Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seems we’re all talking about virginity these days….
I found it hard to relate to the two previous posts on virginity, because I don’t remember losing mine, so it never got to be an issue.  Although the way I lost it became a VERY big issue for a while.
I’m amazed at how little I remember – I was 10 or 11 at the time, not a total child.  I’ve never known how to label what happened.  “Child abuse” as a concept didn’t exist at the time, and although it has since become a big subject in the media, it always seems to be in terms of wicked family members.
My experience wasn’t like that.  I had a little job delivering newspapers to houses before school.  The newsagent just got friendlier and friendlier.  He “promoted” me to helping me mark up the papers with the house numbers for the delivery routes, so I was on my own with him in the shop, and got even friendlier.  
And I was flattered – I assume. I actually have no memory of what I felt, I just know that no physical violence, threats or hothouse family atmospheres were ever involved, and don’t know how else to explain my compliance.
He had a dog.  I desperately wanted a dog.  My parents wouldn’t let me have a dog.  So I started going round to his house after school to play with his dog, or take it for walks. This led on to playing with him, and then to sex.  He must have been very patient and determined.
This went on for more than a year.  Of all that time, I have only four short “videos” in my memory.  Four.  They aren’t particularly shocking, except for the fact that I was 10 or 12 and he was 28 or 29, and weren’t, as far as I’m aware, traumatic.  But I don’t think I need to describe them here.

What WAS traumatic was when my parents found out.   Oh Lord, did the heavens ever fall in.   I hadn’t been forced, therefore I was a fallen woman, a shame to the family, a disgrace, dirty, untouchable.  My father couldn’t bear to look at me, whilst my mother was very vocal in her disgust, which spilled out all over the place.
That also went on for years.   The fall-out was quite spectacular and my feelings for my parents have never recovered.
It wasn’t until I was 24 when someone handed me a book on child abuse that I began to punch my way out of the paper bag of being a fallen woman, a shame to the family, a disgrace, dirty, untouchable.  But by then, of course, I had become so (in the eyes of people who believe in such concepts).  Having lost my virginity and any sense of connection with my parents at 10 or 11, it wasn’t difficult at all to look for acceptance and affection elsewhere using this new-found skill.
Of course, we only have one life, so it’s never possible to set up experiments with a control.  I can’t know what my life would have been without that experience.  I suspect I learnt far too early on to “service” in bed rather than share, but isn’t that many women’s experience anyway?  I can’t imagine trusting my parents, but I might have done if this hadn’t happened, and who knows how that might have changed my life?  Not to mention how my life might have been different if I hadn’t been cast in the role of untrustworthy scarlet woman so early on.  On the other hand, becoming independent and taking risks might have been more difficult if I’d had any kind of meaningful relationship left with them.   For example, the fact that moving abroad would mean I would see very little of my parents has never been a problem for me.   And in my wild sleeping around days (which I might have had anyway), I actually met some truly nice people who are still friends today, 30 years later.  And all of my long-term relationships (I’m on my third) grew out of one-night stands (do people still use that expression?).  Re-reading those last two sentences makes me wonder whether it's perhaps because I was introduced to sex so early on that's it's never been a really big deal to me,  and in fact has often been a way for meeting people and making friends.

In the end, it’s not an experience that dominates my life, but I’m aware it’s there, lurking in the background.  Witness this post.  There’s no conclusion, or even any real point to this post, but reading two posts in succession about virginity, well, this is what has been stirred up for me.


  1. Cat, this makes me so deeply sad for that little girl that was seduced by such a depiscable abuser.

    I wonder how you feel about him.

    Disembodiment comes up for me with this post. Disembodiment so that the soul and the body are separate. Pleasure is there. Maybe numbness. A function of the body. I only say this becasue I recognize a certain decapitation in myself with regards to acts of my body and my distant feelings.

    Your honesty is what makes me read this blog.

  2. A scarlet, fallen woman? At the age of 10 or 11? Seriously? What a bunch of fools, doing that to a young girl.

  3. @ Robin: How do I feel about him? Curious. I was far too young to span the age gap between us and *know* him. The same age gap now would be almost immaterial. I wonder what he's like, and what his life has been. But will not be searching for him on Facebook any time soon.

    @ MG: As you might have noticed, all my negative feelings about the experience stem from the way my parents reacted and handled the situation.

