Welcome guest blogger J’aime Grant
Dr. Jaime M. Grant, author of Great Sex: Mapping Your Desire, is a sex coach, researcher and writer who has been active in LGBTQ, women’s and racial justice movements since the late 80s.
Recently, she has served as principal investigator for the National LGTQ Task Force’s ground-breaking reports on aging, Outing Age 2010 and transgender discrimination, Injustice at Every Turn (2011). A recent Huffington Post editorial on college policy and rape on campus, “Sexual Assault on Campus: College Policies Support Rape Cultures,” appeared in May 2015. Her forthcoming anthology, Friendship as Social Justice Activism(University of Chicago Press), is co-edited with Rohit Dasgupta, Niharika Banerjee, and Debanuj DasGupta. A feminist, sex activist and a clean and sober mother of two, Jaime lives and practices in Washington, DC.
TW/CW: sexual assault, addiction, depression, emotional and physical abuse
I am not a survivor of child sexual abuse. No one in my family ever touched me inappropriately. No one used me to gratify themselves sexually – not even once. However, and unfortunately, I am a survivor of sexual assault. In my journey to heal from the trauma, I found myself in a treatment setting for addiction, food issues or depression. All of the helping professionals – from the therapists to the psychiatrists to the medical doctors – all of them suggested that I dig deeper into my history of sexual violence
I spent a good part of my twenties and thirties in weekly therapy trying to address the outcomes of emotional and physical abuse as a child. My compulsions had compulsions. When I wasn’t drinking, I was bulimic. When I didn’t have my head in a toilet, I was getting high. When I was out of drugs, I dosed myself with sugar. Then I’d throw up. I did rehab and got sober at 29; I had great therapists for a decade and I often found myself searching for something to help me understand all that had happened to me.
Being among the loving and generous people involved in The HEAL Project has helped me understand that I already know my story, and that the daily conditions of my childhood combined with white supremacy and sexism colluded to make me extremely vulnerable to sexual predators in my youth and adult life. It’s clear to me now that a major risk factor in my abuse was a sexist framework of my ‘worth’ as a white woman and a failure to provide me with any resources or tools toward sexual self-determination.
Mostly, my childhood was filled with silences and horrible caveats about sex. My mother often told me that she would ‘snap my spine’ if I had sex outside of monogamous marriage. And that sex ‘was not all that it what was cracked up to be.’ The only other ‘education’ I received was a confusing book that explained pollination in great detail but explained human reproduction in only the vaguest of terms. There was nothing in the book about pleasure, about playfulness, about intimacy or connection – about the incredible gift our sexuality presents to us.
Alongside this lack of education and violent messages around abstinence, there were what I think of as amplified messages about me personally, about my body, my worth as a white girl, and coaching about how to act to be ‘appropriate’. Everyone in my family told me that I was the ‘beauty.’ I had long blonde hair that drew white cis boys and men to me in droves. People touched my hair all the time. Strangers congratulated my parents on my attractiveness, older men were full of comments that my family received as ‘compliments’. The only problem was: I was too loud and too ambitious. My mother told me that if she had looked like me as a young girl, she never would have spoken a word, and that I should ‘just sit there’ and let all the treasures of blonde and blue-eyed femininity come to me. My weight was another major drawback. If only I’d lose some, and have more self-control, then I’d have it all. My brother’s nickname for me in 6th grade was Thunder Thighs. When I was in 7thgrade, I went on Weight Watchers and the whole family would wait for me to come out of the meeting and tell them how much weight I’d lost. Everyone would cheer. Finally, I was on a winning team! I lost 25 pounds that summer, but gained it all back in short order when the internal chaos of being ‘hot’, 14, and resisting sexism didn’t evaporate with the weight. My only relief from yo-yo dieting would come my freshman year of college, when in a support group around food addictions, I discovered bulimia.
