crash in the expensive city where my friend lives. We’ve slept together several times (I even loved him as more than a friend at one point), but no one makes me feel more skeeved out and self-conscious than he does. He’s honestly the last person I’d sleep with, but I guess that’s what happens when I share a bed with raging hormones. We didn’t touch each other as we nodded off, but I knew he was ready to go. He generously asked me if I wanted to too, and, half-asleep, my body responded. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it—especially not with him—but he and this shell of sensuality won. I lay there unmoving, defeated, waiting for it to be over so I could sleep. Then when he finished (I didn’t), I went to the bathroom and glared at the horny hijacker in the mirror. How could my body do this to me? How could I do this to myself? (Perhaps I was just experiencing post-coital tristesse, or feelings of depression after getting it on/in?)

There were also those whose numbers I’d swapped with the intention of swapping other things: “nice guy” on bus, baseball guy on train, security details guy on campus. At my worst I’m Mr. Hyde, a mal intent sexual opportunist (only with their consent, of course) collecting contacts as a body count.

2016 was to be a year of respite.

But it didn’t last. On January 2nd, the bootycall at home (a guy I dated in college) beckoned and I answered. I answered again in July, breaking seven months of sexlessness, but I didn’t care. I always enjoyed sleeping with him; ours was the sex that seemed infinite. He was the first person who worshiped my body and taught me to too. And we fit together so well. I wondered why I stuck to this thing. Sex—when I’m not just an object to my partner or me—is magic. I revised the resolution, refined it to getting naked only with someone I liked as a human being.

Easier said than done. Questioning my motivations and still ignoring my best interests, I almost broke it again with a 30-something dudebro I met clubbing (return of the itch for idiotic boy toys). We Snapchatted for a week, and I’m glad I didn’t ever meet up with him, especially since I didn’t know him at all.

But I did end up briefly becoming bedfellows with an unexpected someone the following month. Coitus was confusing and accidental at first, but with him I never felt disgusted with myself. Our Netflix and chill sessions weren’t code for fucking—but when we did, he was generous, gentle, and grateful. Even though his bed was lofted and a bitch to climb onto, even though he never used protection (which once necessitated a morning after purchase of off-brand Plan B), even though he’s 20 years my senior, and even though I got a UTI, he was more than sex to me. I was ready to give more than my body again. Actually caring about this person as a person, genitals aside, enabled me to break out of this damning sexual cycle.

Life Lessons

Sex—both the pursuit and the consummation—had been more important to me than developing an emotional attachment with these poor sods. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex if it’s consensual, but indulging my id at the expense of myself and others had made me an awful person. Sex isn’t an anti-romantic game for me anymore. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the cusp of 25, and have relinquished those wild nights (as Emily Dickinson can attest to) in favor of safety and self-fulfillment. This stint of celibacy provided a transformative space for retroactive introspection, particularly of the auto-erotic kind.

What being celibate taught me about myself:

  1. Sex shouldn’t influence or determine my self-worth.

I’d do it all for the nookie, like riding in cars with boys I don’t know, riding on boys in cars. I engaged in these hazardous behaviors partly because the chase—not even the sex itself—made me feel wanted and desired. That someone was attracted to me was even more euphoric than orgasm itself. In The Sex Myth, journalist Rachel Hills explores the values Western culture attaches to sex, positing misperceptions or myths that we create and perpetuate. Like one of her interview subjects, “[Not having sex] made me feel like I was worthless.” I realize I’m not alone, falsely believing that my fundamental worth as a person or a partner is a product of my attractiveness. Sex shouldn’t be “a matter of proving something to yourself and to others.”

  1. Celibacy and sexlessness are as valid experiences as a sexual relationship is. Or eating chocolate is.

Sex isn’t the most you can have that isn’t laughing (a pedophile said that anyway). To believe so completely discredits the lived lives of asexual and celibate folx. Putting sex on a pedestal alienates those who don’t or can’t have it. This piece in Thought Catalog captures the feelings of abnormality, insecurity, and loneliness some asexual people feel about dating.

Society shouldn’t stigmatize those who find pleasure in life outside of spooning and forking. Can’t we feel valued and fulfilled through reading a favorite book, participating in social activism, eating chocolate? One woman recounted her 12-year period of celibacy as one of her “happiest. It was so important to me, and so misunderstood by society. I want people to understand that being celibate can be as nourishing and fulfilling as being in a relationship.” Not having sex (whatever variety of it) doesn’t make one deficient or inferior—and having more of it doesn’t make one superior.

  1. Not everyone is doing the do. Not everyone is doing the do in the ways you expect.

I thought the people I know constantly had sex. A female friend, smart, funny, absolutely beautiful, confessed she hadn’t slept with anyone for six months. I was shocked.

Another sex myth is that everyone is doing it all the time, as we’re led to believe by the media. But we’re not rabbits in heat. College, for example, isn’t always the holy grail of alcoholic orgies and girls gone wild it’s cracked up to be (at least it wasn’t in my social circles). In 2015 (also the year that catapulted my sexual sabbatical), New York Magazine polled 700 college students and found that 39% were virgins at the time of the survey. Additionally, Millennials (aka “the hookup generation”), are surprisingly having less sex than Gen Xers—with less partners and more likely to “abstain in their twenties altogether.”

Not everyone has casual sex either. I was also surprised that some of my friends (particularly those in long-term relationships or marriages) have only ever had one or two or three partners. I’m only competing with myself, and shouldn’t hold me or anyone else to a culturally fabricated standard.