    But they were only acting according to their lights, and if those lights weren't very bright, well they had various good reasons for that. Evacuees during WW II, their education was abrubtly terminated, and my mother lost her mother, and my father his father when they were both around 11 years old. They're both fairly traumatised people who associate learning, experience and the big wide world with danger, and cling together in their own personal paradise. Not very good at dealing with threats to their stability.

  4. Wow. That's almost all I should say.

    My sexual abuse was so different; I think seemingly less shocking or should-be traumatic. The way you write makes you sound so distant from it, and sounding distant in this case sounds healthy.

    I feel healthy (recovered) from my little escapade with child abuse, but the way you write (so healthy) makes me wonder.

  5. @ Ellie: Well, you know, the sex and the relationship weren't traumatic. The only trauma came from the interpretations that people put on it later.

    And it is distant. This all happened nearly 40 years ago.

    Also, you know how kids always reject their parents? My mother, though not sexually abused (I don't think), had some very traumatic experiences in her childhood which she's never come to terms with. I grew up hearing "I can't help it" as a regular excuse for histrionics (it's still a regular comment, and behaviour pattern, of hers), and was determined, I suppose, not to be the same, not to be ruled throughout my life by one relatively minor experience in the scheme of things.

  6. Cat - the role of the sexual predator to a child is the very embodiment of trust. They are adept at gaining your trust, becoming your friend, and then violating you in the worst way imaginable. You have written here of your virginity - taken by a sexual predator as if you were having a bowl of Coco Puffs for breakfast, only to find out later your parents strictly forbade Coco Puffs.

    This is not something as light as morning breakfast, this is your virginity. I get that you don't remember much and I get that it wasn't discussed back then. I also understand your need to make sense of the fragmented reasons why your parents 1) didn't protect you from it and 2) shamed you for the act itself.

    I don't know you but I do know excuses. They are my first cousins. Your life was altered forever by this abuse. It set you on a course that would always be defined by it. You were innocent. Your parents were not guilty of allowing it to happen, but they committed an even more heinous crime to blame you.

    But the worst offense, the one that made me sick to read, was the one where you believe you were not forced. You, at the age of 10 or 11, are taking responsibility for your decisions in this sexual encounter with a man twice your age. How the fuck could you not have been forced?

    This is where the predator worked on you to make you take a part in it. This was not your fault. You were not his willing sexual partner who should have to bare shame.

    Then you comment on the comments by giving your mother a "pass" with her histrionics. Please darling Cat, stop focusing on the damage done by your parents and their reactions, and spend some time inside the head of that innocent, unprotected, confused, guilt-ridden girl.

    The worst part of sexual abuse is the guilt. When you are aroused, it inherently feels good. That is why you feel compliant. But laws are in place to protect girls at that age and to make it impeccably clear. It is a crime, punishable by years in jail.

    Nothing is minor in the experience you described. NOTHING!

  7. Phew! “Long answer ahead” warning….
    In my late 20s, I sought out a good, woman, feminist therapist experienced in this particular area of experience. She helped me get rid of the guilt in an empowering way, by which I mean that she didn’t encourage me to fill the space left by the guilt with the idea of myself as a helpless victim. Many people find the next bit difficult to hear: she encouraged me to see what my part had been and to find whatever silver linings I could. Just as people didn’t use to want to hear about child abuse, now that people recognise that it happens in our society, they don’t want to hear that children might also have an active (although blameless) role in the experience sometimes, and that good things as well as bad might eventually come out of it.
    If you find it difficult to accept the idea of a child’s having a part, just think of children’s natural curiosity, and then of someone exploiting it to their own ends. Blameless on the part of the child, certainly, but also an active part. So while I would agree that some aspects of my personality then were exploited and manipulated, to say I was forced would be to stretch the meaning of forced beyond reason. As for silver linings, to name just one in my case, having been expelled from the land of Disney princesses, I went where all the nasty women go, feminism, and I count that not just as a silver lining, but as a veritable blessing ;-)
    As for focusing on my parents, well, it was their reaction which was so painful to me and which has had a much bigger and more long-term influence on my life than having had sex at 10. And their reaction was an indirect effect of that sex – the man responsible for the sex was not also responsible for my parent’s behaviour.
    I suppose that what I really want to say is that everyone’s experience has its own particular shades, tones and colours, and I’m not any more convinced by present day society’s blanket response which insists that I am/was a victim – and in denial if I don’t accept that view - than I am by earlier attitudes which classified me as a fallen woman.

