Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Doing of Seven Giants

L'Ailee and I went to see the movie Easy A this afternoon, though it's a bit "young" for us, for one simple reason. I could sort of relate to the plot. Not quite, of course; I never got guys to pay me for the right to say they'd slept with me, though that plot element made me wish for a second that my life had better writers, and I certainly didn't look as good as Emma Stone in high school. But like Olive, the movie's protagonist, I had a name without playing the game. To this day, I hate slut-bashing, including the rare times I myself have indulged in it. I know better, damn it.

At 36, I'm alternately bemused, amused, and angry when I think of how I got a reputation as a slut in high school. Unlike Olive, I didn't make any claims for myself. The claims got made for me, and I honestly couldn't see how. After a while, I gave up trying to defend my own honor. I held my head up and basically gave off an attitude that said, "To hell with you all, go ahead and think what you want." Sometimes I'd spend the night studying and almost look forward to hearing about what I was "really" doing all night the next day.

I guess I understand now. My mother made sure that my brother and I knew the correct scientific terms for every part of our bodies. She taught us about diseases and birth control. I have always loved to do research, and when I find a topic that interests me, I'll explore it in depth. Like every other teenager, I was interested in sex, so I researched that. I've always been good at keeping other peoples' secrets. I also have a tendency to give advice, as some of you know. So I'd tell other girls how to take a pregnancy test or that it's legal for teenagers to buy condoms or that they needed to look at their family medical history before going on the pill. It didn't occur to me that some of these girls might think I'd arrived at my knowledge from first hand experience rather than books and magazines, and that they wouldn't be as careful about keeping secrets as I was.

I was a working class girl bused to a rich school--my mother had made certain to choose an apartment in a "good" school district. As she promised, I do thank her for that now. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, though. Even the punk kids wouldn't accept someone who couldn't afford the right over-$100 pair of clunky shoes and a new shade of Manic Panic hair dye every week. So I floated among cliques and mostly made my friends outside of school, in the neighborhood and my church youth group and all-ages nightclubs.

I made the conscientious decision not to date anyone at school when I was invited to homecoming by a cute senior boy during sophomore year, and found out that I was the target of a "dogfight." Basically, guys were competing to bring the ugliest, geekiest girls as dates, and the one judged to have the worst dog for a date won a betting pool. My feelings went from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a canyon when I found out. Now I think I wasn't all that ugly, just a typically awkward teenager with bad skin and a pot belly. But even as my skin cleared up and I learned how to dress, my distrust for the "snotty rich boys" remained firmly in place.

Shortly after the dogfight, a childhood friend in Daytona Beach got his driver's license and asked if he could drive to Orlando to see me. We began dating. Fifty miles separated us, and boy, we thought that was long distance. We formed a band with a couple of friends, and even got to play a few parties for money. Mostly, our dates were practicing or playing, with perhaps a bit of kissing and groping. Sometimes we'd go two or three weeks without seeing each other because I had to babysit or he had to work. But it didn't take much to get the girls in my classes and youth group to talk, and that got them talking. Surely I had to be up to some real excitement with this cute guitar player, and he couldn't be coming all the way from Daytona just for my turntable and bass playing. The less I said, the more room I gave their imaginations.

We broke up in the middle of my junior year. For a few weeks, I dated a guy in the Navy. (At the time, Orlando had a naval base; it was abandoned in the mid-1990s.) He was only two years older than me, and very little happened, but again, that fueled gossip. Then there was the time someone set off a smoke bomb, and the fire department came out. I happened to be in the hall when I spotted this really fine Hispanic firefighter who couldn't have been more than 22. I struck up a conversation with him while his superior was talking with my school's vice principal. I maintain that we were about to exchange phone numbers when a teacher and his supervisor separated us. "I'm a junior, I'm 17," I said. (I'd recently learned the meaning of the phrase "statutory rape.") Amazingly, he didn't run back to me and give me the phone number anyway. I heard about it for weeks afterwards.

A focus had been placed on "purity" and "sexual sin" in my church youth group. I don't think I dressed provocatively. I typically wore loose knee-length babydoll dresses with bright and/or patterned tights. I wanted to gloss over my belly and show off my legs, to look cute. (This was the early 1990s.) I was told that my tights were "tempting my brothers to think of me as something other than a sister in Christ." We girls were asked to stand up if we intended to wait until marriage. I was the only girl who didn't stand up. I didn't want to be married until at least my mid-twenties, and while I wasn't having sex, I was only a technical virgin and didn't see myself maintaining even that until marriage. I didn't want to lie to God in a church. Meanwhile, girls whom I knew had sex, had confided in me, were standing up. Aaaannndddd they talked. And some of them went to my school.