Gimme Gimme More

Hills ends The Sex Myth with a reaffirming revelation: “You are not your sex life.” To believe that your “value and identity lay in something more than how often [you have] sex, how many people [you have] slept with, or how adventurous (or not) [you are] between the sheets” does a great disservice not only to yourself but to others. Theoretically my feminism doesn’t view people as sex objects, yet in actuality I was the one objectifying while being objectified. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Closed for business coupled with the dreaded Valentine’s Day, I feel more alone than usual, but will not allow Cupid’s bow to fuck up my recent sexless streak. I will be more considerate of myself, caring toward my mental and physical health. Id is now did.

No more perpetuating sex myths. No more hookups. No more walks of shame.

Just me.

***

Does sex influence your self-perception? Do you have any stories of or lessons from celibacy?

Other Stories
Kit Naylor’s “15 years without knocking boots”
Precious Princess’s “My Self-Imposed Sexual Sabbatical” 

Politeness ≠ Flirtation: Being Friendly Doesn’t Mean I’m DTF

Things He Says:

[Insert an omnipresent interpretation of my non-flirtatious behavior as flirtatious. There are too many things to name just one.]

Thing She Says:

My parents raised me to be polite. Call adults Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Say please and thank you. Don’t use profanity and don’t put your elbows on the table (ok, those last two rules remind me of a Victorian governess that I would gladly disobey).

Having these values ingrained into my identity dictates my interactions with others. I’ve taken pride in being known as a “sweet” girl throughout childhood and still being kind as an adult in a world full of rude assholes.

But too often this friendly behavior is misconstrued as flirtation.

NEWSFLASH! Just because I’m polite doesn’t mean I want anything to do with your genitals.

Here’s a helpful equation to remember this, easier than the quadratic formula:

Politeness ≠ Flirtation

See, more memorable than  quadratic

I can’t tell you how many unwanted comments, winks, numbers, inappropriate texts I’ve received from guys who I was only being a nice human being to.

There’s a middle-aged mailman friend who dropped off mail at the office I used to work in. He’s good company, a funny conversation break from the monotony of administrative tasks. When I left, I gave him my number so we could keep in touch and meet for lunch sometime. This past week we were supposed to have lunch, which we’ve had twice in six months—not often enough to show I’m interested in anything more than that. I offer to pay for my meal because it’s cheap food, but he always does. He always calls me “cute,” and I brush it off and change the subject. I’ve always kept it friendly—because I’m not interested—though he’s said things that have made me uncomfortable despite him being a nice person.

Though we were supposed to meet for lunch this week, I sent him a text asking for a raincheck because I’m sick. His reply angered me, made me feel even worse than whatever sickness I have. It made my stomach churn and probably caused my diarrhea (or maybe that was the virus—sorry, TMI). Before I had the chance to respond “Was that a joke? Because I’m not laughing,” he threw in an LOL and apologized.

rob text conversation

Like the other things he says, I let it go. He’s harmless, I tell myself.

Until he’s not. I don’t know if he would actually try anything, but I don’t want to find out. This time I shouldn’t have forgiven him. I hope my silence was enough to make that clear.

Chelsea Fagan explains why mistaking friendliness for flirtation isn’t always harmless, even when no harm is intended:

“I will give the men who have engaged in these kinds of uncomfortable, inappropriate acts the benefit of the doubt in assuming that most do not intend to hurt the woman they’re pursuing. But what is clear is that a boundary that has been set in body language, in tone, in clipped responses, is not being respected. A woman being polite and outgoing is perceived, at least on some level, as a wide-open door into which you are free to walk and behave yourself however you choose. If she clams up when you begin following her or insisting on continuing the exchange, you are somehow free to ignore that because of the initial friendliness she showed you. This is not okay.”

To the guys who think I’m flirting with them when I’m just trying to make friends, I’m sorry if you think I’m leading you on. But if I’ve told you that I’ve felt uncomfortable with something you’ve said before, then why do you keep doing it? If you know you’re going to apologize again, then don’t fucking do it. It makes my day turn sour and ruins our beautiful platonic relationship. It makes me afraid of what might happen next, from a come-on to a hard on—neither of which I want to encounter.

But the unwanted flirtation goes both ways, with men in the same predicament. There’s nothing wrong with flirting or being flirted with. But when that trespasses on someone’s comfort level then that’s not ok.

Was it too forward to give Mr. Mailman my number? I don’t give my number out too much, only to people who I plan to meet again. My friends sometimes think I’m flirting, but I’m not trying to get in anyone’s pants. What am I doing wrong?

Yes, I’ll make it clear if I am flirting. You’ll know if I’m DTF. I will touch you if I’m hitting on you, and will apologize for accidentally touching you if I’m not. I need to check myself and see how I come across to people, and make it explicitly known how I feel about them and what my intentions are.

Is politeness so uncommon that “society has reached a point where everyday greetings and helping hands are so rare, they’re now mistaken for flirtation”? Does it take being a bitch for the message to come across that I’m not flirting? But then that might put me in the “woman’s paradox where if you aren’t friendly you’re considered rude and if you are then they think you’re flirting or leading them on.” I’m not being a coquette—I’m just being kind!

Casper the Friendly Ghost isn’t tryna get his invisible dick wet. Can’t we all just be polite to each other without it meaning something more

casper frightened

Casper image credit: Polyvore/I-Love-Cartoons
Quadratic formula taken from Wikipedia.

Have you had similar experiences? How do you combat the friendly vs. flirting dilemma?

How to tell if someone is actually flirting:
SIRC Guide to Flirting
Ask Dr. NerdLove: What’s the Difference Between Flirting and Just Being Friendly?
Flirting, Or Just Being Friendly? How to Tell, In Person and Online