    Oh, and *minor*, I suppose, in the context of other experiences later in life, like becoming disabled a few years ago (but fortunately now, able-bodied again after surgery), which kind of bring new perspectives.

  8. Ahh....

    First of all, whatever successfully gets you through difficult or confusing experiences, go for it. I would never want to assert that someone feels the same, should feel the same or handle an experience the same as I have.

    And yet, having only recently confronted(with my family) my own sexual abuse as a girl around the same age, this just feels so detached for me.

    My stepfather molested me and like you, I have never felt as harmed by the experience itself. I always thought I was ok and that it was a small blip on the much bigger picture. Now as an adult nearing forty, I see that I was measuring all the wrong things.

    For me, the sexual abuse and related family issues led to a lack of self-esteem because the people directed to protect me didn't do it, it made me feel as though I was not valuable enough to protect. Also, I was sexualized way to early and grew to see my sexuality as a tool for manipulation, getting the attention I wanted or a special relationship with a male boss or as a tool to experience some of the feelings of intimacy without real emotional intimacy. It took me a long time, and I still struggle, to fully connect. Don't get me wrong, I can climax with ease and enjoy the physical pleasure but the connecting is harder.

    It also made me see my sexuality as a commodity and more valuable than the other parts of me. The secret put a wall between me and family. The shame I felt for being complicit, for wanting attention and to feel special made me feel like I was wrong in fundamental ways which in part is why I have spent a lifetime unconsciously trying to be perfect.

    Like you, I went ovaries to the wall and had fun with it to. Did naughty things like fuck my mom's married boss and show up at his going away party pantiless knowing we'd be at a hotel later. I still delight a bit in my brazenness but really, it damaged me, it delayed my ability to trust. Part of why my stepfather targeted me was of course access and proximity but I was also a "good" victim because I didn't get enough attention from my busy, divorced parents and I had poor boundaries and didn't immediately recognize that his behavior was so inappropriate.

    I do agree that eventually you have to say this happened and frame it in a way that you can live with but it does seem, from my perspective which is totally personal and skewed of course, that you may be minimizing the impact of it. Even if your parents reacted badly and even though your abuser did not make your parents handle it so poorly, he did take advantage and prey upon a girl and put your parents in a position they were totally unprepared to handle. he is not responsible for their reaction but he got the ball rolling for all the shit that came after.

    Not only were you blameless but you did nothing that made it ok for an adult man to prong a ten year old. But you know I am sure, that sexual abuse is hardly a unique female experience and like you, I have a major distaste for the victim role in the abuse.

  9. @ Ruby: When I was confronting abuse with the help of a good therapist, it was all very much in my face, and for a long time I felt that the experience in part defined me. But that was 20 years ago. It's significance has faded, slowly and steadily.

    I too felt all the things you mention, and 20 years ago, laid low self-esteem, sex as commodity, wild days, etc. at the door of abuse.

    Now though, I realise that all these things are in no way traits or feelings unique to women who've been sexually abused. I actually have no way of knowing whether the abuse was responsible, or simply the sexist society we live in which gives us our crap roles and role models. In many ways, what was or wasn't responsible seems irrelevant to me now - the important thing is to recognise patterns you don't like about yourself and work to change them. You can probably tell that I had Gestalt therapy, which has also been a big influence on me, and for me that's another of my silver linings.

    Lastly, although there's always room for improvement, I am generally happy with my life and where I am and who I am. And part of who and where I am is probably due to that experience. Does that make sense?

    Good luck with your therapy, and just wow! for confronting your family. I never have. We rub along these days, and that's enough for me.

  10. I don't know how to take this post. I want to say I agree with you, and I'm impressed with your reflection, and I'm glad you never felt abused. All of that is true. Simultaneously I want to find the man who did that to you and punch him in the face, and then make me watch while I rip his dick off and force it down his throat.

  11. @ Rassles: You may not know how to take the post, but you sure know how to say the right thing! Thank you for not doubting my perceptions, but most of all, thank you for making me laugh ;-) As I said in reply to another comment, my only feeling towards this man is curiosity, which I am well aware is inadequate and inappropriate, but it's what there is. But if I can't feel angry towards him, I delighted someone else can on my behalf, in such a visceral way. Your last sentence made me laugh aloud, and love you.

