Sunday, January 13, 2013

Since 14

I am a guy’s girl. It’s not that I like stereotypical masculine things such as sports or cars or fishing…I’ve just always connected more with men. I think it’s because my gender is very fluid and I think of myself as being what our culture defines as manly: tough, aggressive and assertive. That’s always been at the core of my personality. It just always caused me to feel isolated as I grew up in a town that was conservative and went to a religious school that was not open minded about gender. The boys in my class always acted out and were treated in a “boys will be boys” mentality. But whenever I exhibited the same behaviors I was punished, shamed and treated as if I was inherently a bad kid. Like something wasn’t right with me acting that way. It just wasn’t right. This double standard infuriated me and what has inspired me to be an activist, which I will touch on later.
I also had parents that were very overprotective. I wasn’t even aloud to see a PG-13 movie until I actually was 13! They didn’t let me go to the mall alone with my friends and I wasn’t allowed to have a MySpace profile (yes, I lived during the MySpace era).When I was young, I didn’t really notice it and just thought everyone’s parents were that way. But as I reached my teens, I knew something was up. My parents just never let me have my freedom and never gave me what I was looking for which was to explore and have fun. I wanted to just be able to live without having them as my own personal hover crafts. I started to get very irritated about it and we would get into heated arguments, especially my mom and I. My parents are divorced and my dad didn’t really ever parent me and left it up to my mom. But he definitely had his moments. Looking back on it, it’s infuriating because he would randomly want to make decisions for my life when he was never really there for me. Sure, I saw him everyother weekend and once a week for dinner, but that doesn’t make him a good father. He and I have a lot of deep seated issues, which as you will see also shaped my perceptions of men.