What The HEAL Project has taught me is this: our families don’t need to intend to harm us to do harm. My brother didn’t have sex with me, but he did tell me that I should forgive my college boyfriend for sexually assaulting me, because he had done similar things to girls during college, and it was just a part of growing up. When my mother met this ex — randomly, on campus as I moved in for my sophomore year – I was clearly shaken and she said: I think I could forgive him for just about anything. Certainly, in observing my mother’s life with my father, I had learned that it was a woman’s job to forgive and move on. That in fact, this was the glue that held any family together.
I’ve had suspicions that my mom was a survivor. She grew up an only child with two alcoholic parents and a half dozen doting, alcoholic aunts and uncles. She had a lot of attention and love, and from the little bits of her story that have either been leaked or momentarily exposed — two raging, difficult parents. She definitely had no education about sex, about anything other than moving from being a good virginal daughter to a happy productive wife and mother. One story that has been told with great hilarity about my mother is that in her early 20s, she asked her parents if she could move into the city with a girlfriend to be closer to her job as a legal secretary. Her father didn’t speak to her for three solid weeks, and that was that. She lived with her parents until she married my father at 26. One night, on a break from college, my father told me (after a six pack) that my generation had the right idea about sex because the women in his generation were told: ‘sex is dirty, sex is awful, sex is something you should never do.’ And then when they got married, it was supposed to be this wonderful culmination of their path as good, chaste women. He said: For a lot of women, it was a terrible shock.
That terrible shock was a crater of grief and depression that undergirded my entire childhood. It led my mother to repeat the mistakes of her parent’s generation – out of fear and out of love for me. I never went on a single sleepover as a child. I thought my mother was being horribly mean. Now I can see that she was trying to protect me by keeping me in her sights. This is another ‘clue’ I have around sexual violence in her story. My entire life with my mother, she never apologized for anything, but on her deathbed, she sincerely apologized for telling me to forgive my college perpetrator. I only wish she were here now, so that I could hold her and tell her that I understand, that we were both casualties to a construction of ‘normative’ womanhood that set us up for sexual violence throughout our lives.
Today, the process of digging deeper into my story has had many rewards — both personally and in the larger work for sexual liberation. I’m a long-time pro-sex organizer and coach. I’ve created a tool for sexual liberation, Desire Mapping, that I present via workshops all over the world — many CSA survivors discover or come to better understand their abuse histories in these workshops. I’ve written a funny and (I hope) deeply engaging sex book. I am in a vibrant and ongoing talk about sex with my two children – my white 18- year-old queer son, and my mixed-race 9-year-old bi-identified daughter. Everyday acts of sexual education and liberation fuel my recovery. Being on The HEAL Project advisory board has been a big part of that healing. It has put me in the company of brave fellow travelers who are also digging at their sex stories and, in doing so, learning new and more powerful ways to share them as a force for ending sexual violence.
Thank you for your words and work J’aime!
Vita Eya Cleveland is a phenomimal woman! She is a poet, a composer and musician. She is the founder of TWOC Poetry, a brand/YouTube channel she created to increase proper media representation and knowledge for marginalized groups, focusing primarily on experiences as a trans woman of color. Her series, “Tea (T)ime,” touches on subjects from racism to respectability politics, and everything between and outside.
Vita E’s talents have taken her across the country in a very short span of time, performing at Campus Pride in North Carolina, competing as a finalist in “Capturing Fire Queer Poetry Slam” in DC, and doing work with Black Lives Matter in the Midwest. She has recently formed a duo with J Mase III, known as #BlackTransMagick. When she is not performing, she spends a great deal of her time as the Social Media/Communications Coordinator for awQward Talent Agency, the first agency of its kind to specifically uplift the work of trans and queer artists of color.
Vita is one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board and created the opening music for the upcoming Heal Project’s Pure Love online talk show set to debut March 15, 2017.
TW: Sexual abuse/Sexual assault
You ever find the weirdest revelations in places that likely wouldn’t make sense? This is definitely one of them. For the record, this won’t necessarily be safe for work, and if you’re a family member reading this, I love you, and you’ve been warned.