  12. I completely understand having what might be called an active role in my own sexual abuse as a child. I also understand the sexual abuse as being the abuse that was most glaring and easy to focus on. But, as you said in one of your comments, I had to get to the heart of what was making me tick in a very destructive way and deal with it. From the outside, it might appear that simply dealing with the fact that I was sexually abused and the affects of that abuse would have set me completely free. To be sure, it was important to deal with that. At the same time, it turns out that my sexual abuse as a child was simply an inevitable end to a very long process of having had my self-esteem and personal empowerment stripped away in a household that had no room for such things. When it all comes down to it, I had to deal with the fact that I had never been taught to respect myself, say no or disagree with anyone because it would have caused too much upset in a home where no one was allowed to actively think other than my dad.
    Just the other day I ran into a friend and her children. I hadn't seen her oldest daughter (about 9-years-old) since she was about 3. Her name is Falon. I said, "Falon! Hi! I haven't seen you in so long! Wow - you're just amazing! Wow! You're so tall and grown up!" I reached out to put my hand on her shoulder, truly amazed at how much she had changed. She immediately moved away from my hand that was reaching for her shoulder and said, "Who are you? How do you know my name?" She was very serious about it and I felt so glad for her! Even though I clearly knew her mother and several of the other kids, she didn't know me and had the skills and presence to question me. I immediately said, "You are right. I'm sorry. There is no way you would remember me. Let me just back up a little bit and tell you I'm just happy to meet you again." She smiled and said, "Nice to meet you too."
    THAT is what it looks like for a kid to be empowered. THAT is what it looks like for a kid to own her body and personal space and have the skills to keep it that way.
    I congratulated both of her parents for giving her the ability to make her own decisions.
    Do I think an adult with evil enough intentions could abuse that child? Unfortunately, yes. But I think the likelihood of it happening to a child like her is much less than to child who were like me and had no ability to say no.

  13. Also - I can completely relate to the bit about ending up a more vocal human being due to have coming from not knowing how to be vocal at all. Well - other than a bunch of highly ineffective ranting!
    Turns out having to construct a personal system of empowerment as an adult turned me into quite the effective person. I have an unbelievable ability to affect change. I'm not talking about power tripping, manipulating or anything like that. I'm talking about having such a strong sense of myself that, no matter how much a person, situation, circumstance or system tries to distract me off of the heart of a matter, that it is practically impossible.
    I'm not positive, but I believe a great deal of this ability comes from having once lived through years of believing I as of no account; that my thoughts, actions and words, could never affect change of any kind.
    Today it is easy for me to set my "eye on the prize" and keep moving forward until I get there. This ability shows up in my work, volunteerism, dealing with personal problems and in my personal relationships. The top three ways I would describe myself when it comes to being on the path of achieving a goal are:
    1) Full of integrity
    2) Focused beyond measure
    3) A mother fuckin' pit bull
    Of course, being like this also makes it hard for me to operate from a "lower gear". It is just in the last few years that I've been able to stop, look, and listen in this wonderful world without feeling inspired to get up and do something about it - to simply appreciate as I breathe in and breathe out and do nothing in-between.
    I suppose I will eventually find a balance. I want to. It's just that finding my voice after having no voice at all has been such a fantastic discovery that I find myself wanting to use it for good purpose all the time!
    Thanks for this post. You've made me think about so much.

  14. This is how sick people are: I'm reading all of these comments, and my first thought is, "Damn, everyone's been abused but me. I'm not even worth abusing."

    And then I felt very, very, very scared that it was my initial reaction.

  15. @ MG: When you describe that kid, I really have hope that things might change for women, eventually.

    The older I get, the more I can see silver linings, if you manage to (even half-way) pick your way through it. You confirm that. Achieving the focus which we might never have had if circumstances hadn't made us question the status quo. Not that I recommend abuse as a strategy for personal growth, you understand, but still. Making the most of what there is.

    Fuck balance. The world needs stabby women (favourite adjective of the week thanks to Rassles).


    @ Rassles: It's not sick, I can imagine it might feel like being shut out of some kind of initiation or membership rite. Guilty secret: I've felt like that sometimes for being white, or heterosexual, within feminism. We're social animals, it's normal to want to feel part of the group at whatever cost. But sexual abuse is no indicator or determinant of womanhood or desirability - it's a power play with girls who haven't been taught (or rather, have been untaught) their self-worth or boundaries. Turn it on its head and you had too much sense of self-worth for abuse to happen. You are the future (I hope).