I started on my journey to self-discovery when I was 13. I was on vacation with my dad and his family (he’s remarried) and had really discovered reading. At this point I started reading all the time, everywhere every day. I’m still like that to this day, but it really opened up a whole new world for me and it was a really interesting journey. I brought a book with me called “Conversations with God for Teens” that I actually tried to read when I was 12 (ironically on another family vacation) but just found to be repulsive. The ideas in the book were really new to me and I was uncomfortable questioning all that I ever knew. I grew up religious (as I previously mentioned) and was never really exposed to all of the beautiful culture that is out there. I was living in a bubble and I felt very restricted. It wasn’t me…I was so restricted. But at the time I didn’t know that and couldn’t handle it and put the book down for a year.
It was a reluctant decision to take that book with me. I wasn’t sure I’d even read it but I thought to myself why not? What have I got to lose? If it’s that bad I just won’t read it.
Needless to say the second I picked it up I was hooked.
It was one of those books you never want to end. It takes you on a journey, changes your life and leaves you speechless. That’s what it really meant to me and I will be forever grateful to that book. It started me on this journey that really did change who I was.
I remember sitting by the pool opening it up and being in awe. It was written by a man who claimed that God came and “talked” to him, and this book was him writing it all down. I was skeptical, but it was just so good.  It was filled with the radical idea that God is love and that the Universe is beautiful. It said no to Hell and Satan, sin and shame. It outlined how “bad” things weren’t really bad at all…it was just people demonizing perfectly normal human experiences. That God isn’t vengeful or jealous or cruel, as the God of the Old Testament. That Jesus was really a hippie, not judgmental. That he was one of many profits on this Earth brought to spread love.  Needless to say, my jaw was to the floor.
The parts that got to me the most were about sex. I’ve always had a weird relationship with sexuality and my body that was affected by years of media conditioning, shaming and self-hate. I have always been a bigger girl and have been openly sexual, masturbating from a young age. My parents always expressed disapproval and I felt so ashamed of my desires and my sexuality. It still plagues me to this day, but this was the start of being set free.
The book was filled with questions other teens had sent in that “God” was answering. One girl asked why she couldn’t have sex all day every day and have everyone be okay with it. “God” said that there was no reason she couldn’t and if she learned to transcend the boundaries and shame we impose on each other, she could and it would be very okay with everyone.
There was also a whole chapter devoted to sex. All of the information in it I found to be so true. It discussed how sex is seen as shameful and dirty when it is in fact beautiful and an expression of love and humanity and passion. I remember how “God’s” musings on how horrid it was that sexuality was demonized and made to be shameful when it was created to be beautiful really resonated with me. I even waited to read the chapter until everyone was walking down the beach. I felt ashamed for even reading about sex. I saw it and I knew I had to make a change.
This book just really opened my eyes about religion, spirituality and God. It was so different from anything I’d ever read before and was incredibly eye-opening. I realized though that everything I had ever known in my life was essentially a lie. I went to a religious school, church every Sunday and confirmation classes every other Thursday. Church, needless to say, was a huge part of my life. I never felt an intense connection to it, but it was something I had always known. It was what I believed as a child. When I was 6, I even converted my dad’s sister’s family to Christianity. I remember telling my cousin about church and what Christmas was really about as at school they told us that we should talk about it to our non-Christian friends and family. It must have resonated with them because my cousin eventually convinced my aunt to take her to church and the rest is history.
I had so many questions and no one to go too for answers. I didn’t have a clue in hell what to do and I knew that my teachers, pastors and parents would not approve of such questions. We were supposed to believe blindly and feel and know in our hearts the truth of Christ. That was the problem though; I wasn’t willing to do that anymore.
So I turned to myself. I just would spend hours sitting, thinking and questioning what I believed. I read the other Conversations with God books and absorbed all of it and took it in. It seemed to be a belief system that was based in love and I liked that. It seemed so much better than Christianity. And it was when school started that I started to feel like a firecracker.
It was eighth grade, my last year at that school.  I remember already feeling dread about religion class. Part of the curriculum at my school made it so we had religion class everyday along with our other subjects and chapel on Wednesday’s (which was basically a church service at school). One of the first weeks at school my teacher decided to do a unit on demons. She read us testimonies of those who were formerly possessed. She showed us pictures and videos. She told us not to play with Ouija boards. Demons were basically soldier’s of Satan and followed his every order and only existed to create evil in the world. And they would use us to create evil. So you had to make sure to not be vulnerable or else they could potentially take over our souls too, if we participated in anything like witchcraft. Everyone needless to say was scared shitless and it really made me angry. I knew, based on my beliefs from Conversations with God that demons and the Devil weren’t’ real and all of that was basically hogwash. I didn’t say anything at the time, but at lunch, I decided to.
They were all freaking out and feeling uneasy. “Wasn’t that demon stuff creepy? I’ll never play with a Ouija board as long as live” said my friend Alyssa. “It’s so scary how things like that can happen” chimed in Jaime. But I decided to set the record straight.
“Demons aren’t even real” I said simply. Everyone looked at me as if I had said I had herpes. They immediately then started tearing into me and acted as if I was crazy. I decided to go on and explain how such evil in the world couldn’t even exist and in there somewhere I said that the Devil wasn’t real. Then they really had their fun. One of them said I must be a demon myself because of my red hair. They wouldn’t let up and eventually went to one of my teachers to ask him. I remember panicking as he was also the principals husband…I’m somewhat of a pleaser and knew that if I screwed up everyone would look at me differently. So I didn’t say anything and somehow he got distracted from their rant.
As you can probably imagine from this, I didn’t have friends at school. The year before I had been more liked and also had friends who were older. But, they graduated and moved on to high school, leaving me alone.  There were only 16 people in my class. The boys all thought I was too desperate and needy and didn’t want to talk to me. The two “popular” girls basically ignored me and the other’s always put me down. There was only one other misfit, let’s call her Sam, and she always wanted to be-friend me. I resisted because I was image conscious. I knew I was a loser, but she was a notch below me. I didn’t embrace love and I ignored her. I feel bad about it to this day.
It was in all this that I felt lost. I was supposed to also be making my confirmation, which I had no desire to do. It was such a confusing time for me. I felt more lost and alone than I ever had before. I needed an outlet.
It was around Christmas time, and I was thinking of getting a new laptop. My old one had broken about 6 months before and I had been using the family computers at both houses. I was sick of doing that though and wanted something of my own and discussed it with my parents. They were fine with it , the only catch was I had to pay for the majority of the bill. They gave me $100 of their cash and I had to front the rest. Luckily, I had gotten a lot of money for Christmas and my birthday (which also falls in December) and had enough to get the laptop I wanted. I remember getting it in the mail and being over the moon with excitement. I had finally a computer of my own and could be on it as often as I liked.
As soon as I got it set up, I went online to play games. I’ve always been into game shows (it’s the old lady in me) and went to this website to play an online version of Family Feud. I played a few games, got bored and noticed the site had a chat feature.  I was intrigued. No one was around at home and I always wondered what chat rooms were like. I had heard so many stories of girls meeting guys from the internet and being raped or killed. I really knew anything of it myself though and wasn’t sure how dangerous it really could be.
I decided to start chatting and see what would happen. I said hi to everyone in the room and didn’t really know what to do or say. Soon I found that you could private message people.  There was a boy talking in the main room that seemed really sweet. I messaged him hello and soon we got to talking. He told me about himself; he was 16 living in New York, really into baseball and sports and also single. With that, I tried to make him mine. I told him I was interested (not so subtly) and wanted him to be my boyfriend.  I tried to exchange AIM contact info and he refused. He said he would be back on later, and left me alone. I waited for 5 hours and never saw him. I even checked the rooms in the coming days, hoping to see his name. I asked others in the room if they’d seen him. None had. One girl took pity on me and was very sweet and offered to talk to me. She told me to not trust guys on the internet and that I had to be smart. She said she’d been doing this for a long time and knew how much guys would tell you exactly what you wanted to hear. I remember thinking of her as a true friend and really took her words to heart. I never listened, but I am grateful to her to this day.
I started talking there to any and every guy I saw. Seriously, I didn’t care I just wanted someone else too. I was so desperate to be loved and accepted I was willing to get it from anyone. To me, it didn’t matter who or how. He just had to exist.
None of the guys were interested (big surprise) and I knew I needed a new plan. I was sick of Family Feud and of that room and was bored. But I knew the internet had so much more out there and that cyberspace was a big place. I used AIM to talk to some of my friends and as I was Googling chat rooms saw that it came up on the search. I decided to go and check it out and was immediately hooked. They had chat rooms for all different kinds of topics and people. But, as soon as I saw they had a dating/singles room I knew I had found my home.
And that is where it begins.

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