**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault**
Earlier today, in the midst of the Roy Moore scandal, I read a piece by an Alabaman Republican defending him because the 14 year old girl in question went with him willingly, saying that teenagers make bad decisions.
Of course they do, which is why we have age of consent laws, which put the burden on adults to hopefully make smarter decisions.
I know of what I speak. I came out at 14, and like every other high school boy, wanted sex and I wanted it “right now.” That summer, I was doing a musical in community theatre, and 2/3 of the men in the cast were openly gay. Several of them acted like big brothers to me, but no matter how much I flirted, they all kept a respectable distance and behaved appropriately. I thought I was mature enough to deal with it, and there’s no way I could have been: but at 14, you don’t know what you don’t know and you don’t have enough life experience to understand outcomes, emotional damage and how things can affect you years later. I’m very glad for the men in that cast, because as I was figuring out who I was and what it meant to be gay, there were positive role models all around me.
In the winter of 1989, when I was 15 years old, I went away to a very prestigious, top-rated boarding school in New England. Shortly after I arrived, I noticed some graffiti in the mens’ locker room of the athletic center, which set a time for some gloryhole action. Being a horny teenager, I showed up at the indicated time and through the gloryhole (what HS gym has glory holes!?!) I saw a really nice cock. I acted on my impulses, and after a little while, was invited to come into the next stall. I was surprised and taken aback that it wasn’t another student, but was someone in his 30’s that I’d later find out was a member of the grounds crew. He finished, left me in an untidy state and unsatisfied. I cleaned up the best I could and went back to my dorm to shower and gargle nearly an entire bottle of listerine.
My first sex. At 15, with a 30-something man in the men’s room of my HS gym. I’d never felt so dirty, and I never thought I’d get the taste of him out of my mouth. I did tell my parents about it, and they wanted to sue the school and have the man fired. Though I was openly gay, I didn’t want to be the guy who’d had gloryhole sex in the bathroom. I didn’t want to be the kid who hooked up with a member of the grounds crew (elite schools come with snobby thinking.) I didn’t want to be have to defend myself and tell the story over and over again. In fact, this is the first time I’m publicly telling it.
(Sidebar: the chair of the theatre department was on sabbatical that year, and I never knew him, but in the next year would be busted for regularly having male students to his apartment and videotaping them. The culture at that school was clearly toxic.)
I didn’t have sex again until I was 18, and again, that was again with someone in his 30’s, who I dated for a summer.
For nearly a decade, my relationships were limited to 2-3 months. I didn’t date someone for more than 3 months at a time until I met my husband when I was 29. I had plenty of sex, both inside relationships and in quick pick-me up fashion, but for more than a decade, probably more than two, I would hop right out of bed and go clean up as quickly and completely as possible. Does that hearken back to my first encounter? Was sex now branded in my brain as something that was quick and dirty? Was my ability to intimately connect emotionally with people damaged by that experience? I’d have to say yes. I was raised by parents who loved each other, who I never saw fight and who stayed together through thick and thin until my mother passed away in 2009. My role models and examples were happy, stable and committed people.
Something affected my ability to connect, and the only thing I can think of was that first experience when, at 15, I sought out what I wanted and acted on it. I’m not saying I wasn’t eager or hungry for it, but I will say that clearly, I wasn’t ready for the impact or the outcomes. It wasn’t until I was nearly 40 that I even realized/understood that I had been assaulted in that men’s room. It’s not until now, halfway to 50 (and almost 30 years later) that I’m even willing to consider the idea that legally, I had been raped.
I don’t think sex is dirty, I’ve grown a hell of a lot in the last 15 years (and yes, with some therapy in the mix, and some loving men who don’t mind talking and unpacking emotional truths and feelings), but there’s always going to be the memory of sneaking out of the gym, racing back to my dorm room and swigging Listerine. That will never go away, and that should never be anyone’s first reaction to sex.
Teenagers make bad choices. As adults, it’s our job to help them make good ones, not open the doors for them to have to live with the decisions they have no ability to make cognitively.
We can’t blame a 14 year old girl, no matter what she may or may not have wanted, no matter if she consented or not to a 32 year old’s intentionally predatory advances. I was mature for my age, by all measures and standards, and yet, my life and ability to form relationships may have been compromised for decades because an adult who should have known better took advantage of me.
Thoughts, observations and comments from Witti Repartee, hostess, fundraiser, bon vivant and...well, lots else.