  16. I have hope too, Cat. I've known lots of kids like that. But, you know, as I developed a sense of myself and my rights I started finding (or being found by) like minded people who do things like teach their kids good things. So - the future is already here.
    Also? I wouldn't mind being a stabby woman. But I've had this tendency to be more on the side of beating the shit out of people with crow bars.

  17. Rass: Meh. There's all kinds of sick ass shit I've wished I had experienced. It really doesn't mean anything. Other than that thing about how I've always wanted to pull off a major heist and get away with it. I have to be careful of that one.

  18. Just wrote a wonderful comment that got lost somewhere between signing in and sending. Can't do it again so here's the summary.

    Cat - thank you for writing what you did. Good writing brings up our demons and you did that with me.

    Ruby and Mongo - Amen sistas!

    Rassles - I want my daughters to be just like you.

  19. @ Zen Mam: I, on the other hand, was delighted to discover that throughout writing the post and answering comments, not a single demon appeared. Phew!

  20. I read this a few days ago and didn't know how to respond. It made me sad to read. And angry that so many grown adults are capable of fucking up so bad around ten year olds.

    I don't have any experience with abuse. The adults in my life fucked me up, of that I can be sure, but it was never at the end of a chain of intentional or unintentional human to human harm. They loved me and I believe they did their very best to protect me. In some ways I feel like I seeped through a crack in the wall of abuse that seems so fucking BIG.

    But I don't think there are hard fast rules for how to handle abuse. I don't think you are required as a victim to feel angry blame towards your abuser or your parents for the rest of your life, otherwise you are in denial. Openly expressing that you don't feel those emotions anymore I don't think means that you are minimizing the experience or letting your parents or your abuser off the hook in some way.

    Cat - thanks for sharing this. I'm sorry you went through this and I'm happy that you can see the positive things that have come into your life through a terrible situation.

  21. Can I just say that Rassles if the fucking best! She's got me snorting with laughter.

  22. Thanks for that Blues.

    Adults fuck up, and society fucks up; we all carry issues, and then we try to move on, period.

    And now I think I’ve taken up far more than my fair share of air time, and look forward to someone changing the subject ;-).

  23. i didn't really know how to respond to this.

    i guess firstly, i think that abuse isn't defined by how it makes you feel - any more than how you feel should be defined by abuse. so i'm glad that you don't feel like a victim.

    on the other hand, i have a difficult time calling a child's natural curiosity "active involvement". because here's the thing i keep thinking about: what if you hadn't been curious? would your abuser have just backed off and NOT raped you? no, probably not. there was no two-way street here, there was no real choice. the same way the absence of objection is not consent, the absence of horror or running away is not the same thing as active participation, and i worry about categorising it as such. to my view, you may have had a child's natural curiousity... but the reason children are not able to legally consent is because they do not have full capacity to understand the ramifications of their actions. which for me, means that you could not be an "active participant" because you could not possibly understand what that would mean.

    ultimately, abuse is not about the "abusee" and their reaction/feelings, it is solely about the culpability and actions of the abuser, and that's how i believe it should be defined.

    i'm sure i'm not saying anything you haven't already heard a million times, and i'm not trying to invalidate your experience because it's obviously helped you to heal and be strong. but i do have difficulty in applying your definition to the experience of others.

  24. @ Jan: I wouldn't want my "definition" applied wholesale to others, just as I don't want to feel defined by other people's preconceptions. That's turned out to be my "point" in the comments. All experiences are different.

    As for abuse being about the abuser and not the abusee, that rather depends on your standpoint. As a social worker or lawyer, maybe yes. As someone who has personally experienced it, no, for me.

    And actually, I am 100% sure that if this man had thought for one minute, or even a millisecond, that I was going to tell my parents or anybody else, nothing would have happened. And I never did tell - my mother discovered by chance (I just resisted - almost - to write "snooping").

    Hope your move is going well ;-)

  25. gut reaction: i get it.

    we are who we are because of the route we took to get here - good and bad. wallowing makes for a pretty lousy life. i choose not to get bogged down in the uglier experiences.

    and Rassles? you're my Queen, did you know that?