On top of all of this, I was bisexual and coming to terms with that. Between my junior and senior years, I met the girl who would become my wife on a college tour in New York City. I had a lot of stuff to process. I allowed that I'd met "someone" on the college tour, but was rather vague about it. If a relationship with a guitar player in Daytona was something to talk about, a relationship with a vague someone in New York City was on a whole nother level. I'd grown used to kids filling in the blanks. Let them, I thought. Only one more year among them.

I quit my church over it. I naturally lost my tolerance for gay jokes, and items like same-sex couples in Hawaii trying to get married were in the news. I spoke up on behalf of gay rights and respect. This was not a popular cause. I was quite literally told by other students in debate class that I'd won a debate about same-sex marriage based on my points and research, but that they couldn't bring themselves to say I'd won because same-sex marriage was so gross. I was wearing half of the mizpah necklace I shared with L'Ailee at the time--I remember I couldn't keep my hands off of it, and I felt like I was betraying her. We'd been talking about how maybe we'd go to Hawaii and get married after we graduated college.

So I was a slut. I think now that there are worse things to have been. I wish I hadn't been so damned naive. I wonder what would have happened if I didn't have such a chip on my shoulder, though I don't quite blame my teenage self for having had it. I didn't have much to work with besides my own defenses. I wonder what would have happened if I could really talk to an adult who understood, and if those existed. By my senior year, I'd stopped trusting the adults in my school, too, and responded to concern by saying a whole lot of nothing until they let me leave. Hindsight's 20/20, though. One day when I'm really brave, I may even want to find out what kind of adult eyes some of my classmates see all this with now, though when the 10th class reunion came around, I told them to forget my name. I haven't been asked about the 20th yet. A very small part of me kinda wants to be found by the planning committee; most of me doesn't.

Watching the movie, I related to Olive's geekiness, and to her misguided attempts to be considered cool. I especially related to the almost-pride she took in her newly soiled reputation. Don't get me wrong, it's a comedy. We laughed and cringed throughout it. But a couple of times, I teared up a little. The someone in New York wiped the tears and held my hand tight. We don't wear that cheap mizpah anymore. She wears a necklace with a silver infinity symbol pendant that I gave her, and we wear matching platinum bands, a plain one and one with a tiny aquamarine and ruby flanking a small diamond. (Aquamarine and ruby are, respectively, my birthstone and hers.) We got up when the lights came back on and tried to discreetly check each other's clothes for bedbugs, which we do not want back in our house ever ever again.

My classmates didn't know anything. I didn't either. Whatever. Let people talk. I know how quickly the swatting of seven flies can be turned into the doing of seven giants.

Links, links:

Alphonse D'Amato made New York proud on the Fox Business Channel.

This new anti-bullying act should also make New York proud. Our legislature did something!

Pagan Pride Day is being celebrated in NYC on the 25th, in Battery Park. It's meant to align with the Autumn Equinox, or at least the weekend thereof, when most of us can really celebrate!

And nothing says "Pagan pride" quite like Delaware's own Christine O'Donnell admitting that she "dabbled into witchcraft".

Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins show why they're one of the classiest teams around by hosting a free pre-season home game with job fair.


MoonRaven said...

Thanks for writing this.

I'm sorry you got targeted for so-called 'slutty' behavior. Unfortunately, I think that this kind of thing is always going to happen--while teenagers feel insecure, they try to make themselves feel better by attacking (at least the reputation of, sometimes more) someone else. I'm glad that legislatures are studying ways to combat bullying--we've had a similar bill pass in MA. And how ironic that the young women who were actually having sex stood up for virginity, while you had the bravery to stay seated! (And, speaking of being ironic, it's hard to imagine anything more ironic than Christine O'Donnell 'dabbling into witchcraft'.)

Dr. Deb said...

I like actress Emma Stone and heard that the movie was a better than average teenage movie. As for things we felt in high school - sometimes the shadow lingers.

BostonPobble said...

The chasm between reality and perception is never greater than in high school, I'm convinced.

As for O''s just painful.

Blessed be, if I'm not back on the Equinox.

Raven said...

It's amazing how teens will talk it up when they don't know a darn thing. I can relate to not fitting in with any group in high school. I had trouble with that too.

That Christine O'Donnell is a moron and obviously has no idea what Witchcraft truly is if she thinks that what she 'dabbled in' was Witchcraft.

Have a great Saturday!