I’ve been masturbating since I was about 11. By then I had already had some version of “the talk” with my mother, which was capped off with the threat of beating me within an inch of my life if I ever got anyone pregnant. So needless to say, until about 8th grade, I hadn’t learned much else about sex I was definitely not allowed to have. When I finally learned what masturbating was, I was literally the personification of, “if you shake it more than twice, you’re playing with yourself.” For a while, I never stopped shaking it.
I’d get myself off around 2-3 times a day, and it only left me wanting more. But as a young person, and even as an adult, there was one activity I could never manage to make work: I have never, and I mean never, been 110% comfortable with receiving anal sex, from anyone, or from myself. The part that bothers me the most about it, and the part that tells me the most about how I’ve managed to heal from prior abuse (or more accurately haven’t), is the realization that even when I’m alone, the idea of being inside myself always terrifies me before it pleases me.
There are a few reasons for this.
When I was a teenager, I came out to my loved ones as bisexual, and for some strange reason, the topic of me masturbating would involve itself in the conversations I had with others. People would ask me questions about if I did, how I did it, blah blah blah. When I answered the questions, the most grossed out faces would meet mine and I would hide in my own closet of shame – I’d almost never have fulfilling orgasms. Fast forward a couple years to the more unfortunate reasons, and I’m being molested by a classmate and gangraped by an ex partner in the same year. I never tell anyone – why would I? Back then, I was a “man,” and men don’t get raped, right?
A few years of repress, repress, repress, quite a bit of drinking, a lil’ bit of therapy, and a few heteronormative relationships later, and I’ve had no one push my buttons. Now I exist as a Trans Woman with an overwhelming desire to feel a partner love me in one of the most vulnerable ways I could imagine, with way too much baggage to allow it to happen. I want to feel that softness, that full relinquishing of my guard, falling into the safety and pleasure of my lover. I get close sometimes, and with the right partner in bed with me, I’ve even managed to like it. It usually took a massive panic attack and a lot of crying, which only a couple of lovers would entertain. The rest would mostly be as repulsed as the people who asked me about it when I was a kid, or impatient enough with what it took to make my dream real and stillit hasn’t really happened.
I figured my answer was simple. I’d do it myself! I’d make this an investment in my ability to love ALL of my body, so I could eventually share that part of myself with someone on a regular basis. So I bought toys, bought the special lube that makes it easier, bought a dildo that I realize in retrospect was waaaaaaay too ambitious, lit the candles, played the music, and had a go at it! Except, it’d never go anywhere…..until recently.
The right glass piece, the right music, and a night of patience gave way to tears. Inch after inch, a dream came true, and I came so hard on my own, I literally cried. As my body shook, I felt myself being forgiven, for all the times I wasn’t strong enough to stop the pain caused to me by others. As I screamed, I felt tears of thanks from the flow of the night, and the full feeling of wholeness inside my body. I remembered what it meant to breathe through the motion of loving myself, slowly with intention, no pressure or shame, no more hating how long it takes, but embracing the victory of an orgasm that feels like therapy.
I told myself that night, that I would always take note of how understanding and self compassion played a role in what I could easily call one of the most important pieces of my sexual liberation. When I share my body with a partner, I know to expect no less than the love I gave myself that night, or any of the other nights I’ve gotten up the courage to love myself in this way.
I still have a ways to go before I can share that part of me with someone I have feelings for, but I guess that’s the whole point of this. Remembering that I have time -and that my body is mine to please before it is anyone else’s- gave me something back that was stolen from me long before I could love it, long before I could love me. In a lot of ways I still don’t, but in this way, I’m learning, slowly and steadily, inch by inch, tear by tear, smile by smile. I am learning, and I am healing, and I’m doing it by myself, at least for now.
Thank you Vita for your words, bravery and for your existence.